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Nuclear ban treaty enters into force—a big win for planetary health

Jan 22 celebrations (clockwise from upper left): Kansas City, Seattle, UN Secretariat building, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

It is the international news story that the United States “establishment” wants you to ignore: nuclear weapons have been declared illegal under international law. Fortunately, civil society people—including PSR members—spread the news of  the new treaty across the USA, often with a touch of creativity.

On Friday, January 22, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) ‘entered into force’, changing the legal status of nuclear weapons forevermore. This is a historic milestone along the road to total abolition of nuclear weapons. Entry into force also signaled a central accomplishment for the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and its 400+ partner organizations in 106 nations.  PSR is proud to be an ICAN partner organization.

Adopted by 122 nations at the UN in 2017, and now signed by 86 nations and ratified by 52 of them, this treaty declares nuclear weapons unacceptable and illegal because of their indiscriminate and catastrophic humanitarian impact.  The first  52 ratifying countries, together with civil society groups, are change agents creating a historic shift in our perceptions of nuclear weapons.

On January 21, the eve of entry into force, six international health federations representing millions of health professionals around the world issued a joint statement welcoming the TPNW, calling it “a real win for planetary health.” PSR’s international affiliate, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) was joined by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Council of Nurses (ICN), International Federation of Medical Student Associations (IFMSA), World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) and World Medical Association (WMA). Here is an excerpt:

“Ending nuclear weapons before they end humankind and many other lifeforms is an urgent health and humanitarian imperative. The treaty is a crucial step towards the eradication of nuclear weapons and a planetary health good of the highest order.”

PSR issued its own public statement celebrating the treaty on January 22.

Disarmament advocates celebrated the new treaty with at least 130 events around the world, including many in the nuclear-armed countries (none of which have signed or ratified the TPNW.) In the U.S., disarmament activists brought the message home—all the while practicing social distancing—at various facilities that form part of the ‘nuclear weapons enterprise’—including the Pentagon, nuclear labs at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Livermore, ballistic missile submarine bases in Washington state and Georgia, Kansas City plant, and also universities that participate in nuclear weapons research such as Johns Hopkins in Maryland. In New York City, ICAN activists welcomed entry into force by projecting celebratory messages onto the side of the United Nations Secretariat. PSR members organized or co-hosted in-person and virtual events in Arizona, California, Iowa, Oregon, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington. For many of these events, PSR activists partnered with other Alliance for Nuclear Accountability groups. PSR-Los Angeles welcomed the treaty by broadcasting a YouTube video featuring over 50 health professionals from around the United States calling for the world to “step Back from the Brink” of nuclear war.

PSR’s Ira Helfand teamed up with Nate Goldshlag of Veterans for Peace to place an op-ed in the Boston Globe, Sunday edition. PSR members also provided radio interviews in Missouri and California. And the reports continue to roll in.

What’s next?

  • Alert your U.S. Representatives and Senators that the United States must negotiate with the other 8 nuclear-armed countries for total elimination of all nuclear weapons, worldwide.
  • Read PSR’s public statement celebrating Entry Into Force and share it on social media using the hashtag #nuclearban.
  • TPNW ratifications continue to come in; Cambodia became the 52nd ratifier on Jan 22.
  • On Wednesday, January 27, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientistswill host a live international news conference via Zoom, at 10 am eastern time, to announce the 2021 time of the iconic BAS “Doomsday Clock.” The Clock is currently set at 100 seconds to midnight. Click here for instructions to tune in.
  • On Thursday, March 4, the Back from the Brink coalition will team up with International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for a livestreamed press briefing (open to the public): Ending Nuclear Weapons Before They End Us: Opportunities Under the Biden Administration to Take Action. The briefing will feature: Thomas Countryman, Denise Duffield, Beatrice Fihn, Michael Klare and Zia Mian. The briefing will be immediately followed by two sets of virtual workshops. For more information, contact Danny Hall, dhall@sgi-usa.org or visit preventnuclearwar.org
  • New York City Council will soon consider a resolution supported by PSR-New York that calls for divesting city pension funds from nuclear weapons and expresses the support of New York City for the TPNW.
  • Learn more about this important treaty
  • Will you help PSR abolish nuclear weapons? Email Martin Fleck, mfleck@psr.org to see how you can get involved.