United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination
Frequently asked questions on the draft convention on the prohibition of nuclear weapons
Q. What is the purpose of this Convention?
The Convention reflects the overwhelming interest of the international community in advancing progress toward nuclear disarmament. In light of the increasing awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons.
Q. How will the Convention contribute to nuclear disarmament?
The vast majority of non-nuclear-weapon States are already subject to general obligations not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons. Many of these States have also joined nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, in which they have undertaken various additional obligations in order to ensure the complete absence of nuclear weapons from their respective regions, for their own security and as a contribution to nuclear disarmament.
The draft Convention seeks to contribute further to nuclear disarmament by strengthening, reinforcing and consolidating international norms against nuclear weapons, as an interim step pending their total elimination. The Convention will give States additional means by which they can disassociate themselves from any activity that supports nuclear weapons.
Q. How does the draft Convention support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?
At the first session of the Conference in March, participating States affirmed that the Convention should complement and reinforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and that it should not in any way undermine it. This intent is reflected in numerous provisions which strengthen and reinforce the NPT, including by incorporating each of its general obligations in the text and by requiring any party to maintain the same or equivalent safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Taken together, these provisions mean that no State could gain any benefit from leaving the NPT, nor could participation in the Convention harm in any way existing non-proliferation standards. At the second substantive session of the Conference, delegations should deepen their consideration of the issue of the relation between the ban convention and other international regimes.
Q. Does the inclusion of provisions on nuclear testing undermine the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty?
As with the NPT, the draft Convention includes provisions aimed at reinforcing the general obligations of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT establishes a comprehensive verification regime intended to uphold and enforce the norm against nuclear testing. Pending the entry-into-force of the CTBT, its signatory States have decided to provisionally apply certain aspects of that verification regime, which has a stand-alone capacity and has already demonstrated its ability to detect nuclear explosive tests. In this connection, the preamble to the draft Convention recognizes the vital importance of the CTBT.
Q. How can a State possessing nuclear weapons join the Convention?
The draft Convention outlines general provisions for two pathways for States possessing nuclear weapons to join, for further discussion and elaboration and the second session.
The experience of South Africa, which had completely dismantled its nuclear weapon programme before it joined the NPT and subsequently invited the IAEA to verify that its programme had been dismantled. At the first session, States regarded this as a possible model and a s basis for procedures that could apply to similar cases in the future, should this occur. For a State that completely eliminates its nuclear weapon programme before joining, the draft Convention provides the possibility that State to seek verification of the completeness its inventory of nuclear material and installations by the IAEA, drawing upon the Agency’s existing authority under the comprehensive safeguards agreement. More specific verification objectives are further elaborated in a separate non-paper, which includes additional information regarding the South African experience.
The draft of the Convention also responds to the calls for States possessing nuclear weapons to be able to join the instrument through a process involving the negotiation of an agreed plan for the elimination of their nuclear weapon programmes. The draft would establish a framework for this process, namely for the States parties and the non-party States to jointly consider the elaboration of effective measures leading towards nuclear disarmament. Such agreement could take the form of a protocol to the Convention. In the first draft, this provision leaves it for future negotiations through the meetings of state parties to address the matters of verification, declarations and notifications, provisions for on-site inspections, establishment of necessary institutional arrangements, schedules and timeframes for elimination, compliance and enforcement, and interim measures pending the complete elimination of nuclear weapon programmes.
Q. Why is 5 December 2001 the proposed cut-off date for the verification of former nuclear weapon programmes under Article 4?
The mandate of the GA ….. legally binding instrument …… draft Convention is forward-looking and has been designed for the future. It seeks only to verify the dismantlement of nuclear weapon programmes in States that have not already eliminated their programmes subject to international verification or subject to an international legal arrangement.
While the Conference has already discussed the experience of South Africa, it did not consider how to address other cases in which States have renounced the possession of nuclear weapons. As this matter was not discussed in March, the draft inserts an indicative date in Articles 2 and 4 to highlight the need for the Conference to consider this aspect. While the initial verification in South Africa was completed in the first half of the 1990s, there are three States, namely Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, that voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons pursuant to a treaty commitment. They were required to do so by 5 December 2001 under the Lisbon Protocol to the START I Treaty. This date is included as a starting point for the discussion at the second, and is merely intended as a placeholder to draw attention to the matter.
Q. Does Article 19 support a right for nuclear-weapon States to possess nuclear weapons?
The matter of the relationship between the Convention and the NPT requires careful consideration. The intent of the draft is to complement and strengthen the NPT as well as other instruments. A plain reading of the text of the NPT does not reveal any explicit right by any State to possess nuclear weapons. What is important is that none of the provisions of the Convention should, by design or in their effect, detract in any way from existing obligations in other instruments.
Q. Why have some issues raised in March been left out of the draft?
The objective of the draft is to bring the Conference to an acceptable starting point for its negotiations in June and July. It incorporates those elements that were more thoroughly discussed and seemed ripe, well considered and deemed by the Presidency to constitute a basis for consensus.
The draft is not exhaustive of all the issues discussed in March. At the first session, it was apparent that further discussion was needed on a number of important issues, including among technical and legal experts. The draft therefore sets these issues aside in order to enable to Conference to continue their deliberation without prejudice to the outcome.
It is hoped that this approach will help to maintain the positive, constructive and collaborative spirit which the participants were able to foster in March.