“The path is prepared, so now of course the real work starts,” said Austrian Ambassador Alexander Kmentt at the closing of the first Meeting of States Parties (1MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The conference room was full of positive energy when the final declaration was adopted. The declaration stated that “We have no illusions about the challenges and obstacles that lie before us […] But we move ahead with optimism and resolve.” The 1MSP adopted an Action Plan with 50 concrete actions to strengthen the legal norm prohibiting nuclear weapons, move toward their total elimination, and involve the participation of all stakeholders in its implementation. A new inclusive nuclear disarmament process has begun.
The 1MSP established three intersessional Working Groups to address (a) universalisation of the treaty; (b) victim assistance and environmental remediation; and (c) international organisations to deal with nuclear disarmament verification. States Parties also agreed to establish a Scientific Advisory Group to advise and report on developments related to nuclear weapons, humanitarian consequences, risks, and disarmament related issues. In addition, they agreed to work closely with the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), civil society and affected communities. This makes the TPNW unique in promoting inclusivity and cooperation among all stakeholders.
Kazakhstan and Kiribati, two States Parties with populations directly affected by nuclear testing, are leading the work relating to victim assistance as Co-Chairs of the intersessional Working Group. They will investigate a framework for international cooperation including the possibility of establishing an international trust fund for victim assistance. There is an opportunity for states not party to the treaty to also participate in victim assistance. The Japanese government is well positioned to contribute, drawing on its experiences of assisting hibakusha, atomic bomb survivors, and providing remediation of the environment contaminated by the Fukushima disaster. The Republic of Korea (ROK) and Australia should also commit to this work since thousands of Korean hibakusha, who came back from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are living in the ROK, and the effects of nuclear tests in Australia continue to affect many Indigenous people today.
Victim assistance is also where civil society has taken and continues to take a leading role in pursuing the TPNW’s goals. At the Vienna meeting, Japanese NGOs jointly presented recommendations drawing on the lessons of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Fukushima. Their key message was that the affected people must be at the center of the process of victim assistance and that this process should be open to all those who consider themselves nuclear victims.
The experiences of the hibakusha tells us that nuclear harm is lifelong and multidimensional with physical, social, and psychological impacts. Yet, this harm has been deliberately hidden. Those affected have had to fight for their rights, legally and politically. NGOs emphasised the goal of “leave no one behind”. Concern over survivors was incorporated into the Action Plan through its commitment to, “closely consult with, actively involve, and disseminate information to, affected communities at all stages of the victim assistance and environmental remediation process” (Action 19).
Verifying nuclear disarmament
Another important Working Group task where collaboration is necessary is disarmament verification. This is an issue relevant to the Asia Pacific as denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula needs credible international organisations that are sound and capable in political, technical, and financial terms to verify the process. A common question for states in the region is how this can be achieved. Governments of nuclear-armed and nuclear-free states should conduct discussions with non-governmental experts to tackle the disarmament verification issue. The Working Group’s efforts should be also supported by cooperating with existing verification initiatives such as International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) and the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Nuclear Disarmament Verification.
Bridging the TPNW and the NPT
The 1MSP also highlighted the complementarity of the TPNW with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Ireland and Thailand were appointed as informal facilitators to “further explore and articulate possible areas of tangible cooperation” between the TPNW and the NPT. States can and should cooperate constructively towards the common goal of nuclear disarmament. Here, it should be noted that Australia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway, all of which are relying on US nuclear deterrence, participated in the 1MSP as observers. So did Finland and Sweden, both states in the process of joining the NATO. The bridge between the TPNW and the NPT has been built and must be expanded. It was disappointing however that Japan, which identifies itself as a “bridge-builder” for nuclear disarmament, did not participate in the 1MSP even as an observer despite strong public support and calls from both ruling and opposition political parties. Japan should reconsider its position and participate in the Second Meeting of States Parties (2MSP) in late 2023.
The final declaration of the 1MSP highlighted “the fallacy of nuclear deterrence doctrines” and called on all nuclear-armed states, pending the total elimination of nuclear weapons, to “never use or threaten to use these weapons under any circumstances.” The main message from Vienna is that nuclear deterrence must be questioned in light of the humanitarian impact and risks. The Chair’s Summary of the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons conference, held before the 1MSP, cautioned of the “fragility of a security paradigm based on the theory of nuclear deterrence” noting that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the fact that nuclear weapons do not prevent major wars, but rather embolden nuclear-armed states to start wars.” The NPT Review Conference in August 2022 should also discuss the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and address the danger and fragility of nuclear deterrence.
The new TPNW process has just begun and already shown the world that it is an open, inclusive, and collaborative movement. This collaboration is being pursued through victim assistance, working with other treaties and regimes, and examining the risks of nuclear deterrence, among other areas. States that are not party to the treaty should cease attacking or neglecting the TPNW and instead start to cooperate constructively. This way, states both inside and outside of the TPNW can find common ground to move forward. The TPNW is not an exclusive movement. The door is open to all, for the sake of promoting and preserving our common humanity.
About the Author
Kawasaki Akira is a member of the Executive Committee of Peace Boat and sitting President and International Steering Group member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Mr Kawasaki Akira served as Secretary-General of Peace Depot (2000-2002) and joined Peace Boat in 2003. Since 2008, he coordinates the “Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World: Peace Boat Hibakusha Project,” in which atomic-bomb survivors travel around the world to raise public awareness on nuclear dangers. In 2009-2010, he served as an NGO Advisor to the Co-Chairs of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND). Kawasaki joined the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for Peace Boat in 2010 and served as Co-chair (2012-2014), leading the campaign to be awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. From 2021, he serves as President of the Swiss-registered association of ICAN. As a Co-Chair of the Japan NGO Network for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, he has promoted dialogue on nuclear policy between the Japanese government, parliamentarians and civil society organizations. Kawasaki is a board member of the Peace Studies Association of Japan and lectures at Keisen University. He was awarded the 33rd Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Prize by Hiroshima Peace Center in 2021.
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