Did the US Ban Nuclear Weapons?

The United States has not yet signed or ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This treaty prohibits countries from producing, testing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. It also bans the transfer of weapons and forbids signatories from allowing any nuclear explosive device to be stationed, installed or deployed in their territory. The treaty currently has 86 signatories and has been ratified in 51 of these member states.

Among the first signatories were the Holy See, New Zealand, Thailand and Austria. Last year, countries such as Belize, Benin and Ireland ratified or approved the treaty. The nations that signed the treaty cite the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons, even by accident or miscalculation. Detonating a nuclear weapon would have serious implications for human survival, the environment, socio-economic development, the world economy, food security and the health of current and future generations.

It would also have a disproportionate impact on women and girls due to ionizing radiation. The treaty sets out the objective of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, saying that it would serve national and collective security interests. Any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the norms of international law for armed conflict. The objective of the treaty is a complete and categorical ban on nuclear weapons. It mandates signatories not to develop, test, produce, acquire, control, use, or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

The TPNW's clear and complete prohibition of nuclear weapons creates a greater disincentive to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The treaty banning nuclear weapons came into force on Friday after being ratified by at least 50 countries. Of course, the cruelest and most destructive nuclear weapons should long ago be banned. By explicitly and unequivocally banning the use of nuclear weapons, the TPNW sends a powerful signal that such use would not only be unacceptable from a moral and humanitarian perspective but would also be illegal under international humanitarian law (IHL). Article 1 contains prohibitions against the development, testing, production, stockpiling, emplacement, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons as well as against assistance and promotion of prohibited activities. Signed by 71 nations including those possessing nuclear weapons, the treaty banned all nuclear test explosions including those carried out underground.

Article 1, 1c (in extension of Article 1, 2a) prohibits direct or indirect control of nuclear weapons. Far from undermining the NPT, the NPT complements and supports the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation objectives of the NPT. Article 6 requires environmental rehabilitation and assistance for victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons. He later added that the new treaty is clear evidence of the worrying polarization of states driven in part by the perception of complacency among nuclear-weapon states and their unwillingness to take serious measures to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons. There is nothing in the TPNW that prevents military cooperation with a nuclear-weapon state as long as nuclear-weapon-related activities are excluded.

Of the 108 states that are not yet States parties or signatories to the TPNW 49 are identified by the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Monitor as “other supporters” based on their most recent voting record on the Treaty at the UN. Article 4 sets out general procedures for negotiations with an individual nuclear armed State that becomes a party to the treaty including time limits and responsibilities. The Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a 96-page reminder to nuclear-weapon states that they need to make progress on disarmament. By banning all aspects related to nuclear weapons it creates a greater disincentive for their proliferation. It sends a powerful signal that any use would be unacceptable from a moral and humanitarian perspective as well as illegal under international law.