The “Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” will come into effect 90 days from now. Honduras was the decisive 50th country to ratify the treaty which allowed the treaty to be enacted into international law. It is the first legally binding agreement on the international prohibition of nuclear weapons. The main principle of the treaty is that countries “never under any circumstances develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” The reaction to the treaty has been varied worldwide. The treaty was approved at the UN General Assembly in 2017 by 122 countries; however, there has been major opposition from the five original nuclear powers: the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, and France.
According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons the 50th ratification was described as bringing a “new chapter for nuclear disarmament.” Moreover, the UN chief said the treaty will “draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and “is a tribute to the survivors of nuclear explosions and tests, many of whom advocated for this treaty.” Despite the international support, major nuclear powers opposed to the treaty, most notably the UK, released a statement that whilst they are committed to a nuclear-free world, they do not believe in the treaty.
In contrast, the Pacific Islands have experienced first-hand the harrowing effects of nuclear testing on people and the environment and have been very vocal about their support for the ban. Dr. Satyendra Prasad, the UN high commissioner of Fiji, declared on the day that Fiji ratified the treaty, “Pacific Islanders continue to be exposed to nuclear radiation. Nuclear explosions, we know very well, do not observe national borders, they don’t respect visa regimes, nor does nuclear waste respect time – it remains for generations.”
Amongst the Pacific Islands and neighbouring countries, Fiji, Kiribati, Palau, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, New Zealand, and Nauru have signed and ratified the treaty. Australia, a country that has also been home to nuclear testing, released a statement stating they do not support the treaty and believes it will not eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons. Their stance on the effective “ban” of nuclear weapons and testing is reflective of Australia’s alliance with the United States, who strongly oppose the treaty.
Currently, there are more than 14,000 nuclear bombs in various countries around the world; these countries readily have access to launch thousands of bombs within an instant. Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies aptly states that “no nation is prepared to deal with nuclear confrontation. What we cannot prepare for, we must prevent.” The treaty is more expansive than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, as the treaty enforces countries to not engage in nuclear testing and the ban is enshrined in international law. Despite major nuclear powers not being signatories of the treaty, supporters of the ban hope the global pressure will act as a deterrent. Hence, the treaty is a symbol of international unity and acts to strengthen geopolitical relations.
Therefore, the political and social implications of this ban are tangible. Nuclear weapons are etched into our recent history with Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Moreover, nuclear accidents and testing have been the cause of devastation in many communities globally. The ratification of the treaty in countries and the implementation of it as international law is a momentous achievement. Whilst the future remains uncertain due to some major nuclear powers not ratifying or supporting the treaty, fundamentally, the nuclear disarmament treaty marks a humanitarian shift for communities affected by nuclear bombs and testing and strengthens global peace and security.