ICAN Policy Newsletter - March 2020

ICAN - International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

The latest from ICAN:

Namibia ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on 23 March 2020.

NPT Review Conference Postponed, Disarmament Obligations Remain

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, originally scheduled for April 27 to 22 May 2020 was officially postponed to a date “no later than April 2021” in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, according to a March 27 announcement from the United Nations. NPT Conference President-Designate Gustavo Zlauvinen circulated a proposal to postpone the conference March 25 to states-parties. While the president-designate originally hoped to still hold an in-person one-day meeting on April 27 to settle several administrative matters, given the COVID-19 situation in New York even this kind of meeting was no longer feasible.

States-parties must work to implement the treaty’s obligations in the intervening year, such as implementing the NPT’s Article VI including by joining the TPNW, and by taking forward steps agreed to by consensus at past review conferences.

“Today the #NPT turns 50 years as the cornerstone of the efforts to ensure the non proliferation of the most dangerous and inhuman devices ever created, nuclear weapons, and to achieve their total elimination. How much more we need to wait to achieve such elimination?” tweeted Socorro Flores Liera, Mexican Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament on 5 March.

New Research on Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons

Yasmin Afina, Chatham House, speaks on a panel moderated by Magnus Løvold, ICRC, on emerging technologies and nuclear weapons risks during the 2 March conference.

The International Committee of the Red Cross held a conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons on 2 March in Geneva. The conference, a follow-up on to previous conferences held in 2010, 2012 and 2014, reviewed previous research and covered new findings, including on the gendered impact of nuclear weapons, the impact of artificial intelligence and cyber weapons and the environmental impacts of nuclear weapons.

The meeting featured representatives from 30 countries and presentations from experts from UNIDIR, King’s College London, the Federation of American Scientists, the Gender and Radiation Impact Project, Columbia University, Rutgers University, IPPNW Germany, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Sciences Po, and Chatham House.

The ICRC will prepare a working paper featuring research presented at the meeting. For an overview of the conference, see ICAN’s summary or search the #HINW2020 hashtag on Twitter.

COVID-19 and Nuclear Spending

As the world struggles to adapt to living under a global pandemic, nuclear weapons spending and building continues on unabated.

In February, the Trump administration issued its 2021 budget request including $44.5 billion for nuclear warheads and delivery systems, an increase of $7.3 billion from 2020 and $9.2 billion from enacted spending in 2019. This increase is partly to cover new nuclear weapons commissioned by the Trump administration and partly to cover up costly mistakes the federal agency in charge of nuclear warheads has been making for years.

Wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on weapons of mass destruction is always foolish, but it becomes clear how tragic it is to throw away needed resources in the midst of a global pandemic. The United States is reportedly short at least 300,000 beds in intensive care units, while the UK National Health Service has 10,000 doctor vacancies and 43,000 nurse vacancies.

But how much can one year of nuclear spending really do to help the COVID-19 crisis?

  • ICAN found that for the $35.1 billion the United States spent on nuclear weapons in 2019, it could buy 300,000 beds in intensive care units, 35,000 ventilators, and pay for the salaries of 150,000 U.S. nurses and 75,000 U.S. doctors.
  • France, meanwhile, for its €4.55 billion spent in 2019 on nuclear weapons could instead afford 100,000 hospital beds for intensive care units, 10,000 ventilators, and the salaries of 20,000 French nurses and 10,000 French doctors.
  • The United Kingdom could afford 100,000 hospital beds for intensive care units, 30,000 ventilators, and the salaries of 50,000 British nurses and 40,000 British doctors for its £7.2 billion spent in 2019 on nuclear weapons.

The same doubtless goes for all nuclear-armed states; ICAN just produced estimates for the United States, the United Kingdom and France given the relative transparency of their nuclear expenditures. ICAN estimates include reported costs to maintain and build new nuclear warheads and nuclear delivery systems. Costs of ventilators, ICU beds and nurse and doctor salaries are based on reported averages and vary by country. For all sources, check the article on the ICAN website:


ICAN marks Namibia's ratification virtually over Zoom.

Here at ICAN, we are doing our part to social distance and support vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have closed the main office and are working from home and conducting conference calls with campaigners around the globe. We are checking in with and lifting up the voices of our campaigners who are members of the medical community, and giving all of our campaigners tips for working online, including by celebrating TPNW ratifications virtually! These are challenging times and from all of us here at ICAN, we wish good health for you and your families and encourage you to continue to practice social distancing and heed scientists’ recommendations.

New Resources

Thomas Hajnoczi, “The Relationship Between the NPT and the TPNW,” Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, 11 March 2020.

Alexandra Witze, “How a Small Nuclear War Would Transform the Entire Planet,” Nature, 16 March 2020.

Kjølv Egeland, “Spreading the Burden: How NATO Became a ‘Nuclear’ Alliance,” Diplomacy and Statecraft, 17 February 2020.