This is how the nuclear weapon ban treaty made history in 2021


2021 was always going to be a milestone year for nuclear disarmament, because it began with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’ entry into force in January. But at ICAN, we did not stop there, and our campaigners have been booking victories to make this historic moment have an even bigger impact. Here are just a few of our victories:

#1 Nuclear weapons are illegal now. You’re welcome. 

On January 22, 2021, we kicked off the year with a huge global celebration of the entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).  

This was a historic moment because the treaty’s entry into force meant nuclear weapons and all related activities were finally banned under international law. The TPNW also became the first treaty to outline a process for the verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons programmes, and the first to include the obligation to assist the victims of use and testing, and to remediate affected environments. In short, it makes countries deal with the very real consequences of these WMDs. 

The treaty’s entry into force was a victory for all people, made possible by decades of campaigning by civil society - like ICAN and all our partners - and the international community. So it’s no surprise that our campaigners around the world marked this historic day in a global party, with 192 events across six continents! And of course, we brought it all together in a fully-packed live streamed celebration from Geneva, Switzerland. If you missed it, catch up here. . 


#2 More countries are joining the treaty and encouraging others to do the same 

As of December 22, 2021 the treaty now has 58 states parties and we know that more are making progress through their domestic processes and will join in the coming months. We have also seen states exercise one of their new obligations under the treaty: promoting universalisation. Under Article 12 of the TPNW, all states that have joined the treaty must encourage others to do the same, with the goal of universal adherence. New Zealand, for example, organised a forum earlier this month to facilitate greater Pacific engagement.


#3 The treaty is shifting the money!

Now that nuclear weapons are illegal under international law, investors are seeing the companies behind the bomb for what they really are: a risky business. There is an early but visible impact of the entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), with many institutions citing the treaty’s entry into force and the risk of a negative public perception as reasons for the change in their investment policies. Here are just a few examples: 

  • Back in January, Belgium’s VDK bank celebrated the entry into force of the TPNW with a series of ads asking clients if they’d rather invest in the nucleus of their neighborhood or nuclear weapons:
  • In September, Swedish Insurance company Lansforsakringar  - with assets of over $46 billion - added nuclear weapons to its controversial weapons policy and cited the TPNW as a major reason to avoid any financial exposure to the companies involved in producing these weapons of mass destruction.
  • In December, New York’s City Council adopted legislation that calls on the city’s comptroller to pull the city’s pension funds out of companies involved in producing or maintaining nuclear weapons, effectively cutting off their access to a system worth more than  $250 billion. 
  • And of course, there’s the big picture: In 2021, 127 financial institutions stopped investing in companies producing nuclear weapons. 


#4 We’re breaking through in the NATO block

In late October, Norway became the first NATO state -- and first nuclear weapon-complicit state -- to commit to attend the First Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW as an observer, while in December, Germany’s new government committed to do the same. These are major breakthroughs. For years, NATO states without nuclear weapons have stood by the nuclear-armed states in defending security policies that rely on these weapons of mass destruction, and acted as if joining the TPNW was impossible. If you would like to read more about why that is not the case, and NATO states absolutely can follow the will of their people and join the treaty without legal barriers, check out our full report on this topic, or this great New York Times piece on it. 


#5 There is massive support for a world without nuclear weapons, and it’s freaking the nuclear armed states out.

The common theme in all of this year’s victories is that they’re driven by one of the most powerful forces there is: public pressure. Governments that are slow to join the treaty, have to face tough questions about why they continue to put their own citizens at risk with their outdated policies. 

After all, national polls continue to show overwhelming public support for the TPNW. Combine this with targeted and well-timed advocacy and you get leading politicians prioritising this issue during the election campaign, as we saw in Germany. Once they are elected to office, the MPs that have pledged to support the treaty  pass motions and other legislation to pressure governments to change their policies. Meanwhile, national governments also face calls from cities and towns to act to protect their citizens. 

Help us get ready for the next big win?

Looking back all we've achieved this year, we can't help but feel excited for the next big milestone: the first Meeting of States Parties in Vienna, in March 2022! Just three months from now, the countries that have joined the treaty will be meeting for the first time to discuss some of the treaty’s technical details and commit to concrete steps to meet their obligations. ICAN is incredibly proud to be there as the civil society coordinators, and we cannot wait to share what happens there with you.

We are trying to raise $40,000 by the end of this year so we can put the software, equipment and people in place so people around the world to participate in the meeting and the many events happening around it in meaningful and unique ways. No matter what, we will make sure you know what's going on in Vienna, and that your voices are heard where decisions are made. Will you help us make that possible?