Treaty signatories include Africa’s most populous country and Europe’s least populated, but Russia and Nato on the sidelines
An international treaty banning all nuclear weapons that has been signed by 51 countries and that campaigners hope will help raise the profile of global deterrence efforts comes into force on Friday.
Although in some respects the step is largely symbolic because the world’s nuclear powers have not signed up, the treaty will be legally binding on the smaller nations that have endorsed it, and it is backed by the UN leadership.
The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons (TPNW) outlaws the creation, ownership and deployment of nuclear weapons by signatory states and places obligations on them to assist other victims of nuclear weapons use and testing.
Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has released polling saying that 59% of the UK public support the country signing up to the TPNW and that 77% support a “total ban on all nuclear weapons globally”.
Recent years have seen a gradual erosion of global nuclear controls, with the 1987 intermediate nuclear forces (INF) treaty, which kept nuclear missiles off European soil, allowed to expire in 2019 amid mutual recriminations from Russia and the US.
The new strategic arms reduction treaty between the US and Russia, which limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, is due to expire on 5 February – although Nato is calling on both sides to extend it following this week’s inauguration of Joe Biden as American president.
Countries that have ratified the agreement include Nigeria, Malaysia, Ireland, Malta, Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Vietnam and the Vatican City – although last autumn the US made a last-ditch lobbying attempt to try to convince countries to rescind their signatures.
That effort failed, and in October Honduras became the 50th country to sign the document, which meant that it would gain legal force after a 90-day period.