UN Begins Countdown to Nuclear Ban Treaty

Editor’s Note: The Spectator’s Sean Howard will be back next week with his regular, monthly column, but he sent along a press release from Peace Quest Cape Breton about an important development in the progress of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW):


On October 24 – United Nations Day, and the 75th anniversary of the entry-into-force of the UN Charter – Honduras became the 50th state to ratify the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Under the terms of ‘the Ban Treaty,’ as it is popularly known, the 50th ratification triggers a 90-day countdown to ‘entry-into-force,’ meaning simply – and momentously – that on 22 January 2021, this comprehensive prohibition will become binding international law, obliging all state parties “never under any circumstances” to “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Woman holding "The BAN is here" sign.

(Source: ICAN, Twitter, @nuclearban)

By happy symbolic coincidence, 22 January 22 will be almost exactly 75 years to the day since the unanimous adoption (24 January 1946) by 47 states, including Canada, of the first ever UN General Assembly Resolution, proposing a sweeping solution to “the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy”: “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” The two lesser categories of weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD), biological and chemical, have already been banned: in just three months, the most dangerous and indiscriminate weapons ever invented – capable of killing millions in minutes, destroying cities in seconds, and wrecking the world’s climate in the process – will also be outlawed.

The Treaty was adopted by 122 states in July 2017, after UN talks boycotted by the world’s ‘nuclear-armed nine’ (the US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea); the members of the world’s only nuclear-armed alliance, NATO; and America’s other ‘nuclear-dependent’ allies (Australia, Japan, and South Korea). In addition to its core prohibition provisions, the Treaty would prevent any state from hosting nuclear weapons on its territory – as five NATO states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey) currently do – or claiming the right to be ‘defended’ by the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.


When it comes to NATO’s nuclear addiction, however, the times they are a-changing: on September 21, 56 former leaders of 20 NATO states issued a sensational ‘Open Letter in Support of the TPNW,’ urging their successors to sign the Treaty and “join the global majority. “We cannot,” they argued, “dither in the face of this existential threat to humanity”: because “there is no cure for a nuclear war…prevention is our only option.” (There were seven Canadian signatories, all Liberals: former Prime Ministers John Turner––the letter was published two days after his death––and Jean Chrétien; former Foreign Ministers Lloyd Axworthy and John Manley; and former Defense Ministers Jean-Jacques Blais, Bill Graham and John McCallum.)

Nagasaki countdown clock to mark the days until UN nuclear treaty ban takes effect.

Nagasaki has established a countdown clock to mark the days until UN nuclear treaty ban takes effect. (Source: NHK World-Japan)

Days before the milestone 50th ratification, the Trump Administration sent a letter to Ban Treaty-supporting states demanding they withdraw their signatures, a diplomatically unprecedented move which, according to Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace-Prize winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), “only shows how fearful they are of the treaty’s impact and growing support.”

Peace Quest Cape Breton Campaign Coordinator Sean Howard predicted that entry-into-force will dramatically increase the political and public pressure on the “nuclear addicts and adjuncts” to change their position and “stand on the side of survival.” Howard added that the Cape Breton Regional Municipality – a member of the international ‘Mayors for Peace’ coalition working – has twice called for Canada to sign and ratify the Ban, a “stance taken in recognition that all levels of government – and all citizens – have a role to play in ending the intolerable nuclear threat to the planet.”