Policy Newsletter #21 - April/May 2024

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Policy and Research Newsletter no. 21

With rising nuclear threats, cities, countries and students take action 



70 States Parties
93 signatories



Gaza protests at universities shine a light on their role in weapons production

As students protested the war in Gaza, they shone a spotlight on the role of universities in the weapons industry, including their ties to nuclear weapons production. 

In addition to demands to divest from companies linked to Israel and to end collaborations with Israeli universities, students from campuses across the United States, such as Johns Hopkins University, MIT and University of Texas - Austin, called for a divestment in university endowments from weapons manufacturers providing the tools for the war crimes being committed in Gaza and an end to some university contracts with the Department of Defense. University students in the United Kingdom made similar demands for divestment, while other students at publicly funded universities in other countries, such as in France, Germany or Switzerland, had other calls of their schools in light of the ongoing war.

Many of the same weapons manufacturers, such as Boeing, RTX (Raytheon) and Northrop Grumman that students are protesting for their role in Gaza build parts of U.S. nuclear weapons. Students achieved some significant success in ending their university ties to these companies. Since 2016, students and community members have been urging the Portland State University to sever its ties with the multi-billion dollar weapons manufacturing company Boeing, the University responded to student protests by announcing a pause in its connections with the weapons producer.

But the links between universities and weapons production go beyond just university endowment investments. ICAN’s report, Schools of Mass Destruction, shows how nearly 50 U.S. universities, many of which hosted protests on the war in Gaza, are linked to nuclear weapons production in the United States, through direct management of nuclear weapons laboratories, research programs and partnerships, institutional partnerships and workforce development.


US universities involved in nuclear weapons productionThe 50 US universities involved in nuclear weapons production. Image: ICAN


UN Security Council urged to advance nuclear disarmament


On Monday, 18 March 2024, the United Nations Security Council convened a ministerial meeting on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, chaired by Japan, the Council’s March President.

The session opened with a statement from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who stated that disarmament is the only path “that will vanquish this senseless and suicidal shadow [of nuclear catastrophe], once and for all” and that the global disarmament architecture — including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) – must be strengthened.

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, from the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, provided a briefing, calling on the Security Council, specifically the permanent five (P5) nuclear-armed members of the council to “step up now” by adopting a resolution that pledges to reduce nuclear risks and never to use nuclear weapons, while also committing not to increase nuclear arsenals or to further test, deploy, or threaten to use nuclear weapons. After all, as she noted, the Security Council has received many briefings on many issues, but the “briefing the Council has not received – and must never receive – is one on the effects and consequences of a new use of nuclear weapons”. And it is in the hands of the P5, more than anyone else’s, to ensure that never happens.

China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States however failed to articulate any pathway for reducing nuclear arsenals and instead blamed the current security environment as an insurmountable roadblock to progress. 

Algeria, Ecuador, Guyana, Malta, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone all spoke about the importance of the universalisation and implementation of the TPNW, which they view as complementary to the objectives of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). 


UN Security Council thematic debate on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferationUN Security Council holds thematic debate on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Photo: UN Web-TV


Nuclear weapons states and allies escalate debates on nuclear sharing

The current debate on nuclear weapons illustrate the very legitimate fear they instil in us – fear that causes tunnel vision and locks states in old behaviours like engaging in nuclear arms races.

Newest NATO member could be open to nuclear sharing

On May 13th, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson suggested in an interview that he would not rule out the possibility of hosting US nuclear weapons on Swedish territory during wartime. This comment came in the context of the upcoming parliamentary vote on a Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) between Sweden and the United States. The agreement currently states that there is “no reason” for Sweden to host nuclear weapons during peacetime. Critics argue that this vague and noncommittal language, which is also found in Sweden's propositions on NATO membership, is too weak and could be easily altered by the government. The notion of Sweden entering into nuclear sharing arrangements during wartime implies a willingness on the part of the Swedish government to accept the use of nuclear weapons.

This discussion in Sweden is not happening in a vacuum. There have also been increased calls by prominent European politicians for more US nuclear weapons to be stationed in Europe, or for Europe to further develop a nuclear sharing practice of its own. 

President Andrzej Duda, for example, has said that Poland is ready to host US nuclear weapons. In Germany, senior figures in both the opposition CDU and governing SPD parties have suggested the EU should acquire its own nuclear weapons or should be protected by France’s (and possibly the UK’s) existing nuclear arsenal, although German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has said this is not needed. In response, President Macron has reiterated his offer to discuss using France’s nuclear weapons to protect fellow EU states by providing a French version of the nuclear umbrella.

This worrying trend could undermine the security of European countries rather than enhance it. Any new nuclear sharing arrangements in Europe would not just further undermine the NPT and be illegal under the TPNW, they could also be seen as a dangerous and escalatory move that could provoke a further response from Russia. In fact, the statements by the Polish president were explicitly mentioned by Russia’s foreign ministry in its announcement of nuclear exercises near the Ukraine border in May 2024. This kind of brinkmanship can escalate dangerously and puts all of Europe at risk.

Belarusian military base upgrades and Indian missile tests increase risks

Meanwhile new satellite imagery of a Belarusian military base show upgrades that could indicate it could be intended for housing Russian nuclear warheads. The move appears to be part of the rhetorical escalation around the threat of using nuclear weapons that Russia has been engaging in since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Rather than mimic this irresponsible and dangerous behaviour, NATO states need to condemn it.

Meanwhile, India tested an Agni-5 missile with Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV) technology. Adding such technology to its nuclear arsenal shows a willingness to inflict even greater indiscriminate harm. The test was carried out close in time to the 50th anniversary of India’s first nuclear test, on 18 May 1974, while survivors of Indian nuclear tests still struggle for recognition and compensation.

The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty as the only sane alternative 

New nuclear sharing arrangements and new missile technology races will not make the world safer. It is a waste of resources with huge opportunity costs, and it puts us all at risk.

There has been no official discussion in Sweden, or any other European host state, about the implications of nuclear sharing arrangements for their citizens. Would Sweden become a direct target of Russia’s nuclear weapons? Could Swedish military personnel be prosecuted for war crimes if Sweden, like Belgium or Italy, engaged in the use of nuclear weapons? The Swedish government has not been forthright about the truth of what becoming complicit in nuclear weapons actually means in reality – it instead chooses to repeat platitudes about security in the face of the Russian threat. 

To de-escalate the situation responsibly, states should follow the example of European Union countries like Austria and Ireland, and Sri Lanka that neighbours India, as well as half of the world's states, by unequivocally condemning the threat and use of nuclear weapons. They should also join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which explicitly prohibits nuclear sharing.

Parts of this article were first published as a news update on

B61-12 animationGraphics: ICAN

Updates on progress on TPNW intersessional implementation

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Photo: ICAN

States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) continue the intersessional work of implementing the Treaty and the Vienna Action Plan and the decisions taken at the Second Meeting of States Parties (2MSP), moving forwards towards the Third Meeting of States Parties in 2025.

Updates from the working groups

The informal working group on universalisation (Article 12), co-chaired by South Africa and Uruguay, held a meeting on 9 April in which the co-chairs presented a programme of work for the intersessional period and discussed the coordination between universalisation and other working groups, as well as the Scientific Advisory Board (SAG). 

The informal working group on victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance (Articles 6 and 7), co-chaired by Kazakhstan and Kiribati, had presented their programme of work earlier this year and in line with that held one meeting on 25 March to which Mr. Laurent Gisel of the ICRC gave a briefing relating to the establishment of an international trust fund, and one on 24 April in which Dr. Ivana Hughes gave a presentation on national victim assistance frameworks to inform trust fund discussions, including on how the TPNW can be part in improving on previous frameworks in terms of inclusivity. On 30 May, representatives of Hibakusha, including second-generation survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, were invited to share with States Parties their perspectives and experience to inform discussions on an international trust fund.

Malaysia and Aotearoa New Zealand, co-chairs of the informal working group on implementing Article 4, towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, presented their programme of work in a meeting on 25 April. Their work will focus on consultations with technical experts, academia, civil society and international organisations around verification and nuclear safeguards.

On 28 May, Ireland and Thailand, informal facilitators for the work on TPNW complementarity with the larger nuclear disarmament and non-proliferations architecture and other relevant fora, hosted an expert panel on complementarity and opportunities, including e.g. with financial and business regulations, toxic waste, health, and human rights.

At 2MSP, States Parties decided to highlight the legitimate security concerns of States stemming from nuclear weapons through a consultative process led by Austria, that hosted a meeting on 5 April. The meeting discussed guiding questions for States Parties on identifying legitimate security concerns related to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, as well as outreach and engagement with broader publics. 

The Scientific Advisory Board (SAG) re-elected Dr. Zia Mian and Dr. Patricia Lewis as co-chairs, and members of the SAG have participated in all informal working group meetings, and have continued their regular meetings.


NATO turns 75 with more cities joining ICAN pledge

Italian capital Rome joined ICAN's cities appeal in April 2024 under the hashtag #ICANSAVE Rome. Photo montage: ICAN

As NATO turns 75 years old this year, with celebrations in Brussels on 4 April and more to come at its Washington D.C. summit on 9-11 July, the role of nuclear weapons in the alliance is contested by NATO citizens and cities.

With military expenditures increasing and deterrence and arms races being seen as nearly the only view on international security, resistance is also growing. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and its subsequent threats to use nuclear weapons show the reality of nuclear weapons: they are real, they can be used, and that must be avoided.

Amid NATO presenting its nuclear weapons as necessary (although NATO only declared itself a nuclear alliance in 2010), the cities that would be targets for nuclear weapons are calling for their elimination. Through the ICAN Cities Appeal Campaign and the hashtag #ICANSAVE, cities and municipalities can call for their states to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), effectively denouncing deterrence theory and calling for security based on eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons.

Rome, capital of nuclear hosting Italy, unanimously adopted ICAN’s Cities Appeal in March this year, calling for Italy to join the TPNW. In April, Albanian capital Tirana was the first Albanian city to join the Cities Appeal. Soon after, they were joined by the Hague, the International City of Peace and Justice, hosting institutions like the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. The Netherlands, like Italy, hosts American nuclear weapons. 

While Paris has been part of the Cities Appeal since 2019, French city of Poitiers also joined this April, as one of many cities along the Mediterranean’s northern shore scrambling to take their stance. With almost 100 cities in each of France, Spain, Italy and Greece having joined ICAN’s cities appeal, it is clear that the nuclear policy of their governments is not there by popular demand.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed us what happens when a nuclear weapon detonates over a city. The humanitarian impacts are catastrophic, as are the environmental consequences. A nuclear attack would likely be met with a retaliatory attack, causing even more harm. Our cities are tasked with caring for the lives of its citizens, providing the infrastructure of education, transportation, health care, food, sanitation, culture that lets its citizens live together. In a nuclear attack, all that would be gone, as would most likely the first responders, ambulances, hospitals and evacuation routes. People in charge of cities are now realising that in the event of a nuclear weapons attack, they would be helpless and unable to fulfil any of the tasks they are charged with, leading them to take a stand for prevention by eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons.

More information on how to get your city to join ICAN’s Cities Appeal can be found on ICAN’s website.





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