The Russian invasion of Ukraine can make those who work to build international law and establish global norms feel powerless. Yet, the international community has rallied behind international treaties from the UN Charter to the Cluster Munitions Convention to the Treaty on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and against unilateral aggression in response.
By invading Ukraine, Russia rejected its core commitment under the UN Charter not to use force and to respect state sovereignty, and it brandished its nuclear weapons to prevent any state from intervening. This invasion is a humanitarian crisis for civilians on the ground. It is also a moment of reckoning for the UN system and for the policy of nuclear deterrence.
Across the globe, governments are calling out Russian violations of international law, including of the UN Charter and international humanitarian law. Ukraine has also brought a case to the International Court of Justice, which will be heard in the coming days.
Nearly all countries speaking at the Emergency 11th Special Session of the UN General Assembly in New York condemned Russian aggression. Overwhelmingly, States called out this violation of the UN Charter and called for an immediate cease fire and return to the rule of law. International law provides the basis by which Russia actions are judged and condemned.
New Zealand’s disarmament minister said it clearly: “Ukraine shows we need disarmament, multilateralism and international law now more than ever. The world can be muscular and quick on sanctions. Let's be just as strong on building up multilateral institutions and international law.”
The international community, in particular signatories and states parties to the TPNW, have also come together to push back against Russia’s escalating rhetoric and threats of nuclear weapons use. A joint statement by thirteen signatory or states parties to the TPNW resolutely rejected Russian recent orders to raise the readiness levels of its nuclear forces, highlighting the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the critical international treaties to constrain nuclear behaviour- the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the TPNW, the latter which “expressly prohibits any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.”
Here are a few examples of state’s individual statements:
- In condemning the Russian acts of aggression, Austria focused on multilateralism and the rule of law, saying “Any nuclear threat is unacceptable and a violation of the principles of the UN charter. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences do not respect borders and are a threat to all of humanity. We need an urgent return to diplomacy without recklessly endangering us all.”
- Ireland’s Simon Coveney said “This threat of nuclear weapons is utterly unacceptable.” It is also outlawed under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
- Costa Rica called on all nuclear-armed states to comply with their obligations under the NPT to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith, and urged all states to join the TPNW, which bans the development, possession, threats of use, & use of nuclear weapons.
- Liechtenstein condemned Russia's announcement of putting its nuclear weapons on alert and Belarus' decision to amend its constitution to allow stationing of nuclear weapons on its territory, in violation of key provisions of the NPT.
While some countries may continue to cling to these weapons of mass destruction, most know that multilateral nuclear disarmament is the only guarantee to prevent other nuclear-armed countries from following Russia’s lead and using their nuclear weapons as a shield to commit war crimes and terrorize civilian populations. This is why the TPNW matters - and it is all the more urgent that all countries join this agreement without delay and attend its first meeting this summer in Vienna.
During this time of crisis, the international community must stand together to reject violations of international law and support multilateral instruments, including the TPNW, to constrain bullies with nuclear weapons.