Belgian government shifts stance on TPNW


After long negotiations, seven political parties finally reached an agreement to establish a coalition government — 500 days after the elections took place. According to sources familiar with the negotiations, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was one of the most fiercely debated issues, especially during the later stages.

Released today, the 85-page government declaration contains a positive reference to the TPNW, noting that, “Belgium will play a proactive role in the 2021 NPT Review Conference and, together with European NATO allies, will explore how to strengthen the multilateral non-proliferation framework and how the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons can give new impetus to multilateral nuclear disarmament.” [unofficial translation]

Despite polling indicating that nearly 65% of Belgians favour the country joining the TPNW, the previous Belgian government strongly opposed it, having also joined in the Trump administration-led boycott of the the negotiations in 2017. This development marks a modest, but important breakthrough for the TPNW among NATO states. It follows the publication of a joint letter from 56 former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and defence ministers from 20 NATO member states, and other nuclear umbrella states, calling on current leaders to join the TPNW.

According to Professor Tom Sauer of the University of Antwerp, “This is the first time that a NATO member state has gone as far as acknowledging the potential positive effects of the TPNW. It was a hard-fought battle and won as a result of the cooperation by Belgian civil society (peace organizations, churches, academics) with political parties.”

With only 4 ratifications remaining, the TPNW will soon enter-into-force and become international law, taking its rightful place alongside the treaties that have banned and pushed the elimination of the other weapons of mass destruction: the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. The pressure on countries that continue to cling to nuclear weapons — including those under the so-called “nuclear umbrella” — to change course and join the TPNW will continue to increase as a coalition of civil society, financial institutions, parliamentarians and local governments grows in size and strength.

"ICAN looks forward to working with the Belgian government and other NATO states on how to approach the TPNW in a constructive manner," says Daniel Högsta, ICAN's Campaign Coordinator, "this is a small but significant step in the right direction which is a clear sign of the normative weight of the treaty."



photo: Fdecomite | Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0