In his speech to launch of the UN’s new Disarmament Agenda “Securing Our Future”, Secretary General António Guterres praised the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) but failed to condemn possession of nuclear weapons, or call on all states to join the treaty
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The Secretary General acknowledged in his speech that the TPNW “will form an important component of the nuclear disarmament and non- proliferation regime when it enters into force, and enable States that so choose to subscribe to some of the highest available multilateral norms against nuclear weapons.” In a later Q&A session, Guterres described the TPNW as an affirmation of the “enormous frustration and enormous will of a large -and growing – number of countries that say ‘That’s enough!’ “
The UNSG also emphasised that the TPNW is fully compatible with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. “Some characterise these divisions [over the best approach to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons] as a competition between humanitarian and security concerns. This is a false dichotomy. In reality, humanitarian and security considerations are not mutually exclusive and they both underpin and lend urgency to all the efforts of the international community.”
Yet neither the agenda nor the UNSG’s speech contained a call for countries to join the TPNW. In the face of escalating nuclear rhetoric and crumbling treaties and summits, this is not just a missed opportunity, but undermines the entire disarmament agenda. What’s more, the agenda’s recommendations for nuclear disarmament seem stuck in the past.
The section on nuclear weapons largely recycles the same old recommendations that have been offered since the 1950s: combat proliferation, negotiate an FMCT, conclude a comprehensive test ban, stockpile reductions, reduce the role of nuclear weapons in doctrines. While the agenda does call for the entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban it does not call on states to create or strengthen a norm against possession. This is regrettable, as a strong norm against possession would clearly make it easier to combat both testing and use. We need to build a strong norm against nuclear weapons – not just their testing, use, or proliferation.
But above all, it is regrettable that neither the agenda nor the UNSG’s speech rally countries behind the TPNW, when in its very foreword, the agenda states: ”The existential threat that nuclear weapons pose to humanity must motivate us to accomplish new and decisive action leading to their total elimination. We owe this to the Hibakusha—the survivors of nuclear war—and to our planet.”