Europe would face the greatest level of destruction in the event of a nuclear conflict
By Erkki Tuomioja
In July 2017, an overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly adopted a landmark global agreement to ban nuclear weapons, known as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Ratification by the fiftieth country took place this year, on the day the United Nations celebrated its 75th anniversary. The treaty will now enter into force on January 22. Those countries that have ratified the treaty include Austria, Ireland, and Malta – three member states of the European Union – and it is to be hoped that others in Europe will soon follow.
Finland did not participate in the negotiations leading up to the treaty, and it did not vote for it. Public opinion is, however, in favour of the treaty, with one poll showing that 84 per cent of Finns would support signing up. Three parties in Finland’s coalition government also want the country to join. Foreign ministry officials have argued in hearings of the Finnish parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee that joining would weaken the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – a faulty reasoning that the Committee unanimously rejected.
It is precisely the frustration at the lack of progress with nuclear disarmament – to which the nuclear weapons states committed themselves in the grand bargain to get the non-nuclear countries to accept the NPT treaty signed in 1968 – that gave decisive impetus to the prohibition treaty. Obviously, without the participation of the nuclear weapons states, not one nuclear weapon will be dismantled. But without pressure from the non-nuclear weapons states in the form of this treaty, neither will they engage in serious efforts at disarmament. Nuclear weapons states will instead continue the present trend of modernising existing and developing new nuclear weapons systems.
Support in NATO countries for doing away with all weapons of mass destruction is growing, as evidenced by the signatories to the statement above. This is important because one argument made in Finland and Sweden, although it is rarely made in public, for opposing joining the prohibition treaty is the displeasure the US would show at such a step, which could hinder the deepening of these countries’ partnership relations with NATO. Given the growing demand in non-nuclear NATO countries to sign the treaty this is just as spurious as the NPT argument against joining.