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Posted by on Jul 2, 2017 in Blogs

Affecting Operations

Nuclear Ban Daily, Vol. 2, No. 7

Affecting operations
23 June 2017
Ray Acheson

Ray Acheson is the Director of Reaching Critical Will. She provides analysis, research, and advocacy across a range of disarmament and arms control issues.

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Civil society is not able to report from Thursday’s meetings. The morning session was an informal discussion on transit, while the afternoon was a closed meeting on the revised preamble. On Friday, states will return to consideration of articles 2–5 of the draft treaty text.

All of these potential treaty components are related to one another. Each has implications for the structural, operational, and political aspects of nuclear weapon programmes and policies. If the preamble conveys a strong political message about the rejection of nuclear weapons based on their catastrophic harm and inherent immorality, this helps set the stage for strong prohibitions. It also provides impetus for the obligations related to elimination of nuclear weapon programmes and cessation of related activities and doctrines.

As noted in previous editions of the Nuclear Ban Daily, there are several paths to elimination and we cannot predict what will transpire over the coming years. But we can develop a strong prohibition treaty that compels states to disarm and that facilitates effective, verifiable, irreversible, time-bound elimination of nuclear weapon programmes.

Of critical importance is that any prohibitions, obligations, and implementation measures reinforce the humanitarian objectives and norms of this treaty.

In this context, on the subject of transit, establishing that states parties must not permit the transit of nuclear weapons through their territorial waters, land territorties, and airspace is consistent with a categorical ban on nuclear weapons. It could have a significant impact on operational policies that are part of the practice of “extended nuclear deterrence” and nuclear brinkmanship. It could also be important for mitigating risk, as nuclear weapons are especially vulnerable to accidents or attacks while being transported, which could have sudden and devastating consequences for local and regional populations.

It’s hard to take at face value arguments that having a provision against transit poses too many technical challenges. There are ways in which the treaty could make it explicit that sates parties must not permit transit without requiring extensive verification, as there are for other elements being proposed for this instrument. The key is to not permit activities or behaviour that supports or sustains prohibited activities.

In this edition, Nick Ritchie looks at issues related to ensuring the strongest possible norms and provisions against nuclear weapons and “nuclear deterrence”; students from Harvard Law School examine responsibilities for positive obligations; and Amplify discusses its experiences at the conference so far.


*Nuclear Ban Daily is a source for news and analysis from the UN conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. It is produced by the Reaching Critical Will programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).