The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: how to move forward after deadlock

The global significance of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) hinges on its ratification by all states. Mahmoud Javadi presents three interconnected strategies — glorification, securitisation, and weaponisation — to move past the current deadlock

The Second Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons convened from 27 November to 1 December 2023. Universal ratification, a singular article within the Treaty (Article 12), emerged as one of its focal points.

Given the TPNW's global salience, it is unfortunate that Treaty negotiations have now reached a deadlock, which looks set to endure. Deadlock has arisen because although many states have signed up, others with nuclear arms have not followed suit. TPNW's primary aim is to get these nuclear-armed states, and their allies, on board. To progress onwards, therefore, TPNW advocates should now guide their universal ratification efforts through three interconnected strategies: glorification, securitisation, and weaponisation.

Input from states parties during the Second Meeting reveals a collective aim to glorify and securitise the Treaty. The intersessional period until March 2025 thus presents a timely opportunity to consolidate the TPNW's glorification and securitisation. However, states can also use the intersession to develop and advance the Treaty's weaponisation.

Universal ratification of the TPNW

In conjunction with Article 12, the Vienna Action Plan, a report from the TPNW’s First Meeting of States Parties underscores the paramount importance of achieving universal TPNW ratification. Of fifty actions in the Plan, fourteen are dedicated to realising universal ratification, marking it as the most significant category. In recognition of the need for ongoing efforts, the First Meeting convened an informal working group to advance universal ratification.

A report from the TPNW’s First Meeting of States Parties underscores the paramount importance of achieving universal ratification

At the Second Meeting of States Parties there was a general exchange of views, with 63 statements delivered by parties and non-parties to the Treaty. Notably, 41 of these statements address directly the idea of universalisation. Many statements merely encourage or urge non-parties to sign, ratify or accede to the Treaty. However, only seven states parties presented ideas and recommendations on how to actualise the TPNW’s universal extension:

Suggestions raised during the Second Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW
NoState partyIdea for universalisation (excerpt from statement)
1Cape Verde'strengthening diplomatic dialogue with the largest countries possessing nuclear weapons in order to convince them to sign and ratify the TPNW'
2Honduras'an intense and laudable diplomatic effort has been positively built to move the stigmatisation of nuclear weapons towards universalisation'
3Ireland'sustained and tailored outreach on the object and goals of the Treaty, while debunking false narratives'
4Laos'inclusive approach by engaging multi-stakeholders, including parliamentarians, private sector and youth, among others'
5Lesotho'awareness campaigns through all possible platforms are of paramount importance in achieving universalisation'
6Malaysia'consolidating [TPNW's] overarching narrative'
7Thailand'multi-track approach to promote universality'

Challenges to TPNW universalisation

Regardless of the depth and breadth of these recommendations, and those proposed by the co-chairs of the informal working group, it is likely that territorial expansion of the TPNW may encounter limitations. Expansion reaches its peak when no further genuine participation is likely from nuclear-armed and umbrella states opposed to the TPNW. This is significantly influenced by domestic political priorities and heightened geopolitical tensions stemming from the Ukraine war. It is also affected by the global competition between established and emerging powers, directly and within their spheres of influence.

There is little motive for TPNW opponents to alter their nuclear stance. Despite this, the Treaty itself has experienced consistent growth in membership. In the period spanning the first and second Meetings of States Parties, June 2022 – November 2023, seven states signed the Treaty, three ratified it, and one acceded to it. Nevertheless, this new membership does not, and will not, help move past the current deadlock.

To achieve universal ratification, proponents of the Treaty should pursue three interrelated strategies: glorification, securitisation, and weaponisation

In light of the apparent deadlock in achieving universal ratification, states use TPNW discourse as a strategic lever; see Malaysia's statement in the table. To achieve universal ratification, proponents of the Treaty should pursue three interrelated strategies: glorification, securitisation, and weaponisation. Statements from states parties and presidential documents reveal that advocates have already begun glorification and securitisation. Weaponisation is yet to be fully developed.

Strategic paths to universal ratification

By 'glorification' of the Treaty, I mean emphasising its positive aspects. To stigmatise nuclear weapons, actors offer positive humanitarian arguments for disarmament; see Honduras' statement. Moreover, emphasising its positive aspects draws attention to the Treaty's constructive impact on global security. It shows how widespread adherence could fortify crucial elements of the ever-evolving global security order, as TPNW proponents, predominantly from the so-called Global South, advocate.

A second strategy for TPNW advocates is securitisation. According to the Copenhagen School of security studies, we should understand security as a speech act, emphasising the social construction of issues, rather than their objective reality, as threats.

Counterarguments to the prohibition of nuclear weapons often focus on the role of nuclear deterrence in global stability. To resist them, TPNW supporters must challenge the exclusionary, violent framework that sustains the status quo. The declaration of the TPNW’s Second Meeting boldly repudiates perspectives that oppose the Treaty.

Parties to the TPNW have moulded their national defence strategies exclusively through non-nuclear means

Weaponised interdependence is a condition under which actors exploit their position individually or in an embedded network to gain bargaining advantage over others. Think, for example, of how China uses the Belt and Road Initiative, and loans to developing countries, to curry favour. This strategy can work for the TPNW states parties, too. Unlike glorification and securitisation, this strategy is proactive and offensive. Signatories to the TPNW have moulded their national defence strategies, and their vision for international security, through non-nuclear means. Consequently, these states, and like-minded non-state actors, must use the Treaty to propagate their security vision on a global scale.

Seizing the moment

According to the declaration of the TPNW's Second Meeting, parties have pledged not to 'stand by as spectators to increasing nuclear risks'. To achieve this, states must prioritise the Treaty in their interactions with TPNW opponents. Ideally, states should link bilateral and multilateral routes to compliance with the Treaty. The forthcoming intersessional period provides a prime opportunity for TPNW advocates to contemplate and develop measures for TPNW weaponisation.

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

Author

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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