ESSENTIAL FACTS: THE NUCLEAR BAN TREATY
In 2021, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force as law in the ratifying countries. Everything to do with nuclear weapons is now completely illegal in those countries.
The treaty sets a new international norm that puts nuclear weapons in the same prohibited category as chemical and biological weapons.
Many more countries are expected to ratify in the near future, and the treaty will become law in those countries 90 days after ratification. As of Spring 2021, 135 countries have indicated their support for this Treaty, 86 countries have signed it, and 54 have ratified it. Updates: www.icanw.org/signature_and_ratification_status
It has never been legal to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons, in almost every imaginable scenario, under international laws of war already incorporated into US law. (To be legal, they would have to be used without causing disproportionate harm to civilians, without causing prolonged and superfluous suffering to soldiers, without adversely affecting neutral countries downwind, without causing long-term damage to the environment, etc.) With this nuclear ban treaty, it is now also illegal to develop, test, produce, manufacture, transfer, station, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons in the ratifying countries, and a new international norm has been created that may affect US military policy.
This treaty will not enter into force in the US or in any of the other nuclear-armed nations (Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) until they decide to sign and ratify it.
However, nuclear weapons companies with offices, projects, subsidiaries, contracts, suppliers, or investors in ratifying countries will be affected immediately. There is no law that protects US companies, their directors or employees, from prosecution in another country when the laws of that other country are being violated. The consequences for violating treaty-enforcement laws in the ratifying countries will vary. But for example, in Ireland, any person (including a corporate decision-maker) who violates these laws may be subject to large fines and a prison term as long as five years to life.
Significantly, under this treaty, it’s also illegal to assist, encourage, or induce anyone else to do any of those things. That includes financing those activities, in at least some of the countries that join the Treaty. Companies that make and maintain nuclear weapons will face increasing calls for divestment because of this treaty. Two of the five largest pension funds in the world have already divested from the nuclear weapons industry. The City of New York is expected to divest its pension funds in the near future. Investors will be increasingly concerned with “legislative risk” as well as with reputational risk and the possibility of stranded assets as future weapons contracts are cancelled.
The treaty represents an absolute rejection of “deterrence theory” by most of the world. It stigmatizes nuclear weapons as a grave danger to all humanity, whether they are used as designed or detonate by accident. And it lays out a clear pathway for the elimination of all nuclear weapons from all countries, in line with existing legal obligations to disarm, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that the US and other nuclear-armed nations have already committed themselves to.
If a nuclear-armed nation signs the treaty, it does not mean sudden, unilateral disarmament. Here's how it works:
The first step, agreeing the Treaty, was achieved by 122 countries at the United Nations on 7/7/17. The second step, entry into force, was achieved 1/22/21 when the 50th country ratified.
Now it's up to each country to sign and ratify. When a President or Prime Minister signs, it expresses their country's commitment to work with other nations to pursue disarmament. When a Parliament or Senate ratifies, it must then enact laws to enforce the treaty in their country.
Every ratifyng country plays a significant role in pressuring the nine nuclear-armed nations to start signing and ratifying the treaty and working together toward total disarmament.