For those of us who have been part of the anti-nuclear movement, this moment in history is one filled with possibilities.
On January 22, 2021, the world will take a major step toward global nuclear disarmament when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) enters effect. This is one step closer to realizing the vision the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Hibakusha) have spoken about all over the world. They have never given up their efforts to prevent another collision between humans and nuclear weapons and end every talk with “No More Hibakusha, No More Hiroshimas and No More Nagasakis.” Their message of preventing further nuclear catastrophe is now recognized and embodied in this groundbreaking new Treaty. Anti-nuclear organizing efforts need to honor the determination, commitment and vision of Hibakusha, even if achieving the end goal of nuclear abolition requires taking just one step at a time.
The Road to the TPNW
An early significant development was the conclusion of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), negotiated throughout the 1960s and entering force in 1970. Its aims were to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons and commit those states already in possession of such weapons to work toward disarmament. While the NPT has proved largely effective on the nonproliferation front, its disarmament achievements have been unsatisfactory, as nuclear weapon states (NWS) have continuously failed to pursue “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race… and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament” as the NPT requires them to do (Article VI).
Around this same time in 2014, the New Agenda Coalition proposed the idea of a convention banning nuclear weapons to serve as an “effective measure” implementing Article VI.. Negotiations began in 2016 and, in summer 2017, 122 nations came together in support of the historic TPNW. Garnering its 50th ratification in late October 2020, the TPNW is now set to enter force on January 22, 2021 and will round out the chemical weapons and biological weapons conventions in banning the last outstanding weapon of mass destruction.
The Road Ahead—Obstacles to Overcome
Not unexpectedly, the NWS have maintained firm opposition to the TPNW, with the U.S. casting it as an illegitimate and “dangerous” challenger to the NPT. It assertsthat the TPNW fails to recognize the strategic context in which nuclear weapon states find themselves and that it “is and will remain divisive in the international community,” threatening the global nonproliferation regime by permitting “forum-shopping” opportunities for states seeking to skirt the NPT’s strict International Atomic Energy Agency-overseen (IAEA) verification protocols.
For those of us who have been part of the anti-nuclear movement, this moment in history is one filled with possibilities. When the majority of the world’s peoples feel the need to mobilize and, once and for all, put a sense of urgency behind the need to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons, it feels like a “now or never” moment. We must all take advantage of this moment to push for greater TPNW awareness. Those of us who live in the NWS have a unique responsibility to move our governments to understand that, once the TPNW becomes law, mere possession of nuclear weapons, let alone “upgrading and modernizing them” to the tune of trillions of dollars, will be understood as illegal by a growing number of the world’s nations.
Everything must be done to apply concerted pressure on NWS governments. In the U.S., calls, e-mails and letters to our Senators should be issued, urging them to acknowledge the Treaty and its validity and value. Discontent with the allocation of enormous tax-payer dollars to gratuitously dangerous nuclear arsenal modernization should also be emphasized.
At the international level, the NNWS must insist on formal acknowledgement of the TPNW as a condition for their consent to any eventual NPT RevCon final documents. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and other NGOs should also continue their public relations campaigns in NWS ally states to pressure domestic governments to recognize the TPNW as valid international law.