While it may seem a formulaic and sterile diplomatic exercise, as one delegate after another reads out their country’s prepared statement, the general debate at the NPT review conference actually provides a valuable overview of global political sentiment on nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament. Over 120 states took part, allowing us to make a comprehensive assessment of the areas of movement and resistance worldwide.
A consistent and almost universal theme was concern at the growing risks of use of nuclear weapons, particularly in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its threats to use nuclear weapons. This concern was shared across the political spectrum, including by some of the nuclear-weapon states and their nuclear-weapon-dependent allies. While the increasing risks are alarming, it is encouraging that so many countries recognize them and acknowledge a need to act.
Unfortunately, a number of these countries - notably the nuclear-weapon states and their allies, and groupings like the Stockholm Initiative - remain hopelessly attached to measures and proposals that have not garnered results.
And while the United States, United Kingdom and France were among the many countries that rightly condemned Russia’s nuclear threats, they portrayed these threats as “irresponsible”, implying that their own doctrines of nuclear deterrence constituted “responsible” nuclear threats. “There is no place in our world,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the conference, “for nuclear deterrence based on coercion, intimidation, or blackmail”
But nuclear deterrence is coercion, intimidation, or blackmail. There are no “responsible” threats to use nuclear weapons, whatever the circumstances and however the threat is formulated. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons mean that any threat to use them is irresponsible and dangerous. This is why the TPNW outlaws nuclear threats completely.
And the good news from the NPT general debate is that support for the TPNW continues to grow. Many countries spoke of the importance of the TPNW as a means of implementing the disarmament obligations of the NPT and of making real progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons. They pointed to the effectiveness of the TPNW in confronting and condemning all nuclear threats, highlighting the Vienna Declaration and the Vienna Action Plan adopted by the 1MSP in June. As South Africa put it, “The TPNW’s intention is to stigmatize and delegitimize nuclear weapons based on the adverse and indefensible humanitarian consequences of their use. Therefore, this Treaty goes hand-in-hand with the intention of the NPT and must be part of the Review Conference’s outcome.”
Also encouraging is that as support for the TPNW grows, opposition appears to be fading. Of the 120+ countries speaking in the debate, only three - Belarus, Greece and Switzerland - criticized or questioned the TPNW.
Following the conclusion of the general debate, delegations at the review conference are now working in committees and subsidiary bodies, beginning to shape the outcome of the conference. Whatever this will be, we can be confident that the TPNW will emerge as more important than ever as a practical means to make progress on eliminating nuclear weapons.
For more details on the debate, including a comprehensive breakdown by topic, please have a look at ICAN partner Reaching Critical Will’s report.