The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), or the Nuke Ban Treaty, is set to enter into force soon. In 2016, the U.N. General Assembly, through resolution 71/258, decided to hold a conference for the negotiation of the treaty. The conference took place in March 2017. The treaty was subsequently adopted by a vote with 122 states in favor (with one vote against and one abstention) at the United Nations on July 7, 2017 and was opened for signature by the U.N. Secretary General on September 20, 2017. When Honduras ratified the treaty in late October, it reached the requisite 50 ratifications, and is set to enter into force on January 22, 2021.
The TPNW contains provisions that prohibit states from participating in any nuclear weapons-related activities including development, testing, possession, stockpile, use, or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Signatories are required “to prevent and suppress any activity prohibited under the TPNW undertaken by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction or control.”
While this is commendable on its own, the efficacy of the treaty is questionable because none of the current nine nuclear-armed states support the treaty or have signed it. The United States in a recent letter sent to signatories of the TPNW stated that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the P-5 countries, who also happens to be the five nuclear weapons states recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — and NATO allies “stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions” of the treaty. In fact, the only NATO country that took part in the negotiations was the Netherlands but due to its NATO commitments, it voted against the treaty when it came up for adoption.
The letter from the United States went on to add that the TPNW also “turns back the clock on verification and disarmament and is dangerous” to the NPT. Urging the signatories to walk out of the treaty, the letter further said that while these states have the sovereign right to determine whether to become parties to and ratify the treaty, “we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession.”