By Dr Noelle Quenivet.
On 10 September 2018 the International Law and Human Rights Unit had the pleasure to welcome Professor Dan Joyner of Culverhouse School of Law of the University of Alabama (USA) for a workshop on the newly adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Prof Joyner is a renowned specialist in nuclear non-proliferation law who has extensively written on the subject and is currently penning a book on the new treaty. He also curates the widely known blog Arms Control Law.
The workshop started with a lunch to give participants the opportunity to meet with Prof Joyner in a less formal manner as well as to get to know each other as they came not only from UWE but also from the University of Reading and the University of Bristol. Participants included scholars well-versed into nuclear weapons and disarmament law as well as students on our LLB in European and International Law programme.
The aim of the workshop was to examine the new treaty from a variety of perspectives, such as human rights, armed conflict, use of force, security, environment, non-proliferation, organised crime, etc and it no doubt succeeded in doing this.
After a round of introduction, Prof Joyner started with a couple of key facts. The treaty was negotiated amongst 123 States and almost unanimously adopted (The Netherlands voted against whilst Singapore abstained). It will enter into force upon the receipt of the 50th instrument of ratification. Although at the time only 15 States have ratified the treaty and 60 have signed it, Prof Joyner forecasted that it would soon enter into force. Prof Joyner then brought us back in time, to the 1960s when all discussions relating to nuclear weapons were focused on non-proliferation rather than a blanket prohibition. In 1968 the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was adopted at the height of the Cold War with the twin aims of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons (with a view to full disarmament) and promoting cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. A distinction was made between nuclear and non-nuclear States. A quid pro quo was found: the nuclear powers (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, also commonly known as the P5) could keep their nuclear weapons but would ensure their non-proliferation (Articles I and II), work towards disarmament (Article VI) and submit themselves to the monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency (Article III) whilst the non-nuclear States would receive support in acquiring nuclear energy for peaceful purposes (Article IV). To support the disarmament process some States agreed to set up nuclear weapons free zones. Later, in 1996 the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted but it failed to gather enough ratification instruments to enter into force. That being said Prof Joyner explained that he believed all these treaties had helped eliminate, or at least, reduced the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. This general movement towards disarmament was further buttressed by a series of bilateral agreements between then Soviet Union and the United States of America.
The three pillars of the NPT are non-proliferation, the peaceful use of nuclear energy and disarmament. Prof Joyner observed that over the years the rhetoric had changed in the various review conferences that brought all State parties together. More and more lip service was paid to non-proliferation whilst a coalition of States whose focused had always been on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and on disarmament grew increasingly frustrated. Such States complained that the nuclear States were not working towards disarmament and that little had been achieved over the years. In reply the nuclear States would point out that the number of nuclear weapons had clearly diminished. Yet, to the non-nuclear States the aim was complete disarmament and not a reduction in number. Also they pointed out that nuclear weapons were still part of the military strategy and that such weapons were continuously being not only maintained but also modernised and upgraded.
Around 2014-2015 talks started about a humanitarian initiative led by NGOs working in the field of gender, the protection of the environment, international humanitarian law and human rights law. This eclectic group of NGOs managed to gain the support of some States to organise a conference whose aim was to show that nuclear weapons were amoral. Yet, to do so they used the law. Such initiative was not new and Prof Joyner admitted that he had not imagined at the time that it would be successful. So, surprisingly, this coalition of NGOs managed to persuade the United Nations General Assembly to approve a negotiating conference for a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. In other words, the treaty would be drafted under the auspices of the United Nations. The idea was that of establishing a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons and to treat such weapons in the same way as other banned weapons such as chemical and biological weapons or landmines. The thrust was that some moral taboo should be attached to the use of such weapons.
The success of the negotiations can be partly explained by the fact that the negotiators tapped into the view that the nuclear States had got away with too much in the past. There was indubitable resentment that the NPT had not achieved what it was meant for, i.e. full disarmament. The nuclear States boycotted the treaty negotiations on the basis that it was just idealistic talking and that nuclear weapons were imperative for military strategy purposes. In particular they reminded the negotiating States that they were in fact benefitting from the nuclear umbrella themselves. The treaty in their opinion would be useless because the prohibition would only apply to States that did not have nuclear weapons and, in a grander scheme, might in fact lead to a delegitimation of the NPT. The reply of those in favour of the treaty was that they had waited too long under the NPT for disarmament to happen. Also, using the example of the Ottawa treaty (Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction) banning landmines, they expressed the view that it might be possible to create a customary international rule via a treaty (though Prof Joyner explained that it might be difficult owing to the specially affected States doctrine under international law) or that at least the treaty would become part of nuclear diplomatic talks and thus become a commonly used instrument raised in deliberations relating to nuclear weapons.
Prof Joyner finally shared his thoughts on the ratification process and potential State parties. He drew the audience’s attention to the fact that the treaty had been so phrased that States which did not have nuclear weapons but allowed other States to use their territory to station or deploy such weapons would not be able to become State parties unless such weapons were being removed from their territory. The application of this specific provision (Article 1(1)(g)) means that NATO States on whose territory US nuclear weapons are stationed, installed or deployed would not be able to become parties to the treaty. This explained The Netherlands’ vote against the treaty. Other non-nuclear States in Western Europe concerned by this provision are Italy, Belgium and Turkey. As a result such States are faced with a tough choice because Article 1(1)(g) clashes with their NATO commitments. A further issue is that of States such as South Korea or Japan who benefit from the US nuclear umbrella and find it difficult to side with the US.
The presentation was followed by an engaging discussion and critical analysis of the treaty. One of the first questions related to organised crime and in particular the black market in nuclear weapons. Prof Joyner explained that in the 90s after the fall of the Soviet Union efforts were made to secure its nuclear stock. Yet, nuclear materials still turn up but what is in fact more dangerous in his view is the dual use of such materials. Also he observed that there was a shift in the illegal nuclear market from fizzle materials to intellectual property (designs and data) which has its own challenges as there are non-tangible goods. He also pointed out that an elaborate set of shell companies may be set up to launder such illegal activities.
A second issue examined was that of the link between the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for the crime of aggression and the treaty and notably problems relating to whether States that were not a party to the treaty could see their nationals being prosecuted for using nuclear weapons. This led the group to examine the concept of jurisdiction as understood in a range of nuclear weapons treaty.
A third point related to the interrelationship between the NPT and the new treaty. Prof Joyner highlighted that the new treaty was meant to be in harmony but yet separate from the NPT. This was particular visible in the choice of words and concepts used in the treaty. As he explained, to some extent it is possible to treat the new treaty as an implementation of Article VI of the NPT.
The conversation then moved back to analysing the individual policies of States that have links to the US. For example, Japan, the only State that had suffered from the use of nuclear weapons, was struggling to explain why it was not able to become a party to the treaty. Similar debates were being held in Germany. During the discussion it was mentioned that the US had sent rather stern letters to its NATO partners informing that they should not sign or ratify the treaty. The new treaty had definitely changed nuclear diplomacy. Until then, the combination of the NPT and the work of the IAEA was the best of both worlds: it could keep its nuclear weapons whilst being ensure that no further States would gain access to the pertinent technology.
A reference to a declaration made by India that it did not believe that the treaty would eventually become customary law launched an interesting debate on whether India had proffered its first utterance with a view to becoming a persistent objector under international law. A wider discussion on the formation of customary international law and the doctrine of specially affected States that was first mentioned in the Nicaragua Case ensued.
Parallels with other treaties such as the Ottawa Convention on landmines and the Convention on Cluster Munitions were also drawn as some provisions of the new treaty seemed to have been heavily influenced by (or even copied/pasted from) the wording used in previous conventional weapons conventions. Also the fact that this treaty was the fruit of a concerted effort by NGOs was noted as another example of bottom up initiatives in the field of disarmament and weapons prohibition, much alike the current Ban the Killer Robots campaign. Prof Joyner observed that without the support of this eclectic group of NGOs the treaty would have never existed. Yet, it was also their engagement with the process that had led to a long preamble that at times read like a list of loosely connected items.
Plenty of other issues were debated at the workshop and there is no space here to go into details. There was certainly plenty of food for thoughts for Prof Joyner’s forthcoming book on the new treaty!