UN: Nuclear powers must join historic treaty making nuclear weapons illegal

Today is an historic milestone in the campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons, Amnesty International said, as the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) enters into force. The treaty makes it illegal under international law to develop, test, possess, host, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons, and has been adopted by twothirds of UN member states. 

None of the world’s nuclear powers have signed the treaty, and Amnesty International is urging these states and others to join the movement to eliminate the most inhumane and destructive weapons ever created.   

“Until now, nuclear weapons have been the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to a global ban treaty, despite the catastrophic harm they inflict. Today’s momentous change in international law – the result of decades of campaigning by civil society – brings us one step closer to abolishing the nuclear threat for good,” said Verity Coyle, Amnesty International’s Senior Advisor on Military, Security and Policing.

However, it is deeply worrying that none of the states who possess nuclear weapons have joined this treaty. Nuclear deterrence is a strategy based on the threat of killing millions of people and unleashing humanitarian and environmental catastrophe, and it has no place in today’s world. 

A historic moment 

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by twothirds of UN member states in 2017 and enters into force today.  

The treaty prohibits a wide range of actions by states, including developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory.  

These are commonplace activities  according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey collectively host around 150 U.S. nuclear weapons. None of these states have joined the treaty. 

While the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 prohibits non-nuclear powers from manufacturing nuclear weapons, it does not impose a general ban on the use or possession of nuclear weapons for all its parties.  

Meanwhile, nuclear powers have not kept to their commitments under the NPT — in 2019, according to ICAN, nine countries spent a total of $72.9 billion on nuclear weapons.  

 “TPNW plugs a huge gap in international law, and its entry into force must be met with a change of course by those states who still support, in any form, the use of nuclear weapons,” said Verity Coyle. 

 “Ending the threat of nuclear weapons is the responsibility of all governments in accordance with their obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.