ICAN – The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

ICAN – The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons are the worst weapons ever created, they present a grave and growing threat to humanity. The world’s nine nuclear-armed nations are maintaining and modernising their nuclear arsenals, and the UK announced it would increase numbers for the first time in decades. The risk of nuclear weapons use is now greater than it has been since the height of the Cold War.  

In response to a growing understanding of the humanitarian impact of these indiscriminate weapons, nuclear weapons were prohibited under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty became international law in January 2021. The TPNW bans the use, production, transfer, manufacture, testing and development of nuclear weapons as well as any form of assistance of these prohibited activities.   

The treaty completes the weapons of mass destruction trifecta. From the work that started in the 1970s, when chemical weapons were banned, through the biological weapons ban of the 1990s, now nuclear weapons are also outlawed. The other WMD prohibitions have resulted in nearly all countries eliminating those weapons from their arsenals- though it takes time. Still, anyone who suggests that chemical or biological weapons are usable, or necessary for security (as the NATO alliance did in the 1970s), has come under intense international pressure and criticism.   

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is the organisation that coordinated efforts to bring about the 2017 United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and was subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for our efforts. 

ICAN is a campaign coalition. Currently, there are more than 600 ICAN partners from 107 countries. The coalition drives the campaign, and it is through work with partners across the globe that we’re able to shift the discussion on nuclear weapons.  

Understanding the TPNW is part of our campaign work. This is only multilateral treaty ever negotiated that requires verified nuclear disarmament.  Countries joining the treaty, if they don’t have nuclear weapons, must prove it by submitting declarations to that effect. Countries that do have nuclear weapons and join up, can either destroy the weapons before joining or join, and then negotiate the destruction of their arsenal. 

The TPNW obliges nuclear armed countries to first take the nuclear weapons off alert and remove them from operational status. That could mean, for example, separating the missiles and warheads and storing them in different locations.  

The treaty requires any nuclear armed country that joins to negotiate a time-bound plan with other treaty members, to verify the total destruction of their arsenal. That country is then required to put comprehensive safeguards on all the facilities connected to nuclear weapons in the country. Finally, all weapons must be fully destroyed and the production and manufacture facilities, the infrastructure that enabled a nuclear weapons programme, must be converted so it could never be used for nuclear weapons again. 

Not all countries are ready to get on board the treaty, yet. ICAN and its partners are building up pressure to get them to join. There are several ways for people to get involved.  


In the blink of an eye a nuclear detonation will wipe a metropolitan center off the map, laying waste to countless lives, destroying all infrastructure and poisoning the environment. This isn’t hypothetical: cities are the main targets of nuclear weapons. Across the globe, cities are joining others in calling for their government to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Mayors and city councils in some places are going a step further, and demanding that the city not do business with the companies involved in the nuclear industry. Legislation to this effect was passed in New York City in December 2021, and across the globe city councils and are starting the process to end any financial involvement in the nuclear weapon industry.  


Legislators are in a key position to promote the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in every country, pushing for its signature and ratification or promoting it abroad. Over 1600 elected officials all around the world have committed to do so through the ICAN Parliamentary Pledge. 

The Pledge is open to parliamentarians from all countries. Any current member of a national, state/provincial or regional parliament or congress may sign to join the global network of parliamentarians committed to getting their government to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

Stop the money 

Companies build nuclear weapons and their key components. Investors provide the capital the nuclear weapons industry needs to get and keep nuclear weapons related contracts. But investors are looking at more than just the bottom line, and what the nuclear weapons industry builds is designed to cause mass indiscriminate harm, violate human rights, and contaminate the environment.  

Every investment is a choice. More than 100 financial institutions choose not to invest in the nuclear weapon industry. ICAN encourage all institutional investors, including pension funds, banks, asset managers, churches or municipal pension funds to end inhumane investments and instead put in place policies that prevent any exposure to the nuclear weapon industry. 

All of these actions reinforce the norm that nuclear weapons are unacceptable, and it is time to put them in the dustbin of history.