Unfold Zero: Making Use of the New Nuclear Ban Treaty


An article by Unfold Zero

On July 7, 2017, the United Nations adopted a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons following negotiations over 5 weeks during March, June and July. 122 countries voted in favour of the treaty, demonstrating the clear and unequivocal acceptance of the majority of UN members never to use, threaten to use, produce, possess, acquire, transfer, test or deploy nuclear weapons. The treaty will be open for signature on September 20 and will enter-into-force once 50 States ratify.

UNFOLD ZERO promoted the negotiations, and was actively involved in them – submitting working papers, making interventions and organising side events. We are now active in the treaty implementation and follow-up. 

Impact on the nuclear armed and allied States?

The nuclear-armed and allied States opposed the treaty and none are likely to join. As such they are not bound by its provisions, and will not be directly affected by it.

However, the new treaty could be used to impact on the policies and practices of the nuclear armed States and their allies in two key ways:

1 through national implementation measures that prohibit financing and transit of nuclear weapons;

2 by putting political pressure on these States to adopt nuclear risk reduction and disarmament measures, including through the Non-Proliferation Treaty process and at the 2018 UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament

National implementation: Prohibiting nuclear weapons investments

The nuclear prohibition treaty could impact on nuclear weapons policies if it results in divestment by States parties and others from corporations manufacturing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

These corporations (list compiled by Don’t Bank on the Bomb) are a major driver of the nuclear arms race. They actively lobby their parliaments and governments to continue allocating the funds to nuclear weapons. And they support think tanks and other public initiatives to promote the ‘need’ for nuclear weapons maintenance, modernization and expansion.

Many of the countries supporting the nuclear prohibition treaty have public funds (such as national pension funds), and banks operating in their countries, that invest in these corporations.

The new treaty does not specifically prohibit such investments. However, States parties to the treaty agree not to ‘assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty.’  This can be interpreted as prohibiting investments in nuclear weapons corporations.

If a number of States Parties to the treaty, encouraged by their parliamentarians and civil society, decide to prohibit investments in nuclear weapons corporations as part of their national implementation measures, this could highlight the unethical corporate practice of manufacturing such weapons, damage the standing of such corporations and constrain their lobbying power.

UNFOLD ZERO and our partner organisations are therefore stepping up our Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign in order to dramatically increase the number of countries divesting from nuclear weapons corporations, focusing on those countries joining the nuclear prohibition treaty.

We are also supporting nuclear weapons divestment by cities, universities and religious institutions in nuclear-armed and allied countries, building on the example of the city of Cambridge MA (USA).

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Question related to this article:

Can we abolish all nuclear weapons?

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This divestment campaign is coupled with campaigns in the nuclear-armed States to drastically cut nuclear weapons budgets and re-direct these resources into economic, social and envirnomental need, such as prmooting renewable energy and protecting the climate.

For more information see Move the Nuclear Weapons Money: A handbook for civil society and legislators’ or contact us at UNFOLD ZERO. 

National implementation: prohibiting transit

One step that States parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons could take that would impact directly on the policies and practices of the nuclear armed states is to prohibit the transit of nuclear weapons through their territorial waters and airspace.

The new treaty infers that allowing such transit by nuclear-armed states would be in violation of the treaty provision under which States parties to the treaty agree not to ”assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty.’ However, the treaty leaves it up to each State party on how they implement this provision.

Some of the countries in the UN negotiations on the treaty argued that a ban on transit would be too difficult to implement, verify and enforce, especially as the nuclear-armed States refuse to confirm or deny which ships and airplanes are carrying nuclear weapons.

However, UNFOLD ZERO partner organisations Aotearoa (New Zealand) Lawyers for Peace and PNND submitted a paper to the prohibition treaty negotiations reviewing the experience of New Zealand, a country which has adopted legislation prohibiting transit of nuclear weapons and has been successful in implementing this. We are therefore encouraging States Parties to the treaty to include a prohibition on transit in their national implementation measures.

Nuclear armed and allied States have easily dismissed the Treaty on the prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as not relevant to them and which they can ignore. It is not so easy for them to ignore the 2018 UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament (2018 UNHLC).

There is a general expectation (from media, parliaments, civil society and other governments) that governments will participate in UN high-level conferences at the highest level, i.e. by the President or Prime Minister, and that these conferences will deliver concrete outcomes.

As such, recent UN high-level conferences have been very successful, resulting in the adoption of the sustainable development goals, Paris agreement on climate change, NY declaration on refugees and migrants and the 14-point action plan to protect the oceans.

Already the 56 member parliaments of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (which includes the parliaments of four nuclear armed and all the NATO countries) have called ”on all participating OSCE States to participate in the 2018 UN international conference on nuclear disarmament at the highest level, to include parliamentarians in their delegations to the conference and to pursue the adoption of nuclear risk reduction, transparency and disarmament measures at the conference.” (Tblisi Declaration, adopted July 5, 2016)

The ban treaty could be used to put additional pressure on the nuclear-armed and allied states to undertake such measures.

The 2018 UNHLC could also be an opportunity for non-nuclear countries to announce their ratification of the nuclear prohibition treaty. If 50 ratifications are achieved by the 2018 UNHLC, then this could be the occasion to announce its entry-into-force.

UNFOLD ZERO is coordinating civil society action for the 2018 UNHLC in cooperation with the Abolition 2000 Working Group on the 2018 UNHLC. Please contact us at info@unfoldzero.org if you would like to be more involved.