Don’t look now, but 69 states – the total membership of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and all parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – have just gone on record to declare that the United States, the Russian Federation, China, France, and the United Kingdom are in breach of their legal obligations under the NPT. This extraordinary consensus was articulated in the declaration of the Second Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, held at the United Nations in New York City from November 27 to December 1 of this year.
The NPT’s Article VI outlines obligations for nuclear-weapon states (NWS) to pursue disarmament in good faith. Yet, according to Article 24 of the declaration, the behaviour of NWS “unquestionably” represents “a failure to meet their legally-binding obligations under Article VI of the NPT.” It goes on to declare that in the period since the First Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, “none of the Nuclear-Weapon States have made progress in accordance with Article VI of the NPT and in their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the elimination of their nuclear weapons.” Unfulfilled undertakings during NPT Review Conferences compound the gravity of this accusation.
In effect, Article 24 serves as a groundbreaking indictment of NWS actions as a material breach of their obligations and marks a significant step toward holding NWS accountable for their commitments to disarm. The unity among accusing parties underscores the seriousness of the allegations and the shared determination to demand concrete and demonstrable action toward nuclear abolition.
That so many states came together to issue such a formal rebuke and expression of shared dissatisfaction in the official outcome document of a UN conference is anything but routine. The implications of the declaration are profound, potentially reshaping discourse on nuclear abolition and prompting a reassessment of how best to respond to instances of non-compliance with the NPT.
The formal and collective indictment during the second meeting of States Parties to the TPNW underscores a newfound willingness among states to collectively challenge and hold NWS accountable for non-compliance. Moreover, it sets a precedent for a more assertive and unified stand in addressing the critical issue of global nuclear disarmament.