What the Nuclear Ban Implies: Struggles Against Nukes by Communities and Smaller Countries Are Now Legal

From the Editor’s desk

The coming into effect of the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will empower and breathe new life into the struggles of affected communities, destroyed landscapes  and smaller countries for a nuclear-free world.

The decades long ‘legal gap’ on nuclear weapons has finally been bridged. With the ratification of the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), popularly known as the Nuclear Ban Treaty by Honduras today, the requirement of 50 UN member-states acceding to the treaty is complete and the production, possession and use of nuclear weapons will henceforth be deemed illegal, internationally.

While the United States has consistently pressurized countries against supporting the treaty, other nuclear weapons powers, including China and India, distanced themselves from the cause, despite their long-standing posture of being ‘reluctant’ nuclear states, ready to espouse disarmament if pursued universally. In 2016 when the 122 countries voted for the Nuclear Ban Treaty in the UN, China boycotted the negotiations while India abstained on rather flimsy grounds.

While the entry into force of the TPNW will not automatically and immediately render global nuclear abolition a reality, what sets it apart from other nuclear disarmament endeavours is that it does not leave its goals up to the benevolence of the nuclear-haves. The nuclear ban achieves something fundamental and rather commonsensical: from now on, every conversation about nuclear weapons will be one about illegal weapons of terror, and every transaction related to them will not just be morally abhorrent, but prohibited under the law. Surprisingly for all these decades, while land mines, cluster munitions, use of torture etc. were deemed illegal, nukes were not!

The Nuclear Ban Treaty is a culmination of the protracted struggles and aspirations of a large majority of people. This has ranged from the struggles of smaller countries and international abolitionist groups, who have found themselves exhausted by the interminable conundrums that have marked disarmament negotiations, communities whose lives have been upended and existences rendered precarious by the nuclear age – from nuclear mining to transport routes to test-sites – to medical experts convinced that there can be no civil defence in the event of a nuclear exchange, environmentalists who have underscored the irreversible ecological risks of nuclear use, as well as saner voices within the strategic community who have cautioned against the military futility of nuclear weapons. Their prolonged campaigns, predicated on lived experiences and an astute understanding of the humanitarian and ecological costs of nuclear weapons, culminated in the founding of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) as well as the historic adoption of the TPNW at the United Nations.

The most significant implication of nuclear weapons being deemed unlawful, is the legal strength that it will lend to communities engaged in pitched struggles for a nuclear-free world – whether groups lobbying with banks and corporations against funding nuclear weapons, indigenous and marginalized communities struggling against the systemic discrimination and violence engendered by nuclear mining, weapons tests, and waste storage on their lands, democratic rights activists fighting the suppression of the right to information under the garb of national security, and smaller nations fighting against nuclear weapons overshadowing diplomacy in global politics – each of them has achieved a legitimate stake in the conversations around nuclear weapons.

ICAN’s genius has been in bringing all these aspirations and stakes to a common platform and channelizing them for a simple, yet potent demand: Ban the Nukes!

In the 75th year of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, there could not have been a tribute more meaningful to the struggles of the Hibakushas, than for the voices of communities and landscapes destroyed by the nuclear age and democratic conversations bulldozed by its technocratic impulses to have finally gate-crashed the nuclear discourse hitherto monopolized by the global elite.



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