Today, 22 January 2021, sees the UN Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons come in as international law. What does the Treaty include? It bans the: developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also makes it illegal to assist or encourage anyone to engage in these activities.
This Treaty has been ratified by 51 nations with another 86 having signed the Treaty since. The ‘nuclear powers’ have not signed it and NATO is opposed to it, but the fact that today it is part of international law reflects years of work by organisations and individuals around the world. Prominent among these have been faith groups. A 2018 resolution in the Church of England General Synod overwhelmingly ask the UK Government to engage with the Treaty and that has been backed by a recent letter from both Archbishops and many Bishops. Many denominations have issued statements calling for the elimination of these weapons of mass destruction.
It is interesting that this week also see the 75th anniversary of the first UN General Assembly. Meeting in London the Assembly’s first resolution was
- the ‘control of atomic energy to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes,’ and
- ‘the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.’
The memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both recent and although it has taken all those decades to put this into international law, from today that is a fact.
There is still much work to do, especially in our countries that hold nuclear weapons, but it is good to remember that previous treaties prohibiting chemical and biological weapons helped to stigmatise them in the minds of the public. This should now be taking place with nuclear weapons.
So while today we pause to celebrate this achievement, our campaigning to make the world free from these weapons of mass destruction continues.
I was much encouraged this week by the Right Rev. Dr. Martin Fair, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, when he said:
At times, as we seek great changes – dismantling apartheid, tackling global poverty – we can become disheartened and start to think that we’ll never make any difference, that we’re ‘whistling in the wind’. The signing of TPNW into international law is a significant moment in this journey and should be all the encouragement we need to continue the work to eventually see total elimination.”
And so after the ringing of the bells today ends, the work will continue.