Empowering nuclear disarmament discourse

Narratives within the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons require amplification to ensure the Treaty’s success. Mahmoud Javadi examines statements made by TPNW state parties during the 2023 United Nations First Committee

Nuclear weapons are a cornerstone of the current global security order. Nations possessing them, as well as umbrella states benefiting from their protection, often argue that these weapons enhance global stability by deterring military conflicts. However, a growing movement is advocating for the complete elimination of nuclear arsenals. This is exemplified by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which came into force in January 2021. Recent developments, such as the ongoing nuclear rhetoric surrounding the Ukraine war and alleged Russian efforts to deploy nuclear weapons in space, highlight the persistent challenge of achieving a world free of nuclear arms. This casts doubt upon the feasibility of the TPNW in the near future.

Despite obstacles to the TPNW's universal adoption, it introduces a fresh narrative that deserves amplification in regional and global forums. Discourse alone cannot effect immediate change or rapidly expand membership. However, it does have the potential to cultivate an environment in which the principles and advantages of the TPNW gradually gain recognition. Moreover, discourse can also serve to challenge the narratives of opponents, thereby contributing to the ongoing dialogue surrounding nuclear disarmament.

Nuclear rhetoric surrounding the Ukraine war and alleged Russian efforts to deploy nuclear weapons in space highlight the persistent challenge of achieving a world free of nuclear arms

UN First Committee: shaping global discourse on nuclear disarmament

One such forum centred on nuclear politics is the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee, also known as the Disarmament and International Security Committee. This committee plays a pivotal role within the UN structure, serving as the primary platform for addressing disarmament and security concerns. Comprising all UN member states, the First Committee convenes annually during the General Assembly session in New York. Its mandate spans a wide array of issues, from nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation to the regulation of conventional arms and cybersecurity. Through multilateral diplomacy and negotiation, the Committee endeavours to promote global peace and security by tackling the root causes of conflicts and seeking collective solutions to disarmament challenges. Over the years, the First Committee has facilitated the adoption of numerous resolutions and treaties aimed at mitigating the risk of armed conflicts and advancing overarching security goals.

Through multilateral diplomacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly's First Committee endeavours to promote global peace and security by tackling the root causes of conflicts

A crucial component of the First Committee session is statements delivered by UN member states, observers, transnational groups, and civil societies. These statements fall into two broad categories: general and thematic debates. General debates cover wider issues of concern and interest, while thematic debates focus exclusively on specific topics, spanning conventional to unconventional security challenges. Nuclear weapons occupy a prominent place in the general and thematic debates.

Leveraging the First Committee for TPNW

Delivering statements at First Committee meetings can serve to bolster and solidify the TPNW narrative, which is underpinned by humanitarian principles. However, effectively integrating this narrative, alongside others, into the broader global security discourse requires a strategy. Ideally, the Treaty's proponents should collectively formulate and pursue it.

My recent article for The Loop outlines three interconnected strategies: glorification, securitisation, and weaponisation. Glorifying the TPNW involves highlighting its positive attributes; securitisation entails challenging the exclusionary framework of TPNW opponents’ narratives. These two strategies focus primarily on narrative shaping. The third strategy, weaponisation, manifests through the proactive actions of TPNW advocates against its opponents. To maximise effectiveness, however, official statements also need to articulate weaponisation.

If we see the First Committee as a platform for cultivating global security dialogue, the effectiveness of these three interconnected strategies is best demonstrated by the statements of pro-TPNW UN member states and other entities within the Committee.

The Second Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW took place 27 November–1 December 2023, following the 78th session of the First Committee held 2 October–3 November 2023. I conducted a content analysis of the statements delivered by the TPNW state parties during the 2023 First Committee session. My objective was to assess how these states expressed views on the TPNW shortly before its second state-party meeting, and to gauge the extent of alignment with my proposed tripartite strategy.

TPNW state parties’ discourse at the 2023 First Committee

As of October 2023, among the 69 state parties to the TPNW, 39 delivered statements during the 2023 First Committee sessions, either as part of the general debate or the thematic debate on nuclear weapons. With the exception of Uruguay, all 38 other TPNW states parties made references to the Treaty in their First Committee statements.

During the 2023 First Committee session, TPNW states consistently conveyed two general messages; firstly, urging non-party states to the TPNW to sign and ratify the Treaty and secondly, emphasising the compatibility of the TPNW with the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a treaty that TPNW opponents consider a cornerstone of the global nuclear order.

The First Committee remains an advantageous platform for TPNW advocates to emphasise the Treaty’s normative values and advantages, and to counteract opposing narratives

The second message appears to appease the TPNW proponents. Nevertheless, only four statements surpass these two general messages, attempting to glorify the TPNW and/or securitise a counternarrative to the Treaty. I compiled these statements and identified their strategic approaches:

Strategic approaches of 2023 First Committee’s statements regarding the TPNW

State partyExcerpt from the First Committee's statementStrategic approach
AustriaThis landmark treaty [TPNW] is based on new evidence on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences and unacceptable inherent risks of nuclear weapons. It, thus, puts the legitimate security of all humanity at the centre of the debate rather than the assumptions of those who say nuclear weapons are essential for security and we should not worry about nuclear deterrence stability.Glorification and
Democratic Republic of the CongoBecause the effects of the use of nuclear weapons cannot be limited to simple national borders, they will have profound repercussions on States far from the targeted areas, including those belonging to zones free of nuclear weapons. [Translation from French]Securitisation
KazakhstanWe devote particular attention to humanitarian goals of the Treaty embodied in Articles 6 and 7 as positive obligations to address the harm from the use and testing of nuclear weapons, and prevent future damage.Glorification
Holy SeeTPNW offers a path forward for building a new security framework that places the dignity of the human person at its center and upholds the principle of sovereign equality among States.Glorification

This content analysis exercise suggests that the TPNW states parties made limited efforts to amplify the Treaty’s discourse. Despite the First Committee becoming a forum for repetitive and uninspired state statements, it remains an advantageous platform for TPNW advocates to emphasise the Treaty’s normative values and advantages, counteract opposing narratives and, ultimately, weaponise the Treaty for maximising its outreach and impact.

As the First Committee session approaches in October–November 2024, it is imperative for the TPNW states parties to thoroughly contemplate ways to address the glorification, securitisation, and weaponisation of nuclear disarmament discourse in their statements.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Mahmoud Javadi
Mahmoud Javadi
AI Governance Researcher, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Mahmoud contribues to an EU-funded research project focused on reigniting multilateralism via emerging technologies.

Prior to his current role, he was affiliated with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he conducted research on EU external relations.

He co-represent EUR at the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Consortium.

Mahmoud's academic background includes a Master of Arts in transnational governance from the European University Institute in Florence.

He tweets @mahmoudjavadi2

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