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United Nations: Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

(June 1, 2017) On May 22, 2017, a United Nations panel released a draft of a treaty that would ban all use of nuclear weapons. The prohibition would extend to all production, acquisition, transfer, or use of those weapons.  (Autumn Callan, UN Panel Releases Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons, PAPER CHASE (May 23, 2017); Draft Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, A/CONF.229/2017/CRP.1 (Draft Convention), United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards Their Total Elimination (New York, Mar. 27-31, 2017, & June 15-July 7, 2017), UPLOADS.GUIM (last visited May 25, 2017).)

The draft was developed during a conference in Geneva, attended only by non-nuclear states. Some nations that have nuclear weapons reportedly have argued that it would be preferable to improve the existing non-proliferation treaty, rather than adopt a new convention. (Callan, supra; Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (July 1, 1968, as extended indefinitely May 11, 1995), United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs website.)

Provisions of the Draft Convention 

States that become Parties to this Convention promise never to:

(a) Develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

(b) Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly;

(c) Receive the transfer or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly, or indirectly;

(d) Use nuclear weapons;

(e) Carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion;

(f) Assist, encourage, or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention; [or]

(g) Seek or receive any assistance, in any way, from anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention. (Draft Convention, art. 1(1).)

The Draft Convention also has provisions on inspection, for purposes of verification, of the facilities of countries that have divested themselves of nuclear weapons, with the specific procedures to be worked out between the country and the International Atomic Energy Agency. (Id. art. 4.)  The Draft requires parties to provide assistance to those individuals impacted by the use or testing of nuclear weapons, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, and social and economic betterment.  (Id. art. 6(1).)  The Draft Convention also specifies that states can receive assistance for the environmental rehabilitation of areas in their jurisdiction contaminated by any form of nuclear explosive device.  This aid may come from the United Nations system; international, regional, or national organizations or institutions; or non-governmental organizations or institutions.  (Id. art. 6(3).)

The Draft Convention establishes that States Party to the Convention that have disputes with other Parties may consult each other to reach a settlement, refer the matter to the meetings of all the Parties, or, by mutual consent, take the dispute to the International Court of Justice. (Id. art. 12.)

The Convention will come into effect 90 days after the 40th “ratification, acceptance, approval or accession” has been filed.  (Id. art. 16(1).)

Comments on the Convention

The Costa Rican U.N. Ambassador, Elayne Whyte Gómez, who chaired the 2017 Geneva conference, stated that the draft represented “a good level of convergence among the delegations, especially on the core prohibitions,” while noting that revisions to the text were expected. (UN Panel Releases Draft Treaty Banning Possession and Use of Nuclear Weapons, GUARDIAN (May 22, 2017).)

Beatrice Fihn, who serves as executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), echoed approval of the Draft Convention. She said, “[w]e are particularly happy the text is rooted in humanitarian principles and that it builds on previous prohibitions of unacceptable weapons, such as biological and chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. … [Nuclear weapons’] continued existence undermines the moral credibility of every country which relies on them.”  (Id.)  ICAN states that it is “a coalition of non-government organizations in one hundred countries advocating for a strong and effective nuclear weapon ban treaty.”  (About ICAN, ICAN website (last visited May 25, 2017).)