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Protesters celebrate the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in New York on Jan. 22. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

A UN treaty outlawing the existence of nuclear weapons went into effect on Friday.

Why it matters: The ban is chiefly symbolic, as neither the U.S. nor any other nuclear powers supported it. But moral statements should have meaning for weapons that, by their sheer indiscriminate power, are arguably immoral.

Driving the news: The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was ratified by Honduras on Oct. 24, the 50th country to do so, triggering a 90-day period that ended with the treaty going into force on Jan. 22.

  • The treaty requires that all ratifying countries “never under any circumstances ... develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

The catch: 86 member states have signed onto the treaty and more than 60 have ratified it, but because no states that actually have nuclear arsenals agreed to its terms, it won't immediately lead to any reduction in atomic arsenals.

  • Nuclear powers including the U.S. have argued that gradual multilateral disarmament is a better way to reduce the nuclear threat, while some security analysts worry the new pact could undercut the long-running Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was meant to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Yes, but: Advocates of the nuclear weapons ban point to the gradual erosion of multilateral nuclear arms control deals, including the expiration in 2019 of the Intermediate Nuclear-forces Treaty, which banned dangerous short-range missiles.

  • "The ban treaty rightly establishes abolition as the standard that all nations should be actively working to achieve, rather than an indeterminate future goal," former Defense Secretary William J. Perry wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Situational awareness: The Washington Post has reported that President Biden is seeking a five-year extension of the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, which is set to expire in February.

The bottom line: As long as more than 13,000 nuclear warheads remain in existence, they'll be an existential threat to all of us.

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - World

Biden holds first phone call with Putin, raises Navalny arrest

Putin takes a call in 2017. Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

President Biden on Tuesday held his first call since taking office with Vladimir Putin, pressing the Russian president on the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the Russia-linked hack on U.S. government agencies.

The state of play: Biden also raised arms control, bounties allegedly placed on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine, according to a White House readout. The statement said Biden and Putin agreed maintain "consistent communication," and that Biden stressed the U.S. would "act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies."

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 21 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.