The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), also known as the Nuclear Ban Treaty, has reached 50 ratifications and will enter into force on January 22, 2021! This is an historic milestone for a treaty which was only adopted three years ago. While the TPNW will not get rid of nuclear weapons any time soon, it will continue to build a groundswell which stigmatises their possession, acquisition, and the complicity of states to benefit from the misperception that nuclear weapons provide security, stability, and peace.
Entry into force essentially means that states parties will have to implement and abide by new legal prohibitions and obligations under the TPNW which include not developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits any deployment of nuclear weapons on national territory or assisting any state in prohibitive activities. Countries that are yet to join, especially nuclear armed states, will now begin to feel its normative impacts. It will make it increasingly politically awkward for nuclear umbrella states to also be seen to derive their security from a weapon which has been outlawed by an increasing number of countries.
It is expected that over time more and more financial institutions and companies will begin to pull their investments from weapons-producing or contributing entities. In a world built on economic connectedness, this emerging norm could have a significant effect on the economy and financial viability of the nuclear weapons industry, estimated at $72 billion (USD) globally. In New Zealand, we have already seen this with our state-owned KiwiBank and superannuation fund divesting from any investments linked, directly or indirectly, to such companies.
Aotearoa/New Zealand is one of only 6 small Western nations who have ratified the treaty - Ireland, Austria, San Marino, Malta, and the Vatican City. Large numbers of Latin American, African, South East Asian, and Pacific countries make up the rest. The prevalence of small states and nations from the Global South demonstrates the hegemony of nuclear deterrence among the nuclear armed states and their allies. The TPNW states parties, despite their size and relative influence, stand together in defiance of the belief that nuclear weapons make the world a safer, more secure place. The TPNW shows that it is precisely the continued existence of nuclear weapons which threatens global peace and security by holding citizens hostage to the threat of annihilation. It also reaffirms the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion which unanimously agreed that, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
The TPNW’s entry into force demonstrates the power of small states to resist the pressure and coercion of larger powers, just as Aotearoa/New Zealand did when it became the first Western-allied country to declare itself Nuclear Free in 1987. The actions of small states, and some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, have been vindicated by the TPNW and the milestone on January 22, 2021 will begin a new chapter on the long, and sometimes rocky, road to a world free from nuclear weapons. Watch this space! For more on the TPNW and its implications, check out these two great articles from Reaching Critical Will and The Guardian.
by Marcus Coll