Concept Paper 2017-2018

2017-2018 Critical Issues Forum (CIF) Students Spring Conference

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: Achievements, Aspirations and Challenges Ahead

Overview of the Ban Treaty:

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, also known informally as the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, or more simply as the Ban Treaty, was adopted on July 7th, 2017 at the United Nations in New York. At the final session of the negotiations at the UN Conference, 122 countries voted for, one country (Singapore) abstained, and one (the Netherlands) voted against the adoption of the treaty.[1] The Ban Treaty, as it will be referred to throughout this paper, is the first treaty that aims to comprehensively prohibit and delegitimize nuclear weapons. Efforts to delegitimize nuclear weapons, however, emerged as soon as nuclear age began. The Ban Treaty opened for signature on September 20th at the United Nations General Assembly.  As of December 13, 2017, 56 countries have signed and three of these ratified.[2]

The Ban Treaty will enter into force 90 days after ratification by 50 states. The duration of the treaty is indefinite. Once enters into force, the Ban Treaty will prohibit States Parties from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, or stockpiling nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. States Parties are also barred from transferring or receiving nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices, control over such weapons, or any assistance with activities prohibited under the Ban Treaty. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and other explosive devices by States Parties is also banned. Additionally, States Parties cannot allow the stationing, installation, or deployment of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices in their territory. In addition to these “negative” obligations outlined above, this treaty uniquely includes “positive” obligations. The States Parties are obligated to provide victim assistance and help with environmental remediation efforts.[3]

The Ban Treaty’s obligations extend substantially beyond existing international treaties on nuclear weapons, such as the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) or the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). CTBT prohibits only explosive nuclear testing.[4] Under the NPT, the Nuclear Weapons States are not required to give up their nuclear weapons, though all States Parties are obligated to pursue nuclear disarmament.

For advocates of the Ban Treaty, one of its most important contributions is the simultaneous stigmatization of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of norms against such weapons’ very existence.

The Current Global Nuclear Status:

More than two decades after the Cold War, approximately 15,000 nuclear warheads remain in the arsenals of the countries that possess nuclear weapons. Of those, approximately 4,000 warheads are actively deployed, and some 1,800 are on high alert and ready for use on short notice.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) prohibits non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS) parties from developing nuclear weapons. The treaty, however, exempts five de jure nuclear weapon states (NWS) (France, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) from this ban. These five states had tested nuclear weapons before January 1, 1967, and were allowed to keep their nuclear weapons programs. This historical situation created two categories of states in the world: nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.” Critics of the NPT often point out the inherent discriminatory nature of the treaty. However, proponents of the treaty address this criticism by saying that the inequality is challenged Article VI of the treaty, which legally obligates the five nuclear weapon states to eventually disarm.[5][6]

To add to the controversy, some non-nuclear NPT member states claim nuclear weapon states (NWS) are not fulfilling their disarmament obligations despite demanding nonproliferation obligations from non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). The deep division between nuclear possessing countries and countries without nuclear weapons was acutely highlighted in the recent efforts to ban nuclear weapons.

The Road to the Ban Treaty:

While aspirations and efforts to delegitimize nuclear weapons date back to the early time of the nuclear age, the Ban Treaty traces its origins to the Humanitarian Initiative, a group of non-nuclear weapons states who have sought to push nuclear disarmament forward by focusing on the severe humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. The Ban Treaty is a culmination of the efforts of a group of non-nuclear weapons states and civil society advocates frustrated by the slow pace of global nuclear disarmament and the continued risk of nuclear conflict.

A major milestone for the Humanitarian Initiative occurred during the 2010 NPT Review Conference, when the final document expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.” for the first time.  This acknowledgement paved the way for the Ban Treaty.

Norms and conventions banning other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been established in the international community for decades. However, nuclear weapons, the most destructive weapons have been held in a different class, and have not been completely delegitimized.

Opposing views:

Opponents of the Ban Treaty, including nuclear weapon states and allies under their extended nuclear deterrence, have not only boycotted the negotiations, but also criticized the Ban Treaty for deepening the division between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapon states.

They also argue that the Ban Treaty completely ignores current international and regional security situations such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. They also insist that the Ban Treaty risks detracting or distracting from efforts to strengthen the existing nuclear nonproliferation regimes, such as the NPT and CTBT. Indeed, one of the main concerns among the opponents and even some proponents of the Ban Treaty centers on the question of whether the Ban Treaty is fully compatible with and complementary to the NPT and CTBT, especially since the text of the Ban Treaty does not articulate its relationship with the NPT or CTBT specifically. Another main concern centers on the strength of the Ban Treaty’s verification program, since the Ban Treaty does not obligate States Parties to adopt the established IAEA Additional Protocols as a standard verification mechanism.[7]

Nuclear weapons states have clearly stated that they will never join the Ban Treaty, which leads opponents to question the validity and efficacy of the Ban Treaty if nuclear weapons states and their allies do not join the Treaty. Some non-nuclear weapon countries try to find common ground between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapons states, or try to build bridge between these opposing groups.  

How CIF students will tackle this year’s topic:

This year’s CIF project challenges CIF students to understand non-nuclear weapons states’ goals in negotiating a new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, as well as the Ban Treaty’s negotiation process.

Students will learn the background of the Ban Treaty, States Parties obligations to the treaty, challenges regarding ratification and the process to enter the treaty into force, and the treaty’s future prospects.

CIF students must understand non-nuclear weapons states’ dissatisfaction with existing nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament treaties such as the NPT, as well as nuclear weapons states’ opposition to the Ban Treaty. Countries that rely on nuclear weapons for their security (nuclear possessing countries and countries under protection of nuclear umbrella) and non-nuclear weapon states, particularly member states of the Non-Aligned Movement,[8] have different views on how to achieve the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons. Generally speaking, Ban Treaty opponents belong to the former group, and Ban Treaty advocates to the latter group. Students need to investigate different views toward the Ban Treaty and reasons behind it. 

Students will also need to consider the possibility of common ground and explore the relationship between the Ban Treaty and the NPT. Is it possible for the Ban Treaty and NPT to complement each other, or will the Ban Treaty will damage the progress the NPT has made in the disarmament process?

Eventually students will come up with their own ideas based on their studies and decide if the Ban Treaty is positive or negative, and how the Ban Treaty can contribute to accomplishing the goal of peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons.

To understand and examine these challenges and future prospects, it is important for CIF students to study the current world nuclear weapons situation, proliferation threats, and states’ policies toward nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, as well as basic scientific aspects of nuclear weapons.

Based on these investigations, students will create their own assessment on how the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty will enter into force, and how or if the Ban Treaty contributes to the goals of peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons. Participants will examine this topic in CIF’s four content domains: scientific/environmental, social/cultural, economic, and political /geopolitical. Students will then present their own concrete proposal toward that goal.

[1] Voting record, Reaching Critical Will website,

[2] Signature/ratification status of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, ICAN website,

[3] Treaty full text,

[4] NTI Glossary,

[5] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons on NTI website,

[6] NPT Tutorial, NTI website,

[7] IAEA Additional Protocol,

[8] Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on NTI Website,