There are treaties prohibiting biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions, but no such treaty exists – as yet – for nuclear weapons.
The international community has negotiated conventions to eliminate certain types of weapons that cause unacceptable harm to people and the environment. These include biological and chemical weapons, landmines and, most recently, cluster munitions. Although the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons is many times greater than that of these and all other weapons, they are not yet subject to a universal treaty ban. Nevertheless, their use is prohibited under international humanitarian law, and all nations are obliged to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament.
Humanitarian law and human security
Nuclear weapons cannot distinguish between military and civilian targets, or between combatants and non-combatants. Most of the casualties of a nuclear attack would inevitably be civilians. Once the explosive energy of a nuclear chain reaction has been released, it cannot be contained. People in neighbouring and distant countries who have nothing to do with the conflict would suffer from the effects of radioactive fallout, even if they were at a safe distance from the blast and thermal destruction near ground zero. This disproportionate and indiscriminate destructiveness is clearly a violation of international humanitarian law.
The catastrophic health and environmental consequences of nuclear war are at the extreme end of a continuum of armed violence that undermines health and security. Outlawing and eliminating nuclear weapons is part of a broader struggle for genuine human-centred security founded on respect for basic rights, including rights to education, health care, decent work and a clean environment.