The development, production, testing and use of nuclear weapons has had catastrophic humanitarian and ecological consequences on people and environments around the world. ‘Nuclear harm’ – the damage caused by blast, incendiary and radioactive effects of nuclear weapons use, testing and production, as well as by other nuclear technologies – poses threats to the pursuit of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Due to advocacy by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), recognized by the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) established ‘positive obligations’ on affected states to assist victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and to remediate contaminated environments. To ensure that the burden does not fall unduly on affected states, the TPNW requires all states to engage in international cooperation and assistance to achieve these and the treaty’s other goals. While the TPNW does not explicitly cover all forms of nuclear harm, and the universalization of the treaty may take some time, its implementation offers the opportunity to build a normative framework and institutional architecture for humanitarian and environmental action to address nuclear harm.
As government gather in New York to begin a second round of talks on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, the International Disarmament Institute’s Matthew Bolton assesses the treaty’s draft from a human security perspective. The report, published by Friedrich Ebert Foundation, argues that:
Current negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty have revived the efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. Similar to other types of weapons, it is hoped that the stigmatization and prohibition of nuclear weapons will pave the way towards their elimination.
The Draft Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (DCPNW) offers a strong basis for negotiations on a global nuclear weapons ban in June and July 2017. If adopted, it would be the most significant shift in nuclear politics since the end of the Cold War and a policy victory for human security.
While finalizing the treaty text in a timely fashion, states should still seize the opportunity to enhance its human security dimensions, for instance by incorporating references to human rights and environmental law; bolstering the core prohibitions by adding an explicit prohibition on financing nuclear weapons production; and by strengthening positive obligations on victim assistance, environmental remediation and disarmament education.
The final treaty should offer nuclear-armed and nuclear alliance states a pathway for engagement with and eventual accession to the agreement.