Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Nuclear Ban Treaty Enters into Force

Andie Forsee and David Hogan, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

On January 22, 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force, making nuclear weapons illegal under international law and marking another step forward for humanitarian disarmament.

A banner, reading, "Nuclear weapons are illegal now."
Credit: ICAN, 2021

The TPNW bans nuclear weapons-related activities and contains positive obligations designed to remediate the human and environmental harm caused by past use and testing. Like the treaties prohibiting chemical and biological weapons, antipersonnel landmines, and cluster munitions, the TPNW also stigmatizes a banned weapon, increasing the pressure on nuclear-armed states, which have not joined the treaty, to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

“The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a victory for all people, made possible by the efforts of civil society and the international community,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).  “A handful of nations have held the world hostage with these horrific weapons. With the treaty we break those chains and chart a new course to a world free of nuclear weapons.”

The TPNW is the product of a collaborative effort among states, international organizations, and civil society, who highlighted nuclear weapons’ devastating humanitarian and environmental effects and incompatibility with international law. Their initiative and hard work led 122 states to adopt the TPNW at the United Nations in July 2017. When Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty on October 24, 2020, the 90-day countdown to the treaty’s entry into force began.

As people around the world celebrated the treaty’s entry into force, the historic moment inspired a multitude of blog posts, opinion pieces, statements, and journal articles. For this month’s key developments post, we have highlighted a small selection of these writings, which offer insights on the TPNW from international and national perspectives.

In case you missed it:


Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, expresses her feelings of gratitude for the TPNW and solidarity with its supporters around the world. She writes that the treaty signifies the “beginning of the end of nuclear weapons” and has opened a new door to total elimination through which we must now step: Setsuko Thurlow: The TPNW – A Game Changer in Nuclear Disarmament

In a video statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres commends the TPNW for advancing the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world and declares that “the elimination of nuclear weapons remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations”: Guterres hails entry into force of treaty banning nuclear weapons

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recognizes the entry into force of the TPNW as a “ground-breaking” step in addressing the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use and testing: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement celebrates the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

An interfaith statement, endorsed by 156 organizations, “wholeheartedly” welcomes the TPNW’s entry into force and calls for advancing “peace, justice, and respect for life” by eliminating nuclear weapons: Joint Interfaith Statement on the Entry into Force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

A joint statement by the world’s largest health federations calls the TPNW an “antidote” to the growing danger of nuclear war in a climate-stressed world: International health and humanitarian organizations welcome the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

SEHLAC celebra la entrada en vigor del TPAN y explica el contexto de las negociaciones: Efeméride: Entrada en vigor del Tratado sobre la Prohibición de las Armas Nucleares

Ray Acheson of the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) describes the TPNW as “the first feminist law on nuclear weapons” and explains how it “challenges the core tenants of nuclearism”: Nuclear weapons are prohibited under international law

The journal Global Policy has published a special section, edited by Matthew Breay Bolton and Elizabeth Minor, on the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons and policy efforts to address them: Addressing the Humanitarian and Environmental Consequences of Nuclear Weapons: New Peer-Reviewed Research (open access for limited time period)

In the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Molly Hurley argues that the TPNW counters colonialist nuclear policy, thus “opening a pathway toward a new, post-colonial conception of security”: Global nuclear policy is stuck in colonialist thinking. The ban treaty offers a way out.

Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research celebrates the TPNW while calling on states parties to adopt a Global Truth Commission on Nuclear Weapons, which could promote justice and mobilize public support for the elimination of nuclear weapons: Nuclear weapons ban treaty is now international law

A woman holds a sign, reading, "I'd rather be active today than radioactive tomorrow."
Credit: ICAN, 2021


Mines Action Canada fact-checks naysayers and explains why it is important for Canada to engage with the TPNW: Giving Canadian Nuclear Ban Myths a Reality Check

PAX describes the growing consensus among the Dutch population that the Netherlands should join the TPNW and reject NATO’s Nuclear Sharing agreement: Majority of the Dutch say that The Netherlands must join the Ban Treaty

Norwegian People’s Aid presents polling data that shows the majority of Norwegians support the TPNW, and argues that such support will “sooner or later” compel the nuclear-armed states and nuclear umbrella states, including Norway, to join the treaty: Nuclear weapons ban comes into force – without peace nation Norway

ICRC legal advisor Sippakorn Chongchuwanich praises Thailand’s leadership in nuclear disarmament and details the path to TPNW’s entry into force: A Step Closer to A World Without Nuclear Weapons

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