By Vatican News staff writer
A treaty aimed at destroying all nuclear weapons and forever prohibiting their use has crossed a crucial milestone, signalling its entry into force in 90 days. When Honduras ratified the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on Saturday, it became the 50th nation to do so - the minimum needed for it to enter into force as international law.
A worldwide movement
The ratification threshold was reached a little more than three years after the treaty was completed in negotiations at the UN’s New York headquarters. UN Secretary General António Guterres greeted the 50th ratification as “the culmination of a worldwide movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”
The UN’s announcement was hailed by anti-nuclear activists but has been strongly opposed by the United States and 8 other nuclear-armed countries.
Guterres commended all the countries whose ratification of the accord, approved by 122 nations at the General Assembly on July 7, 2017, has helped bring the ban on weapons this far, singling out the work of civil society groups.
Outstanding among these is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. Its Executive Director Beatrice Fihn hailed the coming into force as “a new chapter for nuclear disarmament”. “Decades of activism have achieved what many said was impossible: nuclear weapons are banned,” she said.
Saturday’s achievement was reached a day after the island nations of Jamaica and Nauru submitted their ratifications. The treaty will become active in January. The 50th ratification came on the UN’s 75th anniversary, Saturday.
Nuclear weapons immoral and illegal
Fihn said the ban on nuclear weapons comes just over 75 years after “the horrific attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the founding of the UN which made nuclear disarmament a cornerstone”. “The 50 countries that ratify this treaty,” she stressed, “are showing true leadership in setting a new international norm that nuclear weapons are not just immoral but illegal.”
“Entry into force,” Guterres said, “is a tribute to the survivors of nuclear explosions and tests, many of whom advocated for this Treaty.”
Not binding, but peer pressure
However, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is not binding on those nations that refuse to sign it. The United States and the world’s eight other nuclear-armed countries — Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — boycotted the negotiations that created the treaty and have shown no inclination to accept it.
“They know that even if it doesn’t bind them legally, it has an impact,” Fihn said. “Nobody’s immune to peer pressure from other governments.”
So far, the governments of 84 countries have signed the treaty, and the legislatures of 50 of those have ratified it. Advocates expected the remainder of the signatories to ratify it in coming weeks and months, giving it more relevance.
Holy See, Popes against nuclear weapons
The Holy See and the Popes have vigorously supported the effort of the UN and the world against nuclear weapons. In a video message on September 25 on the occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary this year, Pope Francis reiterated his call for increased support for the principal international and legal instruments on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and prohibition.
Earlier, during his visit to Japan in 2019, while laying flowers at the Peace Memorial in Nagasaki on November 24, Pope Francis expressed the pain and horror of the effects of the atomic bomb attack on the city on 9 August 1945. He said, “We must never grow weary of working to support the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.”
Visiting Hiroshima that day he said, “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral.”