States Parties to the Nuclear Ban Treaty Gather at UN

Peace Advocate January 2024

Photo: Activists gather in support of Nuclear Ban Treaty.

States Parties to the Nuclear Ban Treaty Gather at UN, Pushing Movement Forward

Activists Strategize and Make Crucial Connections

by Susan Mirsky & Kathie Malley-Morrison

For many of us, participation in the Second Meeting of States Parties (2MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) began Sunday November 26 in an all-day Campaigner Meeting sponsored by the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This meeting, which brought together more than 200 members of civil society representing a variety of nuclear disarmament NGOs from around the country provided an exciting and educational introduction to the 2MSP. We met the terrific new Executive Director of ICAN, Melissa Parke, and heard presentations on the TPNW—its history, what happened at the first meeting of the States Parties, and ideas for promoting ratification of the TPNW internationally, including in the countries that have nuclear weapons.

The 2MSP was held from November 27 to December 1, 2023 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The whole week was a stimulating conference with smart passionate people who had varying ways of framing engagement in nuclear weapons abolition and the dangers of nuclear power, bringing together their different viewpoints, experiences, and expertise to create a safer, nuclear-free world.

Civil society observers attended morning and afternoon meetings each day, watching and listening from the balcony gallery where they followed the proceedings on a big screen as delegates spoke in turn. The gallery was fitted with comfortable seats and earphones, and observers could pick the language they wanted to hear. Before these sessions, ICAN offered daily ICAN briefings for civil society observers.

At the end of each session, there were opportunities for civil society members to address the delegates and other observers. For example, Fran Jeffries spoke on behalf of Rotary Action Group for Peace and Kathleen Hamill spoke for Warheads to Windmills. There were very moving speeches from Japanese youth with hibakusha grandparents. Speakers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Red Crescent (the Red Cross of the Middle East) praised the TPNW and said it should be the norm for humanity. A civil society speaker for elders emphasized the importance of climate change and the danger of a new arms race disguised as modernization of old weapons—noting that more nukes is the pathway to the end of human life. In a statement accepted at the 2MSP, an Affected Communities delegation called specifically on the nuclear-armed nations to join the treaty and be accountable for their actions.

Every delegate who spoke was very positive about the TPNW except for a delegate from Belgium, who said her presence should not be taken as an endorsement of the TPNW. She criticized Russia, China, and Japan for having nuclear weapons, said she supported the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and announced that Belgium will not join the TPNW. She was followed by the representative from Equatorial Guinea, who noted that the whole conference was about considering the TPNW.

Aside from the main events at the UN each day, there were more than 51 side events organized by groups such as ICAN – some in conference rooms within the UN itself and some at other venues throughout the city. At a wonderful multi-media side event Monday evening, we learned about “The New Manhattan Project: A Concert for Nuclear Abolition—From the Manhattan Project to Banning the Bomb”, telling of New York City’s singular role in nuclear weapons development and disarmament.

Early Tuesday morning, with a young Japanese girl who had befriended me, I joined a march led by Jim Anderson (past president of NY Peace Action and a co-chair of the Peace Action Board) that proceeded from the UN building to the US and Russian Embassies, rallying for an end to nuclear weapons. From a loudspeaker at the US Embassy, a booming voice ordered everyone to leave the area. At the Russian Embassy, a staff person came down and spoke with us somewhat supportively, including speaking directly with Timmon Wallace, who gave him a copy of his new book on nuclear disarmament.

Other highlights: Tuesday evening, we attended the Nuclear Free Future Awards ceremony, co-hosted by Beyond Nuclear and the IPPNW. The winners were all campaigners seeking justice for victims of atomic testing.

Wednesday, we enjoyed an ICAN event presented by Susi Snyder on divestment, “Nuclear Weapons are a Bad Investment”, and another led by Joseph Gerson, “Urgency of Disarmament: International Action to Prevent Nuclear Confrontations and War”. A Thursday highlight sponsored by Warheads to Windmills was “Abolishing Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Weapons: Live Updates from COP28 to 2MSP”.

Not surprisingly, there was some talk about Gaza in many of the speeches and side events during the conference — along with references to occupation, nuclear powers, and imperialism. One of the most telling moments relating to Gaza took place Tuesday at a General Assembly meeting. The delegate from the State of Palestine spoke very positively about the TPNW, indicating that Palestine was a nuclear free state. He then described what Palestinians were experiencing right then — the indiscriminate bombardments, the decimation of the land, the killing of the people. He reminded the audience that Israel has nuclear weapons and urged Israelis to listen to the voices at the conference and abide by the TPNW. After keeping silent during previous testimonies, everyone in the gallery clapped and cheered after he spoke.

For me, the importance of the 2MSP lay in the connections and observations made and their relevance for Mass Peace Action and its Nuclear Disarmament Working Group, including meeting Libbe HaLevy, who has a podcast called Nuclear Hotseat ( Also, I noted with some concern and pride that the only US legislator to attend the conference was US Congressman Jim McGovern from Massachusetts, who was joined by Massachusetts State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa. Of particular value were ideas for future actions that could be taken by MAPA on behalf of nuclear disarmament such as divesting from corporations involved with nuclear weapons, working with affected communities, addressing the dangers of nuclear power, and connecting with national and international organizations involved with the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Susan Mirsky is Chairperson of the Mass Peace Action Nuclear Disarmament Working Group and serves on the MAPA Board of Directors.