A United Nations treaty to ban nuclear weapons takes effect Jan. 22, following confirmation Saturday that Honduras had become the 50th state party to ratify the pact.

While hailed as an important step toward the actual abolition of nuclear weapons, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons remains strongly opposed by the United States and other nuclear powers. U.S. ally Japan has joined Washington in refusing to ratify the pact. But its entry into force could put pressure on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government to join.

The 50th ratification came on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, as well as 75 years to the day of the ratification of the U.N. Charter, which officially established the United Nations.

Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima hibakusha and longtime activist, praised the news.

“I have committed my life to the abolition of nuclear weapons. I have nothing but gratitude for all who have worked for the success of our treaty,” Thurlow said in a statement

Thurlow is a leading campaigner with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) — the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning coalition whose work helped spearhead the nuclear ban treaty.

“This is the first time in international law we have been so recognized. We share this recognition with other hibakusha across the world,” she added.

ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn also lauded the ratification, calling the moment “75 years in coming.”

“The 50 countries that ratified this Treaty are showing true leadership in setting a new international norm that nuclear weapons are not just immoral but illegal,” Fihn said.

Akira Kawasaki, a Japan-based International Steering Group member for ICAN, expressed his excitement during an online news conference Sunday.

“The guarantee that the treaty will go into effect means that nuclear weapons have been made illegal and the reason for their existence is gone,” he said.

Akira Kawasaki, International Steering Group member for ICAN, holds an online news conference Sunday after Honduras became the 50th state party to ratify a a United Nations treaty to ban nuclear weapons, putting the pact on schedule to take effect on Jan. 22. | KYODO
Akira Kawasaki, International Steering Group member for ICAN, holds an online news conference Sunday after Honduras became the 50th state party to ratify a a United Nations treaty to ban nuclear weapons, putting the pact on schedule to take effect on Jan. 22. | KYODO

Hibakusha groups, meanwhile, called on the Japanese government to become a signatory.

“The government should take the lead to realize a nuclear weapons-free world by changing its nuclear policy and promptly ratify the treaty,” the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) said in a statement Sunday.

With Japan a close U.S. ally and protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and with East Asian neighbors China and North Korea possessing nuclear arsenals, the Japanese government has so far resisted domestic and international calls to join, saying a ban treaty without the participation of those who possess nuclear weapons was not practical.

The government’s position was outlined by its ambassador, Nobushige Takamizawa, during U.N. negotiations on the treaty in March 2017. The treaty was adopted in July that year, with 122 countries voting in favor. Japan boycotted the July 2017 conference.

“A ban treaty, if it does not lead to an actual reduction of a single nuclear warhead, would be of little significance,” Takamizawa said at the time. “Efforts to make such a treaty without the involvement of nuclear-weapons states will only deepen the schism and division, not only between nuclear-weapon states and nonnuclear-weapons states but also among nonnuclear weapons states.”

But political pressure to ratify the treaty could rise now that it is set to become law. A poll by public broadcaster NHK last December showed two-thirds of respondents believed Japan should join the treaty, while 17% were opposed and the rest undecided.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Suga did not mention the ban treaty, choosing instead to emphasize nonproliferation efforts. He said Japan would spare no effort in realizing a world free of nuclear weapons, including its upholding of a long-standing Diet resolution — but not a law — to maintain the three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, producing or introducing nuclear weapons.

The prime minister added that this year was also the 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s entrance into force and that Japan saw this pact, rather than the ban treaty, as the main way to ensure the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never repeated.

“This treaty serves as the cornerstone of the international regime for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation,” Suga said, adding it was important that it be maintained and further strengthened.

A report by ICAN on global nuclear weapons spending estimated that the nine nuclear armed countries — China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S. — spent nearly $73 billion on their more than 13,000 nuclear weapons in 2019, a $7.1 billion increase from 2018.

Of this total, the U.S. spent $35.4 billion, while China spent $10.4 billion and Russia spent $8.5 billion. North Korea was estimated to have spent $620 million.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.