Nuclear ban treaty negotiations in 2017

December 30, 2016

The United Nations is convening negotiations in 2017 on “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. This new international agreement will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction, which have long been outlawed.

The negotiations began at UN headquarters in New York for one week in March and will continue from 15 June to 7 July 2017, with the participation of governments, international organizations and civil society. ICAN is urging all nations to work in good faith to achieve the strongest, most effective treaty possible.

Read our updates and booklet.


ICAN briefing papers


ICAN statements


Other key documents



Frequently asked questions

+ Which nations are participating in the negotiations?

Below is an unofficial list of the 132 states that participated in the March session:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Rep Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

We have summarized all states’ positions in relation to the negotiations here.

+ What is the aim of the treaty?

The treaty will aim to make a significant contribution towards the realization of a world free of nuclear weapons. The precise extent of its impact will depend on the scope of its provisions, the commitment of its parties to implement their obligations under the treaty, and the level of support that it attracts. For more information about the rationale behind the “ban treaty” approach, click here.

+ What exactly will the treaty ban?

We expect that the treaty will prohibit a range of activities relating to nuclear weapons, including their use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer, as well as assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone to engage in any of these prohibited activities.

ICAN has set out some basic principles for the treaty. It is likely to include provisions similar to those found in the treaties banning biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. These provisions will be the subject of negotiation June and July.

+ When will the treaty be concluded?

The UN General Assembly has called upon all nations participating in the negotiating conference “to make their best endeavours to conclude as soon as possible a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

ICAN is calling on governments to work towards concluding the treaty by 7 July 2017 – that is, by the end of the second round of negotiations. Much preparatory work has already been done, particularly by the UN working group on nuclear disarmament that met in Geneva in 2016 and issued a detailed report.

Once the treaty has been concluded, it will be opened for signature by all states. After signing the treaty, a certain number of states will then need to ratify it before it can enter into force and become part of international law.

+ Why is this treaty being negotiated now?

Since 2010, governments have grown increasingly concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons. Most of the world’s nations participated in three major conferences in 2013 and 2014 that examined these consequences.

The third such conference, held in Vienna in December 2014, issued a diplomatic pledge, committing 127 governments to cooperate in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The United Nations then convened a working group in Geneva in 2016 to examine various proposals for achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world. It recommended the start of negotiations in 2017 on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.

See Humanitarian Initiative

+ How does this differ from the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) does not ban nuclear weapons as such. However, it does prohibit nations from acquiring nuclear weapons if they did not already have them at the time that the NPT was negotiated, and it requires all of its parties to pursue negotiations in good faith for nuclear disarmament.

The NPT specifically envisages the creation of new legal instruments to advance the objective of nuclear disarmament. The nuclear weapon ban treaty will complement and reinforce the NPT rather than replace or undermine it. The NPT will remain in force after the ban treaty has been concluded.

+ Are nations required to participate?

Any nation may choose not to participate in the negotiations. However, doing so could cast doubt on its commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament, and specifically its commitment to implementing the disarmament obligation contained in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which also forms part of customary international law.

A decision to boycott the negotiations could signal to other nations that nuclear weapons are legitimate and desirable weapons that should not be prohibited. Thus, participating in the negotiations is important for both preventing proliferation and advancing disarmament.

+ What role is civil society playing?

Civil society representatives are participating in and contributing to the negotiating conference. ICAN will have a large delegation of campaigners present in June and July to pressure governments to work for the strongest and most effective treaty possible.

+ Can the nuclear-armed states block the process?

No nation has the power to block the negotiations. The treaty is not subject to approval by the UN Security Council, where five nuclear-armed nations wield a veto.

+ Are the nuclear-armed nations participating?

None of the nine nuclear-armed nations are participating. However, we strongly believe that the negotiations should proceed despite their refusal to take their disarmament commitments seriously. This, too, is the opinion of those nations that are participating in this historic process.

As a matter of principle, weapons that are indiscriminate in nature and are intended to cause catastrophic humanitarian harm should be prohibited under international law. The proposed treaty will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction.

Through its normative force, the treaty will affect the behaviour of nuclear-armed states even if they refuse to join it. It will also affect the behaviour of many of their allies that currently claim protection from their nuclear weapons, including those that host nuclear weapons on their territory.

+ Which nations are leading this process?

The UN resolution to initiate the negotiations was submitted by a core group of six nations: Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors of the resolution and 113 nations voted in favour of it in the General Assembly in December.

+ Are there alternative pathways forward?

Multilateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament have been at a standstill for two decades. Alternative proposals for advancing a nuclear-weapon-free world have failed to produce results. A ban treaty is widely seen as the most viable pathway forward.

+ Will there be a big rally in support for the negotiations?

On 17 June 2017, during the second round of negotiations, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (an ICAN steering group member) will coordinate a rally and march in New York City to demand a strong and effective treaty. It will be women-led but inclusive of everyone. Details here.




Other resources

  • aiweiwei

    “Let’s ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”

    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

  • sheen

    “If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”

    Martin Sheen Actor and activist

  • bankimoon

    “I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”

    Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief

  • yokoono

    “We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”

    Yoko Ono Artist

  • jodywilliams

    “Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”

    Jody Williams Nobel laureate

  • desmondtutu

    “With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”

    Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

  • herbiehancock

    “Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”

    Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

  • dalailama

    “I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”

    Dalai Lama Nobel laureate