Start of Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Talks A Historic Step Forward

Statement from Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104.

(Washington, D.C.)—Today at the United Nations in New York, multilateral negotiations on a new “legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination” will commence.

A view of the UN General Assembly Hall as Taous Feroukhi of Algeria (on screen), president of the 2015 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, closed the session May 22, 2015. The month-long conference concluded without a consensus on a final document that would have established specific steps to speed nuclear disarmament, advance nonproliferation efforts, and work toward a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. [Photo credit: Eskinder Debebe/UN]The talks, which may conclude by the end of the year, are not an all-in-one solution to address today’s growing array of nuclear weapons-related dangers. But a new nuclear weapons prohibition treaty could be a useful and timely contribution to the seven-decade long struggle to reduce the threats posed by the Bomb.

Although the world’s nuclear-armed states are boycotting the negotiations, this unprecedented new process could help to further delegitimize nuclear weapons and strengthen the legal and political norm against their use. This is a worthy goal that is consistent with the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and the requirement established by Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires all states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Contrary to some skeptics’ beliefs, this process is not a distraction from other disarmament work, nor will it undermine the NPT. In fact, the strong support for negotiations on a ban treaty is a logical and constructive international response to the failure of key nuclear-armed states to fulfill key commitments made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons.

Rather than get in the way of progress by lobbying against the negotiations, we call on U.S. President Trump and his administration to respect efforts by the world’s non-nuclear weapons majority to prohibit nuclear weapons and to reaffirm the United States' commitment to meet its NPT obligations and to continue to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

With only four weeks to negotiate the new treaty this year, the process will not be easy. To be effective, the new treaty will need to:

  • Specify which activities related to nuclear weapons possession, nuclear sharing planning, development, production, and testing are prohibited.
  • Be consistent with existing treaties that prohibit or limit certain nuclear weapons-related activities, including the NPT.
  • Provide for pathways by which states that now possess nuclear weapons, or are part of alliances with nuclear-armed states, can support the new nuclear weapons prohibition treaty before they become a full-fledged member of new instrument.

The negotiators should seek a formula that is meaningful but also draws the widest possible support from states participating in the negotiation.

Achieving and maintaining a world without nuclear weapons requires bold and sustained action. The coming ban treaty negotiations are not an all-in-one solution, but do represent an important and new contribution.

Additional Resources:
1) A Both/And Approach: Next Steps on Disarmament and the Role of the Ban Treaty, Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, at the “Global and Regional Nuclear Orders in a Moment of Geopolitical Uncertainty" Roundtable, March 16, 2017

2) Preparations Made for Ban Talks, by Alicia Sanders-Zakre, Arms Control Today, March 2017.

3) Controversial Nuclear Ban Talks to Begin, by Kingston Reif, Arms Control Today, December 2016


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