Today, representatives of the majority of the world’s nations will gather in New York to negotiate the text of a new “Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” (commonly known as the Nuclear Ban Treaty). The Nuclear Ban Treaty has been demanded by millions of citizens across the world. They are represented by faith groups, civic groups and NGOs who have gathered under the umbrella of the international campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons (ICAN). Our churches and other UK faith groups have joined this call.
The existing Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a grand bargain; nuclear powers promise to negotiate away their nuclear weapons and non-nuclear powers promise not to acquire them.But now all nuclear weapon states including the UK are modernising their arsenals while the dysfunctional Conference on Disarmament has failed to agree its agenda for the past 18 years.
The majority of the world’s governments support this ban treaty but nuclear weapons states such as the UK oppose it. The UK Ambassador to the UN explained “The UK is not attending the negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons because we do not believe that those negotiations will lead to effective progress on global nuclear disarmament.” In reality, the UK does not want to be pressured into negotiating nuclear disarmament in forums beyond the failing Conference on Disarmament. UK Disarmament Ambassador, Matthew Rowland, “Nuclear weapons are so intimately tied up with the security perceptions of so many states, whether they possess nuclear weapons or not, that any forum … Continue reading
There are other concerns too. A US memo to members of NATO warns that the Nuclear Ban Treaty will have practical implications for the US and allies. These include difficulties with the transit of nuclear-related material through territorial airspace or seas of signatory countries, and the impossibility of US ships conducting port calls in various places and the further undermining of the ‘deterrence’ concept in the minds of adversaries and the general public.
But the UK government’s greatest fear may be that it will be found to be on the wrong side of history. The government has stated that “we stand ready to include our nuclear arsenal in broader multilateral negotiations when it will be useful to do so”. It then committed massive public spending building new Trident submarines specifically designed to carry nuclear weapons. The cost at £41 billion makes this one of the UK’s largest single infrastructure projects. The submarines will not come into service until the early 2030’s and have a lifespan until 2060 and beyond. If the UK is committed to working with other nations on multilateral disarmament you might expect that there would be a contingency plan for this project. Sadly there is no publicly stated contingency. Does £41 billion go down the drain if we make progress on disarmament? Without a ‘plan B’ the UK statement on the inclusion of its nuclear arsenal in negotiations sounds like a bluff.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost. As campaigners gather outside of the United Nations building in New York, those inside are working to ensure that within the next couple of years the use and deployment of nuclear weapons are clearly inadmissible under international law.
This treaty alone will be insufficient but it could mark the beginning of the end for nuclear weapons. The negotiating conference that convenes in New York today will deliver a completed treaty text on 7 July. Our churches will then publish a briefing to help our members bring this to the attention of our MPs, many of whom will be sympathetic to measures for multilateral disarmament – watch this space!
|↑1||UK Disarmament Ambassador, Matthew Rowland, “Nuclear weapons are so intimately tied up with the security perceptions of so many states, whether they possess nuclear weapons or not, that any forum for negotiating measures to advance global disarmament must be multilateral and must take decisions by consensus. … For all the frustrations of [the Conference on Disarmament], it is difficult to envisage an alternative that would be better fitted for the purpose of negotiating global disarmament.”|