Nuclear Ban Daily, Vol. 3, No. 4

1MSP Stands Strong Against the Bomb
23 June 2022

By Ray Acheson

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On the final day of the First Meeting of States Parties (1MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), states parties adopted a strong Declaration and Action Plan. Both documents put nuclear-armed states firmly on notice: their actions and policies are unacceptable, immoral, and illegal, and plans are being made for both the elimination of their arsenals and reparative justice for the harms they have caused. It’s time for the possessors of these heinous weapons to renounce their politics of violence and join the majority of the international community in seeking peace through cooperation and disarmament.

Disarmament in action

Compared to many other UN outcome documents, the Declaration is clear in what it stands for. It speaks stridently against nuclear weapons, describing them as being used to coerce, intimidate, and heighten tensions. “This highlights now more than ever the fallacy of nuclear deterrence doctrines, which are based and rely on the threat of the actual use of nuclear weapons and, hence, the risks of the destruction of countless lives, of societies, of nations, and of inflicting global catastrophic consequences.” The Declaration also expresses alarm and dismay “by threats to use nuclear weapons and increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric.” States parties “condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.” 

The Action Plan provides a clear path forward for collective against nuclear weapons. Far from being an aspirational paper, it is a roadmap designed by states parties in partnership with survivors, impacted communities, civil society, and international organisations, consisting of practical steps to implement the TPNW. The actions include starting work on a trust fund to support people harmed by the impact of nuclear explosions, establishing a scientific advisory board, setting a ten-year deadline for destruction of nuclear weapons, getting more countries to join the TPNW, and more.

Gender, intersectionality, and representation

Neither document is perfect, of course. The Declaration, for example, reinforces a gender binary, stressing “the importance of the equal, full and effective participation of both women and men in nuclear disarmament diplomacy.” It does not recognise other gender identities, nor does it advance the intersectional approach to disarmament increasingly taken up by many activists, who recognise overlapping oppressions and experiences based on gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, and more.

That said, the Action Plan commits states parties to meet their obligations in the TPNW’s “established spirit of cooperation, inclusivity and transparency, and to integrate gender considerations in across the work of the Treaty’s implementation,” and to facilitate “the active participation of relevant stakeholders, and take into account the different needs of people in affected communities and indigenous people and ensure strong ownership by all States Parties.” The Action Plan contains an additional four commitments (47–50) on the operationalisation of the TPNW’s gender provisions, including to establish a Gender Focal Point, and to develop guidelines for ensuring age- and gender-sensitive victim assistance and for integrating gender perspectives in international cooperation and assistance.

The power of process 

Of equal importance to the outcomes of this meeting is its process. While no meeting hosted in the global north will meet the requirements of accessibility—due to visa restrictions, costly and lengthy travel, as well as the contemporary challenges of COVID-19 and climate change—this conference was nevertheless one of the most inclusive intergovernmental nuclear disarmament meetings ever held. Governmental representation from the treaty’s membership across the world, especially from the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Africa, was very strong. Activists and academics in attendance were overwhelmingly from the global north, but survivors and affected communities and civil society groups from the global south participated more meaningfully and in stronger numbers than in other nuclear treaty body meeting.

Most importantly, the decisions and actions adopted by 1MSP are rooted in the lived experience of those who know firsthand the impacts of nuclear weapons. The Action Plan underscores the important principle of “nothing about us, without us” and ensures those most affected will be most involved moving ahead with the implementation of the positive obligations. In his closing remarks, 1MSP President Ambassador Alexander Kmentt said, “Thank you to the survivors and affected communities, who have started a new standard of working together to advance our goals.”

Collaboration and solidarity

This standard will hopefully propagate out from the 1MSP, beyond its states parties and signatories and into the realm of the nuclear-armed and nuclear-supportive states. A collaborative approach is essential in relation to affected communities, but also in relation to each other. The polarisation around this treaty, which has been manufactured by those who perceive political or economic benefits from nuclear violence, must end.

The Declaration “deplore[d] the actions of some nuclear-armed states to discourage non-nuclear-armed states from joining the Treaty” and suggested “that the energy and resources of these states would be better directed to making concrete progress towards nuclear disarmament.” There is much work to be done, as evidenced by the Action Plan, and there is even more to come. Some recommendations from ICAN and other civil society, survivor, and academic groups did not make it into the plan; there will certainly be more suggestions from governments as well as we move forward with implementation. All states standing outside this treaty should join in this work, to build a shared world without nuclear weapons.

“We have no illusions about the challenges and obstacles that lie before us in realizing the aims of this Treaty,” said the Declaration in its closing paragraph. “But we move ahead with optimism and resolve. In the face of the catastrophic risks posed by nuclear weapons and in the interest of the very survival of humanity, we cannot do otherwise. We will take every path that is open to us, and work persistently to open those that are still closed. We will not rest until the last state has joined the Treaty, the last warhead has been dismantled and destroyed and nuclear weapons have been totally eliminated from the Earth.”

Addressing the broader nuclear burden

Of course, in line with the TPNW’s positive obligations, the work of states parties must even continue past the elimination of nuclear bombs. As Diné activist Janine Yazzie, who among other things is coordinating the protocols of the Nuclear Truth Project, said during a side event on positive obligations:

The catastrophic impacts of nuclear related activities do not start nor end with the detonation of a bomb, nor does the mass murder end with the aftermath of the impacts of the blast. No, the mass murder from these industries, and those responsible for creating, investing and protecting them, continues as long as the devastation to the health of our Peoples and our environment continues. As long as our waters are undrinkable, our soil is contaminated and our babies are being born with uranium in their bodies.

Similarly, in a recent letter to the Australian prime minister and parliament, members of the Yankunytjatjara, Kokotha, Adnyamathanha, Dieri, and Kuyani peoples and civil society noted that, “Far from being a historical event, we are clear that the tests themselves were not the only damage. The waste left behind and the on-going complications and fears from fallout and contamination, and the mental scares, are still strongly felt in Aboriginal communities across the regions where testing took place.”

The TPNW is a treaty that aims to stop nuclear threats, stop nuclear arms races, and stop nuclear weapons. But it is also a treaty that aims not just at disarmament, but at abolition. This means it aspires to justice, that it aspires to not just dismantle bombs but to build a world that is safer for all, in solidarity with all. In this sense, the TPNW is well-suited to address these harms and legacies, if its states parties have the courage to do so.

Constructing a community

This first meeting of states parties was an indication that it is possible for the TPNW to achieve its goals. This is why people will travel around the world to help build the plan for its implementation, and it is why we will all put our energy and passion into making sure it is implemented fully and effectively.

Seeing the treaty at work attracts other states to join. During 1MSP, eight countries announced they are working to ratify the TPNW: Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nepal, and Niger. We know others have internal processes underway. Witnessing the treaty’s success also inspires states to step up to host further gatherings. Mexico will be the president of 2MSP, which it will hold from 27 November to 1 December 2023 at UN Headquarters in New York. Kazakhstan will preside over 3MSP.

We are not just building a treaty, we are building a community. A community of actors who understand the reality of nuclear weapons and who have the courage to renounce them and invest in a better world. All are welcome. Our future depends on it.

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