Between October 13 and October 23, Tuvalu, Jamaica, and Nauru deposited their instruments of ratification for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. On October 24, United Nations Day, Honduras became the 50th, paving the way for the treaty to officially enter into force on January 22, 2021. This long-sought-after treaty is becoming a reality right before our eyes. It changes the legal status of nuclear weapons in international law, and marks a historic milestone for a decades-long, intergenerational movement to abolish nuclear weapons. PSR congratulates these first 50 forward-looking nations, the ICAN partner organizations, and everyone reading this who played a role in achieving this victory. Together, we have successfully challenged the status quo and illuminated the path toward a nuclear weapons-free world.
PSR is one of 596 Partner Organizations in 103 nations that comprise the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its work to promote this treaty. “This is really marking the starting point of shifting our perspective on nuclear weapons,” said ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn in response to the 50th ratification. “Decades of activism have achieved what many said was impossible: nuclear weapons are banned.”
PSR members have participated all along the path. Diplomats have credited PSR and our international affiliate, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), for catalyzing progress toward the ban with presentations before UN fora on humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, especially climate impacts that could trigger ‘nuclear famine,’ During treaty negotiations, PSR fielded several delegations who worked with ICAN and met with UN diplomats to advocate for the TPNW.
For years, while our affiliated organizations IPPNW and ICAN have been lining up offshore support for the ban treaty, PSR has been bringing the ban home to the United States. On April 27, 2017, PSR and Soka Gakkai International-USA organized an all-day conference at the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, DC to draw attention to the TPNW. The conference, titled Toward a Fundamental Change in Nuclear Weapons Policy, brought together scientists, policy experts, and religious leaders to discuss how the United States could embrace total elimination of nuclear weapons. Over 30 Back from the Brink resolutions have included explicit support for the TPNW, including Los Angeles, CA, Tucson, AZ, Salt Lake City, UT, Honolulu, HI, Washington DC, Philadelphia, PA, Portland, OR, Syracuse, NY, and the states of California and Oregon.
These 50 (all non-nuclear-armed) nations are just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of support for total elimination of all nuclear weapons, worldwide. Another 34 nations have signed the TPNW, but not yet ratified. A total of 122 nations voted to adopt the TPNW at the UN back in July, 2017. And two years before that, during the 2015 UN General Assembly, the Austrian Foreign Minister delivered a joint statement on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (including a call for total elimination) on behalf of 159 nations, or 82% of UN member nations.
Total elimination is the only appropriate medical response to nuclear weapons. Health professionals worldwide support the TPNW as a public health imperative, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, IPPNW, International Council of Nurses, World Medical Association, and the World Federation of Public Health Associations. On the very same day as the 50th ratification, the American Public Health Association voted, at their annual conference, to adopt new policies expressly endorsing the TPNW treaty and calling for total elimination of nuclear weapons, worldwide.
The United States and the other 8 nuclear-armed countries boycotted the TPNW negotiations and have actively opposed the treaty, with the United States going so far as to urge that existing ratifiers withdraw their ratifications. The treaty only obligates “states party” to observe its mandates, however, there is a well-established history of weapons bans (e.g., the treaties banning anti-personnel land mines and cluster munitions) having a ‘normative’ impact on nations that are outside the treaty. PSR and various coalitions in the U.S., including Back from the Brink, will invoke the treaty in urging the United States to negotiate with the other nuclear-armed countries for total elimination of all their arsenals.
PSR Health professionals respond to the news
“The TPNW is a clear message from nations across the globe that nuclear weapons threaten the survival of all humanity and must be eliminated before they eliminate us. The US needs to embrace this Treaty and follow the clear path to nuclear abolition laid out by the Back from the Brink campaign. Most importantly it must state unequivocally that it truly seeks the security of a world free of nuclear weapons and it must actively pursue negotiations with the other nuclear armed states for an enforceable, verifiable timebound agreement to dismantle the 14,000 nuclear warheads that remain in the world today. Such an effort must be America’s highest national security priority.”
— Ira Helfand, MD, PSR Board member, and IPPNW Co-President.
“Change is coming! Embrace it!”
— Ellen Ferranti, MD PSR-New York
“At long last, on this 75th anniversary year of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the founding of the United Nations, the world’s non-nuclear nations have stood up to the nuclear bullies and declared ‘enough’ with the 50th ratification delivered to the United Nations. Nuclear weapons are now illegal and those who have them, store them, develop them, fund them or threaten their use will now be in breach of international law. While celebrating this moment in history, our hard work begins now as we work to stigmatize these nuclear nations along with the funders and developers of these weapons until we realize their complete abolition. The Back from the Brink call provides a roadmap to focus our attention as we build the political will to that end here in the U.S.”
— Bob Dodge, MD, PSR Board member, PSR-LA President
“As hibakusha (atom bomb survivor), Setsuko Thurlow, said : ‘this is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.’ Always immoral, the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons, which is grounded in humanitarian concerns, proclaims that what has caused so much suffering and threatens to end life on this planet as we know it will be recognized as illegal at last.”
— Gwen DuBois, MD, MPH, PSR Board member, Chesapeake PSR President
PSR staff respond to the news
“We have treaties banning chemical and biological weapons — and they’ve worked. The world is measurably safer as a result. Now it’s time for nuclear weapons to be similarly discredited. The nuclear ban treaty has already created meaningful change in the world. This ratification will lead to more. At PSR, we are inspired by the 50 countries that are leading the world to a better future. We look forward to shaking up the complacency of the United States and moving our country toward total elimination of nuclear weapons.”
— Jeff Carter, PSR Executive Director
“With this victory comes the urgency to continue pushing our members of Congress to take action to align the United States with the international norm: that nuclear weapons are inhumane, immoral, and now also illegal.”
— Carly Brook, Washington PSR Nuclear Weapons Abolition Organizer
“I’ve heard people say that abolishing nuclear weapons isn’t possible. This is a choice, not a sentiment. Today, with the 50th ratification of the TPNW, we see countries across the world have decidedly prohibited nuclear weapons because these weapons do not represent the reality we want to experience. I am overjoyed and feel even more inspired to work to abolish nuclear weapons through Back from the Brink resolutions in the United States.”
— Anna Linakis Baker, MPH, Greater Boston PSR Executive Director
“This momentous occasion demonstrates that a tidal change in nuclear weapons policy is not only possible, it is inevitable if we continue to persevere, organize, and do all that each of us can to grow the movement for nuclear abolition. Change is happening in the United States too. The Back from the Brink campaign has been endorsed by over 300 diverse organizations, and resolutions adopting our policy solutions to prevent nuclear war have been adopted by nearly 50 municipalities and 6 state legislative bodies. Over 30 Back from the Brink resolutions also included explicit support for the TPNW, including Los Angeles, CA, Tucson, AZ, Salt Lake City, UT, Honolulu, HI, Washington DC, Philadelphia, PA, Portland, OR, Syracuse, NY, and the states of California and Oregon, among others.”
— Denise Duffield, Associate Director, PSR-Los Angeles
“The TPNW provides a bold vision for a more just and sustainable future. As long as nuclear weapons exist, they pose an existential threat to all life on this planet. To fight for complete abolition is to fight against genocide and terracide. The TPNW sends a clear message that civil society craves true peace & that we refuse to be dragged into nuclear war and nuclear famine at the hands of the powerful few.”
— Allen Hester, PSR Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program Grassroots Coordinator
“When they write the history of how humanity survived the threat of nuclear annihilation, October 24 will be part of that story. It’s a turning point. The current generation is sending a signal to the next generation that we intend to pass on the Earth to them, intact.”
— Martin Fleck, PSR Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program Director