Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: making History

On July 7th, 2017, the world finally decided to ban nuclear weapons.

After two sessions of intense negotiations at the United Nations headquarters in New York, an overwhelming majority of the States that took part in the debates (122-1-1 ; two-thirds of UN member States) voted in favor of the adoption of a legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of nuclear weapons. This is an unprecedented achievement, as nuclear weapons had long been the only “weapons of mass destruction” that were not banned under international law, unlike chemical and biological weapons, and in spite of the fact that they were the most destructive, inhumane weapons ever invented.

The action to address this crucial gap begins in December 2016, when the United Nations General Assembly voted to begin negotiations in 2017 for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. New Zealand joined 33 other countries in sponsoring this resolution, which was ultimately supported by 113 states.

In late March 2017, and again from mid-June to early July, the General Assembly met in New York to negotiate for a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

[Read about the first round of negotiations (27-31 March) and the first draft of the Ban Treaty here].

The second round of negotiations started off on a positive spirit, as the first session ended on a successful and constructive note. The reach of a ban was considered at the time ‘an achievable goal’ by Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne White Gómez, President of the conference. Indeed, the world has reached a landmark treaty today, clearly stating that nuclear weapons are unacceptable and illegitimate instruments that a worldwide majority rejects.

The Treaty is clear-cut and puts an end to the loopholes of the previous nuclear weapons legislation, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that has constituted the cornerstone of international nuclear policies for the past three decades. It contains the following clauses:

  • a prohibition on using or threatening to use, developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, possessing, stockpiling and transferring nuclear weapons and on allowing their deployment and stationing on a nation’s territory;
  • a prohibition on encouraging, inducing or assisting anyone to engage in any of those activities;

The treaty is a legally binding instrument, as all the nations that sign and ratify it have to abide by the text entirely. It is hoped that it becomes customary law, meaning that it would change international law norms and legally force the countries that did not join the Treaty to comply with it.

This a a groundbreaking text that acknowledges the harm done to the ‘Hibakusha’, a Japanese word referring to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons, particularly indigenous people and women and girls, who suffer from their use and testing disproportionately. It also states that nations have to assist all victims by providing medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support. The Treaty also contains an environmental clause stating that nations must address the remediation of contaminated environments, thus acknowledging the devastating impact of use and testing of nuclear weapons on our planet.

The Treaty will open for signature and ratification on September 20th at the United Nations. It will come into effect if at least 50 nations sign and ratify it.

Four New Zealanders attended the negotiations in New York to represent Aotearoa/NZ Civil Society and NGOs between June 15 and July 7. Read about the delegation here. They reported on their experience on the blog section of the website. Watch this space as we will continue to update this page with further information and ways that you can get involved!

Let’s now head to the next step: getting the NZ government to sign and ratify the Treaty on September 20th!

Further reading about the Ban Treaty:

Publication from ICAN explaining the negotiations and the content of the Treaty:

ican-2017 banning-nuclear-weapons

About the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons


The New York Times : A treaty is reached to ban nuclear arms. Now comes the hard part.

The Washington Post: The U.N. just passed a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. That actually matters.

The Wall Street Journal: Advocates, opponents debate effects of new U.N. move to ban nuclear weapons

The Guardian: Treaty banning nuclear weapons approved at UN

Politico: Nuclear powers rebuked as 122 nations adopt U.N. ban

The Atlantic: 122 nations approve historic treaty to ban nuclear weapons