“With Russia and NATO responsible for around 12,000 of the nuclear weapons in the nine arsenals, it would not take many political or military miscalculations, decisions or mistakes to trigger nuclear war.”
Two years after its entry into force, CND Vice-President and current chair of ICAN’s International Steering Group Dr Rebecca Johnson assesses where we are with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
The world was shocked to hear nuclear threats issued by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin after he ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Against this background, the first meeting of States Parties (1MSP) to the TPNW was held in Vienna in June. Attended by over 100 governments, along with many civil society activists, parliamentarians and security specialists from around the world, 1MSP took decisions on deadlines for destroying existing arsenals and developed a strong 50-point Action Plan, as a ‘framework to guide the implementation of the Treaty’.
Six months later, as the TPNW enters its third year since entering into legal force on 22 January 2021, where does this nuclear prohibition treaty stand, and what are the key tasks for the coming year?
As of 1 January 2023, the TPNW has 91 signatory states, of which 68 have become full parties to the Treaty. Four intersessional working groups are being convened, covering Treaty universalisation; victim assistance, environmental remediation, international cooperation and assistance; implementation of Article 4 on eliminating nuclear arsenals and ensuring competent, effective verification and compliance mechanisms; and cooperation initiatives for mutually strengthening the TPNW, the NPT and other relevant agreements. Work is also underway to establish an international scientific advisory group.
The challenges are immense. The Austrian government has handed the diplomatic baton to Mexico to guide states parties into the second MSP, which will be held at UN headquarters in New York in November. While much work will be undertaken by governments and experts in these intersessional groups, civil society needs to keep focused on bringing our own governments into the nuclear prohibition regime and preventing nuclear weapons being fired, deployed and proliferated.
With Russia and NATO responsible for around 12,000 of the nuclear weapons in the nine arsenals, it would not take many political or military miscalculations, decisions or mistakes to trigger nuclear war. We must not lose sight of what is at stake. Militarists and their pundits are twisting themselves in knots to normalise the existence of nuclear weapons in this war. They urge governments to get more nuclear weapons, while arguing that if Putin (or whoever) were to use ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons it might not be so bad.
This is mad, risky nonsense. Reality has long exposed the dangerous holes in established deterrence narratives about nuclear weapons as peacekeepers. All aspects of militarism and war harm our lives, security, biodiversity, globally shared environment and climate with massively destructive emissions and chemicals. As nuclear war nightmares return, it is up to all of us to prevent nuclear use, work for peace, and campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons through fully implementing the TPNW.