As President Joe Biden takes charge in the United States – and is expected to immediately move to rejoin the Paris climate agreement – this week also sees a very significant shift in the global status of nuclear weapons.

On Friday 22 January the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons takes effect, making nuclear weapons finally and formally illegal under international law.

“This is a sign of hope for our planet,” said Dave Sweeney, ACF nuclear free campaigner and co-founder of ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

“Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat. They are weapons of mass and indiscriminate murder. From this week, they are illegal under international law.”

The treaty prohibits signatories from testing, developing, producing, stockpiling or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also obliges parties to support the widespread adoption of the treaty and address the human and environmental impacts of nuclear testing.

While the treaty cannot force non-signatories – including the USA, China and Russia – to disarm, it will increase the political, legal and economic pressure on these nations and their allies. The Morrison government has opposed the progress of the treaty and refuses to support or sign the initiative. Labor has committed to sign and ratify the treaty when it is next in government. The Greens and some cross benchers also support the treaty.

“The changed status of nuclear weapons means Australia faces a clear choice,” Dave Sweeney said.

“We either choose to be a responsible and lawful member of the global community or we remain silent and complicit in plans to fight illegal wars.

“It’s time for Australia to be on the right side of law and history – this treaty is the best way to finally get rid of the world’s worst weapons. We should celebrate it and support it.”

The ban follows years of advocacy led by ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which started in Melbourne in 2007 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for drawing attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.

ICAN briefing paper on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and Australia

Header pic by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff

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