UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressing The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Sept. 26th, 2019. Credit: Bones Donovan accessed via Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Legal and political myths of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

By David A. Koplow, Edward M. Ifft, May 13, 2021

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The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is, by any measure, a major milestone in international law and nuclear security policy. It is the first treaty in history that categorically and permanently prohibits for all its parties the testing, possession, transfer, use, or threat of use of nuclear weapons, and that aims for universal participation. The treaty entered into force on January 22, 2021 and has already attracted 54 parties and an additional 32 signatories, although all the countries that possess nuclear weapons, along with their closest allies, have stayed away.

Vote on the final draft of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 7 July 2017. Credit: NordNordWest accessed via Wikimedia Commons. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/legalcode
Vote on the final draft of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 7 July 2017. Credit: NordNordWest accessed via Wikimedia Commons. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/legalcode

In this article, we take no position on the treaty’s substantive merits. The treaty’s proponents herald the agreement as a major accomplishment in the longstanding effort to eliminate all nuclear weapons and to keep the world free from this historic scourge. These humanitarian achievements would mark the eagerly-awaited fulfillment of the nuclear disarmament commitment contained in Article VI of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The TPNW could become a significant conceptual watershed, helping to stigmatize the continued possession of nuclear weapons and reenergizing the global effort to abolish them in a timely fashion.

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