Press Release: States to Begin Negotiation of Treaty Outlawing Nuclear Weapons, UK Expected to Protest Outside the Conference

March 27, 2017

  • Majority of countries deem nuclear weapons unacceptably risky and devastating weapons of mass destruction, which must be prohibited
  • US organises protest briefing outside the conference hall, with uk and other nato states expected to join them
  • Treaty is crucial step, whether nuclear-armed countries negotiate now or not

New York, 27 March 2017: Negotiations on a new international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons start today at the UN in New York. These talks give an historic opportunity for a vital step towards eliminating these weapons of mass destruction – as expected, the UK government is refusing to participate. The US has called a briefing to coincide with the start of negotiations and has asked the UK and other NATO states to stand next to them in protest.

“Whilst governments and international organisations like the Red Cross will be in the room working for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons because of their unacceptable humanitarian impacts, the UK government is expected to be outside protesting,” said Richard Moyes, Managing Director of Article 36, part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). “Without the UK and others in the room to block progress, states will start negotiating a treaty that makes nuclear weapons illegal under international law.”

Such a treaty would put nuclear weapons alongside the other weapons of mass destruction – biological and chemical weapons – which are prohibited under international treaties.

Nuclear-armed states were not expected to participate in the negotiations after it was clear that they would not be given the power to block the outcome. The majority of states think that nuclear weapons should be illegal because their horrific effects are incompatible with any legal and moral standards. Previous experience has shown that legal prohibition is the starting point for efforts to get rid of the weapons, building stigma and limiting financing to their production.

“The ban treaty will challenge the legitimacy of any state having or using nuclear weapons,” said Dr Rebecca Johnson FRSA, ICAN founding partner and author of a UN book on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, titled “Unfinished Business”. “It will reduce their political value and the practical resources available for their retention – such as financing – and will help to strengthen the global norm against nuclear weapons proliferation. Though it is shameful for the government to boycott UN talks in this way, the treaty will be an important legal step whether nuclear-armed states like Britain initially join or not.”

The UK government has frequently stated its commitment to working multilaterally for nuclear disarmament. This is an international legal obligation for the UK as it is for other countries. Refusing to participate in talks that are open to all UN Member States shows that the UK government is not serious about achieving the total elimination of nuclear weapons. A recent poll showed that 75% of UK adults think that the government should participate in the UN negotiations.[1]

The majority of countries have recognised the moral and security imperative to prohibit nuclear weapons due to their catastrophic and unacceptable humanitarian consequences, and the severe risks of accidental or deliberate detonations. Aid agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross say that there can be no meaningful humanitarian response to a nuclear detonation.[2] The UK government has emphasised that it possesses “only 1%”[3] of the world’s arsenal – but whether it holds 1% or 90%, these weapons remain abhorrent and dangerous, including to citizens of the UK. The transportation of nuclear weapons around the country inevitably and frequently puts communities at risk.[4]

In reply to a formal request to the First Minister asking her to press the UK to participate in the UN Ban Treaty Conference, a spokesperson wrote: “These weapons are indiscriminate and devastating in their impacts; their use would bring unspeakable humanitarian suffering and widespread environmental damage…Both the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have asked the UK Government to work with nuclear and non-nuclear states around the world to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.”

An international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is likely to be concluded in 2017, as soon as July. The UK’s boycott is putting this country on the wrong side of history.


113 states voted to start negotiations on an international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons at the UN General Assembly in December 2016. The UK and some of the other nuclear-armed stated voted against the resolution. China, India and Pakistan abstained.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is an international civil society campaign with over 400 partners in 100 countries.


Richard Moyes +44 7875 509 210

Rebecca Johnson +44 7733 360 955

Elizabeth Minor +44 7790 418 821


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