… the majority of the world’s nations agree that any use of a nuclear weapon is illegal under international law
We have done it! The text of the most significant multi-lateral nuclear weapons treaty of the past 20 years was agreed in New York today. Over 130 states and many civil society representatives have attended the negotiating conference over the past few weeks.
The nuclear ban treaty is the product of campaigning by a great many citizens, including faith groups and some governments across the world.
Until now multilateral negotiations on disarmament have proceeded at the pace set by the nuclear weapons powers themselves. To describe this pace as ‘glacial’ would be generous. The process for arriving at the nuclear ban treaty has sadly had to accept that those with a vested interested in nuclear weapons might choose to stay away. Nuclear weapons states such as the UK have persistently sought to avoid the inescapable logic of international law with regard to nuclear weapons: a logic that places nuclear weapons in the same category as other indiscriminate weapons. Chemical and biological weapons have already been banned.
So why is the adoption of this treaty text important when the nuclear weapons powers will not sign up to it? It is, in part, because this treaty will help to tarnish highly distasteful and dangerous rhetoric of the type that we saw in the recent General Election campaign, where government ministers and others talked of using the UK’s nuclear weapons in a first strike capacity. But more crucially because it makes clear that the majority of the world’s states accept the very solid legal grounds that “any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular the principles and rules of international humanitarian law”.
The United Nations will now move on to getting an even greater number of governments together for a High Level Conference in 2018 to begin to discuss paths to the elimination of nuclear weapons. It is our hope that on that occasion the UK Government will choose to attend.
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