photo credit: ICAN

UN Security Council members respond to inaction on nuclear disarmament with support for TPNW


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. In their statements, the permanent members of the Security Council (P5) promised little by way of meaningful action on disarmament. However, certain non-nuclear-armed states, including Algeria, Ecuador, Guyana, Malta, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone, more clearly articulated the vision held by the world’s majority. 

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.

Following briefings from Robert Floyd, from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, from the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, Security Council member states made their statements.

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). 

The five permanent members of the Council, all nuclear-armed, failed to articulate any pathway for reducing nuclear arsenals, instead, focusing on the current security environment as a roadblock to progress. In the U.S. statement, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the UN, referenced aspirations for a world without nuclear weapons, yet only mentioned the word ‘disarmament’ once, in the context of a quote. Instead of leadership or responsibility, she focused on arms control and non-proliferation challenges from adversaries. Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative, Ambassador Dmitry A. Polyanskiy, offered just as few commitments on disarmament, pointing fingers in the other direction, and going so far as to denounce the TPNW as erroneous and populist. Similarly, China, France, and the U.K. avoided any mention of their legal obligations and prior commitments on disarmament.

Sierra Leone’s statement, as delivered by Francess Piagie Alghali, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, was one compelling counterpoint to the P5 statements:

The continued possession of nuclear weapons, and the continued endorsement of nuclear deterrence, perpetuates instability and insecurity for all nations. Instead of preventing their usage, nuclear deterrence policies have enabled conflict and heightened the risk of nuclear weapons use. The spectre of nuclear catastrophe looms over major conflicts in the regions such as Ukraine, the Middle East, and the Korean peninsula. The only effective way to prevent the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is through their total elimination. This necessitates rejecting the dangerous theories of nuclear deterrence. . . . 

In this context, Sierra Leone welcomes the entry into force of the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 22 January 2021. Sierra Leone is encouraged by the steady progress of the TPNW.  ⁠To date, 93 states have signed the TPNW, including Sierra Leone, and 70 have ratified or acceded to it. The Meetings of States Parties to the TPNW, including the most recent one in November 2023, have advanced an ambitious action plan toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons. My delegation believes that the TPNW serves as a complementary instrument to the NPT and will end a long impasse in multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. Sierra Leone therefore calls on all states to support and join the TPNW as a matter of urgency to advance the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

The meeting was also noteworthy for allowing at least some input from civil society. As Ms. Mukhatzhanova noted in her statement, “inclusion of diverse stakeholders and perspectives in these discussions provides for a deeper, more holistic understanding of the nuclear weapons problem and improves our collective ability to develop better solutions.”

ICAN also attended the UNSC meeting as an observer and met with delegates on the sidelines.

Ms. Mukhatzhanova called on the the Security Council, specifically the P5, 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.

H.E. Francess Piagie Alghali, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone, meets with Seth Shelden, ICAN’s United Nations Liaison, following the UNSC meeting.
Photo: Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations


The 18 March Security Council meeting illustrated that, today, the P5 has little vision for progress on nuclear disarmament, and intransigently retains policies of nuclear deterrence that inevitably preclude such progress. However, the meeting also was an opportunity for a remarkable number of states to denounce deterrence and embrace the TPNW, offering hope that the TPNW’s framework for disarmament is well under way.

Watch the full proceedings here.