By Kylie Jones, PSR Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program Summer Intern
This week, over 80 delegations — including both States Parties and Observers — attended the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (1MSP). Chaired by 1MSP President Alexander Kmentt of Austria, the historic gathering saw a renewed interest in denouncing nuclear deterrence, augmented representation of survivors and affected communities from the global south, and robust civil society participation. After three days of inspired debate, the 1MSP concluded with a revolutionary Vienna Declaration and Action Plan, the strongest multilateral condemnation of nuclear weapons ever.
Over the course of three days in Vienna, the 1MSP provided a platform for compelling statements deploring the dangerous reality of a world ruled by nuclear deterrence. United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened his speech with a powerful proclamation, denouncing nuclear weapons as a “global scourge” and “deadly reminder of countries’ inability to solve problems through dialogue and collaboration.”
Especially notable was the emphasis on the health risks associated with nuclear weapons, a theme that has characterized the TPNW as a departure from past non-proliferation efforts since its inception. Ira Helfand, MD, who serves on the Board of Directors of PSR and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), as well as on the International Steering Group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), reflected on the relevance of health concerns that he witnessed at the discussions: “The Meeting was grounded in the medical and other scientific data about the catastrophic effects that will result from the use of these weapons and a clear understanding that we must end the existential threat they pose.”
The 1MSP did not just consist of empty vows, though, with the States Parties adopting an Action Plan by consensus. The Action Plan includes a roadmap of actionable steps toward disarmament, representing the synthesis of proposals by States Parties, nuclear survivors, civil society, and international organizations. “Against the frequently referenced backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Helfand continues, “the First Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW concluded with both a powerful condemnation of threats to use nuclear weapons, and a strong commitment to continue working until all nuclear weapons are eliminated from the planet.” In addition to the Action Plan, eight countries announced at the 1MSP that they are working toward ratifying the TPNW: Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nepal, and Niger.
Perhaps most interesting was the attendance of several NATO member states as observers, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. While Germany noted its belief that “supporters and skeptics of the TPNW can work shoulder to shoulder,” other observer states held a more critical position. Norway noted the TPNW’s incompatibility with its NATO obligations, saying it stands “fully behind NATO’s nuclear posture.” Another Observer, Sweden, particularly critiqued how the treaty relates to nuclear weapon states. In general, the NATO members in attendance emphasized the role of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and other existing arms control agreements like the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as alternatives to supporting the TPNW.
Despite the steady criticism of the TPNW from NATO and other nuclear states, the concluding Vienna Declaration remained hopeful. “We have no illusions about the challenges and obstacles that lie before us in realizing the aims of this Treaty,” the Declaration’s final paragraph reads, “But we move ahead with optimism and resolve.”
The TPNW also saw growing support at home in the United States. On June 22, U.S. Representative Jim McGovern hosted a press conference on Capitol Hill in support of the Treaty and the 1MSP. The event was livestreamed directly to the 1MSP as Representative McGovern was joined by several other Members of Congress, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ilhan Omar, Earl Blumenauer, and Don Beyer. In the week of June 13, Reps. McGovern and Blumenauer re-introduced in the House of Representatives H.Res. 1185, which expresses support for the TPNW and for the policy positions of Back from the Brink.
While it is clear that at the conclusion of the 1MSP many questions linger, such as how to meaningfully engage nuclear weapon states and their deterrence-dependent allies on paths to disarmament, the 1MSP undoubtedly marked a historic culmination of the growing coalition behind the nuclear ban.