This article is written by Harman Juneja, a student of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Rai, Sonepat. The article talks about the UN Treaty on prohibition of nuclear weapons.


The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) includes a full set of limitations on participation in any nuclear weapon activity. These commitments restrict developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons. The Treaty also forbids the deployment of nuclear weapons on sovereign territory, as well as providing aid to any state engaged in forbidden acts. Any conduct prohibited by the TPNW that is carried out by individuals or on property under their jurisdiction or control must be prevented and suppressed by state parties.

About International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a global coalition of non-governmental organizations working to ensure that the United Nations Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty is ratified and implemented. On July 7, 2017, this historic worldwide accord was signed in New York. ICAN was founded in Australia and launched in Austria in April 2007. 

It holds public awareness events, organizes global days of action, and engages in advocacy at the United Nations and national legislatures. They work with survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts, to share their stories with the public and decision-makers. Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu and  Dalai Lama, as well as musicians Herbie Hancock and Yoko Ono, and actors Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas, have all thrown their support to ICAN. In 2012, the UN Secretary-General lauded ICAN for its dedication and innovation in pursuing their common objective.

ICAN aims at refocusing the disarmament debate on nuclear weapons’ humanitarian threat, highlighting their unique destructive capacity, catastrophic health and environmental consequences, indiscriminate targeting, the crippling impact of a detonation on medical infrastructure, and relief measures, and the long-term effects of radiation on the environment.

The success of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines was instrumental in the negotiation of the Anti-personnel mine ban treaty 1997that encouraged ICAN’s founders. They wanted to establish a similar campaign format.

There are 532 partner organizations in 103 countries that make up the ICAN. The campaign’s staff is based in Geneva, Switzerland, where it coordinates and manages the efforts daily. The Executive Director is Beatrice Fihn.

The campaign is overseen by an International Steering Group, with a small management committee led by Susi Snyder (President), Josefin Lind (Secretary), and Celine Nahory (Treasurer) in charge of the Swiss-registered non-profit organization. The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, Article 36, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms, Norwegian People’s Aid, Peace Boat, the Latin America Human Security Network (SEHLAC), Swedish Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom are all current members of the International Steering Group.

Need for the prohibition of nuclear weapons

Nuclear explosions have both immediate and long-term consequences. Within seconds or minutes of a nuclear detonation, blast, thermal radiation, and rapid ionizing radiation cause tremendous destruction. Delay effects, such as radioactive fallout and other environmental consequences, cause harm over a long period, lasting from hours to years. This is just the cherry on top. There are a lot of serious effects of using nuclear weapons which are discussed below:

  • Air-blast effects produced by nuclear explosions are comparable to those produced by conventional explosives. Humans can be injured directly by the shock wave by rupturing eardrums or lungs, or by being hurled at high speeds, but most deaths are caused by collapsing structures and flying debris.
  • A single nuclear explosion, unlike conventional explosions, can produce a powerful pulse of heat radiation capable of starting fires and burning skin over broad distances. The fires initiated by the explosion can sometimes turn into a firestorm, making it impossible for survivors to flee.
  • Thermal effects from a nuclear explosion are predicted to inflict large mortality, though this is impossible to forecast precisely. Large volumes of neutron and gamma radiation are released during nuclear detonations. Initial radiation is only a significant source of casualties for low-yield explosions when compared to other impacts (less than 10 kilotons).
  • When a nuclear weapon is detonated near the earth’s surface, dirt combines with the explosion’s highly radioactive fission products. The debris is transported by the wind and returns to earth in a matter of minutes to hours.
  • Surface burst, airbursts, and shallow-penetrating nuclear weapons may cause fire as a side effect of thermal radiation. The intensity of fire damage is determined by the type of burst and the surrounding environment. If a fireball occurs, fires will originate as a direct result of thermal radiation absorption. Once a fire is started, it spreads until it runs out of fuel or the distance to the next source of fuel becomes too large. As a result, the fire created directly by thermal ignitions, a fire caused indirectly by disruptive blast waves, and fire spread is all possible but has unclear outcomes.
  • Individuals may potentially be exposed to radiation through inhalation of fallout particles either during the passage of the cloud or afterwards due to re-suspension of deposited particles due to wind, vehicle traffic, or other surface disturbances. 
  • According to an estimate, external gamma-radiation exposure rates and air concentrations observed downwind of the Nevada test site explosions, the whole-body inhalation dosage for most organs ranged from 1 to 20% of the doses are received from contaminated food ingestion. Following nuclear experiments at the NTS, drinking polluted water was not shown to be a significant exposure mechanism. Although deposition on water surfaces occurs, it has not been a substantial source of exposure for those living downwind of the NTS since dilution is rapid. Following the Chernobyl disaster, which contaminated one of the watersheds feeding water to the Kyiv Reservoir, the aquatic pathway became more of a worry. However, even in this case, consuming tainted water was not a viable option.

The health consequences of conventional weapons assault on nuclear-weapon storage installations are determined by the nuclear weapons’ specific design. The committee is unable to provide quantitative estimates because the design specifications of adversary nuclear weapons are unknown (and could not be disclosed in this publication anyhow). Nuclear explosions near the ground’s surface are likely to have several environmental effects in addition to the health effects outlined above. The fallout area after a nuclear weapon explosion is extremely radioactive. However, as previously stated, the rate of external gamma radiation exposure vanishes rapidly with time, and the denial of land use due to fallout is minor in comparison to other fallout impacts. This is in stark contrast to the condition that would be expected following a big reactor disaster like Chernobyl.

A strong international rejection of the use of nuclear weapons is already in place. Nuclear weapons have been stigmatized as morally, humanitarian, and now legally unacceptable weapons of war as a result of this taboo. Nuclear weapons have not been employed since the 1945 atomic attack of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

However, as long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a possibility of them being used again, whether by accident, mistake, or design. Today, we can see that the threat of using nuclear weapons is increasing.

Other global treaties regarding nuclear weapons

Over the period, many treaties have been signed concerning nuclear weapons and these are:

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

The NPT, a United Nations treaty aimed at preventing nuclear weapons proliferation and eventually disarmament, was established in 1968 in response to widespread international concern over the world’s growing quantity of nuclear weapons. While the treaty contains eleven articles, it is best known for its three pillars:

  • Non-proliferation;
  • Disarmament;
  • The right to produce nuclear energy.

The treaty recognizes five nuclear-weapon states: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. All other signatories are assumed to be non-nuclear nations, and they swear not to acquire nuclear weapons, whereas nuclear-weapon states pledge not to transfer nuclear weapons to any non-nuclear state, or to assist them in acquiring nuclear weapons in any way. This is the pillar of non-proliferation.

Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

The resolution ‘that the US and Russia resolve to seek the early entry into effect of the new START’ was one of the outcomes of the 2010 NPT review conference. The initial START treaty was signed in July 1991 by the United States and the Soviet Union, and it drew on previous arms reduction and limitation treaties between the two superpowers. The Lisbon Protocol was signed after the fall of the Soviet Union to include Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus in the pact. In these three member countries, the Soviet Union had 3200 nuclear warheads, which were either dismantled or sent to Russia.

Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT)

SORT was a deal signed in Moscow in 2002 between the United States and Russia to limit their nuclear arsenals to 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed weapons. The new START finally took its place.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)

The Soviet Union and the United States signed the INF Treaty in 1987, and it went into effect in June 1988. Each party promised to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers as part of the deal. It also allowed the reductions to be verified.

Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT)

This treaty came into effect in October 1963, in response to growing worries about the environmental and health effects of radioactive fallout from significant nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s. Nuclear weapons testing is prohibited beneath the water, in the atmosphere, and in space, according to the PTBT. The treaty has not been signed by France, China, or North Korea. Following the PTBT’s implementation, France and China conducted more atmospheric nuclear weapons testing.

The Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosion Treaty (PNET)

The TTBT and PNET are two bilateral treaties signed jointly between the United States and the former Soviet Union that limit explosive power to 150 kilotons for both military and civil test purposes (TTBT and PNET, respectively), such as mining, quarrying, and dam construction. Both the TTBT and the PNET were signed in 1974 and 1976, respectively, and both treaties went into effect in December 1990.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

In 1992, the United States, France, and Russia agreed to a cease-fire. Britain joined in after many years of using the US Nevada site. The CTBT was negotiated and opened for signature in 1996 as a result of this. There is always the possibility that nuclear weapons testing will be resumed by nuclear weapon nations to enhance their arsenals until the CTBT entered into force. Furthermore, in the absence of such a treaty, other non-nuclear-weapon states will be able to conduct such tests to obtain nuclear weapons capability.

Along with these treaties, there is also an Outer Space Treaty which prohibits the installation of any weapon of mass destruction or any nuclear weapon in space that is on the moon or any other celestial body. All the countries with nuclear weapons have signed this treaty. Furthermore, there are many nuclear-free zones in the world and for that many smaller treaties have also been signed. Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Africa are the five significant parts of the world that have been designated nuclear-weapons-free zones under separate treaties. Specified countries commit not to produce, test, or possess nuclear weapons within these zones.

About the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons

On 7 July 2017, the Conference on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (by a vote of 122 States in favour, with one vote against and one abstention) at the United Nations, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations opened it for signature on 20 September 2017. Following the submission of the 50th instrument of ratification or accession of the Treaty with the Secretary-General on October 24, 2020, it came into force on January 22, 2021, following Article 15(1) of the Treaty.

Basic provisions of the treaty

  • Nuclear weapons cannot be used on national territory, according to the treaty. Efforts to ban nuclear weapons have been ongoing since the dawn of the atomic era. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, on the other hand, arose from the humanitarian Initiative, a group of non-nuclear weapon states that attempted to accelerate nuclear disarmament by emphasizing the devastating humanitarian effects of nuclear conflict.
  • The signatories should provide substantial support to those who have been harmed by nuclear weapons testing. They should also adopt the necessary environmental cleanup measures in regions under their authority that have been affected as a result of nuclear weapons testing.
  • When a state joins the treaty, it must declare whether or not it has destroyed its past nuclear weapons program. The party should also reveal whether it has any nuclear weapons from other countries on its soil. If a party has nuclear weapons from another country, it must surrender them before signing the pact. The International Atomic Energy Agency should establish a minimum safeguards agreement with non-nuclear-weapon states.
  • There is no verification regime in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Each state party is required to keep its existing safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency in place (IAEA). State parties that have not yet done so must sign a thorough safeguards agreement at the very least. Every state party has the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it determines that unusual events relating to the Treaty’s subject matter have harmed its country’s supreme interests. The withdrawal will take effect twelve months after the Depository receives the notification of the withdrawal. If the withdrawing state party is involved in an armed conflict, it will be bound by the Treaty’s commitments until the conflict is over.
  • After the Treaty enters into effect, any state party may propose an amendment to it at any time. The proposal will be circulated to all state parties for consideration by the UN Secretary-General. The proposal will be discussed at the next meeting of States Parties or review conference if a majority of States Parties declare their support for it within 90 days of its circulation. The amendment can be adopted if two-thirds of the States Parties vote in favour.
  • The treaty’s 24-paragraph preamble outlines a slew of nuclear weapons-related restrictions, including pledges not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use, or threaten to use nuclear weapons. It also prevents nuclear weapons from being deployed on national territory. TPNW requires states to “suppress” any prohibited activities on their territory, compensate and assist people who have been harmed by nuclear testing in any way, and take remedial action to repair environmental damage in areas under their jurisdiction that have been harmed by nuclear weapons use or testing.

The Treaty is the first piece of international legislation to address the devastating humanitarian repercussions of nuclear weapons use and testing, requiring governments to assist victims of nuclear testing and use, as well as clean up contaminated areas. It codifies a strong worldwide consensus, shared by both States and civil society, that any use of nuclear weapons, no matter how justified, is unacceptable. The TPNW delivers a forceful message by officially and unequivocally outlawing the use of nuclear weapons, which is not only morally and humanely abhorrent, but also illegal under International humanitarian law (IHL).

States should avoid attempting to delegitimize the treaty since it reflects a huge majority of non-nuclear armed states’ significant concern with the lack of progress in the field of multilateral nuclear disarmament. The TPNW is also a response to international actors’ inability to reach mutually beneficial agreements in multilateral fora. Furthermore, by highlighting the humanitarian aspect of nuclear weapons and disarmament rhetoric, the TPNW legitimizes a widely held international principle: that of reaching a world free of nuclear weapons.

Signatories to the treaty

On September 20, 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was opened for signing at the United Nations in New York, and it entered into force on January 22, 2021.

There are now 86 signatories and 54 states that have ratified the treaty. All these states are mentioned on the website of ICAN.

Challenges to the treaty

There are a lot of challenges that raise some serious questions for the treaty which over time need to be resolved. These challenges are:

  • Given that none of the nuclear weapon-wielding countries participated in the voting process, it is improbable that the pact will result in the abolition of nuclear weapons. This applies to the five states recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as possessing nuclear weapons (China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States), as well as the four states (India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea) that have acquired nuclear weapons without being parties to the NPT. The majority of these countries did not even take part in the treaty talks. 
  • The same may be said for the so-called “umbrella states,” countries whose security is ensured by the US nuclear deterrent. Along with this all NATO countries (excluding the Netherlands, which abstained from voting on the pact) also did not take part, as are three Asian Pacific countries: Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Australia.
  • It is debatable whether the TPNW can be regarded as customary law, as some assert. The fact that one country, the Netherlands, has voted against the pact shows that there isn’t complete agreement.
  • Furthermore, more than thirty countries did not take part in the negotiations at all. Some countries, including India, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, have said unequivocally that the pact in no way establishes or contributes to the establishment of any customary international law. The comparison to the successful precedent of humanitarian conventions such as the Ottawa Convention on Landmines and the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions is not entirely accurate: most states that became parties to these conventions already had such weapons, which they were able to eliminate.
  • The TPNW’s prologue pays thanks to the NPT’s ongoing role, reiterating its importance in fostering world peace and security. Article 18 of the treaty further states that the TPNW will not preclude States Parties from fulfilling their duties under existing international accords, but that such obligations must be “consistent” with the TPNW. However, several of the TPNW’s requirements are incompatible with the NPT. The most egregious example concerns one of the NPT’s foundations, namely the distinction between nations permitted to acquire such weapons and non-nuclear-weapon states, which the TPNW does not address.
  • The fifty signatures required for the TPNW’s entry into effect should not be difficult to obtain. It was remarkable, however, that not all conference attendees were present at the time of voting. It is too early to make predictions about how the ratification and implementation processes will go. Much will hinge on which countries sign and ratify the deal promptly. Financial difficulties may add to the process’s complexity.
  • The TPNW will not be the last word on nuclear disarmament: attaining nuclear prohibition in one fell swoop is a pipe dream. The contentious idea of a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament is currently being discussed. More efforts will be required, and all available options, whether international, regional, or bilateral, humanitarian, environmental, military, or doctrinal, should be pursued now.

Refusal of India and other nuclear powers to sign the treaty

When the treaty went into effect, India said that it is not a signatory of the treaty and neither does it support the treaty. Not only India, but other nuclear powers have also refused to sign the treaty and here is the reason why they are not in congruence with the treaty.

Why India refused to sign the treaty?

  • The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is not supported by India. India is committed to a policy of “No First Use” against nuclear weapons nations and non-nuclear-weapons states. India is likewise engaged in the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty discussions. FMCT is an international treaty that has been suggested. Production of enriched Uranium and Plutonium is prohibited under the agreement. India has also refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Treaty on the Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Tests.
  • India stated in its explanation of not joining that it was not confident that the resolution would meet the long-standing demand for a comprehensive nuclear disarmament mechanism. India further insisted that the Geneva-based disarmament conference is the only international bargaining platform. India claims it is not bound by the treaty’s obligations because it never signed it. 
  • India did not want to be bound by any of the commitments that may come from it according to New Delhi. This Treaty, India considers, does neither create or contribute to the development of any customary international law. While India is committed to a nuclear-weapon-free world and supports an internationally verifiable withdrawal of global nuclear weapons, it claims that the current treaty doesn’t take the verification process into account.
  • India now has over 150 nuclear weapons that can be launched from missiles and aircraft. It spent $2.3 billion on the development and maintenance of its nuclear weapons. India has previously refused to sign nuclear disarmament treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) because it believes they are discriminatory: while non-nuclear states are not allowed to have nuclear weapons, nuclear-weapon states are not required to give them up. Furthermore, the NPT only recognizes a country as a nuclear power if it has conducted nuclear testing before 1967. As a non-nuclear weapons state, India is not yet ready to ratify the treaty.

Why other countries refused to sign the treaty

  • Other nuclear weapons states oppose the TPNW as well, raising doubts about its usefulness. Countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which pledged to nuclear deterrence in 2016, have not ratified the treaty. In 2018, the US, France, and the UK joined a group of 40 states in protesting the UN negotiations during which the pact was being debated. More than 120 countries participated in the discussions, which were led by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, and Sweden.
  • Countries feel that the nuclear nonproliferation treaty is overshadowed by the nuclear ban treaty. The TPNW’s usefulness has been questioned by Gustavo Zlauvinen, the President-designate of the 2020 NPT Review Conference, who claims that it cannot challenge the “legitimacy of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” 
  • The US, on the other hand, has stated that it supports the NPT and has decreased its nuclear arsenal by 85% since then. It claimed in a letter to the treaty’s signatory countries that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council  also known as nuclear-weapon states under the NPT are unified in their opposition to the treaty’s potential ramifications, which they called a strategic blunder.
  • The existence of nuclear weapons in North Korea was a major point of disagreement, with the US arguing that while disarmament would be conceivable in the future, it wasn’t practicable at the time the treaty was being negotiated. The letter went on to say that it reverses the clock on verification and disarmament and that it endangers the NPT.


Nuclear weapons are a serious threat to humanity and cause a lot more harm than good. Thus, there is a need for controlling them and keeping them in check. As only a few countries in the world have nuclear weapons, several treaties have been signed over time to prevent these countries from misusing them. One such treaty is the UN Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty puts several prohibitions on the nuclear-weapon states and as well as on those countries which do not possess nuclear weapons.



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