An international treaty banning nuclear weapons has been ratified by a 50th country, the UN has said, allowing the historic though essentially symbolic text to enter into force after 90 days.
While nuclear powers have not signed up to the treaty, activists who have pushed for its enactment hold out hope that it will prove to be more than symbolic and have a gradual deterrent effect.
Honduras became the 50th country to ratify.
The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, called it “the culmination of a worldwide movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”, according to a statement from his spokesman.
“It represents a meaningful commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations.”
NGOs also welcomed the news, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican), a coalition that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its key role in bringing the treaty to fruition.
“Honduras just ratified the Treaty as the 50th state, triggering entry into force and making history,” Ican announced.
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in a statement: “Today is a victory for humanity, and a promise of a safer future.”
The 75th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, marked in August, saw a wave of countries ratify the treaty.
They included Nigeria, Malaysia, Ireland, Malta and Tuvalu. Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Vietnam and the Vatican are among the countries that had already ratified it.
The treaty would come into force on 22 January 2021, the UN said.
Declared nuclear-armed states including the US, Britain, France, China and Russia have not signed the treaty.
The US has written to treaty signatories saying the Trump administration believes they made “a strategic error” and urging them to rescind their ratification.
The letter, obtained by the Associated Press, said the five original nuclear powers – the US, Russia, China, Britain and France – and America’s NATO allies “stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions” of the treaty.
However campaigners hope the treaty will have the same impact as previous international treaties on landmines and cluster munitions, bringing a stigma to their stockpiling and use, and thereby a change in behaviour even in countries that did not sign up.
Ican said in a statement that it expects “companies to stop producing nuclear weapons and financial institutions to stop investing in nuclear weapon-producing companies”.
The coalition’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn, called it “a new chapter for nuclear disarmament”.
“Decades of activism have achieved what many said was impossible: nuclear weapons are banned.”
Saying his country had played a “decisive role” alongside others, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz wrote on Twitter it was “an important step toward our goal of a world without nuclear arms”.
Nuclear-armed states argue their arsenals serve as a deterrent and say they remain committed to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
Separately, Russia and the US have been seeking to break an impasse in long-running talks aimed at extending a nuclear arms deal between them.
The two sides have struggled to find common ground over the fate of the New START treaty, which limits both sides to 1,550 deployed warheads but is due to expire next February.
While the US wants to rework the deal to include China and cover new kinds of weapons, Russia is willing to extend the agreement for five years without any new conditions – and each side has repeatedly shot down the other’s proposals.
With Agence France-Presse and Associated Press