What does the treaty do?

  • Comprehensively bans nuclear weapons and related activity. It will be illegal for parties to undertake any activities related to nuclear weapons. It bans the use, development, testing, production, manufacturing, acquiring, possession, stockpiling, transferring, receiving, threatening to use, stationing, installation, or deploying of nuclear weapons. [Article 1]
  • Bans any assistance with prohibited acts. The treaty bans assistance with prohibited acts, and should be interpreted as prohibiting states from engaging in military preparations and planning to use nuclear weapons, financing their development and manufacture, or permitting the transit of them through territorial waters or airspace. [Article 1]
  • Creates a path for nuclear states which join to eliminate weapons, stockpiles, and programs. It requires states with nuclear weapons that join the treaty to remove them from operational status and destroy them and their programs, all according to plans they would submit for approval. It also requires states which have other country’s weapons on their territory to have them removed. [Article 4]
  • Verifies and safeguards that states meet their obligations. The treaty requires a verifiable, time-bound, transparent, and irreversible destruction of nuclear weapons and programs and requires the maintenance and/or implementation of international safeguards agreements. The treaty permits safeguards to become stronger over time and prohibits weakening of the safeguard regime. [Articles 3 and 4]
  • Requires victim and international assistance and environmental remediation. The treaty requires states to assist victims of nuclear weapons use and testing, and requires environmental remediation of contaminated areas. The treaty also obliges states to provide international assistance to support the implementation of the treaty. The text requires states to join the Treaty, and to encourage others to join, as well as to meet regularly to review progress. [Articles 6, 7, and 8]

What happens next?

  • Adoption. The treaty is scheduled to be adopted on the morning of Friday 7 July.
  • Opening for signature. The treaty will be open for signature on 20 September at the United Nations in New York. [Article 13]
  • Entry into force. Fifty states are required to ratify the treaty for it to enter into force. At a national level, the process of ratification varies, but usually requires parliamentary approval and the development of national legislation to turn prohibitions into national legislation. This process is also an opportunity to elaborate additional measures, such as prohibiting the financing of nuclear weapons. [Article 15]
  • First meeting of States Parties. The first Meeting of States Parties will take place within a year after the entry into force of the Convention. [Article 8]

What is the Significance and Impact of the Treaty?

  • Delegitimizes nuclear weapons. This treaty is a clear indication that the majority of the world no longer accepts nuclear weapons and do not consider them legitimate weapons, creating the foundation of a new norm of international behaviour.
  • Changes party and non-party behaviour. As has been true with previous weapon prohibition treaties, changing international norms leads to concrete changes in policies and behaviours, even in states not party to the treaty. This is true for treaties ranging from those banning cluster munitions and land mines to the Convention on the law of the sea. The prohibition on assistance will play a significant role in changing behaviour given the impact it may have on financing and military planning and preparation for their use.
  • Completes the prohibitions on weapons of mass destruction. The treaty completes work begun in the 1970s, when Chemical weapons were banned, and the 1990s when biological weapons were banned. Strengthens International Humanitarian Law (“Laws of War”). Nuclear weapons are intended to kill millions of civilians – non-combatants – a gross violation of International Humanitarian Law. Few would argue that the mass slaughter of civilians is acceptable and there is no way to use a nuclear weapon in line with international law. The treaty strengthens these bodies of law and norm. Remove the prestige associated with proliferation. Countries often seek nuclear weapons for the prestige of being seen as part of an important club. By more clearly making nuclear weapons an object of scorn rather than achievement, their spread can be deterred.

Other Questions

The global stockpile has been reduced significantly since the height of the Cold War, is that a sign that the nuclear weapon states are on the right track?

The arms race is not over. Despite reductions of the huge arsenals throughout the Cold War, there are still more than 15,000 nuclear warheads remaining. And while the stockpiles have gone down since the 1980s, three more states (India, Pakistan and North Korea) have tested and developed nuclear weapons. At the moment, all nuclear-armed states are undergoing significant maintenance and modernization programmes. Instead of a race for more nuclear weapons, the race has become about more advanced nuclear weapons.

So despite a lower number, “better” and more advanced nuclear weapons with more firepower still remain a central part of the nuclear-armed states military policies, with many warheads constantly on high alerts. 

Will a ban on nuclear weapons be useful if states like North Korea won’t sign it?

Ideally, all states would, and eventually will, sign onto the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but a few dissidents will not compromise the value of a ban itself. The ban on nuclear weapons will change the way the global community understand and see nuclear weapons, revealing them for the inhumane, unacceptable weapons that they are. The ban will draw the line between states who understand the risk and danger of nuclear weapons and consider them unacceptable, and states who refuse to understand that nuclear weapons don’t provide meaningful security. In order to get nuclear weapon states to see the light and get rid of their stockpiles, the ban is a first step.

The ban on nuclear weapons will establish an international norm against the possession of nuclear weapons, which will help to reduce the perceived value of such weapons. It will draw the line between those states that believe nuclear weapons are unacceptable and illegitimate, and those states that believe nuclear weapons are legitimate and able to provide security.

If nuclear weapons continue to be portrayed as a legitimate and a useful means to provide security, non-nuclear weapon states might aim to develop such weapons themselves.

The ban on nuclear weapons will create a global norm against nuclear weapons, which will not only put pressure on both nuclear-armed and non-nuclear weapon states to reject nuclear weapons permanently, but it would also set the stage for future progress in states like North Korea should its domestic political situation change.

The ban treaty has been adopted, so why haven’t the nuclear-armed states given up their arsenals?

Banning nuclear weapons is not the same as eliminating them, but a ban is a necessary starting point for complete disarmament. While complete disarmament may be a long process, it does start with a clear rejection of nuclear weapons and a global framework for their elimination, which a ban will provide.

The world did not wait for Syria to eliminate their chemical weapons before the prohibition of chemical weapons was negotiated and brought into force. It did not make the chemical weapons convention any less important, rather it helped the international community to swiftly respond and put an end to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The ban on nuclear weapons will make the maintenance and development of nuclear weapons less attractive and more difficult, both for existing nuclear weapons possessors and potential new ones. It will create better conditions for effective disarmament measures.

As long as one country has nuclear weapons, will it be dangerous for others to give theirs up?

The ban treaty puts all states on equal footing by sending a clear signal that all nuclear weapons are unacceptable. The work to stigmatise, ban, and eliminate nuclear weapons is the best defence against the use of nuclear weapons.

As long as nuclear weapons are seen as important and legitimate, it will encourage proliferation and maintenance of current arsenals.

The ban treaty will create an international norm against the use and possession of nuclear weapons. A clear rejection of these weapons will make it more difficult for states to continue defending, maintaining, and investing in nuclear weapons.

The ban on nuclear weapons lead by non-nuclear weapon states can and should work as mutually reinforcing to other disarmament efforts by nuclear-armed states, such as the ratification of the test-ban treaty, further reductions of arsenals, and lowering the alert level of warheads. The adoption of the ban treaty does not preclude or prevent bilateral or multilateral agreements to reduce numbers of warheads between nuclear armed states.

But the ban can put external pressure on such nuclear-armed states to make further efforts on disarmament. This is particularly important at a time when relations between the major nuclear weapon states are worsening, and their domestic political situation makes any international progress difficult.

Can a NATO state work for a ban even if NATO has nuclear weapons?

There is no reason why NATO membership would prevent any state from signing the ban treaty. States are able to develop their own national policies towards nuclear weapons different from those of fellow NATO members.

While NATO’s strategic concept from 2010 says that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance, the concept also declares that the alliance should work to create conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons. The ban on nuclear weapons will stigmatize and prohibit weapons, creating better conditions for nuclear disarmament. Working for nuclear disarmament is not just a reference in a strategic concept, this is also an obligation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a treaty signed by all member states of NATO.

The 2010 NPT Outcome document specifically calls for the importance of nuclear weapons in security doctrines to be reduced. In leading efforts to stigmatize and prohibit nuclear weapons, NATO members would be fulfilling their national obligations. NATO member states are also in a position to influence NATO policies and support the implementation the 2010 recommendation to “reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons in security doctrines”.

The facts that have emerged during the three humanitarian conferences, as well as the new discussion about the risks such weapons pose should be the start of a dialogue in all NATO states about what more NATO states can do to reach a world free of nuclear weapons.

Does history show that nuclear weapons create stability and prevent war?

In the last three years, information about the history and risks of nuclear weapons have challenged the concept and utility of deterrence as a security doctrine. In addition to these new challenges, the critical question is not if deterrence has worked for 70 years, but if we should take the chance that it will work for another 70 years. The world no longer consists of two ideological blocks, but is in a much more unpredictable situation – including both state and non-state actors.

If our security should be based on nuclear deterrence, that strategy must work perfectly forever. It won’t. If nuclear weapons are kept, sooner or later the world will see a nuclear detonation, either by intent or accident. The utility of nuclear weapons is at best doubtful, but what we know for sure is that nuclear weapons put us at risk of facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

Is it better to focus on non-proliferation efforts to prevent new states or terrorist groups to acquire nuclear weapons?

A ban will be an effective tool to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Many non-nuclear weapon states have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty because of the ”bargain” contained in the treaty: you promise to not develop nuclear weapons maintaining your right to develop nuclear energy, in exchange for the promise of nuclear-armed states to disarm their weapons. A ban prohibits nuclear weapons universally and as result of this unequivocal rejection, strengthens the NPT and is a powerful tool to prevent proliferation.

Continuing to argue that nuclear weapons are essential for providing security will only encourage other states to follow suit.

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