This week ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn visits Spain to promote the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, with meetings planned with Spanish members of parliament at a national and regional level who have signed the Parliamentary Pledge in support of the treaty.  Further events include a Forum with diplomats and students at the Complutense University of Madrid, a meeting with Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid to talk about ICAN’s participation in the upcoming II World Forum Against Violence and for Peace Education, and a meeting with Rafael de la Rubia from the organisation World without Wars and Violence to discuss ICAN’s  support for the II World March for Peace and Nonviolence.

Spaniards may think that they are very far away from any problems connected to nuclear weapons, but no country is immune from the risk of accidents as the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash illustrates.  Part of the Spanish mainland is still contaminated with plutonium and one of the four nuclear weapons that fell from the sky remains unaccounted for, presumed to be lying at the bottom of the Mediterranean. 

In this context, ICAN has produced a briefing paper explaining why Spain should actively support the TPNW which we reproduce here.

Spain and the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons


  1. On 7 July 2017, 122 nations voted to adopt a landmark global agreement to outlaw nuclear weapons, known as the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). It opened for signature on 20 September 2017 and will enter into legal force once 50 nations have ratified or acceded to it. Pending the treaty’s entry into force, nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to an explicit global ban. Thus the new agreement will fill a major gap in international law.
  2. The TPNW prohibits states from developing, testing, producing, transferring, possessing, hosting, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging, or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities. A state with nuclear weapons may join the treaty, so long as it agrees to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan. Similarly, a state that hosts another state’s nuclear weapons on its territory may join, so long as it agrees to remove them by a deadline.

Why Spain should join

  1. Nuclear weapons threaten every nation’s security and would cause catastrophic humanitarian consequences if used. The impact on civilians and the environment would be devastating. The ongoing nuclear modernization programmes of nuclear-armed states and the inflammatory rhetoric of certain leaders increases the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons, either by accident or intent. This would seriously endanger Spain and the world.
  2. It is vital that states committed to nuclear disarmament and a rules-based world order work to strengthen the nuclear taboo by joining the TPNW. Nuclear weapons serve no legitimate military or strategic purpose. The TPNW offers the best hope of ending decades of deadlock in disarmament and moving the world towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.
  3. Spain has joined international treaties banning biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines, and cluster munitions based on the inhumane and indiscriminate impact of these weapons on civilians. As a responsible member of the international community, Spain should now join the UN treaty banning the worst weapons of all: nuclear weapons.

Alliance policy

  1. There is nothing in the TPNW that prevents Spain from maintaining a military alliance with a nuclear-armed state. (Indeed, a number of states in alliances with the United States have already signed and ratified the TPNW.) The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s legal foundation, the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, does not mention nuclear weapons. NATO members are not legally bound to endorse the policy of “extended nuclear deterrence”.
  2. While NATO’s first strategic concepts did not mention nuclear weapons at all, the current strategic concept, finalised in 2010, commits NATO “to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons – but reconfirms that, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance”. The purpose of the TPNW is precisely to “create the conditions” for a nuclear-weapon-free world.
  3. Decisions about whether the arsenals of NATO’s nuclear-armed allies are dismantled, retained, or upgraded are made not by the Spanish parliament, but by French, British, and American decision-makers. When it comes to Spain’s defence and foreign policy, however, the Spanish parliament is sovereign. NATO’s strategic concepts are in any case not legally binding.
  4. Spain does not possess nuclear weapons, and as a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968, it is forbidden from ever acquiring them. In addition, Spain has long maintained a policy against hosting US nuclear weapons on Spanish territory. In fact, when the Spanish people in 1986 voted on whether to remain a member of NATO or to withdraw, the remain-vote was explicitly premised on the continued validity of Spain’s ban on the deployment of nuclear weapons on Spanish soil. Although the validity of this ban has subsequently been called into question, Spain has remained free of nuclear weapons to this day. Spain is therefore already in compliance with most of the prohibitions contained in the TPNW.
  5. From a legal point of view, it is not clear that Spain would have to make any considerable changes to its current practices were it to join the TPNW. Most important for Spain is the undertaking contained in the TPNW not to “[a]ssist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party” under the TPNW. In practice, such a commitment would oblige Spain not to act in a manner that could be seen to support the possession or use of nuclear weapons. Spain would have to opt out of any language in future NATO strategic concepts that endorses activities prohibited by the TPNW. NATO members have on several occasions opted out of specific statements in, or attached additional comments to, NATO documents dealing with nuclear weapons.

Eliminating nuclear weapons

  1. As a party to the TPNW, Spain would be in a stronger position to work with other members of the international community to advance nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The TPNW contains mechanisms for a diplomatic process to improve and expand the treaty. A refusal to join the TPNW and engage with its processes would cast serious doubt on Spain’s commitment to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world and could be seen as tacit support for a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.
  2. The TPNW is designed to help implement the NPT, which requires all its parties, including Spain, to pursue negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament. Such negotiations had, until last year, been at a standstill for more than two decades. The NPT itself envisages the creation of additional legal instruments for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world. ICAN was disappointed that Spain chose not to participate in last year’s negotiations.
  3. At a time of great global tension, when nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals and threatening to use their nuclear weapons, it is all the more important for nations such as Spain to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons and to help strengthen international norms against them. The voices of fire and fury should not be met with silence. Joining the treaty is the only responsible course of action.