The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – adopted by 122 nations on 7 July 2017 – offers a powerful alternative to a world in which threats of mass destruction are allowed to prevail. It provides a pathway forward at a time of alarming global crisis.
Prior to the treaty’s adoption, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to a categorical ban, despite their catastrophic humanitarian consequences. The new agreement thus fills a major gap in international law.
History shows that the prohibition of certain types of weapons facilitates progress towards their elimination. Weapons that have been outlawed by international treaties are increasingly seen as illegitimate, losing their political status.
Arms companies find it more difficult to acquire funds for work on illegal weapons, and such work carries a significant reputational risk. Banks, pension funds and other financial institutions divest from these producers.
The UN nuclear weapon ban treaty complements the prohibitions on biological and chemical weapons, land mines and cluster munitions, and reinforces various other legal instruments on nuclear weapons, including the non-proliferation treaty of 1968.
Underpinning the decision by governments and civil society to pursue the ban was our belief that changing the rules regarding nuclear weapons would have a major impact even beyond those nations that would formally adopt the treaty at the outset.
This belief stemmed from experience with treaties outlawing other weapons, which have established powerful norms that greatly influence the policies and practices of states that are not yet parties to them.
The treaty aims not only to advance nuclear disarmament, but also to prevent further proliferation. It will enhance the security of people everywhere, not least of all those in nations currently armed with nuclear weapons.
The three conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons in 2013 and 2014 shed new light on the perils of living in a world armed to the brink with these weapons. They clarified the urgent need to prohibit them under international law.
The treaty embodies the principle that there can be no safe hands for nuclear weapons, establishing the same standard for all its parties. Far from ignoring the security concerns of governments, the treaty is a direct response to them.