Case study: Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
New Zealand played a major role in negotiations for this significant disarmament agreement signed in 2017.
New Zealand has long advocated for the elimination of nuclear weapons, arguing that their use would have catastrophic consequences on health, the economy, and environment. New Zealand was one of the first signatories of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aimed to prevent states without nuclear weapons from acquiring them, and committed the five states already possessing nuclear weapons to a process of disarmament.
Dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament has since become widespread. Along with other members of the United Nations (UN), New Zealand voted in December 2016 to mandate negotiations for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
The new Treaty
New Zealand was later appointed a Vice-President of these negotiations, represented by Disarmament Ambassador Dell Higgie. Following five weeks of negotiations, in June 2017, 122 states voted in favour of the adoption of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Not all UN member states had attended the negotiations. The nine states who possess nuclear weapons did not participate in the negotiations, nor did any NATO members other than The Netherlands. New Zealand signed the Treaty on 20 September 2017, the first day it opened for signature, and initiated the domestic ratification process in May 2018.
The new Treaty goes much further than any other existing agreements on nuclear weapons. It establishes a global prohibition on all nuclear weapon-related activities including their development, testing, transportation, use and threat of use.
The Treaty’s approach of putting a prohibition in place ahead of elimination has been successful for other weapons in the past, including chemical and biological weapons, land mines, and cluster bombs.
“The Treaty [on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons] is the first international Treaty formally outlawing nuclear weapons and leading towards their total elimination. Joining the Treaty is a logical step for New Zealand given our long-standing policy opposing nuclear weapons. New Zealand’s ratification of the Treaty expresses New Zealand’s abiding commitment to a nuclear weapon-free world.”
Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, Winston Peters, 14 May 2018