Vienna treaty meeting challenges nuclear possession, commits to practical action
By Elizabeth Minor
At the first Meeting of States Parties (MSP) of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in June, states agreed a political Declaration, a 50-point Action Plan, and to create a scientific advisory group and intersessional work structure.
These outcomes, and the format and content of the conference, marked a strong start for the TPNW’s practical implementation and the development of its normative impact.
In the Declaration and statements to the conference, states parties condemned nuclear threats, challenging the behaviour and justifications of nuclear weapons possession offered by nuclear-armed states and their supporters. Drawing attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons and framing their similarity to other prohibited weapons and weapons of mass destruction, states parties and others at the conference sought to continue to challenge the equation of nuclear weapons with security and stability – and to erode the legitimacy of their possession. In the MSP’s Declaration, states parties expressed their commitment to, rather, build international stigma based on these weapons’ catastrophic humanitarian consequences and risks, as the initiative for the TPNW has aimed to do. This will be crucial to creating the conditions for these weapons’ elimination – and constitutes a key role of the treaty and its states parties.
In the Action Plan, states parties made a series of practical commitments on implementing the obligations contained in the TPNW, including on universalisation, which states made a priority, in recognition of the TPNW’s normative role.
Among other areas, states also made a series of practical commitments on implementing Articles 6 and 7 on victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance that constitute a strong start in this area of the treaty, which is also crucial to the TPNW’s practical impact and normative role. The importance of this area of the treaty, and the contribution it should make for affected communities and to the success of the TPNW as a framework was recognised by states at the conference, including in high level statements from ministers from Kazakhstan and New Zealand. States established a framework for implementation including: initial actions for affected states to undertake assessments and commence national plans; commitments to international cooperation and assistance; and an agenda for intersessional discussion work, including regarding a possible international trust fund, and discussions of reporting guidelines and formats and gender-sensitivity in implementation. Crucially, states parties also committed to the inclusion of a range of stakeholders and to work closely with affected communities at all stages of implementation. The action points on Articles 6 and 7 followed extensive consultation with states and civil society by Kiribati and Kazakhstan, which Article 36 contributed to.
There were signs at the MSP that some states that are not party to the TPNW, but have humanitarian, environmental and development priorities and generally contribute resources and assistance to such initiatives, might find engaging with work to address nuclear legacies an area for collaboration and bridge building with states parties to the TPNW. Statements by countries such as Switzerland and Germany, for example, showed that this could be a promising area for constructive engagement.
TPNW states parties also adopted unprecedented actions in the Action Plan on ensuring inclusivity in the work of the treaty – including commitments to involve Indigenous peoples and youth – and to gender-sensitivity. In positive contrast to many international discussions on nuclear weapons, the meeting foregrounded collaboration between states and civil society and the expertise of affected communities. As well as giving testimony – which has been key to developing states’ understandings of the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons, and to the development of the TPNW – survivors and affected community organisations also, crucially, contributed to policy discussions and advocacy at and in the runup to the MSP. This was most visible in relation to the TPNW’s articles 6 and 7 on victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance. Developing inclusive and equitable ways of working to address the rights and needs of affected communities will be an important task for TPNW implementation in the years ahead: the efforts made at the MSP should represent a promising start.
Listen to our podcast episode ‘Key developments from the TPNW first meeting of states parties’ here or wherever you get your podcasts.
Featured image: A survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki speaks to media at ICAN’s Nuclear Ban Forum, held before the MSP © ICAN/Alexander Papis