Nuclear weapons have been banned.
Stigmatized and prohibited. That means we’re two-thirds of the way to fulfilling the Humanitarian Pledge, which feels like it was launched only yesterday.
It took three international conferences, two open-ended working groups, medical and scientific evidence accumulated over some 50 or more years, decades of selfless appeals by the Hibakusha and by the victims of nuclear testing, a core group of states with the courage to take effective leadership, a decisive UN resolution, four weeks of honest, good faith negotiating by people who really and truly want to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and seven years of intensive campaigning by ICAN…
…and nuclear weapons have been banned.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted today in Conference Room 1 at the United Nations by an overwhelming 122-1 vote, makes a compelling case for the stigmatization and elimination of nuclear weapons. In fact, the language it uses to make that case is indistinguishable from the language of doctors, scientists, international lawyers, and others with expert knowledge of what nuclear weapons are and the devastating harm they cause:
“[T]he catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons cannot be adequately addressed, transcend national borders, pose grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations, and have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, including as a result of ionizing radiation.”
“[A]ny use of nuclear weapons would…be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.”
“[A] legally binding prohibition of nuclear weapons constitutes an important contribution towards the achievement and maintenance of a world free of nuclear weapons, including the irreversible, verifiable and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.”
The sections of the treaty that spell out the prohibitions and the obligations of the states that are party to it close the legal gap that has been exploited by the nuclear-armed and nuclear-dependent states not only to forestall their disarmament obligations, but also to keep nuclear weapons at the center of their military and security policies for decades to come. The development, testing, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons have been declared illegal under this treaty. Period.
The nuclear-armed and nuclear-dependent states have been provided with practical and flexible ways to comply with those prohibitions once they decide to join. If they persist in defying the norms established by the treaty, they will be outlaw states.
The treaty refutes the claim made by a handful of states that they need nuclear weapons to ensure their own security, and that humanitarian consequences must somehow be balanced with those needs. Not only does the treaty insist that the dangers posed by nuclear weapons “concern the security of all humanity,” but it also calls the long-overdue elimination of nuclear weapons “a global public good of the highest order, serving both national and collective security interests.”
The treaty is about more than prohibitions. It spells out the obligations and responsibilities of its parties to work for universalization, to redress and remediate the harm done by nuclear weapons to victims and the environment, and to support and defend the norm of collective security in a nuclear-weapons-free world.
Abacca Anjain-Maddison of the Marshall Islands—a place that has experienced the consequences of nuclear weapons first-hand—spoke on behalf of ICAN at the conclusion of this historic conference:
“The adoption of this landmark agreement today fills us with hope that the mistakes of the past will never be repeated. It fills us with hope that we will pass on to our children and grandchildren a world forever free of these awful bombs.”
Setsuko Thurlow said at the beginning of these negotiations that the ban treaty would “change the world.” With the successful conclusion of the negotiations, we now have a powerful new legal, moral, and political tool to do just that. We will have to maintain the partnership of states, international organizations, and civil society that has brought us this far in order to use the tool we’ve created for its intended purpose.
Nuclear weapons have been banned. All that’s left now is to eliminate them once and for all.
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