Are Nuclear Weapons banned? Is a question that has long haunted the world. Its success hinges on whether it can impose legal obligations on non-parties and shift the balance of benefits and costs of illegal weapons. While the UN can’t impose laws and treaties, it can reorder the discourse around nuclear weapons. As one member of the steering group, ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
The General Assembly of the United Nations, led by Javier Solana and Willy Claes, decided to hold a conference in 2017 to discuss whether a legal instrument was needed to ban the weapons. The meeting encouraged Member States to attend, as did representatives of international organizations and civil society. The conference took place in New York from 15 June to 7 July 2017, and was chaired by Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez.
Ban proponents focus on ending extended deterrence, eliminating the North Korean arsenal, and ending nuclear sharing. Ban movements are often thinly veiled attacks on Western policies. Ultimately, they are unlikely to succeed in preventing the use of nuclear weapons. However, they do stress the importance of an unified world policy, as the threat of nuclear war is so real. While the asymmetric nature of the Ban movement is concerning, it’s not an excuse to abandon all hope.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in 2017 by two-thirds of the UN. Under the Treaty, states cannot produce, possess, or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The Treaty also prohibits testing and transfer of nuclear explosive devices. If any country were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would be unable to export or trade the weapons. So, the question remains, are nuclear weapons banned?
Although the detonation of megatonne warheads would not completely destroy the Earth, it would leave a crater 10km wide and twokm deep. The impact of the enormous amount of debris floating in the atmosphere would be far more widespread. The impact of nuclear explosions is primarily felt as air-blast effects, causing eardrums to rupture and people to be hurled high in the air. In fact, most fatalities from nuclear weapons are caused by flying debris or collapsing structures.
The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force today, and it makes the use of nuclear weapons illegal. Two-thirds of UN member states have signed the TPNW, but none of the world’s nuclear powers have signed the treaty. But the world has a long way to go before this ban comes into effect. In the meantime, the ICRC report concludes that nuclear weapons should be prohibited and use prohibited.
There are a number of international treaties that prohibit nuclear weapon testing. The Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, signed in 1963, bans nuclear tests in outer space, underwater, and atmosphere. Another treaty called the Outer Space Treaty prohibits nuclear weapons in orbital space. These treaties are the best way to avoid war. While these treaties may not seem to make much sense, they are a significant step in the right direction.