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‘Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)’

  • Category
    India & world
  • Published
    10th Nov, 2020

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), or the Nuke Ban Treaty, is set to enter into force soon.


The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), or the Nuke Ban Treaty, is set to enter into force soon.


  • In 2016, the U.N. General Assembly decided to hold a conference for the negotiation of the treaty.
  • The conference took place in March 2017.
  • The treaty was subsequently adopted at the United Nations on July 7, 2017 and was opened for signature by the U.N. Secretary General on September 20, 2017. 
  • When Honduras ratified the treaty in late October, it reached the requisite 50 ratifications, and is set to enter into forceon January 22, 2021.


What is TPNW?

  • The TPNW contains provisions that prohibit states from participating in any nuclear weapons-related activities including development, testing, possession, stockpile, use, or threat of use of nuclear weapons.
  • Signatories are required“to prevent and suppress any activity prohibited under the TPNW undertaken by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction or control.”
  • The Treaty also obliges States parties to provide adequate assistance to individuals affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons, as well as to take necessary and appropriate measure of environmental remediation in areas under its jurisdiction or control contaminated as a result of activities related to the testing or use of nuclear weapons.

The TPNW & the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

  • The NPT has 191 states parties, making it one of the most widely subscribed to international agreements.
    • Five states parties (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) are acknowledged to possess nuclear weapons pending their elimination pursuant to Article VI of the treaty.
    • All other NPT members are obligated, subject to safeguards monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), not to acquire nuclear weapons.
  • Similarly, members of the TPNW are obligated not to acquire nuclear arms subject to IAEA safeguards, and the importance of the NPT to international peace and security is recognized in the preamble to the TPNW.
  • But the TPNW goes further than the NPT: Any member of the TPNW is barred from “inducing” a state to use or threaten nuclear weapons on its behalf.
  • TPNW states parties are therefore barred from participating in alliance arrangements with nuclear-armed states in which nuclear weapons may be used on their behalf, or in any other way or any other circumstance requesting or cooperating in the use of nuclear weapons on their behalf.
  • In contrast, some 30 members of the NPT are in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or other alliances in which US nuclear weapons are explicitly part of defense postures.
  • US nuclear weapons are even stationed on the territory of five NATO states, a practice specifically barred by the TPNW.
  • So far, no member of a nuclear alliance has signed or ratified the TPNW, nor have any of the nine nuclear-armed states (the five NPT nuclear weapon states plus India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan).

What are nuclear weapons? Which countries possess them?

  • Nuclear weapons release huge amounts of radiation - which can cause radiation sickness - so their actual impact lasts longer than the blast.
    • They have only ever been used twice in history - against Japan in 1945 during World War II where they caused huge devastation and enormous loss of life.
  • The radiation from the bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima lasted several months and killed an estimated 80,000 people.
    • And the bomb dropped on Nagasaki killed more than 70,000 people.
  • They haven't been detonated in war since then.
  • Nine countries currently have nuclear weapons: the US, UK, Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

What is India’s stand on the treaty?

India had rejected the treaty for two main reasons.

  • Not negotiated in the right forum: First, because it was not negotiated in the right forum or in the right manner.
    • India believes that the appropriate forum for negotiating complex dimensions of nuclear elimination is the Conference on Disarmament, a UN body comprising 65 nations, that follows consensus-based decision making. India considers it critical to take all stakeholders along on this subject.
    • Not doing so could result in an outcome unacceptable to key players, as seems to have happened with the TPNW.
  • Lack of attention to important areas: India’s second criticism has been on lack of attention to issues of verification and compliance.
    • The treaty exhorts NWPs to join by removing nuclear weapons “from operational status immediately and to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan…”
    • However, these terminologies are not defined. Nor does the treaty establish who would monitor and certify progress of elimination as per schedule, or how non-compliance would be addressed.

With such fundamental questions left unanswered, India found the treaty insufficient to promote real disarmament.

Movement towards nuclear elimination may best be started through steps that seek to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons. Human nature rebels against giving up anything to which it attaches value. So, by reducing the worth of nuclear weapons, nations may be persuaded to eliminate their arsenals. Such value reduction may be possible by encouraging doctrines that constrict the role of nuclear weapons to nuclear deterrence alone; by showcasing the military futility of use of such weapons; by universalising no first use; or, by first prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. As weapons fall into disuse as a result of these measures, their elimination will become possible.

The occasion of entry into force of the TPNW can be best utilised to give serious thought to steps that help attain its deeper objective. This would be in the interest of all states—nuclear and non-nuclear.


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