On the eve of the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the Italian Parliament passed a resolution instructing the Italian Government to explore the ratification of the legally binding ban on nuclear weapons.
Specifically, the resolution "commits" the Government to "pursue a nuclear weapon free world" and, in this context, "in a way compatible with its NATO obligations and with the positioning of allied states, to explore the possibility of becoming a party to the legally binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination, as adopted on 7 July 2017 at the UN conference in New York held for this purpose".
While the language does not commit Italy to ratifying the TPNW, this resolution already constitutes a positive step for Italy and NATO as a whole. "The resolution sends the message that NATO and the treaty prohibition of nuclear weapons are not incompatible. Italy may be in a position to ratify it if a sufficient number of fellow NATO states are willing to take this step together", says Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, ICAN campaigner. NATO's reliance on US nuclear weapons and nuclear sharing for "deterrence" had been a major stumbling block in the negotiation of the Treaty. The only member to attend the negotiations, the Netherlands, had been compelled to do so by a similar parliamentary vote.
Up until now, NATO members have tended to reject the TPNW out-of-hand. "Italy's shift reflects growing global concern about Trump's irresponsible talk on using weapons of mass destruction against North Korea, further eroding the taboo on the use of nuclear weapons. The Ban can strengthen the taboo, and slow down plans for the modernization of nuclear weapons stationed in Italy and elsewhere in Europe", adds Hoffmann-Axthelm.
The North Atlantic Treaty is silent on the issue of nuclear weapons, but the latest Strategic Concept of the Alliance defines NATO as a nuclear alliance "for as long as nuclear weapons exist". At the same time, it commits NATO to creating the conditions for nuclear disarmament, which may well include their prohibition. The TPNW can be a tool in the reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines, including in NATO nuclear sharing. This is in line with popular sentiment in NATO countries, where large majorities oppose nuclear weapons.
"NATO has always been flexible and accommodating for its members’ different adherence to weapons prohibitions, such as the bans on landmines and cluster munitions, and the same will be true if some states want to opt-out from participating in military preparations for the use of nuclear weapons. NATO will be able to adapt to the new reality of the treaty prohibition of nuclear weapons", concludes Hoffmann-Axthelm.