A new Report by the WILPF project Reaching Critical Will was launched this month arguing that although the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has been important, its structural weakness are becoming more significant and it is time to address them. In particular its time to look at how we can move forward on the possession of nuclear weapons themselves and not just regulate who has access and on what terms.
Here is the report’s conclusion:
Forty-three years since the entry into force of the NPT, the international community is facing significant challenges around nuclear weapons. If not addressed, the core principles of the NPT and the existing norms constraining nuclear weapons could be weakened or even lost. There is an urgent need to reinforce the principles of the NPT by addressing the fundamental problems facing the treaty. A treaty banning nuclear weapons could be instrumental in this regard.
The preamble of the NPT is explicit in its objective of facilitating “the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons,” “the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles,” and the elimination of all nuclear weapon delivery systems. Yet the operative paragraph dealing with nuclear disarmament is comparatively vague.
Banning nuclear weapons would promote each of the goals and obligations as set forth by the NPT. It would make operational the Treaty’s goal of achieving a nuclear weapons free world and ensure that its non- proliferation aspirations are thoroughly supported.
It has been 68 years since nuclear weapons were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States. The continued possession of nuclear weapons undermines the existing non-proliferation regime and presents a significant risk that nuclear weapons will be used again one day. It is time to establish a legal standard against the use, possession and development of nuclear weapons. This will change the political and economic landscape that currently allows some states to remain nuclear-armed.
This is clearly a direct and strong challenge to the status quo around nuclear weapons where the nuclear armed state parties have been able to portray themselves as moral actors on the world stage without much pushback. In fact the report notes that the 5 nuclear armed state parties currently dominate NPT discussions thus ensuring that the focus remains on non-proliferation and not on possession and nuclear disarmament.
The report notes that nuclear-armed states are uncomfortable with any discussion about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons:
These discussions are challenging because they highlight how unconscionable it is for anyone to possess these weapons. By moving ahead with a ban on nuclear weapons, non-nuclear-armed states are setting the stage to change the status quo in discourse and elaborate an explicit legal standard prohibiting these weapons.
The nuclear-armed countries have so far faced no effective pressure to advance with their disarmament commitments within the NPT context or other UN fora, because they can veto or ignore decisions to which they object. Banning nuclear weapons without expecting their consent will remove a key obstacle to progress—the veto—and empower non-nuclear-armed states to make effective change.