Vienna hosts the first meeting for the prohibition of nuclear weapons

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The war in Ukraine has returned the West to the Cold War game board. If thirty years ago the United States and the Soviet Union were vying for world leadership, now the blocs – NATO against Russia – are not very different. Neither is the nuclear threat hanging over us all. It is not just that both sides have an atomic arsenal, it is that at least one of them, Moscow, has threatened to use it. In this context, Vienna hosts today the First Meeting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPAN), the first intergovernmental space for debate on the matter since the beginning of the conflict. A meeting that Spain (which is not a signatory) has declined to attend even as an observer, something that other European and NATO countries will do.

Vienna hosts the first meeting for the prohibition of nuclear weapons

“Many years ago there was no possibility of having a space like this,” says Jordi Armadans, director of FundiPau, one of the founding NGOs of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), awarded in 2017 with the Nobel Peace Prize precisely for having managed to get the United Nations to approve, against all odds, the TPNW with the vote in favor of 122 countries. “Until now the nuclear powers had controlled the narrative. This conference represents a free and multilateral space”, says Armadans.

The invasion of Ukraine has shown that the risk of a nuclear war is not a thing of the past

The treaty entered into force on January 22, 2021, that is, it is already an international norm, but the Vienna meeting marks its “first coming-out”, in the words of Armadans. “This is the first stone on a very long road. But once all the mechanisms are activated, they can no longer ignore us. There is a before and an after”, affirms the director of FundiPau.

However, the data seem to indicate that the goal of a world without nuclear weapons is still a long way off. The latest data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reveal that there are 12,705 nuclear weapons in the world, that the owner countries are investing in their modernization, and that everything points to the fact that in the coming years the nuclear arsenal will grow by first time since the end of the cold war.

That is why the main challenge is to add support to the TPAN. So far there are 86 countries have signed the treaty and 62 adhered to it, but for nuclear disarmament to be effective, more is needed, especially the nuclear powers and their allies. “The formal position of countries like Spain or other NATO allies is that they are already committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and that the TPNW is distracting. But the 1968 treaty is blocked by the nuclear powers, it makes no sense to continue like this”, explains Armadans. Informally, it appears that NATO has instructed allies not to get involved.

In the case of Spain, says Armadans, it should be added that the meeting in Vienna takes place a few days before the NATO summit in Madrid. “They don’t want to upset the United States. But it is somewhat ridiculous considering that Alliance partners such as Germany or Norway attend as observers [in addition to other European countries such as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland]”, argue from FundiPau, which insists that Madrid still has time to participate.

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