World Watch: New Focus for Nuclear Disarmament
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The long-awaited review conference by the 191 countries that participate in the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) ended in August of 2022 without a consensus document. 

Faithful readers will remember the World Watch column in 2021 entitled “Treaties Foster Disarmament,” which held out hope that the five nations with nuclear weapons that participate in the NPT (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) would affirm and take action toward disarmament during the review. The conference, normally held on five-year intervals since the treaty entered into force in 1970, had been postponed in 2020 due to COVID. 

Nearly two years later, the conference was again postponed from January to August. Then, in February, Russia launched its military invasion of Ukraine.

The timeline proved foreboding. The conference’s delay upon delay mirrored the dysfunction that erupted after a nuclear-armed state invaded a non-nuclear-armed state.

Russia alone objected to the 30-page draft declaration, despite the declaration’s silence on Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons in the context of the Ukraine invasion and the lack of required steps in the document to advance nuclear disarmament. The NPT review conference ended without an agreement, proving the treaty incapable of addressing the urgency of the moment. 

All hope would be lost for United Nations-led nuclear disarmament efforts if not for another treaty, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), championed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of nuclear weapons, ICAN is a global coalition of civil society organizations working “to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”

Gathering in Vienna just weeks before the NPT review, the 68 state parties of the TPNW, none of which possess nuclear weapons, committed to the 50-point Vienna Action Plan, to deepen understanding of and strengthen commitments to disarmament.

In an article after the failed NPT review, ICAN said, “Faced with an unacceptable dangerous global situation, state parties to the TPNW did in three days what the NPT failed to do in one month: adopt a credible plan to advance disarmament, help victims of nuclear use and testing, and condemn any and all threats to use nuclear weapons.”

“The NPT is in crisis,” ICAN goes on to say, “but the TPNW is already starting to carry out its role of implementing the nuclear disarmament obligations of the NPT. All other NPT state parties that have failed to make progress during the NPT Review Conference should join this work too.”


• Read and share “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament,” a pastoral letter by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe calling the Church to embrace nuclear disarmament. The letter includes group discussion questions.

• Join the Back from the Brink campaign to educate the public and gather endorsements from cities and organizations for nuclear weapons abolition 

• Learn more about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The full text of the treaty can be found at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) wetsite at More information can also be found at the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs,

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, based in Washington, D.C., is a resource for Maryknoll on matters of peace, social justice and integrity of creation, and brings Maryknoll’s mission experience into U.S. policy discussions. Phone (202) 832-1780, visit or email

Featured Image: A Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missiles group formation is seen Oct. 1, 2019, in Beijing. (CNS photo/Weng Qiyu, Reuters)


Magazine Past Issues

About the author

Thomas Gould

Thomas Gould, who earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University, is communications manager for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.