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The Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons is Overwhelmingly Adopted

Friday, July 7, 2017
Posted by Marylia Kelley

Today is a day to celebrate. The “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” was overwhelmingly adopted at the United Nations in New York, with 122 states parties in favor, one opposed and one abstention.

The ban treaty, as it is popularly called, will now open for signatures by states at the UN on September 20, 2017.

According to the treaty’s “entry into force” provision, it will become fully operational 90 days after achieving its threshold requirement for 50 states to sign and complete its ratification.

While each country has its own rules governing ratification procedures, the ban treaty is designed so that it may enter into force in straightforward and timely manner.

Today, the world clearly and unequivocally told all nine nuclear-armed nations (the U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) that all nuclear weapons stand outside the law. And, while the nine nuclear weapons states are not expected to sign the treaty in the near term, its greatest power my lie in its establishment of a new global norm.

The ban treaty strips nuclear weapons of any shred of legitimacy and lays bare the fundamental truth of their horrific humanitarian and environmental consequences. As of today, they are no longer acceptable. Period.

The treaty (see blog and treaty text) stigmatizes and expressly outlaws the development, testing, possession, use, transfer and/or assistance in any prohibited activity. Further it bans the “threat of use,” which rips away the underpinning for deterrence policy upon which the U.S. and other nuclear-armed states have so long relied for legitimacy.

This is how societal patterns are changed – and how national behaviors are altered over time. This is true in terms of treaties; for example, the U.S. refused to sign the treaty banning land mines, while over 80% of the world's countries (162 of them) have become party to the treaty. This change in global norms has had the effect of binding the U.S. to the terms of the treaty regardless of signature or ratification.

With this and other similar precedents in mind, the ban treaty is written so that the present-day nuclear weapons states may come into compliance over time and join the kinship of nations in a nuclear weapons free world. Thus, the treaty’s most consequential power may be its most subtle.

It is exciting too to consider that all countries large and small have important roles to play in asserting the new norm and in achieving the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, as does civil society. In this regard, it is worth noting that more than 130 countries participated in negotiation for the ban treaty, and about as many non-governmental organizations, including ours were present for a length of time at the UN negotiations – and conducting important advocacy.

Today, the ban is no longer in the process of “becoming” a treaty. Today it has arrived.

First, we celebrate. Then, we get back to work. It is up to each of us to continue to propel the nuclear weapons ban process forward. And, for those of us who live in the U.S. or another of the nuclear-armed states, we have a special role and responsibility.

Today, we took a huge step, almost beyond calculation. Tomorrow and the in days to come, we will take others. We can do it!