Three years on, how the TPNW is having impact


Three years since international law banned nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrence, nuclear investments and nuclear threats are being challenged more than ever.

Three years ago, the goal of banning nuclear weapons under international law was achieved when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force. This completed the goal of outlawing all weapons of mass destruction, and has had a significant impact since. Here are some ways the TPNW has changed the world in the last three years.

Delegitimising nuclear threats

The TPNW specifically outlaws the threat to use nuclear weapons. While this has not stopped some states from making those threats, it has sparked renewed global outrage and opposition to any threats to use nuclear weapons, at any time. 

States parties to the TPNW have been at the forefront of condemning nuclear threats, most recently at the Second Meeting of States Parties where member states said they “remain deeply alarmed by and firmly deplore threats to use nuclear weapons, as well as increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric.”

Shrinking & shunning the nuclear weapons industry

Since the entry into force of the TPNW, the number of companies involved in nuclear weapons production has gone down. Serco, for example, because of investor pressure over concerns about their involvement in the UK nuclear arsenal, chose to abandon any future work on nuclear weapons. The cost of continuing business as usual was just too high.

Indeed, despite the modernisation of nuclear arsenals by all nine nuclear-armed countries, the industry is shrinking as companies acquire or merge. RTX (formerly Raytheon) and United Technologies are one example, Northrop Grumman’s acquisition of Orbital ATK is another. 

The reduction in the number of contractors in the nuclear weapons industry makes it easier for financial institutions and other investors to exclude them from investments, and the number of those with exclusions because of nuclear weapons involvement is steadily rising, going from 77 before the entry into force to more than 109 today.

Challenging nuclear deterrence

Deterrence is an unproven gamble – a theory on which the future of humanity is being risked – that is based on the implicit threat to use nuclear weapons that has brought the world close to nuclear war on a number of occasions.

Recognising that global security is undermined by nuclear deterrence policies, the recent TPNW Meeting of States Parties agreed to “challenge the security paradigm based on nuclear deterrence by highlighting and promoting new scientific evidence about the humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons and juxtaposing this with the risks and assumptions that are inherent in nuclear deterrence.” 

With current conflicts involving two nuclear-armed states, it is clear that nuclear deterrence doesn’t work in real world situations. It is based on demonstrating willingness to use nuclear weapons, but the five original nuclear weapons states themselves publicly acknowledge these weapons cannot actually be used, something most nuclear armed states agree should never happen. There is a need to engage on evidence, and stop assigning nuclear weapons with magical properties that simply do not exist. 

The problem of nuclear weapons is one that will not be solved until they are completely eliminated. Fortunately, three years ago, the TPNW entered into force, giving us the tool to end the nuclear weapon problem for good.