The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, (TPNW), entered into force on 22 January 2021. As at 1st February 2021, there were 86 signatories and 52 states-parties, and these numbers continue to grow. It is the first comprehensive global nuclear weapons ban, initially supported in 2017 by 122 countries, that is 2/3 of the membership of the UN. The treaty prohibits signatories from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities.
The battle over the introduction of the TPNW raged in the UN for over three years. Accident, miscalculation or design faults were seen as the main threats to be addressed. All 9 nuclear powers boycotted the process and the US led the effort to block TPNW by sending out letters to all signatories to withdraw. Five of those countries, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Holland and Turkey host nuclear weapons. Japan and South Korea also boycotted the Treaty as naive and dangerous, asserting that it could increase the risk of nuclear use. Russia, US, UK and France remained united against it. In contrast China tweeted, “we have always been advocating complete prohibition and we make a continuous efforts towards a nuclear weapon free world”. Details of UK opposition to TPNW. False claims that TPNW is a threat to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) abound, whereas actually they are completely compatible.
TPNW challenges the entire logic of deterrence. At the present time we are in a state of extreme peril with the 1947 Doomsday Clock set at 100 seconds to midnight. This is the most dangerous period since the Cuban crisis of 1962 and tensions between the US and China and US and Russia are the worst in decades.
The talk explores the geopolitical and historical implications of the TPNW and also touches on the background to the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. The fact that the overwhelming majority of states and popular opinion support the success of the Treaty may persuade Global financial institutions, bound by international law, to establish themselves as responsible investors, and therefore increasingly hesitant of investing in these ‘controversial’ weapons now they have been delegitimised by the majority of nations. Perhaps the TPNW marks the beginning of the end of the military hegemony of the nuclear-armed powers as nation after nation asserts its right to live in a world free of the threat of nuclear annihilation by deliberate act or, far more likely, a miscalculation.
Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, is author of ‘Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists As Political Activists in 1930s’ America (University of Chicago Press), co-author with Akira Kimura of Rethinking the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Japanese and American Perspectives (Horitsu Bunkasha, 2010), co-author with Yuki Tanaka of Genpatsu to hiroshima – genshiryoku heiwa riyo no shinso (Nuclear Power and Hiroshima: The Truth Behind the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power (Iwanami, 2011), and co-editor with James Gilbert of Rethinking Cold War Culture (Smithsonian Institution Press). Full listing of books and articles.
He was active in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements and remains active in anti-war and nuclear abolition efforts. In 1995, he founded American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute. Every summer, since 1995, he has taken Institute students on a study-abroad class in Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
In 2003, Kuznick organized a group of scholars, writers, artists, clergy, and activists to protest the Smithsonian’s celebratory display of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex. As part of this effort, he cofounded the Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy and the Nuclear Education Project with Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and professors Mark Selden and John Dower.
His current projects include a book on scientists and the Vietnam War and another that looks at how the evolving understanding that nuclear war could lead to annihilation of all life on the planet has shaped the behaviour and views of military strategists, policymakers, and the public. He and Oliver Stone co-authored the 10 part Showtime documentary film series and book, both titled The Untold History of the United States. He regularly provides commentary for all the major U.S. and international media and has begun his fourth three-year term as Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer.
29th April 2021