Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: A Hope for Nuclear Weapons Free World or Myth?

Written by Atta Ullah Nasri Khel


Today we live in a nuclear age where the risk of nuclear war is increasing and nuclear war is likely.
Nuclear weapons were unknown to the world before the second world war. After the Hiroshima and
Nagasaki tragedies, the potentially devastating and destructive power of these nuclear weapons became
apparent to the world. According to SIPRI 2020 Year Book on nuclear weapons, ‘at the start of
2020, the nine states- the United States, the United kingdom, France, China, Russia, Pakistan, India,
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Israel possessed approximately 13400 nuclear
warheads, of which 3720 were deployed with operational forces. Approximately 1800 of these are
kept in a high operational alert.’ For further details see SIPRI YB 2020. The United states was the
first nation who developed/invented a nuclear bomb generally known as bomb in 1945. Soon it was
followed by the Soviet Union and acquired nuclear weapons in 1949. Before 1969, total Five states
had acquired nuclear weapons which are formally declared nuclear weapons states by NPT. As
Nations and people aware by the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, some
Nations made efforts to halt further proliferation of these weapons. The US proposed the Baruch
Plan to seek control over all nuclear weapons. Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) was signed in 1963
banning all nuclear tests in the atmosphere and space. Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) were signed in 1969 and 1995 respectively. Further steps
were taken for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons such as MTCR and FMCT in 1987 and 1993
respectively. A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty was mooted in 1993. It was aimed to ensure a
comprehensive ban on any further production of fissile material for any nuclear explosion.
Unfortunately, it has not yet been materialized. The NPT was a relatively effective treaty for nonproliferation
and disarmament. The objective not to spread nuclear weapons remained a dream
despite all these efforts were made by different Nations. Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea and
Iran ( not confirmed to possess nuclear weapon), acquired nuclear weapons after the NPT was
signed and they were out of it, means were not parties to the treaty. The goal, despite all these efforts
and measurements, to prevent spread of nuclear weapons and eliminate them has not yet been
achieved. In 2017, a new treaty was adopted by the United Nations General assembly to negotiate a
legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. It was open for signature from 20 September
2017. Last week on 25 October 2020 the Honduras become the fiftieth state party to accede the
treaty and signed it. Following are the important assumptions enumerated in the treaty. In January
2021 it is likely to enter into force.

Important assumptions of the Treaty

Article 4, paragraph 2 states that each state party that owns, possesses, or controls nuclear weapons
or other explosive devices shall immediately remove them from operational status, and destroy them
as soon as possible. Article 2, paragraph 4 further adds that any nuclear weapons or explosive devices
deposited or deployed in the party state’s jurisdiction shall ensure the prompt removal of such
weapons and shall submit a declaration to the UN general assembly. Article 1 deals with the
prohibition of nuclear weapons. It prohibits all the state parties not to develop, manufacture, acquire,
produce any nuclear weapons or other explosive device. It also prohibits not to receive or transfer
any nuclear weapons.

Major Drawbacks of the Treaty

The 1st drawback is that the treaty discriminates among the states. It divides states among three
categories; states having nuclear weapons, states that had nuclear weapons after 7 July 20117 but
eliminate them before joining the treaty, and non nuclear weapons states. The 2nd drawback is that the treaty talks about complete eradication of nuclear weapons which is unrealistic expectation. It
requires for nuclear weapons states, that want to join the treaty, to remove or dismantle the nuclear
arsenals from operational status and start negotiations for their elimination. There are two points.
One that there may be technical or human errors while dismantling or eliminating the weapons
resulting in the detonation of them which will be a catastrophic and unbearable for the world.
Second, the treaty has no mention about the safeguard for states that eliminating these weapons. It
takes a lot of time to eradicate completely, so there is strong anticipations that those states can
develop other weapons. The 3rd drawback is that the treaty will undermine the significance and
effectiveness of the NPT. The reason is that the proponents of the treaty are very optimistic about
the elimination of nuclear weapons while none of nuclear weapons state as well as walked away states
from the NPT including Pakistan, India and North Korea have not signed the treaty. If they want,
in a real sense, to wipe out all these weapons from the world it requires inclusiveness, negotiations, and
dialogues with the opponents of this treaty. The 4th drawback is that the complete eradication of these
weapons will create a new milieu with motivation for every state to develop or produce new such
types of weapons. Eventually, it will barrel the whole world towards increasing instability. The 5th drawback is, I would like to argue, that nuclear weapons are essential for nuclear deterrence and the
world needs a strong deterrence spectrum and hence necessary for peaceful coexistence, as I believe
in nuclear deterrence. The treaty, surely, will harm this spectrum. Another drawback is the
incompatibility between the NPT and TPNW. The NPT has granted P5 status to USA, UK, France,
China and Russia. In case of this privileged status, the TPNW may jeopardize the NPT. The
emerging treaty prohibits the state party from stationing, installation and deployment any nuclear
weapons while NPT has no such mention. And that is the reason why the USA and its NATO allies
refusing to sign the treaty.