Expectations for the TPNW
The Pulse

Expectations for the TPNW

The First Meeting of the States Parties to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will take place in Vienna from 21 June to 23 June. This historic meeting will be the first to bring together those states who have signed and ratified the TPNW, as well as non-parties, UN agencies, international organisations, and NGOs who will participate as observers. The agenda for the Meeting is to establish a commitment to implement TPNW obligations, such as recompensating victims of nuclear use, environmental measures, and the Treaty’s universalization.

Six experts from Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Japan share their expectations and concerns for the TPNW. 

Dr. Tanya Ogilvie-White

Senior Research Advisor at APLN and Senior Fellow at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University.

The TPNW is a ‘Strategic Hot Potato’ for Australia

News that Australia is participating as an observer in the TPNW meeting in Vienna shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s the least the new Albanese government should do, especially given the Prime Minister’s efforts to champion the treaty while he was opposition leader. But it might also be all his government is willing to do at present – because for Canberra, the TPNW is a strategic hot potato.

On one hand, Albanese, having committed to signing the TPNW if its verification and enforcement mechanisms are strengthened, has raised expectations among non-nuclear weapons states and disarmament advocates, including here in Australia. Many are hopeful that Australia will be the first nuclear-reliant state to ditch US nuclear extended deterrence and sign the Treaty: a massive step towards reducing nuclear salience and devaluing nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, Australia and the US have a much deeper defence relationship than many people inside and outside the country realise, including in the nuclear sphere. As Prime Minister, Albanese will be more conscious of this than ever before. He’ll be aware that an Australian decision to sign the TPNW could have consequences not only for the Australia-US bilateral relationship, aspects of which would have to change, but for the US alliance system in Asia, US Indo-Pacific strategy, and global order.

CHEONG Wooksik

Director of Peace Network and Director of the Hankyoreh Institute of Peace.

As the war in Ukraine, initiated by the Russian invasion, continues, the future darkens for the TPNW and nuclear disarmament. Security through strengthened military power and alliances, acquisition of more nuclear weapons, and strengthening of extended deterrence will no longer be the exception, but the global norm.

At the same time, the crisis of nuclear war inevitably highlights the need for arms control negotiations. The lesson must be learnt from the Cold War era that even when the dangers of arms racing and nuclear war are imminent, opportunities for détente and disarmament can emerge.

In South Korea, peace organizations are interested in TPNW, but the general public’s understanding and interest in the issue is very low. The South Korean government is unlikely to join the TPNW, considering North Korea’s growing nuclear capability, the dominant public opinion in favor of South Korea’s independent nuclear armament and the redeployment of US nuclear weapons, and the overall policy of the ROK-US alliance to strengthen extended deterrence. South Korea’s joining of the TPNW should be preceded by finding and implementing a feasible denuclearization plan for the entire Korean Peninsula.

Kasit PIROMYA

Former Thai Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Indonesia, Germany, Japan, and the US.

The Vienna Meeting cannot take place in isolation or be shielded from the reality of the war in Ukraine and Russian nuclear sabre rattling. The situation in Ukraine 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 towards nuclear disarmament requires determination and hard work. Negotiating and upholding treaties such as the TPNW and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 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 organisations 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.

Karla Mae PABELIÑA

Associate Fellow at APLN and a Senior Foreign Affairs Research Specialist at the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) of the Philippine Foreign Service Institute (FSI).

The First Meeting of State Parties (1MSP) to the Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is convening against the backdrop of increased risk of nuclear weapons use with the further deterioration of the global security environment. The TPNW is a demonstration of non-nuclear-weapon states’ resolve to not be held hostage by the power of a few countries imposing unacceptable damage that can threaten humanity as a whole.

In convening the 1MSP, the State Parties seek to redirect focus to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. Southeast Asian states have staunchly supported this initiative and played active roles in taking multilateral discussions forward. Ten out of eleven Southeast Asian states have signed the TPNW, with seven (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Timor-Leste) having already deposited their instruments of ratification. In this 1MSP, Thailand, in its capacity as co-facilitator with Ireland, has submitted a working paper that aimed to underscore the complementarities between TPNW and other disarmament instruments, while Indonesia, together with Austria and Costa Rica, proposed measures that would promote adherence and universalization of the TPNW.

In these times of heightened risk, the supporters of the TPNW emphasize that the only way to eliminate nuclear dangers is to eliminate nuclear weapons.

ABE Nobuyasu

Former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and former Director-General for Arms Control and Science Affairs at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In a Japanese public opinion poll conducted in the summer of 2021, 71 percent of respondents favored Japan joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) while only 27 percent opposed it. But when the members of the Japanese Diet (parliament) were asked the same question, the numbers were starkly different: only 28 per cent supported joining the TPNW. This revealed a great gap between the public sentiment of the treaty and the view of political leaders.

Although Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was elected from a constituency that includes the City of Hiroshima and has pledged to work towards a world without nuclear weapons, he considers the TPNW to be an end goal. His ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, argues that Japan cannot join the TPNW while relying on the extended nuclear deterrence of the United States.

If and when a Japanese government decides to join the TPNW, it will need to make sure that Japan can do so while maintaining the US-Japan Security Treaty. In particular, Japan must clarify that Article 1, paragraph E of the TPNW– “Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to: “Assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty” – does not prohibit Japan from accepting the presence of US forces or its reconnaissance and communication facilities in Japan. Read more

John CARLSON

Former Director General of the Australian Safeguards and NonProliferation Office, and founding Chair of the Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network.

The TPNW largely reiterates obligations already accepted by the parties under other treaties, such as the NPT and nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. A major new element in the TPNW is an implicit prohibition of “nuclear umbrellas”, or extended nuclear deterrence. Effectively this would require a party to avoid any military cooperation that could involve nuclear weapons. This is a key reason why many states have not joined the TPNW…

What all states – nuclear-armed states, their allies, and others – should be working towards are practical steps for reducing nuclear risks, reducing nuclear weapon numbers, and building the confidence and trust needed to progress to elimination. NPT parties need to do all they can to impress on the nuclear-weapon states the need to develop substantive actions in these areas, and to be able to assure the upcoming NPT review conference that they are genuinely committed to meeting their arms control and disarmament obligations. Read more