How Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons Changed the World

Source: The Nation

A year after 122 nations adopted a nuclear-weapons ban, the treaty is showing results.

On July 7, 2017, the world made history. Surrounded by atomic-bomb survivors, antinuclear activists, members of the Red Cross, and UN officials, 122 governments adopted a new international law banning nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) outlaws all nuclear weapon-related activities, sets out measures for disarmament, addresses victim assistance and environmental remediation, demands that women play an equal role in arms reduction, and acknowledges the disproportionate impact these weapons have had on women and indigenous peoples. Its adoption was groundbreaking. As Setsuko Thurlow, atomic-bomb survivor from Hiroshima, said in her concluding remarks, “This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”

Yes, nuclear weapons still do exist. Yes, the handful of countries that possess them are still pouring billions of dollars a year into their renewal and expansion. Yes, the leaders of the nuclear-armed states—and their allies that support their possession of nuclear weapons—continue to say they will “never” join the treaty. But this is the same environment in which the nuclear-ban treaty was negotiated and adopted. And it the same hubristic attitude by nuclear-armed states toward international law, human security, and the survival of the planet that has prevented nuclear disarmament for more than seven decades. It is this attitude that has facilitated a new arms race and that those supporting the prohibition of nuclear weapons sought to disrupt.

On the one-year anniversary of the TPNW’s adoption, there is time for celebration but not self-congratulation. Just like the critics warned, this treaty has not magically eliminated nuclear weapons. But we always knew it would be difficult to eliminate nuclear weapons, and, after just one year, the treaty is showing results.

First, the nuclear-ban treaty has opened space for reviving the antinuclear movement, including by engaging a new generation of activists. Last year the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to drive the process for the TPNW. This prize, which reflects the relentless efforts for nuclear disarmament over generations, has generated additional interest and attention for campaigning against the bomb. Recently, demonstrations have broken out across Europe, with blockades at Germany’s Büchel nuclear-weapon base; and gatherings across the United Kingdom by activists demanding the government sign the TPNW—including by chaining themselves to the railings of the House of Commons and encouraging the Church of England to support the ban. Many activities are planned in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe ahead of the next North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, to be held July 11–12. In the United States, nuns have been distributing information about the TPNW to nuclear-weapon facilities and missile silos; while queer-identified campaigners have been active spreading the word about the nuclear ban at Pride events. In Australia, activists have been meeting with trade unions and student groups and are now preparing to take ICAN’s Nobel medal on a bike ride from Melbourne to Canberra to raise awareness about the TPNW and demand the Australian government sign it.

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