Rapporteur: Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan
Attainment of this Platform plank will require expanded and sustained civil society activism, as well as significant support from activist governments. An early goal supportive of this Platform plank is multiple ratifications of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by non-nuclear weapon and non-NATO states. Once the Treaty comes into legal force, non-nuclear NATO states will be under additional pressure to reject the alliance’s nuclear umbrella.
Fifty to 100 nuclear weapons, which would be less than one percent of the nuclear weapons in the world’s currently known arsenal, if used in a regional armed conflict, would cause an environmental catastrophe, massive immediate and long term death, and radically change existence, such as through global famine, for the survivors and civilization.(1)
The threat of use of nuclear weapons is assessed by, among many others, a core group of nuclear scientists who publish the annually updated Doomsday Clock, which, as its creators note, “has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons.”(2) As of 2018, the clock stood at two minutes to midnight, the most dangerous measure since 1953.
The understanding that nuclear weapons are a threat to human survival is not new. The first declaration of the United Nations upon its formation called for abolition of nuclear weapons.(3) Through extensive negotiations, the nations of the world, including its nuclear powers, have comprehensively banned nuclear weapons from Antarctica, Outer Space and the Sea Floor.(4) However, about 14,000 warheads remain.
Due to widespread fear of nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons states made a bargain with the rest of the world: If other states renounced obtaining nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons states would divest themselves of theirs; and the peaceful use of nuclear energy would be shared. This three-part bargain was enshrined in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). However, 48 years on, the nuclear weapons states have not lived up to their commitment to completely destroy their nuclear arsenals.
Frustrated by the lack of action by the nuclear weapons states (and NATO states who subscribe to nuclear weapons possession and deterrence), the majority of nations undertook to develop a binding international nuclear weapon ban treaty. On 7 July 2017 at the UN in New York 122 UN member states adopted the text of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty is now open for signature and ratification, and once it obtains 50 ratifications, the treaty will be in legal force. As of June 2019, there are 70 signatories and 23 states parties.
The TPNW was a “humanitarian disarmament” treaty. However, it was formulated without the participation of the nuclear weapon states. No NATO member state has signed the treaty. It was people-focused and is based on the principle of “first, do no harm” to humankind. As such, it has remediation elements within it, such as victim-assistance for populations negatively affected by the nuclear weapons cycle, including production and testing. Indigenous groups are believed to be disproportionately, negatively affected where nuclear testing and uranium production has occurred on indigenous lands. The TPNW is the first disarmament convention ever to specify indigenous rights within the text.
Humanitarian disarmament consists of a body of law, a norm, and a movement. Civil society has been of critical importance to the creation of the TPNW, without which it probably would not have occurred. This has been organized by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), who were acknowledged for their role in creating this landmark convention by the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2017. Continued civil society activism will be equally critical to the adoption of the TPNW by all states, if there is to be strengthening of TPNW momentum. ICAN modeled its organization and approach on the path opened by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines which has worked to universalize the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention).(5) A key element towards mobilizing governments to join these treaties and conventions and to adhere to their prohibitions is norm-building.
Norm-building for the goals of the TPNW did not begin with the commitment of 122 states when they adopted the treaty’s text. However, obtaining 50 ratifications in the near term is a focus of some civil society campaigners. Once that number is obtained the TPNW will be in legal force, and a meeting of states party to the TPNW will take place. Once half of UN member states have ratified, some believe it will be possible to start speaking about non-possession of nuclear weapons as customary international law. However, a major obstacle remains, which is the eschewal of the treaty, to date, by nuclear weapon possessing states, and nuclear “umbrella” states, such as members of NATO.
Nuclear weapon abolitionists in each NATO state are undertaking activities to encourage their government to join the TPNW without delay.
However, it is believed by many that a member of an alliance, such as Canada in NATO, in which there is a commitment to support nuclear deterrence, cannot join the TPNW without first indicating an intention to renounce the possession of, and threat to use, nuclear weapons. The Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW) in September 2017 issued a call, in which was included the following statement:
The CNANW Call(6) was signed by about eighty(7) Canadian organizations.
Advocacy for increasing support for the treaty is pursued by popular education about the TPNW and popular mobilization. Parliamentary actions are pursued in some countries where appropriate. Divestment actions aimed at businesses, usually banks, involved in financial investment in the production of nuclear weapons is another way of both showing popular support for the abolition of nuclear weapons and the need for the government to reflect this by joining the TPNW (when possible). It is unknown which NATO state will be the first to do so. Many governments are currently caught between the demands of their own population and the demands of NATO. NATO sees its strategic interests and deterrence doctrines undermined by the TPNW.(8) The Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School produced a paper arguing that a state could remain in NATO but would need to withdraw from its nuclear component (which resides within the strategic concept). NATO’s statutes are found within the North Atlantic Treaty, which does not refer to nuclear weapons.(9) The collective security element of that Treaty requires that members “separately and jointly . . . maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”(10)
Until the first NATO member state decides to disavow the alliance’s nuclear component in order to sign the TPNW, there will be enormous pressure to refrain from doing so. It is to be seen what the result will be after one state “breaks out”, and whether the path for broad rejection of nuclear deterrence will be opened up.
Footnotes for this article can be seen at the Footnotes 1 page on this website (link will open in a new page).