The Global Networks Working to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

By Robert Muggah and Peter Schmidt

Published in the Foreign Policy

Nuclear weapons are without doubt the most indiscriminate and inhumane weapons ever conceived. Even a small-scale nuclear conflagration could have devastating global repercussions, which explains the extraordinary efforts to rein them in. They are also technically illegal: The recently concluded Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the first multilateral, legally binding agreement to ban their development, production, testing, stockpiling, use, and threat of use. Despite the treaty being quietly adopted in 2020 and entering into force this year, it is not universally supported. None of the world’s nine nuclear powers have signed or ratified the agreement. In the world of nuclear arms control, it turns out this is par for the course. Those who have such arms like to keep them. The only country that ever voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons is Ukraine, which inherited them during the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Although only a few countries actually possess nuclear warheads, most states are involved in international measures to restrain their design, development, and deployment. The most important of these efforts is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Negotiated between 1965 and 1968 and in force since 1970, the NPT was established to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and advance the goals of complete nuclear disarmament. It was extended indefinitely in 1995 and, despite the defection of North Korea in 2003, continues to hold up.

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