Governments do listen sometimes. The UK Government has stated today that it will attend next week’s conference in Vienna on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons. The UK boycotted the first two humanitarian impacts conferences but has come under much domestic pressure to join with 150 nation states in Vienna on 8/9 December #HINW14Vienna. Leaders of UK Churches wrote to the Foreign Secretary twice earlier this year and we have followed up with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office since. In response the Foreign Secretary explained the reasons why the UK refused to engage with this process prior to today.
Essentially, the UK Government is trying to dampen down efforts on the part of many countries, including some friendly NATO allies, to achieve new initiatives on nuclear disarmament based around international law. Consequently, in addition to boycotting conferences in Oslo, Norway and Nayarit, Mexico, the UK Government has: –
- Rejected the UN Secretary General’s proposal for multilateral discussions on his five-point plan on nuclear disarmament
- Boycotted the Open-Ended Working Group on multilateral disarmament established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012
- At the last NPT Review Conference in 2010, in conjunction with some other nuclear weapons states, deleted all references to timescales on specific disarmament actions. (See our analysis of UK progress since 2010 on these actions – UK report to the NPT is “woefully thin”)
This type of behaviour has prompted theMarshall Islands to take the UK to the International Court of Justice for failure to comply with our obligation under international law to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.
At Vienna next week the UK Government might seek to dissuade allies from supporting new initiatives for meaningful discussion on comprehensive approaches to multilateral nuclear disarmament. The UK Government, along with four other nuclear armed states, would prefer that any such discussion be limited to the Conference on Disarmament (which is so dysfunctional it has been unable even to agree its own agenda for meetings for the past 17 years) or to five-year NPT Review Conferences at which states exercise a veto.
If our Government really is listening it will be aware of the increasing volume of calls from governments and citizens across the globe for a more inclusive disarmament process based around international law. This is an opportunity to write to our MPs. We can welcome the attendance at Vienna and state our expectation that this will be the start of a new commitment on the part of our Government to work more constructively on a range of disarmament initiatives in the future. Ultimately will the UK support the increasing number of the world’s governments calling for a new treaty to ensure that nuclear weapons are treated in the same way the chemical and biological weapons under international law?