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Report | 8 December 2017

Breakthrough or Breakpoint? Global Perspectives on the Nuclear Ban Treaty

Image of Shatabhisha Shetty

Shatabhisha Shetty |Director of the APLN and Co-Founder and Former Deputy Director of the ELN

Deterrence NATO NPT nuclear ban treaty Nuclear Disarmament Nuclear Security Nuclear Weapons Global Security

In December 2017, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for their work on the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

To examine the implications of this treaty for the global nuclear order, the ELN has commissioned a collection of essays, bringing together contributions from a distinguished group of nuclear policy and arms control experts. They present current national and institutional attitudes towards the nuclear ban treaty and assess whether these are likely to change over time. 

By offering analyses on the different perspectives, our aim is to encourage a better understanding of the underlying motives and objectives of the treaty, the humanitarian impacts movement and the rationale of those who are cautious or hostile to the treaty.

By exposing the most contentious aspects of the debate this approach offers a means of identifying opportunities and initiatives to reconcile the different approaches to nuclear disarmament and unite the international community around a practical, future-oriented programme of action that could lead to the reduction and ultimately the elimination of nuclear arsenals.


From the contributions and the ideas suggested by the authors of this collection a set of recommendations can be distilled which could pave the way for re-focusing attention away from divisive factors and instead bring these opposing camps together.

All States

  • All states should clearly articulate their strong support for the NPT irrespective of whether they support the nuclear ban treaty or not.
  • Both treaty proponents and opponents should jointly reaffirm their commitment to achieving the total elimination of nuclear weapons at the UN General Assembly, the NPT Review Conference and its Preparatory Committee meetings, or other appropriate international fora.
  • Supporters, sceptics, and opponents should put aside their disagreements over the ban treaty to find new and creative ways to work together on strengthening the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Discussions on how these respective approaches can co-exist, and ultimately converge, to break the current stalemate should take place. Initiatives such as the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) and the Japanese-led Group of Eminent Persons for the Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament could be useful platforms for these efforts.

Nuclear Armed States

  • Officials from nuclear armed states should strive to build bridges rather than deepen divides and narrow the gap between themselves and the ban treaty’s supporters.
  • Nuclear armed states should attempt to use more conciliatory language and tone when discussing the nuclear ban treaty and its proponents.
  • Nuclear Weapon States should continue to advance other arms control and disarmament initiatives including through the P5 Process.
  • All nuclear armed states could consider participating as observers in treaty meetings as non-signatories to the treaty.
  • Nuclear Weapon States should work to meet their NPT disarmament responsibilities and pledges, such as those included in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, through concrete measures. These efforts should reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons and reiterate their commitment towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
  • China could use the ban treaty as an opportunity to promote a no-first-use policy with the other nuclear weapon states by co-sponsoring a working paper on no-first-use.
  • China, France and Russia can and should play more active roles in disarmament verification and undertake confidence-building measures to help bridge the confidence gap created by technical limitations between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states.

NATO and nuclear umbrella states

  • NATO needs to decide whether and how it wishes to engage with the nuclear ban treaty.
  • It could work to reduce any tensions between its members on the ban treaty through discussions on collective defence approaches that are less reliant on nuclear deterrence.
  • Non-NATO nuclear umbrella states with a deterrence guarantee relationship with the United States should consult on how, to what extent, and under what circumstances they could in practice rely less on extended nuclear deterrence.


Andrea Berger is Senior Research Associate and Senior Program Manager at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Emil Dall is a Research Fellow in the Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Dr Matthew Harries is the Managing Editor of Survival and a Research Fellow for Transatlantic Affairs at the International Institute Strategic Studies (IISS).

Daryl G Kimball is executive director of the independent, non-governmental Arms Control Association based in Washington DC, which publishes the monthly journal Arms Control Today.

Dr Nick Ritchie researches and teaches in the areas of international relations and international security at the University of York. His particular focus is on nuclear disarmament, proliferation and arms control and US and UK national security.

Paul Schulte is an Honorary Professor at the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation, and Security University of Birmingham; Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Science and Security, Department of War Studies, Kings College London; and Research Associate at the School of Oriental and Afrcial Studies.

Dr Nikolai Sokov is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. He previously worked at the Soviet and Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and participated in the START I and START II negotiations.

Dr Hirofumi Tosaki is a Senior Research Fellow of the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (CPDNP), The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA).

Raymond Wang is a Graduate Research Assistant at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies. Previously he was at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.

Dr Tong Zhao is a Research Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, based in Beijing at Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.