Written by Beatrix Immenkamp,
On 7 July 2017, the United Nations (UN) conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the Ban Treaty), by 122 votes to 1, with one abstention. The treaty will come into force once 50 states have ratified it; so far it has been signed by 56 states and ratified by three. The adoption of the Ban Treaty has been hailed as historic by supporters of an initiative that has gained ground in recent years to rid the world of the most destructive weapon known to humankind. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which spearheaded these efforts, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. However, opponents of the Ban Treaty argue that the conditions for disarmament do not currently exist and that promoters of the Ban Treaty fail to recognise this. They also point to weaknesses in the drafting of the treaty, and to the danger of undermining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), recognised as the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime, also by proponents of the Ban Treaty. The nine states known to have military nuclear programmes did not attend the conference. Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which in 2016 re-confirmed a commitment to nuclear deterrence, also stayed away, with the exception of the Netherlands, which voted against the adoption of the Ban Treaty. This raises serious doubts about the impact of this new instrument and its ability to create normative values. Most EU Member States, 22 of which are members of NATO, oppose the Ban Treaty, and only five non-NATO EU Member States voted in favour. The European Parliament welcomed the convening of a conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, noting that this would reinforce the non-proliferation and disarmament objectives and obligations contained in the NPT.
This is an updated version of an earlier briefing, from January 2017.
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