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Hiroshima for Global Peace

Column 2 Concerning the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Akira Kawasaki

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at the United Nations on July 7, 2017, and entered into force on January 22, 2021, after being ratified by more than fifty countries. The treaty states that any use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international humanitarian law and outlaws their development, possession, use, and threat of use. It also prohibits assisting and encouraging such activities, as well as deploying the nuclear weapons of other countries within one’s own country (Article 1 above). In addition, it stipulates a path for the destruction of nuclear weapons in the event that a nuclear armed state joins (Article 4). Furthermore, it makes it an obligation of the States Parties to provide assistance to victims of the use or testing of nuclear weapons, and requires them to remediate the environment contaminated by nuclear testing and related activities, stipulating international cooperation for this purpose (Articles 6 and 7).

Unlike other nuclear arms control and non-proliferation treaties, this treaty fundamentally rejects nuclear weapons themselves, prohibiting any state from taking any action involving nuclear weapons under any circumstances. The preamble of the treaty states that it will bear in mind the “unacceptable suffering” endured by hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) and victims of nuclear testing. Together with non-governmental organizations around the world including these victims of nuclear weapons, as well as the Red Cross, link-minded countries collectively known as the “humanitarian initiative,” such as Austria and Mexico, played a leading role in the enactment of this treaty. In 2017, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and in its acceptance speech, A-bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow described nuclear weapons as “the ultimate evil.” The greatest significance of this treaty is that it has established a strong norm in the form of an international law that rejects nuclear weapons outright.

That said, the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons have all rejected the treaty. Furthermore, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members and other countries that rely on the socalled “nuclear umbrella”—such as Japan, South Korea and Australia—have likewise shown no intention to sign or ratify the treaty. This has led some to question the effectiveness of the treaty. However, the establishment of an international law that declares nuclear weapons to be inhumane is expected to lead to increased restraining power against the use and development of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, in the business sector, there is a growing trend for financial institutions to divest from companies that manufacture nuclear weapons. The effect of stigmatizing nuclear weapons is increasingly becoming evident.

The first Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW is provided to be held within one year of the treaty’s entry into force. But it has been postponed due to the COVID- 19 pandemic and is going to be held sometime in mid-2022. The meeting, to be held in Vienna, will discuss such issues as promoting the signing and ratification of the treaty (universalization), deadlines for dismantling nuclear weapons, the verification system in the event that a nuclear armed state joins the treaty, and how to provide assistance to nuclear victims and remediation of the contaminated environment. Non-signatory states to the treaty can also participate in the meeting as observers, and in addition to Sweden, Switzerland, and other countries, NATO members Norway and Germany have announced that they will participate in this capacity. Japanese Prime Minister Kishida has described the treaty as “an important treaty that will serve as the final passage” to a nuclear-weapon-free world, and there is anticipation as to whether Japan, too, will participate as an observer.

Akira Kawasaki: Executive Committee Member, Peace Boat

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