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The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has welcomed the 50th ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which allows it to enter into force and puts nuclear disarmament back on the global security agenda.

The TPNW is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of their total elimination. This ratification means it will enter legal force on 22 January 2021, but it needs more ratifications to have a real impact.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “Governments should not be fooled that nuclear weapons protect their citizens. By their very nature they are a direct threat to people’s security, and an indirect threat because of the money they cost. It is crystal clear that the social and economic impact of perpetuating nuclear weapons is costing lives.

“COVID-19 has exposed the failure to provide real security for people through the lack of investment in social protection, income guarantees, care, health and a just transition to a climate-secure world. This could start to be corrected if nuclear weapons states abolished their weapons and spent the money they saved on meaningful social and economic policies.”

The nine nuclear weapon states have 13,400 nuclear weapons, which cost them 72.9 billion US dollars to maintain in 2019 alone (an increase of 10% from 2018). Research by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has shown that each country’s spending on nuclear weapons could have paid for at least 100,000 intensive care beds, or tens of thousands of healthcare workers. The United States alone has more nuclear warheads than hospitals.

Sharan Burrow added: “There are worrying signs of a new nuclear arms race that we cannot tolerate or afford. The world must recommit to nuclear disarmament now through the TPNW. This ratification is an important and optimistic sign at a time of global crisis.

“Everyone involved in nuclear weapons, from governments to the arms industry to researchers, must back the TPNW and adopt just transition plans through dialogue with workers’ unions. We need to invest in the future and get rid of the demons of the past. We need to move money from war to peace. It is time to divest and disarm from nuclear weapons. It’s time to build a new social contract for recovery and resilience without nuclear weapons.”

Despite the TPNW, the nuclear arms control framework has crumbled in recent years:

  • The US withdrew in 2019 from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia that committed both parties to the elimination of those missiles.
  • The treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (“new START”) between Russia and the US will expire in February 2021, making the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals unconstrained for the first time since the 1970s.

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