Will Nuclear Weapons be Banned? A Comprehensive Look at the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

For the first time in history, nuclear weapons are going to be illegal under international law. The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has entered into force and become international law, prohibiting countries from producing, testing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. This treaty is a crucial step towards eliminating nuclear weapons and delegitimizing nuclear deterrence policies. Elayne Whyte, former UN ambassador to Costa Rica who oversaw the creation of the treaty, told NPR's Geoff Brumfiel that the TPNW prohibits direct or indirect control of nuclear weapons.

Any nuclear-weapon possessor signing the nuclear weapons ban would be obliged to disarm within a specified time frame to be agreed with a “competent international authority” (not yet specified) and the other States parties to the treaty. Xanthe Hall (IPPNW and ICAN) expressed regret for the boycott of the treaty by all nuclear powers and their allies. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations that promote adherence to and implementation of the United Nations nuclear weapons ban treaty. ICAN members around the world have taken action to protest against the testing and development of nuclear weapons, to demand disarmament and arms control, and to highlight the terrible humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

Article 1 of the TPNW contains prohibitions against the development, testing, production, stockpiling, emplacement, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as against assisting and encouraging prohibited activities. Article 6 requires environmental reparation and assistance for victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons. 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. Sixty-nine nations did not vote on the TPNW, including all nuclear-weapon states and all NATO members except for The Netherlands.

Political parties that support their governments in NATO member states often share their governments' rejection of negotiations and the nuclear ban treaty, but this is not universal. The TPNW stigmatizes nuclear weapons, making it more difficult for nuclear-weapon states to justify their possession and defend their “deterrence doctrines”. While much remains to be done to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons, prohibiting them is a crucial step towards achieving this goal. The treaty alone will not make nuclear weapons disappear overnight, but it sends a clear signal that all use, threat of use and possession of these weapons are completely unacceptable.