If the first meeting of the states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in January 2022 had taken place as scheduled after the treaty was adopted on July 7, 2017, at the United Nations and entered into force on Jan. 22 2021, the atmosphere would have been “business as usual.” War in Europe seemed inconceivable. Even mentioning the deployment of nuclear weapons would have seemed absurd.
But now, in the midst of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine where the devastating toll in Ukraine is clear for the world to see, the fact that the TPNW’s first meeting of states parties took place on June 21 to 23 in Vienna was a testament to the success of the meeting. There was great enthusiasm and great determination to pursue a common cause in the banning of nuclear weapons in spite of the reality that nuclear armed states have not budged.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pronouncement that Russia’s nuclear forces were on high alert jolted the international community to the prospect of nuclear weapons use. It also suggested that defeat on the conventional battlefield in Ukraine was not on Putin’s agenda. He would ― and could ― go to the extreme end of catastrophic nuclear destruction. It is madness in the making.
The Vienna meeting, which brought together over 49 states as participants that have ratified the treaty, and 34 states as observers, and many representatives of 85 concerned NGOs, cannot take place in isolation or be shielded from the reality of the war in Ukraine and Russian nuclear saber rattling.
The conflict highlights the real dangers posed by nuclear weapons and how a member of the U.N. Security Council can easily become an irresponsible nuclear weapon state. It underlines the need for a treaty banning the possession and use of nuclear weapons.
The situation in Ukraine also shows us how diplomacy can fail. With each side entrenched, the result was war. Yet there were issues and demands that could have gone to the negotiating table. The failure of diplomacy in this case shows that the international community cannot take peace for granted. We cannot be complacent and carry on with business as usual. Maintaining the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and working toward nuclear disarmament requires determination and hard work.
Negotiating and upholding treaties such as the TPNW and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) needs commitment to shared peace and security. Diplomacy, not war, must remain our priority. Diplomacy requires the relentless effort to seek peace through dialogue with a spirit of compromise and mutual accommodation along with concern for our common humanity.
For the ban to prohibit nuclear weapons to eventually succeed, citizens must also play their part. They need to engage with the issues and pressure their national governments to give up nuclear weapons, to stop the reliance on nuclear deterrence and policies that support nuclear weapons. The push to eliminate nuclear weapons must come from both governments and the people they serve.
The task of the states parties to the TPNW and non-governmental organizations working on nuclear disarmament is to also raise awareness and educate publics of the very real and present danger of nuclear weapons so that they have the knowledge and the means to act.
In this regard, Japan as a country that experienced the trauma and devastation of nuclear bombs and is currently a country under the nuclear umbrella could play a pivotal role in opposing the possession of nuclear weapons and promoting the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, can also play a leading role in the promotion of prohibiting nuclear weapons.
The war in Ukraine is a tragedy and a lesson on why nuclear weapons are so dangerous. But why should humanity live in fear of its own creation? This should be the impetus for publics and parliaments around the world to act.
Having witnessed the reality and consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict ― a potentially long and protracted war with the specter of nuclear weapons looming over it ― and observing the growing tensions in other parts of the world involving nuclear-armed states, we must switch course to conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and peacemaking.
The TPNW meeting of states parties not only provided an opportunity to discuss how to ban or prohibit nuclear weapons, but also to call on Putin to scale down his nuclear alert. The Vienna meeting should have called for a ceasefire in Ukraine as a prelude to the banning of the threat to use nuclear weapons. It was a timely and judicious opportunity to make such a call.
Citizens, states, and the United Nations can together play a role in the promotion of peace, disarmament, and the banning of nuclear weapons. Now is the time to act.
About the Author
Kasit Piromya is former Thai foreign minister and ambassador to the Soviet Union, Indonesia, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. He is a member of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (APLN). His article is published in cooperation with the APLN (www.apln.network).
This article was published in The Korea Times on 29 June 2022 as part of a dedicated, regular Korea Times column with analysis by APLN members on global issues. You can find the original post here.
Image: Dmitriy Sidor/ iStock