On January 22, 2021, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force. The treaty bans a broad range of nuclear activities, including developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, and using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons on national territory and prohibits assistance to any nation or group of individuals in the conduct of prohibited activities.
How did this landmark agreement emerge? For decades, peace and disarmament groups had pressed hard for nuclear disarmament and had secured numerous treaties that reduced the number of nuclear weapons in the world substantially. Nevertheless, despite the obligation of the nuclear powers, under the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, to divest themselves of their nuclear arsenals, nine nuclear powers retained thousands of nuclear weapons — with 13,400 remaining today — and continued to develop and deploy new nuclear weaponry. In response, many non-nuclear nations, fed up with this behavior, joined citizen activists to put an end to the nuclear menace. A UN conference in July 2017, with overwhelming support from representatives of the non-nuclear governments attending it, formally adopted the TPNW. Now ratified by 51 governments, it has become international law.
Unfortunately, the nuclear powers, opposed to the TPNW from the start, have refused to sign it and show no sign of accepting its jurisdiction over their nuclear policies. This evasion of responsibility provides yet another illustration of why global governance should be strengthened.