The Irish Times view: Leading on nuclear arms control

In ratifying treaty, Ireland recommits itself to not hosting or assisting in the shipment of nuclear weapons

The sad annual commemoration yesterday of the atomic bomb attack 75 years ago on Hiroshima, and immediate deaths of over 140,000 people, was appropriately marked by Ireland with its welcome ratification of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty acquires binding effect on ratifiers 90 days after 50 sign up; Ireland is number 43.

It prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement of the prohibited activities. Proponents believe the treaty can help stigmatise nuclear weapons internationally as morally unacceptable weapons of war, and serve as a catalyst in the campaign for their elimination. Ireland had joined up in 2014 with Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa to push for an international ban, and the TPNW was approved by 122 votes to 1 at the UN in 2017.

The ratification process took a blow last year, however, when Sweden, a long-time champion of nuclear disarmament, said it would not sign up to the treaty, claiming it was badly drafted and inconsistent with other anti-proliferation treaties. Critics say that in reality Sweden feared the treaty might legally impede its co-operation with security organisations like Nato, which has nuclear deterrence and weapons at its core (the treaty bans operational assistance, such as transhipment of nuclear weapons).

But lawyers say, and both Ireland and Austria clearly believe, it represents no impediment to membership or association with Nato through alignment with Partnership for Peace as long as signatories remain aloof from planning or operational matters involving nuclear weapons. In ratifying, Ireland recommits itself in a binding way to its existing policy of not hosting or assisting in the transhipment of nuclear weapons, but it will continue to participate in Nato-affiliate Partnership for Peace programmes and the evolving development of common European security alongside nuclear-armed states.