Will nuclear weapons be banned?

For the first time in history, nuclear weapons are going to be illegal under international law, says Elayne Whyte, former UN ambassador to Costa Rica who oversaw the creation of the treaty, told NPR's Geoff Brumfiel. The ban prohibits countries from producing, testing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. Today, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) enters into force and becomes international law. From now on, it is illegal to possess, develop, deploy, test, use, or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

While the provisions of the Treaty are legally binding on its States parties, its normative force is growing day by day, establishing customary international law that, over time, will affect the policies and practices of all Governments. Article 1, 1c (in extension of Article 1, 2a) 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) said he regretted 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. For nations that are parties to it, the treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, deployment, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to prohibited activities. The TPNW stigmatizes nuclear weapons, making it more difficult for nuclear-weapon states to justify their possession and defend their “deterrence doctrines.” Its 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. While much remains to be done to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons, prohibiting them is a crucial step.

Article 1 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 the general procedures for negotiations with an individual nuclear armed State that becomes a party to the treaty, including time limits and responsibilities. The group concluded that, in the absence of adequate progress in disarmament, there was a need to delegitimize nuclear deterrence policies and to exert normative pressure on countries that depend on them.

Political parties that support the government in NATO member states often share their governments' rejection of negotiations and the nuclear ban treaty, but this is not universal. The treaty alone will not make nuclear weapons disappear overnight, but the signals for all the use, threat of use and possession of these weapons are completely unacceptable. Sixty-nine nations did not vote, including all nuclear-weapon states and all NATO members, except the Netherlands. The Prohibition Treaty prohibits the development, testing, use, threat of use, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, deployment and stockpiling of nuclear weapons.