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This article argues that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) would not have been possible without protecting the inalienable rights of states to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. While some Western states and NGOs have pushed to ban all applications of nuclear technology, this was unacceptable to a large number of disarmament-supporting states from the Global South and the Non-Aligned Movement. Without support from states across the Global South, the TPNW would not have achieved the required number of signatories to be adopted. Thus, we argue that to properly understand the TPNW, an appreciation of states’ interests and motivations beyond their more widely discussed frustrations with the pace of nuclear disarmament is essential. We also argue that nuclear weapons scholarship must pay more attention to perspectives from the Global South and the concept of Nutopia – a belief in both the dystopian potential of nuclear weapons and the utopian possibilities of nuclear energy – in its understanding of nuclear politics, past and present. Global South perspectives are often overlooked, and as such, current regimes of nuclear arms control and disarmament remain only partially understood in Western literature.
Three decades after what is widely referred to as the transition from a First to a Second Nuclear Age, the world stands on the cusp of a possible Third Nuclear Age where the way that we conceptualise the central dynamics of the nuclear game will change again. This paradigm shift is being driven by the growth and spread of non-nuclear technologies with strategic applications and by a shift in thinking about the sources of nuclear threats and how they should be addressed, primarily, but not solely, in the United States. Recent scholarship has rightly identified a new set of challenges posed by the development of strategic non-nuclear weaponry (SNNW). But the full implications of this transformation in policy, technology and thinking for the global nuclear order as a whole have so far been underexplored. To remedy this, we look further ahead to the ways in which current trends, if taken to their logical conclusion, have the capacity to usher in a new nuclear era. We argue that in the years ahead, SNNW will increasingly shape the nuclear order, particularly in relation to questions of stability and risk. In the Third Nuclear Age, nuclear deployments, postures, balances, arms control, non-proliferation policy, and the prospects for disarmament, will all be shaped as much by developments in SNNW capabilities as by nuclear weapons. Consequently, we advocate for an urgent reassessment of the way nuclear order and nuclear risks are conceptualised as we confront the challenges of a Third Nuclear Age.
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