It's Time to Outlaw Nuclear Weapons

It's Time to Outlaw Nuclear Weapons

A treaty banning the bomb could lead to real progress.

Enter once again the Nuclear-Weapons Ban Treaty. If 120 to 150 states in the world declared nuclear weapons illegal, it might be the necessary push for London to take the decision to abandon nuclear weapons.

All this remains, of course, speculation. Advocates of nuclear disarmament regard a Nuclear-Weapons Ban Treaty as the best external incentive to put pressure on the UK, and consequently on other nuclear-weapon states. A nuclear-weapons ban could even have an effect in the United States. The nuclear-weapons labs and the U.S. military already have serious problems in attracting the best and the brightest; a nuclear-weapons ban will push even more of them toward more attractive scientific challenges.

For the first time ever, the non-nuclear-weapon states hold the steering wheel of nuclear governance. In contrast to the Cold War, when the narrative of nuclear deterrence prevailed, and in contrast to the post–Cold War period, when the paradigm of nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear security dominated, this is the time to focus again on the end goal—namely, nuclear elimination. While the non-nuclear-weapon states are unable to convince the nuclear-weapon states to abandon their nuclear weapons in the short term, they can put pressure on them by negotiating a Nuclear-Weapons Ban Treaty. The only precondition is that some of the non-nuclear-weapon states are willing to take the lead. Countries like Norway, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, Austria and Switzerland have already taken up the responsibility in the past. Due to domestic politics, Norway and Switzerland are less active these days. But for the same reason, states like Ireland, Sweden, Canada or Brazil might take over.

A Nuclear-Weapons Ban Treaty may be the tool necessary to rescue the failing global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Tom Sauer is Associate Professor in International Politics at the Universiteit Antwerpen (Belgium). He is a former BCSIA Fellow at Harvard University, and co-editor of Nuclear Terrorism: Countering the Threat (Routledge, March 2016).

Image: Flickr/U.S. Air Force