Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



International Relations

First Advisor

Jean Krasno

Second Advisor

Kimberly Gamble-Payne


nuclear weapons, disarmament, international humanitarian law


The present thesis analyzes current developments in nuclear disarmament, specifically the humanitarian impact initiative that culminated in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW, the Treaty) by 122 members of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in July 2017. Through academic research and six interviews with people directly involved in the process, I traced the humanitarian initiative from its first conference in Oslo in 2013 all the way to the Treaty negotiations in 2017. My argument is that the humanitarian initiative constitutes a novel approach to nuclear disarmament, spearheaded by small and medium-sized states, with overwhelming support from the Global South and in defiance of nuclear-armed states and major powers. Its advocates bypassed the standstill in existing disarmament frameworks such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and succeeded in changing the discourse around nuclear weapons, pointing out flaws in nuclear deterrence theory and raising awareness of the unacceptable suffering caused by any use of these weapons. The humanitarian initiative owes a large part of its success to the close collaboration and exchange between like-minded states and civil society actors such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In my assessment of the prospects of the TPNW, I take into consideration that the Treaty’s immediate aim is not to eliminate nuclear weapons, but rather to stigmatize and delegitimize them in order to raise the political and reputational costs of retaining them. The examples of the Ottawa Convention (on anti-personnel landmines) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions have demonstrated that perceptions and norms change over time as more states ratify the relevant treaties.



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