On the 2017 
Signing ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
20 September 2017. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, currently known as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty (NWBT) was passed on July 7, 2017, by a majority vote of the representatives of the United Nations member states present on that day. An overwhelming majority of 122 member states voted in favor. There was one vote against the treaty’s text to be adopted and another member state abstained. The Treaty has been opened to signature and ratification on September 20 last.

The number of member states of the United Nations is currently 193. The number of states that did not participate in the vote was 69 or a little over one third of the member states. Particularly significant is the fact that all the nuclear armed states as well as a vast majority of the non-nuclear armed states that are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did not participate in the vote. The so-called “third world countries” voted massively in favor.

Attention must be drawn to the fact that the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibitnuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards theirtotal elimination. That goal is qualitatively distinct from that stated in the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, a treaty that entered in force almost 50 years ago. In fact the primary objective of the NPTis to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology not that of the elimination thereof. Only in Article VI of the treaty is there a reference to nuclear disarmament, the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to a future treaty on general and complete disarmament. The Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty establishes in fact two categories of adhering parties with different obligations: the nuclear weapon states on one side and states that do not possess nuclear armament on the other. Of the nine states that are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons or explosives, only the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have ratified the treaty. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are not parties to the NPT.Although the total number of nuclear war heads in the arsenals of the main nuclear powers have been considerably reduced in recent decades (from about 60 thousand in the late 1980s to about 10 thousand today) we are witnessing a sustained effort to upgrade and, specialize existing nuclear weapon arsenals by the said powers. This is in our view incompatible with the grand design of general and complete disarmament contained in article VI of the Non Proliferation Treaty. In fact the wording of Article VI arguably imposes only a vague obligation on all NPT signatories to move in the general direction of nuclear and total disarmament.

Up to the present day it is fair to say that the nuclear armed states that are party to the Non Proliferation Treaty, have not shown a dependable will to abide by the disposition of article VI of the NPT nor have taken any effective steps in that direction.

The vote that took place in July 7 at the United Nations Headquarters to permanently ban nuclear weapons under international law must be heralded as the proclamation of a deep seated aspiration of Humanity to safeguard life in the planet against the tyranny of warmongers wherever they are. The World Federation of Scientific Workers will by all means at her disposal encourage and support this historic step towards the outlawing of nuclear weapons. At the same time, in the present geopolitical scenario, the Federation, acknowledges with many of the proponents, the aspirational character of the document approved in July in the absence of all nuclear armed states and the NATO members, with the exception of the Netherlands (that voted against).

As the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has claimed: “Weapons that are outlawed are increasingly seen as illegitimate, losing their political status and, along with it, the resources for their production, modernization, and retention”.

 The present text prepared by Frederico Carvalho, Vice-President of the WFSW Executive Council, for Working Group 1 — International Commission on Disarmament and Security was adopted by the Federation’s 22d General Assembly meeting in Dakar on December 4-8, 2017. A shorter version expressing the official stance of the WFSW will be publicized soon.