One year ago, on July 7, 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (also referred to as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty) was drafted with input from most United Nations member countries. The treaty bans the development, possession, use of and threat to use nuclear weapons. It has since been signed by 59 nations and ratified by 10, with many other governments currently working toward ratification.
During the past year, nuclear weapons have been a hot topic in American news and politics, due in part to the rollercoaster of tensions and thaws with North Korea. Yet even the existence of the Ban Treaty remains unknown to many Americans.
As an American who now lives in Hiroshima, the site of the first nuclear attack, I think this treaty merits a much closer look. If embraced, it would be a major step toward solving nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula and around the world.
The supposed deterrent effect of possessing nuclear weapons is said to make a state more secure. But even states with nuclear weapons agree that the world becomes much less stable as the number of nuclear states rises.
North Korea, for example, has learned by example to build weapons and threaten force in order to be taken seriously – because military power is one of the few languages nuclear states respond to, particularly the United States.
Although the young Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty is often wrongly dismissed as wishful thinking, it provides a framework for rigorous safeguard agreements and a verification process for states who enter into it.
Equally as important, the treaty is helping change the global culture surrounding nuclear weapons. As the number of participating states increases, the stigma against possessing nuclear weapons also rises. Eventually, even nuclear weapons states must heed the pressure and change their own policies, even if they are reluctant to sign the treaty themselves.
Proponents of the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty often cite the convention banning anti-personnel mines as a positive example: Due to stricter global norms, the United States eventually issued a statement forswearing the use of mines, despite not being party to the convention.
Nuclear disarmament is in the interest of all states and all people. Even the majority of nuclear weapons states already at least pay lip service to this fact. The Nuclear Ban Treaty provides a way to deliver on these promises.
However, representatives of the United States, United Kingdom and France issued a July 2017 joint statement condemning this pact. “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it,” they declared. “Therefore, there will be no change in the legal obligations on our countries with respect to nuclear weapons.”
Luckily, the majority of the world’s nations are not content to wait for action from the nuclear states. International agreements, such as nuclear weapons-free zones, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and, finally, the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty are all evidence that the world’s nations are willing to take action to prohibit nuclear weapons.
The citizens of America need to engage – not just with the treaty, but with the idea of nuclear weapons themselves: their contradictions, their limitations and their consequences. The number of nations that believe nuclear weapons are fundamentally untenable is growing. Americans can choose to be part of that journey. It is in our best interests.
Originally from Seattle, Annelise Giseburt currently lives and works in Hiroshima, Japan. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.