Why Nuclear Weapons Should Not Be Legal

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons contains a comprehensive set of prohibitions on participation in nuclear-weapon-related activities. These include commitments not to develop, test, manufacture, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The treaty also prohibits the stationing of nuclear weapons on national territory and assistance to a State in carrying out prohibited activities. States parties are obliged to prevent and prohibit any activity prohibited under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons undertaken by persons or on their territory under their jurisdiction or control. The Treaty further requires States parties to provide adequate assistance to persons affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons and to take necessary and appropriate measures to restore the environment in areas under their jurisdiction or control contaminated as a result of activities related to the testing or use of nuclear weapons. In 2012, the General Assembly expressed concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and adopted resolution 67/56 entitled “Progress in multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament”. By that resolution, the Assembly established an open-ended working group in 2013 to elaborate proposals to promote multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament in order to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world, and the open-ended working group reflected its discussions in its report (A/68/514). In some forums, States opposing prohibition negotiations openly question the effect and effectiveness of a ban treaty; In others, they recognize that the process could have profound implications for the maintenance and legitimacy of nuclear weapons practices. Remarkably, one of the best expressions of the importance of a legal ban comes from the United States and reflects NATO thinking and policies.

The entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the beginning, not the end. Citizens can raise awareness of the issues by putting the issue of nuclear weapons on the agenda of civil, religious, social and other organizations to which they belong, spreading the word by sharing relevant ICRC content on social media platforms and writing letters to local media sharing these concerns. Of course, the states that possess nuclear weapons, including the France, boycotted this treaty. But the pressure on the nine nuclear powers is increasing – from the growing number of nations and financial institutions that stop investing in the production of these weapons systems, to thousands of people speaking out around the world. Unfortunately, these companies remain largely empty rhetoric. How can one claim that the security of a nation is based on a policy of nuclear deterrence, while at the same time other nations are asked not to use this means of “security”? First, blast waves, thermal waves, radiation and radioactive fallout produced by nuclear explosions cause countless deaths and have devastating short- and long-term effects on the human body that existing health services cannot significantly mitigate. ACCEPT. A legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, no matter how strict or stringent, will not automatically lead to a decrease in the number of nuclear warheads in the hands of a single actor. Not a single supporter of the ban argues that these efforts amount to abolition. The limits of the ban are well known.

The need for the consent of the nuclear-weapon States is undisputed. But the absence of specific disarmament provisions is not an indicator of ineffectiveness. The treaty also gives actors committed to the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons a powerful instrument of influence. Whatever timetable is deemed necessary to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, a clear norm establishing the illegality of such weapons will be necessary. “For the first time in history, nuclear weapons will be illegal under international law,” Elayne Whyte, Costa Rica`s former ambassador to the UN who oversaw the treaty`s creation, told NPR`s Geoff Brumfiel. Finally, we must not forget that evidence of their suffering and devastation is the main reason for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. We must therefore continue to raise awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the need to protect present and future generations from these particularly terrible weapons.