First Meeting of Ban Treaty (TPNW): Nuclear threats and other issues

States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) meet in Vienna, June 21-23, 2022.

Key issues for the meeting include how to strengthen the norm against nuclear weapons use, how to curtail the nuclear arms race and how to bring nuclear armed and allied states into the treaty.

States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) meet in Vienna June 21-23, 2022 for their first meeting since the treaty entered into force in January 2021.

This Meeting of States Parties (MSP) comes at a time of elevated nuclear threats/risks in Europe due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nuclear tensions in other regions such as North East Asia and South Asia, and a nuclear arms race including increased nuclear weapons budgets and ‘modernisation’ of nuclear weapons systems.

There are a number of issues for the MSP to address revolving mostly around how to impact on the policies of the nuclear-armed and allied states who currently remain outside the treaty. These include consideration on how to:

Some of these objectives could be advanced at the MSP in Vienna. Others could be advanced by parliaments of TPNW member countries adopting strong and effective national implementing legislation.

Strengthening norms against nuclear threat or use

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has elevated the risk of nuclear war to unthinkable levels. President Putin has accompanied the invasion with public tests of nuclear-capable missiles, along with a threat that if the West intervenes in his ‘military operation’ they might face a Russian response ‘the like of which they have never before experienced‘ (refering to a nuclear attack). In this context, a strong statement by the TPNW Conference against any threat or use of nuclear weapons is important.

The nuclear armed and allied states are not bound by the TPNW, as they are not parties to it. However, they are bound by other international law prohibiting the threat or use of nuclear weapons, as highlighted by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) in a working paper to the TPNW Conference.

The IALANA working paper calls on the TPNW Conference to include in their political declaration, a strong statement on the unacceptability and illegality of any threat to use nuclear weapons. A complementary working paper from the Japan Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms calls for a specific protest by the TPNW Conference against Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, as well as a general condemnation of any nuclear weapons use.

Curtailing the nuclear arms race

The nuclear armed countries are spending over $100 billion per year to develop, produce, modernise and deploy nuclear weapons. Much of this work is been done by corporations with vested interests in maintaining the nuclear arms race.

One way to help stop the nuclear arms race is to end investments (from around the world) in the nuclear weapons industry.

At least two States Parties to the TPNW - Lichtenstein and New Zealand - have already adopted policies to divest publicly managed funds (such as national banks, pension funds and public trust funds) from the nuclear weapons industry. Other countries that have ratified the TPNW should be encouraged to adopt similar nuclear weapons divestment policies.

For more information see Ban treaty opens the door to global nuclear divestment campaign or visit the Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign website.

National implementation measures

Article 5 of the TPNW requires States Parties to ‘adopt the necessary measures to implement its obligations under this Treaty.’ So far, very few of the ratifying states have adopted legislative measures to fully implement the Treaty. The Meeting of States Parties provides a good opportunity to promote effective implementing measures in order to establish strong national bans on nuclear weapons.

The New Zealand Nuclear-Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act provides probably the best model for comprehensive and effective national legislation banning nuclear weapons. The legislation was adopted in 1987, received the Future Policy Silver Award in 2013 and is highlighted in the parliamentary handbook on disarmament Assuring our Common Future as an example of effective policy.

The NZ legislation prohibits the development, possession, testing, stationing, transit, use or threat of nuclear weapons in New Zealand. It also prohibits anyone in New Zealand from from aiding or abetting such actions. And it establishes a Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control and a public advisory committee on disarmament and arms control (PACDAC) to advise the government on disarmament policy and to administer peace and disarmament education funds.

The prohibition on transit directly impacts on the deployment policies of the nuclear-weapon states, preventing port visits, overflights and landings in New Zealand of ships, submarines or planes that could be carrying nuclear weapons.

States parties to the TPNW are encouraged to adopt similar legislation in order to establish or strengthen domestic bans against nuclear weapons that could also impact on the policies and practices of the nuclear weapon states.

For further background, see Nuclear threats, common security and disarmament: A reflection on the 35th anniversary of New Zealand’s nuclear weapons ban. June 7, 2022.

Engaging with the nuclear armed and allied states

So far, none of the nuclear armed or allied states have joined the TPNW or given any indication that they are considering doing so. Some suggestions have been made on how to engage with nuclear armed and allied states in ways that might open the possibility of them joining the treaty. Below are two of these.

–  Protocols to the TPNW
NWC Reset: Frameworks for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World, an initative of Abolition 2000, has made some suggestions in a working paper submitted to the 2022 NPT Review Conference, one of which is the possibility of nuclear-weapon states negotiating protocols to the TPNW which would address issues and elements that would enable them to then join. These elements include verification, compliance, phased process for stockpile reductions and elimination, security issues and general governance.

– Temporality clause
A group of Dutch and international civil society organizations have suggested (in a submission to the UN Human Rights Council) that Netherlands informally re-introduce to the TPNW Conference the proposal they made to the 2017 TPNW negotiating conference for the treaty to include a temporality clause. If such a clause was adopted, it would make it possible for allied countries (NATO, Japan, South Korea and Australia) to join the TPNW in the short term by exempting themselves from TPNW obligations that are in conflict with their current collective security relationships (i.e. the acceptance of nuclear deterrence), as long as they also make a time-bound commitment to change these relationships in order to subscribe to all TPNW obligations