The negotiating conference

On October 27th 2016, the member states of the United Nations decided to launch negotiations of a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons in 2017.

The negotiating conference will be held at the United Nations in New York on 27-31 March 2017 and 14 June-7 July 2017. All governments, international organisations and civil society are invited to participate in these historic negotiations.

Ambassador Elayne Whyte of Costa Rica has been elected President of the negotiating conference.

ICAN will be present throughout the entire negotiating process and will provide live updates, coverage and analysis of the negotiations.

To follow the preparations for the negotiations conference, check out ICAN’s live blog.

Frequently Asked Questions about the ban treaty negotiations

Who will take part in the negotiations?

All UN member states are encouraged to participate in the negotiating conference. International organizations and civil society representatives have also been invited to participate and contribute.

Which governments support this process?

In the UN General Assembly’s First Committee, 123 states voted in favour of the resolution that established the mandate for the negotiating conference. See the voting results here. Some of the nations that voted against this resolution or abstained from voting have since indicated their intention to participate in the negotiations.

What is the aim of this treaty?

The treaty will declare nuclear weapons illegal under international law, and prohibit states that are parties to the treaty from developing and possessing nuclear weapons. The treaty will aim to make a significant contribution towards the realization of a world free of nuclear weapons. The precise extent of its impact will depend on the scope of its provisions, the commitment of its parties to implement their obligations under the treaty, and the level of support that it attracts.

What exactly will the treaty ban?

ICAN expects that the treaty will prohibit a range of activities relating to nuclear weapons, including their use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer, as well as assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone to engage in any of these prohibited activities.

ICAN has set out some basic principles for the treaty. It is likely to include provisions similar to those found in the treaties banning biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. These provisions will be the subject of negotiation in March, June and July.

When will the treaty be concluded?

The UN General Assembly has called upon all nations participating in the negotiating conference “to make their best endeavours to conclude as soon as possible a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

The negotiating conference will submit a report on its progress to the UN General Assembly at its 72nd session (beginning in September 2017). The General Assembly will assess the progress made in the negotiations and decide on the best way forward.

ICAN is calling on governments to work towards concluding the treaty by 7 July 2017 – that is, by the end of the second round of negotiations. Much preparatory work has already been done, particularly by the UN working group on nuclear disarmament that met in Geneva in 2016 and issued a detailed report.

Once the treaty has been concluded, it will be opened for signature by all states. After signing the treaty, a certain number of states will then need to ratify it before it can enter into force and become part of international law.

Has the treaty already been drafted?

No treaty text has been drafted as yet. ICAN expects that a first draft will be developed and circulated based on the discussions that take place during the March negotiations. ICAN will be encouraging governments to put forward their ideas for what they would like to see in the treaty.

Why is this treaty being negotiated now?

Since 2010, governments have grown increasingly concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons. Most of the world’s nations participated in three major conferences in 2013 and 2014 that examined these consequences.

The third such conference, held in Vienna in December 2014, issued a diplomatic pledge, committing 127 governments to cooperate in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The United Nations then convened a working group in Geneva in 2016 to examine various proposals for achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world. It recommended the start of negotiations in 2017 on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.

For more information about the work leading up to the negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons, please click here

How does this differ from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) does not ban nuclear weapons as such. However, it does prohibit nations from acquiring nuclear weapons if they did not already have them at the time that the NPT was negotiated, and it requires all of its parties to pursue negotiations in good faith for nuclear disarmament.

The NPT specifically envisages the creation of new legal instruments to advance the objective of nuclear disarmament. The nuclear weapon ban treaty will complement and reinforce the NPT rather than replace or undermine it. The NPT will remain in force after the ban treaty has been concluded.

Are nations required to participate?

All nations are invited, but any nation may choose not to participate in the negotiations. However, doing so could cast doubt on its commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament, and specifically its commitment to implement the disarmament obligation contained in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which also forms part of customary international law.

A decision to boycott the negotiations could signal to other nations that nuclear weapons are legitimate and desirable weapons that should not be prohibited. Thus, participating in the negotiations is important for both preventing proliferation and advancing disarmament.

What role will civil society play?

Civil society representatives will participate in and contribute to the negotiating conference. ICAN plans to have a large delegation of campaigners present to pressure governments to work for the strongest and most effective treaty possible.

Can the nuclear-armed states block the process?

No nation has the power to block the negotiations. The conference will operate under the rules of procedure of the UN General Assembly, which means that while general agreement will be sought, no state will be able to block the negotiations with a veto.

What if the nuclear-armed states refuse to participate?

ICAN strongly believe that negotiations on a nuclear weapon ban treaty should proceed whether or not the nuclear-armed states choose to participate. This, too, is the opinion of the key governments that are driving this process forward.

As a matter of principle, weapons that are indiscriminate in nature and are intended to cause catastrophic humanitarian harm should be prohibited under international law. The proposed treaty would place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction.

ICAN believes that, through its normative force, the treaty will affect the behaviour of nuclear-armed states even if they refuse to join it. Previous experiences with prohibitions of biological and chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions, shows that this is the case. It will also affect the behaviour of many of their allies that currently claim protection from their nuclear weapons, including those that host nuclear weapons on their territory.

Which nations are leading this process?

The UN resolution to initiate the negotiations was submitted by a core group of six nations: Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors of the resolution and 123 nations voted in favour of it in the First Committee of the General Assembly in October.

Are there alternative pathways forward?

Multilateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament have been at a standstill for two decades. Recent statements by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have indicated that the largest nuclear-armed states are considering strengthening and increasing their nuclear arsenals. Alternative proposals for advancing a nuclear-weapon-free world have failed to produce results. A ban treaty is widely seen as the most viable pathway forward.