The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

A virtual special issue of the Nonproliferation Review

June 21, 2022

The Nonproliferation Review

The first meeting of states parties to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is being held in Vienna, Austria, from June 21 through June 23, 2022.

The Nonproliferation Review has published multiple articles about the TPNW, its negotiation, and the process of normative change that its supporters seek to achieve.

Public opinion

Michal Onderco, Michal Smetana, Sico van der Meer and Tom W. Etienne, “When do the Dutch want to join the nuclear ban treaty? Findings of a public opinion survey in the Netherlands” (2021) [OPEN ACCESS]

Even if most European countries have not yet joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the treaty has been salient in a number of national settings. In the Netherlands, the TPNW enjoys broad societal appeal, and the Dutch parliament has, on a number of occasions, called on the government to explore options for joining the treaty. In this piece, we empirically study Dutch attitudes toward joining the TPNW. Our findings indicate that a majority of the Dutch would prefer to accede to the TPNW only if nuclear-weapon states or other NATO allies also joined, although unilateral accession received relatively strong support among the youngest respondents, women, and voters supporting the left-wing parties. The most popular option is to join the TPNW at the same time that the nuclear-weapon states do, which seems to be a rather distant prospect in the current international-security environment.

↑ top

Histories and case studies

Emmanuelle Maitre and Pauline Lévy, “Becoming a disarmament champion: the Austrian crusade against nuclear weapons” (2020)

The making of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has put Austria and its involvement in nuclear disarmament in the spotlight. This study highlights several factors that led Austria to become a prominent voice in nuclear-disarmament debates. First, its involvement dovetails with the emphasis on humanitarian disarmament it has promoted since the 1990s. Second, a strong antinuclear identity pervades Austrian society. This “nuclear allergy” combines antimilitarism inherited from the Cold War and, more broadly, an aversion to nuclear power, including for energy purposes. These two considerations form the background to the increased activism of the Austrian Foreign Ministry on nuclear disarmament in international fora. But, equally, Austria’s crusade for the TPNW can be attributed to the engagement of a small team of diplomats implementing personal as well as national preferences in favor of disarmament.

Rebecca Davis Gibbons, “The humanitarian turn in nuclear disarmament and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” (2018)

On July 7, 2017, at the UN General Assembly, 122 states voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This was the culmination of the work of a global network of states and grassroots activists that emphasized the devastating humanitarian consequences of nuclear-weapons use in order to delegitimize their possession. Advocates of the ban treaty are frustrated with the slow pace of nuclear disarmament through traditional channels. This article traces the history of the ban movement from 2005 to the present. It concludes by highlighting six factors that led to the successful adoption of the treaty: a small group of committed diplomats; an influx of new coalition members; the contribution of civil society; the reframing of the narrative surrounding nuclear weapons; the pursuit of a simple ban treaty; and the context provided by the Barack Obama administration.

Ekaterina Shirobokova, “The Netherlands and the prohibition of nuclear weapons” (2018)

On July 7, 2017, the United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons concluded with the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which opened for signatures at the United Nations General Assembly two months later, on September 20. The nuclear-weapon states and their allies boycotted the negotiations with the sole exception of the Netherlands, which not only is a member of NATO, but also hosts US nuclear weapons on its territory. Domestic pressure and political traditions had significant effects on the Dutch government’s decision to participate in the ban negotiations. The Netherlands negotiated in good faith, but its multilateralism and humanitarian considerations could not tip the scales in favor of joining the ban treaty. The government’s commitment to a “step–by–step” approach to nuclear disarmament and maintenance of close cooperation with NATO determined the Dutch position on the new instrument. Despite staying outside the TPNW, the Dutch government shares the goal of nuclear-weapons elimination. This article also suggests a number of actions the Netherlands could take to advance nuclear disarmament.

↑ top

Changing norms

Mario Carranza, “The stability of the nuclear nonproliferation norm: a critique of norm-contestation theory” (2019)

This article argues that the nuclear nonproliferation norm (NNPN) is a social fact with a relatively independent life of its own and that it has a powerful impact on the behavior of both nuclear-weapon states (NWS) and non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS). It challenges the application of critical constructivist research on norms to the NNPN and the idea that its legitimacy and structural power depend on contestation “all the way down.” State and non-state actors play an important role in explaining the dynamics of the NNPN, but agential constructivism runs the danger of “throwing the baby out with the bath water,” neglecting the structural impact of the NNPN on state behavior. The article examines the limitations of norm-contestation theory, arguing that some norms are more resistant to contestation than others. The NNPN is more difficult to contest than new norms (such as the Responsibility to Protect) because it is rooted in fifty years of nonproliferation nuclear diplomacy. The US-India nuclear deal is not a case of “norm change” but a violation of the NNPN. The “core” of the NNPN has not changed since the US-India nuclear deal. The conflict confronting NWS and NNWS is about the implementation of “type 2” norms (organizing principles) and “type 3” norms (standardized procedures), and not about the “hard core” of the NNPN.

Tom Sauer and Mathias Reveraert, “The potential stigmatizing effect of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” (2018)

On July 7, 2017, seventy-two years after the start of the nuclear era, 122 states concluded the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW, or “ban treaty”). The treaty forbids the development, production, acquisition, possession, transfer, testing, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons. Advocates of the TPNW understand that it will not automatically lead to a world without nuclear weapons. The treaty’s main goal is to stimulate a societal and political debate inside the nuclear-armed states and their allies by strengthening the antinuclear norm and by stigmatizing nuclear weapons and their possessors. This article assesses to what extent this process of stigmatization might take place. It starts by elaborating on the concepts of stigma and stigmatization. It then matches the concept of stigma with nuclear weapons, and with the humanitarian initiative behind the momentum that led to the TPNW. The article concludes by looking to different stigma-management approaches that can be used by the nuclear-armed states and their allies.

Moritz Kütt and Jens Steffek, “Comprehensive Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: An Emerging International Norm?” (2016)

There have been calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons from the day they were invented. Over the last fifteen years, some indications can be found that such calls have been getting louder, among them Barack Obama’s famous 2009 speech in Prague. In this article, we investigate if support for a comprehensive norm that would prohibit development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons is really growing. To assess the current status of that norm, we use the model of a “norm life cycle,” developed by Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink. We then analyze 6,545 diplomatic statements from the review process of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as well as from the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, covering the years 2000 to 2013. The evidence shows that a comprehensive prohibition can be considered an emerging international norm that finds growing support among states without nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon states alike. Only a core group of states invoke the norm consistently, however. This leads us to conclude that the “tipping point” of the life cycle, at which adherence to a new norm starts to spread rapidly, has yet to be reached.

↑ top

Competing narratives

Heather Williams, “A nuclear babel: narratives around the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (2018)

 The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been successful in starting new conversations about nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, many of those conversations are happening in silos with ban supporters and opponents talking past each other. Both sides of the debate often misrepresent one another, putting at risk cooperation within the global nuclear order and progress toward the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. To address these misperceptions, this article offers a bridge-building framework with steps for nuclear-weapon states, ban supporters, and regional and political coalitions. The framework is designed to be practical and to build trust following a heated and controversial debate around the ban treaty and its predecessor, the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons movement. The most important and timely of these efforts is for ban supporters and opponents to work together on risk reduction at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions with rising risks of misperception and inadvertent escalation.

Luiz Filipe de Macedo Soares, “Parsing objections to the ban treaty: a legal viewpoint” (2018)

The Secretary-General of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL) rejects the argument of those opposed to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that the treaty undermines the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This viewpoint is based upon Ambassador Soares’s statement to the conference, “Regional Consultations on the NPT: Towards the 2018 PrepCom,” held in Mexico City, February 15, 2018.

↑ top


Pavel Podvig and Joseph Rodgers, “Deferred verification: verifiable declarations of fissile-material stocks for disarmament purposes” (2019)

 Nuclear disarmament is often seen as eventually requiring access to nuclear warheads or to the warhead-dismantlement process to verify that a state has not hidden weapons or weapon-materials despite promising to disarm. This article suggests this view is misplaced, and that what is needed is a verification mechanism able to provide reliable assurances of the absence of fissile materials available for use in weapons after a state has disarmed. Such a mechanism will need an initial declaration of the amount of fissile materials held by a state for all purposes, military and civilian. In a state with a nuclear arsenal awaiting elimination, this declaration would have to include materials that may not be available for verification because they are in nuclear weapons or are in other classified or proliferation-sensitive forms. This article describes a verification arrangement that does not require access to materials in weapons and in sensitive forms while still allowing checks on the overall accuracy of the declaration. Verification of the completeness and correctness of the declaration is deferred to the time when the weapons-relevant material enters the disposition process, at which point it no longer has any sensitive attributes. By removing the focus on monitoring warheads and dismantlement, this new approach could provide a more manageable path to nuclear disarmament.

Tamara Patton and Alexander Glaser, “Deferred verification: the role of new verification technologies and approaches” (2019)

Researchers have recently proposed a new approach to nuclear-arms-control verification, dubbed “deferred verification.” The concept forgoes inspections at sensitive nuclear sites and of nuclear weapons or components in classified form. To implement this concept, a state first divides its nuclear program into a closed segment and an open segment. The total fissile-material inventory in the closed segment, which includes the weapon complex, is known and declared with very high accuracy. Essentially no inspections take place in the closed segment. In contrast, inspectors have access to the open segment, which includes in particular the civilian nuclear sector. The fissile-material inventory in the open segment is known with less accuracy, but uncertainties can be reduced over time using nuclear-archaeology methods. Deferred verification relies primarily on established safeguards techniques and avoids many unresolved verification challenges, such as the need for information barriers for warhead confirmation measurements. At the same time, deferred verification faces some unique challenges. Here, we explore some of these challenges and offer possible solutions; to do so, we examine possible noncompliance strategies in which a state would seek to withhold a higher-than-declared inventory.

↑ top

Additional perspectives

↑ top

About our journal

Nonproliferation Review cover 26.5/6

The Nonproliferation Review is a refereed journal concerned with the causes, consequences, and control of the spread of nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological weapons. The Review features theoretical analyses, historical studies, viewpoints, and book reviews on such issues as state-run weapons programs, treaties and export controls, safeguards, verification and compliance, disarmament, terrorism, and the economic and environmental effects of weapons proliferation.

The Nonproliferation Review is produced at the Washington, DC offices of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. The journal is published by Taylor & Francis.

Comments Are Closed