AFP

Treaty banning nuclear weapons opens 'new era': ICAN 28 October 2020 - 14:12

In 2017, Beatrice Fihn's organisation ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize for what many considered an idealistic and unrealistic battle against nuclear weapons. But since Saturday, the campaigners have a fully ratified treaty to show for their efforts, with Fihn voicing optimism it could usher in a "new era for nuclear disarmament".The text has now been ratified by 50 countries, paving the way for it to take effect after 90 days -- but notably the top nuclear powers have all refused to sign up.Fihn, who heads the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons coalition that won the Nobel three years ago for its key role in drafting the treaty, described reaching the required number of ratifications as "a real historic moment",Campaigners hope that the fully ratified treaty will have the same impact as previous international agreements banning landmines and cluster munitions, casting stigma on their stockpiling and use, and spurring a change in behaviour even in countries that did not sign."This is the first time nuclear weapons are being made illegal under international law and it really completes the prohibition of other weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons and biological weapons," Fihn told AFP in an interview.Once the treaty takes effect on January 22, Fihn said, "all weapons of mass destruction will be banned under international law."- 'Groundbreaking' -"It's really a groundbreaking treaty... It's a new start for a new era of nuclear disarmament."The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons -- which bans the use, development, production, testing, stationing, stockpiling and threat of use of such weapons -- was adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017 with the approval of 122 countries.Eighty-four states have since signed it, though not all have ratified the text.The 75th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August saw a wave of countries ratify the treaty.But a clutch of the most powerful nuclear-armed states, including the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, have flatly refused to sign.They argue their arsenals serve as a deterrent and say they remain committed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.- 'World will not be more peaceful' -After ICAN won its Nobel three years ago, Washington warned that the treaty ignored "security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary". Worrying the US is North Korea's nuclear capabilities, and Iran's apparent push ahead with nuclear development after President Donald Trump walked out on an international deal aimed at curbing its atomic ambitions.ICAN's treaty "will not make the world more peaceful, will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon, and will not enhance any state's security", Washington said at the time. Since then, the geopolitical situation has deteriorated, with growing fears that the US and Russia could fail to extend a vital nuclear arms deal, the New START treaty, due to expire next February.- 'Wake-up call' -Fihn acknowledged that "when it comes to nuclear weapons, people have sometimes the impression that they are here for ever, that there is nothing we can do about it."But she insisted ICAN's treaty was "not just a symbolic piece of paper.""It has real impact on the ground," she said."A treaty with or without the nuclear-armed states has really progressive provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation."In addition, she said, the treaty "will have a huge impact in terms of investment in nuclear weapons.""We see banks and pension funds that operate globally have to adjust to these new international treaties, no matter which country that joined them."She also voiced hope that the Covid-19 pandemic could serve as "a wake up call.""The nuclear weapons were useless when the crisis actually came, military spending is useless when it comes to actually protect the security and the safety of the people, so I think people start to question that," she said."It doesn't go fast, but I think we have a moment now where we can build a better world after this crisis."

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