The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons due to become international law

On Saturday 24th October, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – meaning that in 90 days, on 22 January 2021, it will irreversibly enter into force. Now the Treaty is due to become international law, nuclear powers need to engage constructively on nuclear disarmament.

Featured Image shows Treaty campaigners celebrating the news outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

As a member of ICAN (the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), the coalition of organisations working to get the Treaty ratified, the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (SCND) shared the news last month:

Today, 24th October, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The 50th ratification triggers irreversible entry into force.

Each state has 90 days to make arrangements to fully comply with the Treaty’s terms – to outlaw all nuclear weapons and nuclear tests, and to repair, as far as possible, the damage which our terrible nuclear history has done to survivors and to our planet. It also binds its member states to urge all other governments to join.

Since they have not yet acceded to the Treaty the world’s 9 nuclear-armed countries (and the other countries which host nuclear weapons) are not yet bound by it, but we know that Treaties change behaviour, even among the countries that don’t ratify them. The entry into force of Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Mine Ban Treaty have completely changed the world’s approach to these deadly weapons, despite the US not having ratified either of them. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will do the same.

The nuclear-armed states are well aware that the Treaty will have an impact. This week, we saw the unedifying spectacle of the world’s biggest nuclear power – the USA – begging the countries who have signed the Treaty to withdraw from it. Although they have previously made huge efforts to discourage states from joining, this new behaviour is a first in breaching UN diplomatic protocols. They know, as well as we do, that this Treaty will forever change the way the world relates to nuclear weapons.

We know that the Scottish Government, and Scottish parliamentarians, support the aims of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We call on all Parties and all representatives to pledge that they will support the Treaty – to pressure the UK Government to sign up now, and to state unequivocally that Scotland, if independent, would ratify in its own right and have global and UN backing in refusing to have any nuclear weapons here.

The UK

In her article, Nuclear disarmament: from ‘open-ended talks’ to ratification and beyond founding Co-Chair of ICAN, the 2017 Nobel Laureate and long-time feminist peace campaigner Rebecca Johnson explains more about what the Treaty means for the UK:

Here in Britain, we face an uphill struggle to persuade the government to halt the hugely expensive Dreadnought-Trident modernisation. However, public opinion polls show large majorities of British people in favour of nuclear disarmament and opposing Trident replacement, projected to cost £205 billion.

More and more, people are coming to see that nuclear weapons pose extinction level risks and are not a political or security asset. They are useless for tackling today’s major security challenges, including the climate, Covid and ecological emergencies.

The Scottish Government publicly endorses it and seeks to rid Scotland of Trident and end the dangerous transportation of warheads between Faslane, Coulport, and Berkshire’s bomb factories, Aldermaston and Burghfield.

In the words of atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow (PDF) : “The beginning of the end of nuclear weapons has arrived! Let us step through the doorway now!”

Setsuko Thurlow during campaigning for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons