An international treaty banning nuclear weapons has come into force, but what the accord will actually achieve remains in doubt since nuclear powers are staying away from it.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) “is an important step towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and a strong demonstration of support for multilateral approaches to nuclear disarmament," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on January 22.
Guterres praised "the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades," and called on all states to "work together to realize this ambition to advance common security and collective safety."
The treaty that forbids the development, production, testing, possession, and use of atomic arms is now part of international law after it received its 50th ratification in October, triggering a 90-day period before its entry into force.
When the pact was approved by the UN General Assembly in 2017, 122 nations representing nearly two-thirds of the world's countries approved it.
But only about half of these countries have turned the treaty into national law so far, and none of the nine nations known or believed to possess nuclear weapons —Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States — supported it.
Even Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks, does not support the treaty, arguing that pursuing a ban is not realistic with nuclear and non-nuclear states so sharply divided over it.
Nonetheless, Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a civil society umbrella group that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, tweeted that “the #nuclearban will only grow stronger from now on.”
“The ban is the future,” she wrote.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said: "The countdown has begun on the most malicious weapon ever invented by mankind."
Previous pacts that have outlawed landmines, cluster munitions, chemical weapons, and biological agents have proven that it is possible to eventually achieve disarmament despite initial opposition from arsenal countries, he added.