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The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
The Treaty on the Prohibition
of Nuclear Weapons,(TPNW), is the first comprehensive global nuclear weapons ban, initially
supported in 2017 by 122 countries, that is 2/3 of the membership of the UN.|
It entered into force on 22 January 2021.
Under the treaty, states cannot:
Nuclear Weapons are now illegal
The treaty creates a new international standard for nuclear weapons: they are now illegal under
Previous weapons prohibition treaties include -
The Background to TPNW
The battle over the introduction of the TPNW raged in the UN for over three years. Accident, miscalculation or
design faults were seen as the main threats to be addressed. All 9 nuclear powers boycotted the process and the US
led the effort to block TPNW by sending out letters to all signatories to withdraw. Russia, US, UK and France
remained united against it, but in contrast China tweeted, “we have always been advocating complete prohibition
and we make a continuous efforts towards a nuclear weapon free world”. |
The truth is that everyone - yes, including Trump and Putin - would feel safer in a nuclear-free world; we would all be better off in every way. There will be no winner in a nuclear conflict. The TPNW is one step away from that brink.
Opposition to TPNW.
False claims that TPNW is a threat to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) abound,
whereas actually they
are completely compatible. However President Obama sent out an order to many countries to desist from supporting
the treaty; five of those countries, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Holland and Turkey host nuclear weapons.|
Japan and South Korea also boycotted the Treaty as naive and dangerous, asserting that it could increase the risk of nuclear use.
Meanwhile Antonio Guterres (Secretary General of UN) has said of the treaty, “It is clear that we will be only be safe on the day that nuclear weapons no longer exist.”
The people's view is often very different from their governments'; for example surveys show that over
Australians, Norwegians, Swedes, Japanese, Finns and Italians and 65% of Americans are now in favour
of TPNW. |
Many supporting programmes such as "Don't bank on the Bomb", are becoming ever more significant and for instance 400 cities in the world, including Hastings, have endorsed TPNW, indicating a groundswell of popular opinion in favour of its adoption.
Global financial institutions, bound by international law and keen to establish themselves as responsible investors, will be increasingly hesitant about investing in these 'controversial' weapons now they have been delegitimised by the majority of nations. Countries signatory to the treaty will be obliged to refuse any sort of assistance to nuclear-armed states in respect of these weapons.
Now is the time
TPNW challenges the entire logic of deterrence. At the present time we are in a state of extreme peril with
the 1947 Doomsday Clock set at 100 seconds to midnight. This is the most dangerous period since the Cuban
crisis of 1962 and tensions between the US and China and US and Russia are the worst in decades.|
However in the first few weeks of 2021, since the change of the presidency in the USA, there has been a new and significant development in bilateral and multilateral nuclear policy. On 26 January, only 4 days after the TPNW came into force, the United States and the Russian Federation agreed to extend the bilateral cap on U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ("New START") for five additional years.
Non-nuclear states which are signatories of NPT already have an obligation not to acquire nuclear weapons but the
new Treaty also adds that states are not to seek, induce or assist anyone to engage in prohibited activity
possession and further use of nuclear arms. |
This already rules out nuclear arrangements in existing alliances such as NATO and the Asian nuclear alliance of Japan, South Korea and Australia. So far, countries in such alliances have not joined the TPNW, because if there was for example a major power confrontation in Asia, the TPNW would prohibit a state from calling upon a nuclear power to threaten action on their behalf; this would effectively neutralise their nuclear alliance.
Human Centred Security
With the introduction of TPNW we see a paradigm shift, away from the security of states
and towards human centred security and to an affirmation of international humanitarian and
human rights law, and this change is out there for the whole world to see. That is possibly
the most important thing about it.|
The International Red Cross has stated that nuclear weapons are both morally unacceptable and unreconcilable with international humanitarian law. In 2018 the UN Human Rights Commission stated that nuclear weapons are incompatible with the Right to Life of every human being. TPNW counters the current framework of exclusive interaction at the state level towards individual human rights. TPNW is a threat to the theory of deterrence because the nuclear threat is illegal. Nukes are not an acceptable basis for security.
This idea reinforces the obligation for nuclear disarmament which is cited in the TPNW preamble and provides a path to a world of free of nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear-weapon states have been calling for decades for nuclear disarmament in the United Nations forum and via the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but have seen that nuclear-armed states have not moved in any decisive way to a nuclear free world, in spite of their clear obligations under the NPT. They have therefore decided, with TPNW, to create a new path towards getting nuclear disarmament moving again in conjunction with the NPT.
The TPNW marks the beginning of the end of the military hegemony of the nuclear-armed powers as nation after nation asserts its right to live in a world free of the threat of nuclear annihilation by deliberate act or, far more likely, a miscalculation. In time the nuclear powers may be seen as dangerous outdated anomalies.
But our work is not done. We must keep campaigning to make sure the treaty lives up to its full potential. Once it has taken full legal effect, countries that have joined it will need to comply with all of its obligations. In countries like the UK that have not joined, it is up to us to make sure that companies, governments and people know that nuclear weapons are illegal and that they need to stand on the right side of history.
Chatham House, right at the heart of NATO thinking, has published proposals for moderating NATO opposition to the TPNW, avoiding outright opposition.
Note however that the General Assembly of the United Nations does not have powers to enforce this Treaty. This power lies with the UN Security Council, each of whose Permanent Members has a veto. None of the nuclear powers, including the UK, has agreed to support the Treaty.
Now it's up to us