2022 in review: the urgency and power of condemning nuclear weapons


In January 2021, the treaty banning nuclear weapons, including threats to use nuclear weapons, entered into force and became international law. In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine and threatened to use these horrific weapons. Here’s how we put the treaty to work and responded:

#1 Putting obstacles in the way of using nuclear weapons

A key strategy has been to stop the use of nuclear weapons through massive international pressure on Russia. We used the TPNW to get as many governments as possible to condemn any and all nuclear threats, and the power of this treaty also spread to states outside of it. Beginning at the first Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW in Vienna in June, the then-65 states parties issued the strongest condemnation of nuclear threats - sending a clear signal to Russia that this was unacceptable. You can read more about why these condemnations matter and how they restrain nuclear armed states behaviour here

This was followed by a joint statement in August in New York, led by the TPNW states, stressing that “any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.” 

That language, soon began to be echoed by other leaders around the world: 

  • Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of NATO stated on 27 September 2022 that “any use of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable, it will totally change the nature of the conflict, and Russia must know that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,”
  • German Chancellor Scholz picked up the same language on 08 October, saying that “We need to give a clear answer to nuclear threats: They’re dangerous for the world, and the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable."   
  • On 4 November, China's President Xi said the international community should “advocate that nuclear weapons cannot be used, a nuclear war cannot be waged, in order to prevent a nuclear crisis” and echoed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by calling on the world to “jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons.”
  • Indian Prime Minister Modi is reported to have cancelled a summit with Putin in Shanghai over Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. 
  • And on 16 November, in Bali, Indonesia, the G20 agreed that threats and use of nuclear weapons is “inadmissible”, a clear continuation of the language set in Vienna by the TPNW. 
  • At the UN General Assembly, 141 countries supported a resolution reiterating “deep concern about the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons” and stressing “that it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons never be used again, under any circumstances”. 

The strength and universality of this response took Russian leadership aback, and in late October, we saw Putin walk back the threats.

We do not expect Putin to acknowledge that this pressure affected him, but the US State Department recently admitted how important it is to get every single state, large or small, to contribute to the pressure, and concluded that the pressure on Russia has worked and got Putin to back-pedal from his threats. 

We are by no means clear of the danger -- the risk continues to be high and the situation can change very quickly in any of the nuclear armed states. But the TPNW and ICAN have helped stop the use of nuclear weapons in 2022. 

This is an important and encouraging demonstration of the normative effect of the TPNW and its comprehensive prohibition of nuclear weapons and nuclear threats, even on states that have not yet joined. Whether it is Russia’s angry reaction to the Vienna Declaration’s condemnation of nuclear threats, or the presidents of the United States and France jointly stating their opposition to the TPNW, the treaty and the growing norm it embodies are clearly weighing on the minds of nuclear-armed governments.

#2 The Ban as the Plan

With the TPNW in force, 2022 was the year to start work in earnest on its mission of stigmatising and delegitimising nuclear weapons and steadily building a robust global peremptory norm against them. 

In June, the world met in Vienna for the first ever meeting of states parties to the TPNW.  For an entire week, campaigners, scientists, experts, parliamentarians, survivors, analysts, journalists and young people came together to help the member governments of the TPNW bring the treaty to life at the First Meeting of States Parties (1MSP).  We brought parliamentarians, together from many countries to make their voices heard and coordinate their efforts to support the TPNW and persuade governments to join. We also began to break through the seemingly-rock-solid-opposition to the TPNW in nuclear-allied states, with states that have historically opposed the treaty attending the 1MSP as observers and Australia abstaining rather than voting against UN resolutions supporting the treaty at First Committee. 

In Vienna, the states parties adopted an ambitious 50-point action plan that included specific, concrete actions on universalization; victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance; scientific and technical advice in support of implementation; supporting the wider nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime; inclusion; and implementation of the treaty’s gender provisions. Following June's 1MSP, ICAN participated in and supported the working groups set up by the states parties to take forward the practical implementation of the TPNW, develop its mechanisms, and build the global norm against nuclear weapons.  

Of course, ICAN’s work to help the TPNW grow continued at full strength this year. We encouraged and supported the nine countries which ratified and five countries which signed the treaty in the course of 2022, bringing the membership to 91 signatories and 68 states parties. With every country that joins the TPNW, the norm against nuclear weapons grows a little stronger.

#3 Speaking up, together

The effectiveness of joint condemnation of nuclear threats this year shows how every voice raised against nuclear weapons and nuclear threats reduces the risk and can really help prevent their use. That is why ICAN and our partners worked around the clock this year to leverage strong public support, at all levels, for the call to eliminate these weapons of mass destruction. 

Throughout, we continued to ensure that the voices of those impacted by nuclear weapons use and testing are present at the decision making table: from bringing impacted communities to the meeting in Vienna so their voices were front and centre in discussions about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and about how to assist survivors and remediate environmental harm, to bringing young Ukrainian researchers to address the UN during the NPT, to creating an interactive map to show the real impacts of nuclear weapons testing at key meetings.

This year, we also gave governments, banks, pension funds, and ordinary people the power to take away the money that keeps nuclear weapons going. On the one hand, we revealed the colossal sums that nuclear-armed countries are spending on their arsenals, and the companies and financial institutions that invest in making and maintaining nuclear weapons. On the other, investors were directly represented at a conference of parties to a humanitarian disarmament treaty for the first time ever, as they delivered a group statement about the TPNW to the 1MSP. 

Everything we have achieved in this extraordinarily challenging year is due to the tireless efforts of campaigners worldwide. Every letter and every email, every phone call and every conversation, every meeting or rally or demonstration, every article, every photo and every video, every voice and every dollar counts. In Africa, in Asia, in Europe, in America, in the Pacific, ICAN campaigners are, in a thousand different ways, building the movement that will one day eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.

What's next? 

Ending nuclear weapons is a fight we can and will win together, but it will take long-term action at many different levels. Now it is time to take our campaign to double down on our plan and take to the streets. 

In 2023 ICAN campaigners around the world will continue to take every opportunity to strengthen the stigma against nuclear weapons and advocate for the TPNW, but we will also roll out a series of visual stunts and public actions that disrupt the status quo on nuclear weapons. Such actions increase the public pressure on decision-makers, strengthening our advocacy and political campaigning to promote the TPNW and nuclear disarmament. If you would like to make a contribution to our new Action Fund, you can do so here.