The Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty: Negotiations and Beyond

September 5, 2017
Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova

The following is an excerpt from Arms Control Today.

Gomez Whyte

Conference President Elayne Gomez Whyte

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been hailed by supporters as a historic achievement that they hope will be, in the words of the Hiroshima atomic bombing survivor Setsuko Thurlow, “the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.” The treaty is the first international agreement that prohibits the use, possession, deployment, and stationing of nuclear weapons for all states-parties and challenges the legitimacy of nuclear deterrence policies. It opens for signature at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 20 and enters into force 90 days after the deposit of the 50th instrument of ratification.

Dismissed by the nuclear-armed states and their allies, the impact of the treaty will become evident only over time. The treaty’s negotiators do not have illusions that the new instrument will produce immediate results in reducing nuclear risks or nuclear weapons. Instead, the aim is to delegitimize nuclear weapons and make it more difficult for states to continue to rely on nuclear weapons as part of their military and foreign policy strategies.

Borne of a movement focused on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, the treaty commits its states-parties to conduct environmental remediation and provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use or testing under their jurisdiction and establishes the responsibility of states that use or test nuclear weapons to provide assistance to other affected parties. Further, the treaty mandates the destruction of nuclear arsenals, with a view that the details of nuclear weapons elimination would be negotiated at a later date.

Negotiations of the prohibition treaty, mandated by UN General Assembly Resolution 71/258, took place at a difficult time and in peculiar circumstances. North Korea had accelerated its nuclear weapons program, conducting its fourth and fifth nuclear tests in January and September 2016 and demonstrating growing missile capabilities in recent months. Russian leadership in recent years had made cavalier pronouncements on the use of nuclear weapons. And statements by the new U.S. president, Donald Trump, raised concerns about increased possibility of nuclear weapons use as he demonstrated little knowledge of nuclear weapons issues combined with a proclivity for bombastic statements and threats.

For the proponents of the ban, these developments underscored the urgency of negotiating a treaty to prohibit the use and possession of nuclear weapons. For the opponents, these issues only added to the list of problems the prohibition treaty cannot solve.

Although the prohibition treaty was negotiated by mostly like-minded states, the deliberations did not escape some of the familiar problems and disagreements plaguing the debates at nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meetings, which affected some of the treaty’s provisions. A short negotiation time frame and the lack of a preparatory process, along with the absence of a number of states traditionally active in disarmament and nonproliferation forums, also influenced the process and substance of the talks.

Read the full article at Arms Control Today

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