As President Biden and his NATO counterparts focus on nuclear-armed Russia at their summit meeting on Monday, they may also face a different sort of challenge: growing support, or at least openness, within their own constituencies for the global treaty that bans nuclear weapons.
The accord outlaws the use, testing, development, production, possession and transfer of nuclear weapons and stationing them in a different country. It also outlines procedures for destroying stockpiles and enforcing its provisions.
The negotiations were boycotted by the United States and the world’s eight other nuclear-armed states — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and Russia — which have all said they will not join the treaty, describing it as misguided and naïve. And no NATO member has joined the treaty.
Nonetheless, an American-led effort begun under the Trump administration to dissuade other countries from joining has not reversed the treaty’s increased acceptance.
Timed a few days before the NATO meeting in Brussels, the report enumerated what it described as important signals of support or sympathy for the treaty among members in the past few years.
In Belgium, the government formed a committee to explore how the treaty could “give new impetus” to disarmament. In France, a parliamentary committee asked the government to “mitigate its criticism” of the treaty. In Italy, Parliament asked the government “to explore the possibility” of signing the treaty. And in Spain, the government made a political pledge to sign the treaty at some point.
There is nothing to prevent a NATO country from signing the treaty. But the bloc’s solidarity in opposing the accord appears to have weakened, emboldening disarmament advocates.
Promoters of the treaty have repeatedly said they do not expect to see nuclear-armed countries join anytime soon. Rather, they have said the treaty’s increased acceptance by other countries will create a shaming effect, similar to how treaties that banned chemical weapons, land mines and cluster munitions have drastically cut their use and stigmatized violators.