Past leaders of US allies urge states to join the nuclear weapon ban treaty

Why didn’t they sign up when they were in power?

Fifty-six former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and defence ministers from 20 NATO member states, as well as Japan and South Korea, have issued an open letter calling on current leaders to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and two former NATO secretaries-general are among the co-signers. The letter can be found here

The fifty-six former leaders warn that the risk of nuclear weapons being used today, “whether by accident, miscalculation or design”, appears to be increasing, and urges all countries to “heed the warnings of scientists, doctors and other experts” and take urgent action for disarmament. Referring to the coronavirus pandemic, they state: “We must not sleepwalk into a crisis of even greater proportions than the one we have experienced this year.”

The former leaders and ministers declare in the letter that “nuclear weapons serve no legitimate military or strategic purpose in light of the catastrophic human and environmental consequences of their use” and argue that “it is not difficult to foresee how the bellicose rhetoric and poor judgment of leaders in nuclear-armed nations might result in a calamity affecting all nations and peoples”.

The co-signers are from Albania, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain and Turkey. The current governments of these countries have so far declined to join the landmark United Nations treaty, arguing that the United States’ nuclear weapons are essential for their security. Five of the countries — Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey — host US nuclear bombs on their territory and would be required to remove them upon joining the treaty.

The fifty-six former leaders argue that their countries, by claiming protection from an ally’s nuclear forces, are “promoting the dangerous and misguided belief that nuclear weapons enhance security” and “perpetuating nuclear dangers” when they should instead be “enabling progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons”. They urge current leaders to “show courage and boldness — and join the treaty”.

“As the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is nearing its entry into force, this letter demonstrates that even in countries that officially oppose the treaty, there is very significant high-level support. We’re confident that, over time, that support will grow even stronger, and these countries will eventually join the treaty,” said Tim Wright, ICAN’s Treaty Coordinator.

Media inquiries

Beatrice Fihn (, +41 78 613 04 72, Geneva)
Tim Wright (, +61 400 967 233, Melbourne)


The letter was coordinated by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its work to bring the nuclear weapon ban treaty into being.

The treaty was negotiated and adopted in 2017 with the support of 122 countries. It comprehensively outlaws nuclear weapons and establishes a framework for their total elimination. To date, 84 countries have signed it and 44 have ratified it, and Malta has announced that it will deposit its ratification today on 21 September – becoming the 45th country to join the treaty. 

It will enter into legal force 90 days after the 50th country ratifies.

The three nuclear-armed members of NATO — the United States, the United Kingdom and France — have urged fellow members of the alliance not to join the nuclear weapon ban treaty. However, public sentiment against nuclear weapons in most of these countries is strong, and many parliamentarians are actively promoting adherence to the treaty.

Nothing in the treaty would require NATO members to withdraw from their alliance. Similarly, South Korea and Japan would be free to remain in security pacts with the United States. But the treaty would prohibit them from hosting nuclear weapons on their territory or assisting or encouraging any other state to use or possess nuclear weapons. They would need to formally disavow the notion of nuclear protection.

About ICAN

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a global campaign working to mobilize people in all countries to inspire, persuade and pressure their governments to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. ICAN is comprised of more than 570 partner organisations in over 100 countries and was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

More information about ICAN can be found at

The 56 co-signers of the open letter are:

Lloyd Axworthy, former foreign minister of Canada

Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general and foreign minister of South Korea

Jean-Jacques Blais, former defence minister of Canada

Kjell Magne Bondevik, former prime minister and foreign minister of Norway

Ylli Bufi, former prime minister of Albania

Jean Chrétien, former prime minister of Canada

Willy Claes, former NATO secretary-general and foreign minister of Belgium

Erik Derycke, former foreign minister of Belgium

Joschka Fischer, former foreign minister of Germany

Franco Frattini, former foreign minister of Italy

Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, former foreign minister of Iceland

Bjørn Tore Godal, former foreign minister and defence minister of Norway

Bill Graham, former foreign minister and defence minister of Canada

Hatoyama Yukio, former prime minister of Japan

Thorbjørn Jagland, former prime minister and foreign minister of Norway

Ljubica Jelušič, former defence minister of Slovenia

Tālavs Jundzis, former defence minister of Latvia

Jan Kavan, former foreign minister of the Czech Republic

Alojz Krapež, former defence minister of Slovenia

Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, former foreign minister and defence minister of Latvia

Aleksander Kwaśniewski, former president of Poland

Yves Leterme, former prime minister and foreign minister of Belgium

Enrico Letta, former prime minister of Italy

Eldbjørg Løwer, former defence minister of Norway

Mogens Lykketoft, former foreign minister of Denmark

John Mccallum, former defence minister of Canada

John Manley, former foreign minister of Canada

Rexhep Meidani, former president of Albania

Zdravko Mršić, former foreign minister of Croatia

Linda Mūrniece, former defence minister of Latvia

Fatos Nano, former prime minister of Albania

Holger K. Nielsen, former foreign minister of Denmark

Andrzej Olechowski, former foreign minister of Poland

Kjeld Olesen, former foreign minister and defence minister of Denmark

Ana Palacio, former foreign minister of Spain

Theodoros Pangalos, former foreign minister of Greece

Jan Pronk, former defence minister (ad interim) of the Netherlands

Vesna Pusić, former foreign minister of Croatia

Dariusz Rosati, former foreign minister of Poland

Rudolf Scharping, former defence minister of Germany

Juraj Schenk, former foreign minister of Slovakia

Nuno Severiano Teixeira, former defence minister of Portugal

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, former prime minister of Iceland

Össur Skarphéðinsson, former foreign minister of Iceland

Javier Solana, former NATO secretary-general and foreign minister of Spain

Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, former defence minister of Norway

Hanna Suchocka, former prime minister of Poland

Szekeres Imre, former defence minister of Hungary

Tanaka Makiko, former foreign minister of Japan

Tanaka Naoki, former defence minister of Japan

Danilo Türk, former president of Slovenia

Hikmet Sami Türk, former defence minister of Turkey

The late John N. Turner*, former prime minister of Canada

Guy Verhofstadt, former prime minister of Belgium

Knut Vollebæk, former foreign minister of Norway

Carlos Westendorp y Cabeza, former foreign minister of Spain

*ICAN would like to extend our condolences to the family of co-signer Canadian former Prime Minister John Turner who passed away on September 19th 2020.