Explained: Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is also known as Nuclear weapon Ban Treaty. It came into force on 22nd January 2021. Now ban on nuclear weapons becomes part of international law. This is being claimed as a significant step towards achieving nuclear disarmament. This is the first treaty of its kind which comprehensively bans nuclear weapons.

This article explains what are the provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? How it will impact nuclear disarmament? Which countries are its signatories and which are not? And most importantly, what’s India’s stand on this?


Since devastating nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the world is under continuous threat of another nuclear catastrophe. US and Europe witnessed various anti-nukes (nukes= nuclear weapons) campaigns. These campaigns and protest to atomic weapons grew during the Cold war, especially when concept like Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) came forward. The Chernobyl incident further accelerated these anti-nukes sentiments in late 1980s.

As a result, many international treaties came up. Nuclear non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Strategic Arms Restrictions Treaty (START), Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) are some of the examples of these treaties. Groups like Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) were made.

But all these efforts had certain drawbacks. While many of them focussed on limiting the nuclear arsenal while many tried to just avoid proliferation of nuclear weapons to more countries.

Interestingly almost all the treaties acknowledged possession of nukes by great powers. But new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons stands significant from above ones due to its many “first of its kind” provisions.

Nuclear explosion
Nuclear explosion

Process Of Ratification-

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was signed in July 2017. After signing of the treaty, the process of ratification by member nations starts. On24th October last year, the treaty got its 50th ratification. After this, the treaty comes into force after 90 days period. Thus finally it came into force on 22nd January 2021.

Who Are The Signatories To The Treaty?

86 countries are signatories. 52 countries are parties to the treaty this means that they have ratified the treaty and they are now under obligations put by the treaty. In Unites Nations, 122 countries voted in favour of the treaty, 1 country voted against (Netherlands), 1 officially abstained (Singapore). At the same time 69 countries didn’t vote. These include all the nuclear powers and NATO countries except Netherlands.

It is interesting to note that any nuclear armed country has not signed the treaty. There are 9 nations who possess (or are believed to be possessing) nuclear weapons. These are USA, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Due to this, one may get surprised how this treaty is going to achieve its final goal of complete nuclear disarmament.

Major Provisions Of Treaty On The Prohibition Of Nuclear Weapons –

The treaty places a comprehensive ban on all the activities related to atomic weapons. These include-

  • Members take undertakings not to test, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, possess, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.
  • It also prohibits deployment of nuclear weapons on the country’s territory and also bans assistance for any prohibited activities related to nuclear weapons.
  • The members will be under obligation to prevent any activity which is prohibited under Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on its territory.
  • The treaty also provides for proper assistance to persons affected by activities like Nuclear testing and development and nuclear attack.
  • Treaty also provides for environmental remediation in the areas affected by nuclear testing.

Thus the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons tries to address issue of nuclear weapons in a comprehensive manner.

Significance/ Possible Impacts Of Treaty On The Prohibition Of Nuclear Weapons –

The treaty is significant in many ways-

  • This is the first legally binding international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
  • For the first time it places comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons. Not partial/ discriminatory ban like earlier treaties.
  • The treaty places a taboo on nuclear weapons which is important in shaping public opinion for complete nuclear disarmament.
  • It makes provision that no member nation will develop nuclear weapons in future thus avoiding proliferation.
  • It creates pressure on nuclear armed nations to seriously move towards nuclear disarmament.

Limitations Of The Treaty-

  • None of the nuclear powersjoining- How signatories are going to pursuade nuclear powers to give up nukes?
  • No participation of major powers- History has shown is that when superpowers don’tn’t join global treaty/ organizations, they often fail. E.g League of Nations, in which USA didn’t join.
  • Disarmament doesn’t seem possible in near future.
  • Less number of signatories. Only 52 nations have ratified the treaty. (As per website of The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)
Atom- for Destruction or peace?
Atom- for Destruction or peace?

What Is India’s Stand On Treaty On The Prohibition Of Nuclear Weapons?

The Ministry of External Affairs has made clear that, “India did not participate in the negotiations on the TPNW and has consistently made it clear that it will not become a party to the Treaty”.

Why India Opposes The Treaty?

  • India has from time to time reiterated its commitment to the goal of the nuclear weapon free world. But the previous treaties like NPT, CTBT have been discriminatory for the India. These treaties allow major powers to possess and continue the possession of nuclear weapons.
  • For example, NPT prohibits new countries from acquiring nuclear weapons after a certain cutoff date. As per this clause India has to abandon nuclear weapons while major powers including China can continue to have them. This is clearly India’s national interests and national security.
  • Thus India supports a nuclear disarmament treaty which will be non-discriminatory and consensus based.

India aspires to achieve the goal of nuclear free world through “a step-by-step process underwritten by a universal commitment and an agreed global and non-discriminatory multilateral framework”, as per the statement of MEA.

For this India advocates the negotiations on the comprehensive “Nuclear weapons convention”.These negotiations are to held in the Conference on Disarmament. India considers it as the world’s single multilateral disarmament forum working on the basis of consensus.

With this, India also expressed its readiness to work with other UN members to achieve objective of the nuclear weapon free world.


Prasad Gore

A defence enthusiast. Writing on Defence, Aviation and International Relations. M.A., NET (Defence and strategic studies).

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