A New Front Just Opened in the Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons

A New Front Just Opened in the Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons
Activists attend a press conference calling for the divestment from nuclear weapons on the steps of City Hall, in New York City, Jan 28, 2020 (SIPA photo by Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden via AP Images).

UTRECHT, the Netherlands—This week, both the Swedish International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, launched complementary reports on the state of the world’s proliferating nuclear arsenals. The SIPRI report showed that the number of operational warheads worldwide is increasing, even as the total number is decreasing due to stockpiled warheads being phased out. The ICAN report emphasized not the number of new weapons, but the increasing amount of money spent on them and the role of the nuclear industry in promoting popular and elite belief in the need for nuclear supremacy.

Taken together, these data represent not only evidence of current trends, but also a new salvo in global civil society’s efforts to stigmatize nuclear weapons, this time by drawing attention to the humanitarian risks posed by their possession and proliferation, to say nothing of their use.

It may seem contradictory that nuclear spending, nuclear saber-rattling and reassertive nuclear policies appear to be on the rise, just five years after the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into force, banning the use or threatened use of such weapons. But in some respects this is to be expected. The “nuclear taboo” has always been a taboo on the use, not the possession, of nuclear weapons, and it has co-existed uneasily with the acceptance of a world in which the possession of nuclear weapons—at least by certain states—remains a reality. Moreover, none of the nuclear weapons states have accepted or signed the ban treaty. As political scientist Rebecca Gibbons writes, backlashes by status quo powers against emerging or solidifying norms are nothing new. So it is consistent with the current nuclear order that even as a treaty norm against nuclear use strengthens, some actors—including defense contractors incentivized to protect their market share—would reemphasize possession of nuclear weapons as a bulwark against their use.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.