NATO Rejects New UN Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons, Defends Deterrent

NATO has said it must remain a nuclear-armed alliance and has opposed a United Nations treaty coming into effect next month that aims to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) also known as the Ban Treaty, was approved by 122 countries in July 2017 and starts from January 22 2021 but no nuclear-armed state has backed it.

Countries that have ratified it are prohibited from developing and testing nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

But the alliance says the agreement would weaken the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) struck five decades ago, which it considers to be the benchmark global framework on nuclear arms control.

View of NATO flag in Brussels
Views of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters on February 11, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium. The alliance opposes the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

"A world where the states that challenge the international rules-based order have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is not a safer world," the alliance said in a statement on Tuesday.

"As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. Allies are determined to ensure that NATO's nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective, and reject any attempt to delegitimize nuclear deterrence."

The alliance pointed to the upcoming NPT review conference as giving the international community a better chance to work towards disarmament.

"The Ban Treaty lacks any rigorous or clear mechanisms for verification, and has not been signed by any state that possesses nuclear weapons, and thus will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon."

"The NPT remains the only credible path to nuclear disarmament," the alliance said, adding that the Ban Treaty "risks undermining the global non-proliferation and disarmament architecture."

Last week, Alliance-Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told NATO's 16th annual Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) conference that the new UN treaty neglected security realities.

"Giving up our deterrent without any guarantees that others will do the same is a dangerous option.

"A world where Russia, China, North Korea and others have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is not a safer world," he added.

However, supporters of the treaty say that it will help in the push to reduce nuclear weapons. "No one is under the impression that worldwide nuclear disarmament will happen overnight," Alicia Sanders-Zakre wrote in an op-ed for Armscontrol.org last month.

"The treaty will continue to chip away at the legitimacy of nuclear weapons in the minority of the world's countries that continue to support them," she added.

The graphic below by Statista gives a historic snapshot of the world's nuclear capabilities.

nuclear, weapons, countries, map
A graphic provided by Statista shows the estimated stockpiles of the nine known nuclear-armed nations as of December 2017. Statista