Courtesy: ICAN

Last week we banned nuclear weapons. It still feels a bit surreal to think that we pulled it off.

But what does it all mean? Treaties and international law is sometimes a complex issue, and we’ve gotten a lot of questions about what the treaty does and how it will work. So we thought we collect the most common questions we get.

What does the treaty prohibit? 

The treaty prohibits states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of those activities. In addition, states must not allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on their territory.

Is the treaty legally binding? 

Yep! Once it enters into force, the treaty is legally binding on those states that have signed and ratified it. It is not binding on states that remain outside the treaty though.

When will states sign the treaty?

The treaty will open for signature on 20 September 2017, at the United Nations in New York. It will remain open indefinitely for states to sign. That means that whenever a state is ready to sign, it can do so.

How many states must ratify it before it enters into force?

Fifty states must sign and ratify the treaty before it can enter into legal force. Signing is a relatively simple act performed by the executive branch of a government. Ratifying typically involves a domestic legislative process, such as drafting legislation to bring the prohibition into national law. Once the treaty has entered into force, further states can join it at any stage.

Can a state that possesses nuclear weapons join the treaty?

Yes. It can join the treaty, so long as it agrees to remove them from operational status immediately and destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound and verifiable plan.

Can a state that hosts nuclear weapons on its territory join the treaty?

A state that hosts another state’s nuclear weapons on its territory can join the treaty, so long as it agrees to remove them by a specified deadline.

Is it possible to join this treaty and remain in a military alliance with a nuclear-armed state?

Yes. Nothing in the treaty prevents a state from being in a military alliance with a nuclear-armed state, so long as its participation in that alliance does not include prohibited acts involving nuclear weapons.

Does the treaty establish verification measures or safeguards to ensure that states do not develop nuclear weapons? 

Yes, the treaty requires that states that have safeguards under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) keep these agreements, without prejudice to concluding additional ones in the future. For states that do not have safeguards yet, the treaty requires that states conclude an agreement in line with the NPT requirements within 18 months. The treaty does not undermine any obligations that states have made to safeguards under the NPT.

Will the treaty help victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons?

Yes. States must provide adequate assistance to all victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support. They must also provide for their social and economic inclusion.

The preamble acknowledges the harm suffered as a result of the use and testing of nuclear weapons, including the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapon activities on indigenous peoples. It also recognizes the disproportionate impacts on women and girls.

So, we got the treaty! What will the campaign do now? 

The work does not end here. ICAN will now focus on ensuring that this treaty enters into force, gets implemented and creates a strong norm against nuclear weapons that will lead to nuclear disarmament. This is long-term work, it’s nothing that will happen over night.

So in the immediate future, we will work to ensure that all countries committed to international humanitarian law and human rights match their values and words with action and sign the treaty on 20 September in New York.

Once that is done, we will start our ratification campaign and make sure 50 states ratifies the treaty quickly so it will officially become international law. We will also work hard in nuclear armed states and nuclear alliance states to change policies and behaviour.

Each step will contribute to strengthening the norm and change of behaviour in states.

Do you have more questions? Check out our FAQ on the website, or send us your question on [email protected].

Daniel Högsta
Network coordinator
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons