Human security, empowerment and challenging the nuclear status quo

“An expression of collective resistance to those aspects of nuclear hegemony, nuclear hierarchy, and practices of nuclear control that legitimize and perpetuate the existence of nuclear weapons, the practice of nuclear deterrence, and the risks of catastrophic nuclear violence”.1

Contestation has always characterised the discourse on nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament. Ever since the Non Proliferation Treaty entered into force in 1970, and even well before, the non-nuclear weapon States - the "nuclear have nots” - have demanded more credible progress on nuclear disarmament from the five nuclear weapon States. These demands usually culminate at the NPT Review Conferences, held every five years. The definition of a successful disarmament outcome at a NPT Review Conference is usually one where these demands are met by the nuclear weapon States, reluctantly, accepting some - albeit strongly qualified - commitments on nuclear disarmament. This happened in 1995, 2000 and 2010?

The process leading to the negotiations and the adoption of the TPNW can be seen as a decisive break from this established pattern. The nature of the discourse in the Humanitarian Initiative and the fact that the five nuclear weapons States boycotted it, changed the dynamic. Instead of voicing demands of what you -the nuclear weapon States - should do, we looked to what we - the non-nuclear weapon States - could or even need to do ourselves to further the case of nuclear disarmament. This sense of agency of the non-nuclear weapons States is a consequence of their loss of trust in any disarmament process led by the nuclear weapon States. The TPNW, thus, represents a profound shift from the traditional nuclear disarmament discourse within the NPT. It is an expression of the “crisis of legitimacy”3 detected in the NPT-based nuclear disarmament framework.

Since 2010, a dynamic process of- relative - empowerment of the non-nuclear weapon States has taken place, challenging the control and dominance of the multilateral nuclear weapons sphere, that the nuclear weapons States traditionally enjoyed. The most visible expressions of this process are the Humanitarian Initiative and the TPNW itself. The nuclear weapon States and their allies have reacted to the change in different ways, ranging from initially dismissing the development, to opposition, to outright hostility. This chapter traces the development of the arguments that were employed in the Humanitarian Initiative and the process leading to the TPNW.

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