How to move from a legal prohibition, that of the TPNW, to an effective, total, and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons (1)

[Achieving] this from the progress emerged in the 2nd Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (2))

1. Introduction

The question raised in the title is significant since, despite certain notable successes of the TPNW, following its adoption on 07/17/2017 and its entry into force on 02/22/2021, none of the States equipped with nuclear weapons, nor their allies, has so far adhered to this treaty.

Let us first recall, in brief, the main successes of the TPNW to date:
There are already 93 signatory states, and 70 states that have [signed it] also ratified it.

Additionally, hundreds of cities around the world including New York, Washington DC, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Oslo, Helsinki, Berlin, Cologne, Bern, Geneva, Sydney, Melbourne , Milano, Torino, Bologna, Padua, etc., called on their governments to join the TPNW and in France 76 cities, including Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Montpellier, Tours and Besançon, called on the French government to join the TPNW .

On the other hand, the strong stigmatization of nuclear weapons on the part of the TPNW has induced more than a hundred (currently 109) financing agencies in the world (banks, including Deutsche Bank, among the most important pension funds, etc.) to reduce or even completely stop (around half) the financing of nuclear weapons. (3)

2. The 2nd Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW

Let us now see the main advances that emerged in the 2nd Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW:

The results of the 1st Meeting of States Parties, in June 2022, in particular the ‘Vienna Action Plan’ (4), constitute a solid basis on which further progress has been made during the intersessional period. Indeed, the intersessional meetings have advanced the collaborative approach of this Treaty, thanks to the commitment of States, civil society, and academia to implement the provisions of the Treaty. The intersessional discussions addressed some of the most salient topics in nuclear disarmament – both in the context of the TPNW and elsewhere. These include verification of nuclear disarmament, victim assistance and environmental reparation, universalization of the TPNW, its complementarity with the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons NPT and other disarmament treaties, as well as gender-related aspects of nuclear disarmament. A group of 23 parliamentarians from 14 countries actively contributed to awareness-raising and support work for the TPNW at different levels in Europe. The report (5) of the Scientific Advisory Group (established a year ago) on the state and developments of nuclear weapons, the risks linked to their existence, their potential humanitarian consequences, and on nuclear disarmament, appeared as a document important for all parties involved. In particular, a subject that has been subjected to very critical analysis is that of “nuclear deterrence”.

The creation of this scientific group therefore represents a major initiative of these meetings of the States parties to the TPNW.

Another significant event is that several non-party States attended this meeting as observers. This is an important step towards an authentic dialogue on nuclear disarmament, inclusive and transcending divisions: a real ‘bridge’ between States, sometimes quite distant a priori.

Some of these non-Party States are members of NATO (Germany, Belgium, and Norway): they look with interest to the TPNW and they are even ready to collaborate on certain points of the Treaty, and in particular on assistance to the victims and the reparation of the environment, but they consider themselves unable to join the TPNW because of the ‘rules’ of NATO of which they are part (especially Germany and Belgium which host nuclear bombs of the USA on their soil!)

Between now and the next Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, which will take place in New York from March 3 to 7, 2025 under the presidency of Kazakhstan, the participants in this 2nd Meeting are committed to continuing and increasing their activities on the momentum of the initiatives in progress.

Now here are some more personal considerations and suggestions…

3. What strategy for the medium and long term?

As we have seen, countries such as Germany, Belgium, and Norway consider that their membership in NATO constitutes an obstacle to their possible membership of the TPNW. On the other hand, Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine, and indirectly towards the “West”, constitutes a major reason for these countries to remain in NATO.

It follows that the only way to resolve this situation would be to radically change the nature of the relationship between the West and Russia. In short: moving from a ‘culture of the enemy’ (lose-lose) to a ‘culture of cooperation’ (win-win).

A fanciful utopia? Let’s look a little at the side of History:

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union (a major trauma and deep humiliation for Russia and particularly, subsequently, for its President Putin), in the period 1992-2003 there was a significant rapprochement between Russia and the the West, to the point that a process had been initiated to allow Russia to join NATO, which would then obviously have redefined its objectives.

An important role in this context was that of Evgenij Primakov – Boris Yeltsin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs – who supported multipolar geopolitics. But… one night (in 1999) Primakov was flying over the Atlantic Ocean towards Washington: as soon as he received the message that NATO had started bombing Belgrade, he immediately ordered the pilot to turn around and return to Moscow.

The rest is known: between 2004 and 2020, NATO grew from 16 to 30 member countries, deploying various weapons in Poland, Romania and the Baltic States, bordering Russia.

Additionally, at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, the Allies stated that “Georgia and Ukraine may join NATO in the future.”

Now all this was obviously perceived by Russia as a betrayal of the promises made by Western leaders (George Bush Sr., Kohl, Mitterrand, Mrs Thatcher and Manfred Wörner, Secretary General of NATO) in the 1990s that NATO could not extend, “not even an inch” to the east of reunited Germany, as President George Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, had said.

We could therefore speak of a ‘current need to renew a dialogue interrupted around twenty years ago’.

So what should we do? Try to achieve now, in much more difficult conditions, what was not done in the 1990s, when the geopolitical context was much more favorable,

That is to say: open negotiations with Russia on “border problems” based on the status of populations of Russian origin in Eastern countries, notably in Ukraine, Moldova, and the three Baltic countries, which constitute so many “time bombs”, the first of which has already exploded in Ukraine.

For example, in Estonia and Latvia about 1/3 of the population is of Russian origin, and more than half of them are deprived of any nationality!!

However, being able to establish peaceful and constructive relations between Russia and the rest of Europe would also have a positive effect on the nuclear disarmament process, although, obviously, not sufficient for effective and general disarmament.

To do this, all 9 countries holding nuclear weapons will have to (also with their allies) “gradually arrive at sitting at the same negotiating table”, having realized that the possession of nuclear weapons constitutes an unacceptable risk, first of all for themselves.

While it is up to these states to take this initiative, it is also up to us, civil society, to help them achieve such awareness.

Which of the nuclear-weapon states could be the initiator of such a process? We might think of China, which, despite its totalitarian regime, has adopted a relatively open attitude towards the process that led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and which is the only nuclear-weapon state to have completely excluded from its doctrine any form of ‘first’ nuclear strike.

As a first step, China could propose the creation of a Working Group, made up of experts from the 9 nuclear-weapon countries (a WG9) with the specific mission of formulating a realistic ‘road map’ for coordinated multilateral disarmament, which would serve a basis for negotiations between the 9 nuclear-weapon states and their allies.

Then the universal membership in the TPNW, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, should no longer encounter any significant obstacles.

By way of conclusion, we can recall here what Mikhail Gorbachev maintained: “If a State wants to be secure, it must first contribute to ensuring the security of all other States”: however, ‘nuclear deterrence’ does exactly the opposite!


(1) See also the Working Paper ‘A strategy to move from the legal prohibition to an effective, total and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons’ g_of_States_Parties_(2023)/TPNW.MSP_.2023.NGO_.14.pdf

(2) See the articles by Sandro Ciani (‘Mondo senza guerre e senza violenza’) following this Meeting on the International Press Agency ‘Pressenza’, as well as the Final Declaration of this 2nd Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW: g_of_States_Parties_(2023)/TPNW.MSP_.2023.CRP_.4.Rev_.1_revised_draft_dec.pdf

(3) The ‘Vienna Action Plan’ at the 1st Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW on-Plan-new.pdf

(4) See the Report ‘Moving Away from Mass Destruction’ (July 2023) g_Away_FINAL_digi_Single_Page.pdf

(5) Report of the Scientific Advisory Group on the status and developments regarding nuclear weapons, nuclear weapon risks, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament and related issues

Report of the Scientific Advisory Group on its annual activities

(Translator’s note: TIAN is TPNW in French. The article was originally written in French)