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United Nations: Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons

(Oct. 5, 2017) On July 7, 2017, the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards Their Total Elimination, meeting in New York, adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, by a vote of 122 in favor, one against (the Netherlands), and one abstention (Singapore). (Matthew Santiago, UN Opens Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons for Signature, PAPER CHASE (Sept. 20, 2017); UN Conference Adopts Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons, UN NEWS CENTRE (July 7, 2017).) The new Treaty opened for signature on September 20, 2017; 42 countries signed it that day.  It will enter into force 90 days after ratification by at least 50 countries.  (Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Opens for Signature at UN, UN NEWS CENTRE (Sept. 20, 2017) (use title to search in browser if necessary.)

Acknowledging the risks posed by nuclear weapons, “including from any nuclear-weapon detonation by accident, miscalculation or design,” and mindful of the suffering and harm caused to its victims, the Treaty “prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.” (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Treaty) (adopted July 7, 2017, opened for signature Sept. 20, 2017), A/CONF.229/2017/L.3/Rev.1, art. 1, UN DOCS; UN Conference Adopts Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons, supra.)

While applauding the Treaty as “an important step towards the universally held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres nevertheless stressed the difficulty of attaining that goal, noting that some 15,000 nuclear weapons remain in existence.  (Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Opens for Signature at UN, supra.)

The Treaty preamble makes reference to the first U.N. General Assembly resolution of January 24, 1946 (which established the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission), and subsequent resolutions; reaffirms implementation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as “the cornerstone of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime”; and recognizes the vital importance of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and its verification regime as a core element of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”  (Treaty, supra; VIII. Resolutions Adopted on the Reports of the First Committee: 1(I). Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy, at 9, available at U.N. website; Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) (signed June 12, 1968; in force on Mar. 5, 1970), United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs website; Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (adopted Sept. 10, 1996), Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) website.