Nuclear Weapons Convention

In 1996, the International Court of Justice declared that to use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons is illegal in almost all conceivable circumstances. Yet no legislation currently outlaws these weapons. Legally-binding, international agreements to ban other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons have already been agreed. It is vital for the security of our world that a similar agreement, a Nuclear Weapons Convention, to ban nuclear weapons is negotiated. Without this, nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapons use are ever increasing dangers. Now is the time to outlaw nuclear weapons worldwide.

The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires both nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Until recently, it has been relatively successful in terms of non-proliferation – at the time the Treaty was introduced there was widespread fear that dozens of countries would pursue nuclear weapons, and this has not happened. But there has been little success in achieving progress on disarmament and this failure is now increasing the danger of proliferation.

To deal with this problem, in 1997 a draft treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons was drawn up by an international team of legal, scientific, disarmament and negotiation experts. This model Nuclear Weapons Convention was submitted by Costa Rica to the United Nations for discussion. Unlike the NPT, the Convention provides a concrete framework to accomplish a nuclear weapons-free world with practical detail on difficult issues such as verification and inspection.

General obligations

The Model Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibits development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons. States possessing nuclear weapons will be required to destroy their arsenals according to a series of phases. The Convention also prohibits the production of weapons-usable fissile material and requires delivery vehicles to be destroyed or converted to make them non-nuclear capable.

Phases for elimination
The Convention outlines a series of five phases for the elimination of nuclear weapons:

  1. take nuclear weapons off alert,
  2. remove weapons from deployment
  3. remove nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles
  4. disable the warheads, removing and disfiguring the ‘pits’ and
  5. place the fissile material under international control. 

In the initial phases, the U.S. and Russia are required to make the deepest cuts in their nuclear arsenals.

The abolition of nuclear weapons is essential for human survival and sustainability; the current situation of planned indefinite retention of their nuclear weapons by the NWS [nuclear weapon states] feeds proliferation, is unstable, dangerous and unsustainable.’
Securing our Survival (SOS) The Case for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, 2007 


Other indiscriminate weapons

International treaties have already banned other weapons of mass destruction and other categories of indiscriminate weapons. Land mines also indiscriminately injure and kill civilians and combatants alike but an international Mine Ban Treaty entered into force in 1999. Other weapons of mass destruction have been banned by the Biological Weapons Convention (1975) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (1997). Enough political will means negotiations can be concluded quite rapidly. The Chemical Weapons Convention required ten years of negotiations to build up confidence in the treaty and its verification processes. The Mine Ban Treaty was negotiated in just a year.

Widespread support

In recent years there have been increasing calls for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. In a 2007 YouGov poll 64% of the UK population said the government should support a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

Another poll conducted at the end of 2008 showed an even higher majority of 81% in favour. This poll was one of a series conducted in 21 different countries which showed an overall majority worldwide of 76% in favour of such a treaty. There was also a clear majority in favour in the other nuclear-armed states (US 77%, France 86%, China 83%, Russia 69%, Israel 67%, India 62%) except for Pakistan where there was a split of 46% in favour and 41% against with the rest undecided.


ican_logo.gifThe International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

ICAN is a new international campaign to promote the Nuclear Weapons Convention. Initiated by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), ICAN was launched at the 2007 NPT Preparatory Committee meeting in Vienna.

CND has joined with Medact – the British section of IPPNW – and other organisations to launch the campaign in the UK. Many other groups all over the world are launching the campaign in their own countries, with particular support from Mayors for Peace.

A revised Nuclear Weapons Convention with an updated report Securing our Survival (SOS): The Case for a Nuclear Weapons Convention was submitted by Costa Rica and Malaysia to the recent NPT PrepCom.

Read ICAN UK's Q&A on a Nuclear Weapons Convention to understand more about why it is so vital such a worldwide ban is negotiated now.


Negotiations must start now

The UK government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament through good faith negotiations as required by the NPT. To honour its commitments CND calls on the government to cancel any preparations for a new nuclear weapons system to replace Trident after 2024 and to work to progress multilateral negotiations with the aim of achieving implementation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention by 2020.