News Release

Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty Now in Force: What Does it Mean?


The Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons went into force today with over 50 nations having ratified it. It was backed by more than 120 countries in October 2016 at the UN despite the efforts — especially from the U.S. government — to stop it.

U.S. President Joe Biden has stated in the past that: “As a nation, I believe we must keep pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

But the U.S. government — through both the Trump-Pence and Obama-Biden administrations — has strongly opposed the Treaty, ensuring that virtually all NATO members voted against it, see below for analysis of NATO. Some other non-NATO nuclear weapons states, like Russia and Israel, have also opposed it. China, India and Pakistan abstained on the 2016 UN vote.

Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa edit the Nuclear Resister. They write: “January 22, 2021 will be a historic day for nuclear weapons. … Neither the United States nor the other nuclear armed nations have joined the Treaty. ‘But just because they aren’t signed on to the Treaty doesn’t mean it won’t affect them,’ said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance.” See listing of events in over 70 U.S. cities and towns.

Mello is executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group. He said today: “Disarmament is an inherently political process, with milestones codified in law. Milestones, such as the birth of the Treaty we welcome today, are not the journey. Political processes, rooted in civil society, remain paramount. Without political will nothing will happen, with or without this or any treaty. Even this wonderful treaty is only a piece of paper, worth as much as the active political will behind it.

“It is not enough to sign and ratify this infant Treaty. States Parties must actively protect and feed it, so it can grow in stature and strength. States have to challenge nuclear deterrence, and the conventional threats that lead to it, to fulfill this parental role.

“Ways in which the political will to nuclear disarmament, as well as the Treaty itself, can be strengthened are prime topics for discussion in the important Article 8 meetings required by the new Treaty.

“This Treaty can affect the practice of states immediately, if rigorously applied. For example, as long as NATO remains a nuclear alliance, its posture of nuclear threat, its basing of U.S. nuclear weapons on member states’ territories, its war plans that involve transferring control over these weapons to member states’ pilots, are forbidden under this Treaty. NATO states and the Western Pacific states under the U.S. nuclear ‘umbrella,’ are all engaged in practices this Treaty outlaws. These nuclear-allied states now lie outside an actively-growing norm of international law.

“Will States Parties sanction these states, or deny them overflight privileges, or otherwise use this Treaty to further the disarmament agenda to which these parties — indeed all NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] member states — are committed? Time will tell.

“Meanwhile everyone can now see that more than ever, nuclear disarmament is a ‘thing.’ Young people can again confidently invest themselves in furthering this noble goal. Political leaders everywhere are now on notice that the moral force which produced this Treaty is far from asleep. The world’s peoples are crying for security, not the nuclear sword of Damocles — for real peace and not the silence of ashes, where cities and civilizations once stood.”