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For immediate release Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Historic Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons Opens for Signature at United Nations

Treaty comprehensively bans nuclear weapons research, possession, use, deterrence, and all forms of assistance in these prohibited acts

Around 45 states expected to sign Wednesday, more in following days; ceremony begins 8 am EDT; entry into force follows 50th ratification.

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 (office), 505-577-8563 (cell)

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Albuquerque, New Mexico – This morning, Wednesday, 20 September at 8:00 am EDT, the Secretary-General of the United Nations will open for signature the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The ceremony will be broadcast live on UN TV.

The Treaty prohibits developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, possessing, stockpiling and deploying nuclear weapons, transferring or receiving them from others, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, allowing any stationing or deployment of nuclear weapons on national territories of signatories, and assisting, encouraging, or inducing any of these prohibited acts. The Treaty requires each signatory state to develop "legal,  administrative  and  other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent and suppress" these prohibited activities.

The Treaty will enter in force 90 days after at least 50 countries have ratified it.  The Treaty can be amended at regular or extraordinary meetings of signatories by a two-thirds majority. 

The Treaty was concluded on July 7 of this year ("Historic Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons Adopted at United Nations," Jul 7, 2017). It was the product of negotiations that began in March (“US, Allies, Stage Protest Outside UN General Assembly Hall as Nations Gather in Unprecedented Meeting to Ban Nuclear Weapons,” Mar 27, 2017). The negotiations and Treaty fulfill a General Assembly mandate passed last December (“In Historic Vote, UN General Assembly Mandates 2017 Negotiations to Ban Research, Development, Testing, Stockpiling, Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Dec 23, 2016). In the summer of 2016, elements of a possible treaty were discussed at length in Geneva by a special Open-Ended Working Group involving most of the world's countries (“UN Disarmament Working Group Calls for 2017 Negotiations to Ban Nuclear Weapons,” Aug 19, 2016). These meetings were the result of years of efforts by civil society and leading states.

According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), forty-three states are expected to sign the treaty today:






Cabo Verde

Central African Republic



Congo (Brazzaville)

Congo (Democratic Republic)

Costa Rica

El Salvador





Holy See










New Zealand







São Tomé & Principe

Solomon Islands

South Africa









Ecuador, Gambia, Laos, and San Marino will sign the Treaty later this week.

Other states will follow these first 47. In July, 122 states voted to adopt the Treaty. All the African Group states (54 states) and all the South American and Caribbean states (33 states) have been strongly in favor of the Treaty throughout negotiations, as have many other states which have yet to file official signature documents.

Even considering the time needed for ratification, it is therefore likely that the Treaty will enter into force in 2018.

Study Group Director Greg Mello: "It is difficult to overstate the accomplishment represented by this Treaty, an accomplishment which will grow over the coming months and years with further efforts by civil society and leading states.

"It is the first true multilateral disarmament treaty. It begins to fulfill, as no prior multilateral treaty has done, the mandate of the very first General Assembly resolution, in 1946 [text and supporting statements here]. It makes a sea-change in nuclear affairs. It is a milestone accomplishment in support of civilization, an historic step in bringing the age of nuclear terror to an end. What follows now depends on many factors, but the new treaty is a righteous thumb on history's scales.

"First and foremost, the universal norms embodied in this Treaty are a political, legal, and moral counterweight against nuclear war. When US president Trump threatened North Korea with total annihilation today at the UN (transcript), he brought with him the nuclear launch codes (photo), which follow the US president wherever he goes. The danger of nuclear war is high and it is growing.

"For signatories, the Treaty establishes new treaty ("conventional") law. For them it also reaffirms existing conventional law, for example in nuclear free zone treaties and in the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

"The new Treaty goes farther than this, however. Its legal implications affect more than just its signatories. The Treaty references and explicitly applies to nuclear weapons a large and long-standing body of humanitarian law -- both conventional law and universal "customary" law -- stating that any use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons is illegal and forbidden -- by implication universally and not just for signatories. In the language of its negotiators, the purpose of the Treaty is to eliminate, for all states, any alleged or perceived "legal gap" in existing law that would allow states to retain, use, or threaten with nuclear weapons.

"Today begins a long process of state accessions, with renewed debate around the world about the role of nuclear weapons in human and environmental security. This is not a process which favors nuclear weapons. The nuclear ban is less a piece of paper than a process which will favor new ways of thinking about security.

"President Trump's UN speech today, which threatened mass violence against one UN state and illegal "regime change" against two others, perfectly illustrates the enormous dangers to the world posed by the waning US global empire and its militarized approach to security concerns. The 29 extended nuclear deterrence relationships maintained by the US multiply nuclear flashpoints, any one of which could provide the spark that would end civilization and bring death to billions.

"In 1963, at American University, President John F. Kennedy called for 'a new effort to achieve world law -- a new context for world discussions,' to end the Cold War and build the institutions of peace. 'Our primary long range interest," Kennedy went on to say, 'is general and complete disarmament-- designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.'

"This new Treaty, from its very first day, is already a cornerstone in that law of peace.

"While the new Treaty will develop its full strength only gradually, time is short. It is critically important to quickly gain accessions, achieve early entry into force, and with these, begin the hard work of denuclearizing NATO, bring home US nuclear weapons (the only nuclear weapons based on foreign soil), and integrating the Democratic People's Republic of Korea into a common regional security framework among other urgent tasks. We must quickly reorient our security debates toward the humanitarian crises engulfing entire states and regions and the planetary climate crisis, which could very quickly overwhelm and defeat all human purposes.

"It would therefore be a mistake to view the new Treaty as just a nuclear weapons treaty -- say, a new kind of arms control. It is much more than that. To succeed in its aims, the "Treaty" -- meaning we, the Treaty's friends in civil society and in governments -- must see and use the Treaty in the widest context of humanitarian and human development concerns, war prevention, ecological protection, and social justice."


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