“This is an important milestone marking the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons,” says Australian Red Cross’ International Humanitarian Law team’s Tara Gutman. “It means in 90 days the use, threat of use, development, production, testing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons will finally become illegal for the first time in history.”
On October 24, when Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty it triggered a legal process that will see the treaty become international law in 90 days. The ban treaty is the first globally applicable multilateral agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons.
Once the treaty becomes law nations who have signed it will be banned from developing, testing, producing and possessing nuclear weapons, and from allowing them on their territory. The treaty also commits nations to clearing contaminated areas and helping victims.
There are close to 14,000 nuclear bombs in the world, thousands of which are ready to be launched in an instant. The power of many of those warheads is tens of times greater than the weapons dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima 75 years ago.
“To this day, no city can prepare for an atomic bomb, and no nation can effectively respond to one,” says Ms Gutman. “Thousands and even millions of civilians will be killed and injured, and no one will be able to help.
“These weapons would unleash unimaginable and catastrophic destruction and as long as they exist there is the risk they could be detonated – intentionally, by accident or by miscalculation. Their prohibition and elimination are vital for the safety and future of every single person on this planet and for our environment.”
Although the nine countries that own nuclear weapons have not signed and will not be bound by it, the treaty sets a new standard against which future measures will be judged. It will create a new legal norm that will, over time, see nuclear weapons became an unacceptable choice.
For years Red Cross and Red Crescent leaders globally have advocated for the need for a legally binding commitment to prohibit nuclear weapons and, in the long term, eliminate them. Australian Red Cross has played a pivotal role in the global efforts to raise awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and to ensure they are never used again.