Nuclear Ban Daily, Vol. 3, No. 2

Lighting a path to nuclear abolition at 1MSP
21 June 2022

By Ray Acheson

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Tuesday, 21 June 2022 marked the first day of the First Meeting of States Parties to the first treaty that categorically outlaws nuclear weapons. It was an historic day, one that drew hundreds of government representatives, activists, academics, and survivors to Vienna, with many more following along remotely over webcast. The attention paid to this meeting, of course, is not just about its novelty, but about the contributions that more and more people are realising the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) can make to promoting peace in a world awash in war.

The TPNW’s states parties, signatories, and supporters know that this instrument is a key multilateral tool for confronting the threats and risks posed by nuclear weapons. Many speakers during the opening high-level session and the general debate remarked upon the violence and despair of this moment in history. The nuclear-armed states are making threats to use nuclear weapons while expanding their arsenals and building new delivery systems, spending billions of dollars on weapons of genocide while people around the world struggle to survive fires and floods, poverty and famine, oppression and inequality. Nuclear weapons have been used to provide an existentially-threatening cover for illegal invasions and occupations of other countries—most recently by Russia in Ukraine, but also by the United States, Israel, and other nuclear-armed states. Nuclear weapons are tools of aggression and dominance, not peace or security.

The theories of “nuclear deterrence” do not preserve peace, as South Africa’s Deputy Minister Alvin Botes said. Calling on all nuclear-armed and nuclear-supportive governments to “free themselves” from policies of destruction and work for nuclear abolition, he argued that the current security environment allows no room for procrastination. Jamaica’s representative likewise argued that while the nuclear-armed states elevate their bombs as symbols of power and prestige, it’s imperative that these archaic approaches must be dismantled. “Seeking, possessing, or threatening to use nuclear weapons must become a badge of shame,” proclaimed Jamaica, “and a demonstration of worst disregard of humanity possible.”

As the Fourth Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on 20 June showcased, the grave risks, threats, and consequences of nuclear weapons render these weapons inhumane, immoral, and illegal. But as many states raised during the opening day of 1MSP, we don’t just face nuclear violence alone. The ravages of climate change compound the impacts of their testing and their use. Rising “geopolitical tensions” and “great power competition” among those possessing nuclear weapons are completely out of step with the reality of our current world. The nuclear-armed states’ mutually assured violence is putting the entire planet in peril: not just through the possible use of nuclear weapons, but also in relation to wasted resources.

As Bangladesh said, “Arms races do not save lives.” The refusal to collaborate to contend with real global challenges—challenges that are not about who has more power or territory, but about how we can collectively survive, about how we can share and be in solidarity in one another.

These broader concerns are part of the driving force behind the TPNW. This is a treaty by the majority, for the majority. It is a treaty meant to serve all those who see nuclear weapons not as security, but as a death sentence. This is not a treaty that divides the world into nuclear haves and have-nots; it’s a treaty that puts all states on equal footing to protect everyone. Instead of building more and more weapons with the “firepower to end life as we know it, as New Zealand’s Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Philip Twyford put it, those participating in 1MSP are keen to instead build a world free of these weapons of terror.

The “ray of hope” offered by the TPNW, as the president of 1MSP Ambassador Alexander Kmentt said in his opening remarks, is drawing more and more states towards it. Three more countries ratified the treaty on Monday, and more are on the way. More and more states affiliated with nuclear alliances are participating as observers to this meeting.

Amidst the dark skies, the TPNW lights a path forward. A path to peace, through disarmament and demilitarisation, through collaboration and collective action. As the work of 1MSP gets underway, participants will brighten this light even further, filling out the landscape with an action plan to guide the treaty’s implementation. In a world where dialogue and cooperation are nearly nonexistent among the so-called powerful states, it is up to us to shape our shared future. As Ireland said during the general debate, “Now is the time for clarity and courage. Every state, every person, has a vital stake in nuclear disarmament.”

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