What if a most of the world declared nuclear weapons — as they have cluster bombs, and chemical and biological weapons — illegal? As you can imagine, the chances of nuclear weapon states being among them are slim to nonexistent. But a growing movement believes that a nuclear ban treaty, also known as the Humanitarian Initiative, can be a first step toward global disarmament.

At the National Interest, Tom Sauer writes:

A Nuclear-Weapons Ban Treaty is a relatively minor step in the process of getting rid of nuclear weapons. The text of a Nuclear-Weapons Ban Treaty can and would be relatively short. The major goal of the treaty is to outlaw nuclear weapons, just as other weapons categories have been declared illegal before.

At its website, ICAN (the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), one of the principal groups behind the ban, is a little vague about how a ban treaty would lead to disarmament.

The ban treaty itself need not necessarily envisage every complex step towards elimination by all nations. Instead it would put in place the basic framework for reaching that goal. Underpinning the growing call for a ban is a firm belief that changing the “rules” regarding nuclear weapons would have a significant impact beyond those states that may formally adopt such an instrument at the outset. The ban treaty, once in force, would powerfully challenge any notion that possessing nuclear weapons is legitimate for particular states.

Sauer is more specific, however.

The major goal of a Ban Treaty would be to elevate the nuclear taboo to prominence and, by doing so, stigmatize the spread of nuclear weapons. The hope is that by doing so a societal and political debate will arise, including in some of the (democratic) nuclear-weapon states.

If just one nuclear-weapon state changes its status, as South Africa did in the past, and becomes a non-nuclear weapon state as a result of that debate, the advocates of the Ban Treaty will have met their goal. This would, in turn, have a substantial positive effect on the worldwide nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

He also nominates a candidate for that “one nuclear-weapon state.”

If 120 to 150 states in the world declared nuclear weapons illegal, it might be the necessary push for London to take the decision to abandon nuclear weapons.

… The UK has always had “an active peace movement—in contrast, for instance, to France. Current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (who now enjoys a higher job-approval rating than David Cameron) is a lifelong member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and made disarmament one of his major election themes.”

Sauer also suggests that the ban treaty “could even have an effect in the United States. The nuclear-weapons labs and the U.S. military already have serious problems in attracting the best and the brightest; a nuclear-weapons ban will push even more of them toward more attractive scientific challenges.”

A ban treaty is nuclear disarmament’s current best hope. Stay tuned.