Members of Princeton Citizen Scientists attended the second and final round of negotiations at the United Nations General Assembly over an international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. The negotiations concluded with a vote and final text on July 7.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which passed with a vote of 122 to 1, with one abstention, "prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities," according to the UN News Centre. Specifically, the treaty prohibits the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.

According to the UN News Centre, the treaty will be signed on Sep. 20, 2017, and will go into effect "90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries."

Notably, many countries that currently possess nuclear weapons did not participate in the talks. The United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and North Korea did not join the talks, and all have signaled their intent not to sign the treaty. In particular, the U.S., U.K., and France cite nuclear weapons as being "essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years."

Sebastien Philippe GS, president of the Princeton Citizen Scientists, said that the treaty addresses issues such as nuclear security and human rights that the group has been concerned with since it was founded in November 2016.

“There is a strong group within Princeton Citizen Scientists that works at the intersection of science and international security and centers around the issue of nuclear security,” Philippe said. “Some of us were really involved in this for research and wanted to contribute to the debate and try to write proposals, working papers, and so on.”

He hopes negotiations will result in a ban on weapons that can have “humanitarian impacts of massive proportions” by holding nuclear weapons to the same legal standard as other instruments of mass destruction that have already been outlawed. Although no nuclear-armed nation can be counted among the over 120 states participating in the negotiations, Princeton Citizen Scientists stated in a press release that a treaty would affect these nations’ behavior “through normative pressure.”

“If these countries choose their nuclear weapons over international law and the will of the global community, then they have to explain why they stand alone in the world as nuclear outlaws and accept the stigma that will go with this,” explained Zia Mian, co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the Wilson School.

The negotiation process — officially referred to as the conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination — began in March 2017, and a draft of the treaty was presented in late May. In this draft, states pledged to never “develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons.”

“In the first round, countries expressed their views on what a prohibition on nuclear weapons would look like, what should be targeted, and how we deal with countries that have nuclear weapons today,” Philippe explained.

Princeton Citizen Scientists is attending as part of the U.N. Civil Society Network, which the group officially joined in May. A grant from the Ploughshares Fund enabled members to travel to the U.N. headquarters in New York City to participate in the negotiations alongside theorists from the SGS program.

Civil society groups have long campaigned for a nuclear weapon ban, helping to “organize and support international conferences and UN resolutions that led to the talks and pressed governments to participate,” Mian said.

He added that these groups also have a formal role in presenting their views to the official negotiators on each topic that is being discussed at the talks.

“[The treaty] was really lifted off by civil society, by various groups in the peace movement, environmental movement, and human rights movement, who came together and convinced countries in the past few years to move forward with this agenda, even if some countries like the U.S. or Russia are pretty against the movement,” Philippe said.

“It was interesting to see the leverage of civil society and the impact it can have in creating international policy,” he added.

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