International Disarmament Institute News

Education and Research on Global Disarmament Policy

Humanitarian Positive Obligations for a Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty


Nuclear weapons ban treaty negotiations at the UN in New York, March 2017. Photo courtesy of ICAN.

The object and purpose of the proposed nuclear weapons ban treaty is to address and prevent the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons. As such, the political process that has led to the beginning of negotiations is rooted in humanitarian disarmament, which seeks to eliminate the suffering caused by problematic weapons.

A new report authored by Matthew Bolton, Director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, argues that the international community should seize the opportunity to achieve the humanitarian aims of this process by ensuring the nuclear weapons ban treaty includes strong positive obligations as well as prohibitions. Positive obligations would make the process of stigmatizing and limiting the harm of nuclear weapons the responsibility of all states, including those affected and not directly affected by nuclear detonations. Such provisions would encourage states to engage directly in extending and universalizing the norm, working toward a nuclear weapons free world.

Existing weapons treaties, especially humanitarian disarmament ones, provide important precedent for positive obligations. Their relevant provisions tend to fall in three categories:

  • Rights and remedial measures (e.g. environmental remediation, risk education, victim assistance),
  • Promotion of the treaty and of its norms (e.g. universalization and disarmament education),
  • International cooperation and assistance to implement the above two sets of obligations.

The new report discusses each of these categories in more depth and argues that they offer a foundation on which to build positive obligations in the nuclear weapons ban treaty. All the examples from existing weapons law offered in this paper include positive obligations in the legally operative parts of the treaty. The same should be true for the nuclear weapons ban treaty. This new treaty offers an opportunity to strengthen and build on norms established by positive obligations in other treaties.

To read the full report, click here.

To read the International Disarmament Institute’s earlier report on¬†foundations for educational provisions in the nuclear weapons ban treaty, click here.

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