By Hellmut Lagos Koller *
The Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (TPNW), adopted in 2017, entered into force on 22sd January of this year and the number of ratifying states continues to increase, with Mongolia being the latest to announce membership. This positive trend is certainly greeted with enthusiasm by civil society activists and a growing number of supporters of this treaty which represents a huge step forward for the global movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of it. ‘nuclear weapons. It would certainly be dishonest to ignore that this new international legal instrument remains controversial to say the least for most members of the so-called nuclear deterrent community. While preparations are underway for the first Assembly of States Parties, scheduled for Vienna from March 22-24, 2022, it is useful to address some of the main doubts and arguments against the treaty.
In this regard, the main criticism is that it makes no sense to support a nuclear weapons treaty if the states that possess them have not acceded or have no intention of acceding to it.
In order to answer this assertion, it may be useful to recall that in the case of the Mine Ban Treaties and Cluster Munitions, its main promoters and supporters were also states which did not possess these weapons, and that these international instruments have also received harsh criticism for this reason. Despite this, there is now no doubt that these two treaties have become remarkable successes, not only in achieving the goal of moving closer to universalization, but also in consolidating a general moral condemnation of these categories of weapons. Therefore, the argument that a treaty must necessarily be joined by the holders of the arms can easily be refuted. Despite the current position of nuclear-weapon States, each new ratification of the treaty is not without meaning: on the contrary, it gives the treaty more authority and contributes to increasing pressure on nuclear-weapon States. for them to adopt new steps towards nuclear disarmament.
Arguments in favor of TPNW
TThe other major contribution of the TPNW is that it facilitates the process of delegitimizing nuclear weapons, necessary to finally amend the well-established foundations of nuclear deterrence doctrines. The humanitarian principles underlying the treaty are totally incompatible with these doctrines and therefore impact them by highlighting the inherent immorality and illegitimacy of nuclear weapons.
Another argument in favor of ratification is that it offers States the possibility of supporting the process of democratization of the global debate on nuclear weapons, as this new treaty is the result of a very open discussion with an active engagement of delegations. from all geographic regions. and, in particular, representatives of civil society. This is not a minor aspect of this process, but a key one. Indeed, unlike the negotiations of previous international legal instruments, in this era of increasing complexity and interdependence, the main challenges facing humanity are being addressed by a diverse group of citizens, from all walks of life and from all backgrounds. regions. Traditional diplomacy is certainly not enough, and in the case of the TPNW, the positive results clearly would not have been possible without the decisive impetus provided by the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was able to mobilize civil society and the same ideas. governments towards the goal of negotiating a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
If it would be naive to expect the creation of nuclear-weapon states to be persuaded by humanitarian discourse and, for the foreseeable future, to change its defense and security policies based on nuclear deterrence? , TPNW, and its emphasis on human security instead of the traditional notion of state security, is already having an impact on academic and public debates in these states.
The second argument used by its detractors is that the TPNW weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In fact, this is not only incorrect, the opposite is true. In fact, the TPNW can serve as an initiative to help implement Article VI of the NPT, whereby parties commit to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures for an early end to the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmamentt ”. This is vitally important because the treaty clearly assigns a key role to all parties, and not just to states which possess nuclear weapons. This commitment was also reflected in the Outcome Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and the TPNW can be understood to reflect this obligation to contribute to nuclear disarmament by non-nuclear-weapon States.
Another common thread is that the nuclear weapons industry is too strong and well consolidated and that it would be naïve to claim that this treaty could indeed have an impact on investment decisions.
This pessimism has also been proven wrong. In fact, in 2021, more than a hundred financial institutions have reportedly decided to stop investing in companies linked to the production of nuclear weapons. As a result, the nuclear weapons industry is shrinking considerably and the tendency to exclude this sector from investment targets continues to grow. This is not only the consequence of the legal obligations which emanate from the TPNW but the reflection of the devaluation of the public image associated with these industries. As this public image continues to deteriorate, it is likely that this trend will continue and that the moral condemnation of these weapons of mass destruction will be absorbed by the mainstream of society.
Another common misconception is that the TPNW must be understood as an instrument that is only designed to be joined exclusively by non-nuclear weapon states.
In fact, even though the treaty was developed by non-nuclear-weapon states, it was drafted and negotiated with the goal of universal membership, including, one day, states that still include nuclear deterrence in the process. their national security doctrines. In particular, the TPNW establishes a clear set of measures for nuclear weapon states to eliminate their nuclear weapon arsenals. More specifically, within 60 days of the entry into force of the treaty for a State Party that possesses nuclear weapons, that State must submit a plan for the complete elimination of its nuclear weapons to a competent international authority specially designated by the States Parties. . The treaty also includes a process for designating an international authority competent to verify the elimination of nuclear weapons by a state before joining the treaty, and a process for states parties that hold nuclear weapons in their territory for the elimination of nuclear weapons. these weapons and report this action to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
It should also be noted that this treaty obliges states parties to provide adequate assistance to victims affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons, and to take the necessary measures for the environmental rehabilitation of contaminated areas under its control. This dimension of the treaty constitutes an important contribution both to the protection of the human rights of victims and to the now inescapable obligation to protect the environment, aspects which are not covered by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) ). This certainly does not affect the value and vital role of this key instrument of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, but complements it by addressing the fundamental issue of environmental redress.
TPNW faces challenges
The main challenge now is not only to achieve greater universality of the TPNW, but to involve more stakeholders and to raise awareness of the urgent need to put pressure on nuclear-weapon states to move forward. and finally towards nuclear disarmament. In this regard, civil society initiatives have encouraged the engagement of grassroots members, parliament, media and municipal governments, especially in nuclear weapon states, which has had impressive results, with hundreds of local governments expressing their support for the treaty and sparking discussions among the population. These initiatives aim to put pressure on politicians and above all, to facilitate a discussion within democratic societies on the sustainability and risks involved in the possession and harboring of nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the TPNW has a long way to go and overcome many obstacles to achieve its goal, but in its first year of entry into force, it has already had an undeniable impact on the disarmament and non-proliferation debate. nuclear, despite the expected skeptics. and efforts to ignore its existence stemming from the still powerful establishment of nuclear deterrence. Most of its technical experts, academics and government officials honestly believe that nuclear weapons have helped secure world peace and stability and therefore should continue to be the foundation of international security doctrines. These well-established ideas rest on the questionable assumption that the deployment of these weapons has avoided war and can guarantee permanent peace for all nations. This has served as a dogmatic idea for many decades, but recent research results have shown that the risks involved are significantly greater and the humanitarian consequences would be catastrophic for every citizen on the planet. The paradigm of humanitarian impact, which underlies the process that inspired the TPNW, brought about a tectonic shift in the debate on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, which had been confined to the NPT review conferences. with often frustrating results. Certainly, the persistence of different approaches needs to be addressed in a more constructive discussion between supporters of this treaty and the deterrence community.
Finally, the fact that the first meeting of the TPNW States Parties is taking place in Vienna is very significant as Austria has been one of the leading nations in this process, especially in drafting the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the void. nuclear ban, which was a decisive step towards the treaty which has already fulfilled this commitment. Despite all the difficulties and the persistence of significant resistance, the active and committed participation of diplomats and representatives of civil society, under the leadership of Austria, makes it possible to envisage that this first meeting will make it possible to strengthen the treaty and advance long and difficult road towards the ultimate goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
*About the Author: Hellmut Lagos Koller is a senior career diplomat from Chile. He was Alternate Permanent Representative to international organizations in Vienna and Geneva and represented Chile during the negotiations of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty in 2017. He has held numerous multilateral and bilateral positions around the world.