This spring at the UN in New York, states will start negotiations on a new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons due to their catastrophic humanitarian consequences. These impacts render nuclear weapons fundamentally unacceptable and illegitimate in any hands – a fact that must be codified in international law, under whose treaties nuclear weapons are currently not comprehensively prohibited.

Concern has grown over the past several years amongst states, international organisations and civil society about the unacceptable consequences of any nuclear weapon detonation and the risks their ongoing possession poses – culminating in a vote in favour of a resolution at the UN General Assembly last year to negotiate a new prohibition treaty.

Campaigners from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in New York © ICAN

A treaty banning nuclear weapons is a crucial step towards their elimination. It is one that can and should be taken now, with the participation of all states that are supportive of this goal, whether the nuclear armed states participate initially or not. Such a legally binding instrument will codify and significantly increase the stigma attached to nuclear weapons for all countries, and its provisions will have practical impacts on nuclear weapons programmes, for example through prohibitions on assistance with nuclear weapons activities.

Some nuclear armed states have advanced the argument that nuclear weapons can only be prohibited in law after all stockpiles have been eliminated. However, for all other international initiatives to eliminate unacceptable weapons – such as biological and chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions – states have negotiated and joined treaties to prohibit weapons they still possess, committing to immediately cease their use and take them out of their active arsenals, and eliminate their stockpiles as soon as possible. There is no reason that nuclear weapons should be treated in any way that is different to this established, effective model for disarmament, and the ban treaty should include a clear obligation for stockpile destruction.


States have now held a meeting to organise their work for the negotiations, which has affirmed that: all states are encouraged to participate; that the conference will strive for consensus but allow for voting on decisions in order to avoid deadlock; and that civil society participation will be assured in the form of daily speaking slots and the ability to submit official working papers. These are crucial principles towards ensuring that the strongest treaty is agreed by states that support the objective of this initiative.

Reflecting and building on previous prohibition and disarmament treaties, the nuclear weapons ban treaty must include strong provisions to prohibit the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of nuclear weapons. It must also prohibit states parties from assisting with any of these prohibited acts, with scope for include specific prohibitions such as on financing that would clarify obligations. Furthermore, for a treaty that is based on a humanitarian imperative, it is essential that positive obligations on states to ensure that the rights of victims of nuclear weapons are upheld, and that affected environments are remediated, with provisions for international cooperation and assistance to fulfil all the obligations of the treaty.

States must take the historic opportunity presented by this year’s negotiations to prohibit the most destructive weapons ever invented once and for all.


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Banning Nuclear Weapons

Banning Nuclear Weapons

February 2013


Posted in: Nuclear weapons,