The permanent members of the UN security council claim they want disarmament but at the same time develop ever more efficient ways of destroying the planet, writes JEREMY CORBYN
The UN Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference is held every five years. It is meant to monitor the effects of the spread of nuclear weapons around the world and ensure that the treaty is upheld.
Fundamentally the treaty has two big objectives: that all non-nuclear states who sign should not acquire or develop nuclear weapons, and that the existing nuclear weapon states (Britain, France, China, Russia and the US) should take steps to disarm, thus reaching the objective of a nuclear free world.
This review conference is drawing to a close and at the time of writing, the final declaration has not even been presented to the rather jaded delegates who’ve spent three weeks haggling over its details in endless committee meetings all over the UN in New York.
In reality it is the eternal debate of the permanent five and, despite all the public rhetoric, none have effectively moved towards nuclear disarmament — but in all cases have reduced the number of warheads they hold.
The development of nuclear weapons by India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel is obviously a threat and a danger, and an even greater danger would be the development of nuclear weapons by any other state. Interestingly, South Africa, the most prominent country to unilaterally give up nuclear weapons, is playing a very crucial role at the conference and its ambassador, Abdul Minti, commands huge respect amongst the many peace organisations in New York.
Before the conference began, there was a march of 7,500 people on the UN, with supporters from 20 countries who presented a letter to Taous Feroukhi who is the president of the Review Conference.
She accepted the seven million signature petition which called on all parties of the NPT to immediately develop a timetable to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons, and called upon India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan to join the process without delay.
One of the issues has been the dishonesty of the nuclear weapon states who claim to be reducing the number of warheads and in some cases de-targeting existing ones. This narrative is undermined by a very interesting article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists nuclear notebook by Andrew Lichterman, who noted that “new or improved nuclear weapons programmes underway worldwide include at least 27 ballistic missiles, 9 cruise missiles, 8 naval vessels, 5 bombers, 8 warheads, and 8 weapons factories.”
Rearmaments around the world stretch from the US to China, with Britain preparing to spend £100bn on the development of the new generation of Trident nuclear submarines.
Last December was the third conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons hosted by the Austrian government in Vienna, which concluded with the Austrian pledge that “mindful of the unacceptable harm that victims of nuclear weapons explosions and nuclear testing have experienced, and recognising that the rights of these victims have not been adequately addressed,” calls for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
Belated participation in the conference in Vienna by the US and Britain sadly was only used as a platform for them to claim that their security depended on their nuclear weapons. It is quite possible that South Africa will host another Humanitarian Effects of Nuclear Weapons conference and thus further isolate the nuclear ambitions of the nine nuclear states of the world.
The 2005 conference called for the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Zone in the Middle East and a conference to set this in motion which would have to include both Iran and Israel to have any effect.
This conference has never been held despite Finland being tasked with hosting it, and at the last review conference in 2005 there was a unanimous vote to hold the conference. Since then the progress of negotiations with Iran has provided the basis on which the conference could be held. The exasperation of delegates regarding this lack of progress is clearly boiling over and the Russian delegation is tabling new proposals on how to take the matter forward.
Quite simply, if there is not a process of nuclear disarmament in the region, then any one of the immensely wealthy countries could purchase or provide their own nuclear weapons.
The case of the Marshall Islands who were the victims of 67 nuclear tests between 1946 and ’58 has become a cause celebre, and the government of the Marshall Islands has now instituted a case in the International Court of Justice against the one member on the P5+1 — five permanent members of the UN security council, namely China, France, Russia, the Britain, and the US, plus Germany — which subscribes to the International Court of Justice for its non-fulfilment of the disarmament obligations of the NPT.
The case is proceeding in the court.
Albert Einstein said: “Bullets kill men, but atomic bombs kill cities. A tank is a defence against a bullet, but there is no defence against a weapon that can destroy civilisation …”.
Depressing as the outcome of the conference looks, the cause of peace and nuclear disarmament is more vital than ever.
Britain has a huge role to play in this, with the newly elected Conservative government promising to pledge £100bn on replacing the Trident system which runs completely counter to the high-minded rhetoric of the P5 who claim they really want disarmament while at the same time developing ever more efficient ways of giving themselves the ability to destroy the planet.
In 2001 Shaker Aamer and his family were happily living in Afghanistan. He was working on building girls’ schools and improving education.
September 2001 came, and with it war on Afghanistan waged by an enormous international coalition and many others.
The US offered enormous sums of money to anyone in Afghanistan who could bring in any foreign nationals who were deemed to be supporters of the Taliban. Shaker was a victim of this, and was sold by various bounty hunters and eventually ended up in Bagram base in Kabul where he was brutally treated, and then sometime later found himself in Guantanamo bay.
He has never been charged with any offence and never been through any judicial process. He has now been in custody for 14 years.
He has a Saudi passport, but his wife and children are all British and he has permanent residence in Britain. He was cleared for release by the George Bush administration and later re-cleared for release by the Barack Obama presidency, but is still not able to return to his family.
In Guantanamo Bay there have been protests, hunger strikes and a worldwide campaign — 15 British prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have been returned home but Shaker remains in custody.
This issue has been raised by the wonderful Save Shaker Aamer campaign who have been marching, meeting, protesting and demonstrating outside Parliament for a long time and they deserve enormous credit.
Earlier this year John McDonnell formed an all-party parliamentary Shaker Aamer group which immediately attracted 40 MPs of all parties and in March placed a resolution before the House of Commons calling for his return to Britain.
This was agreed by the House of Commons. The Prime Minister has taken the issue up directly with President Obama, and William Hague also raised the subject with his counterpart, Hilary Clinton, when he was foreign secretary.
Early this week I was part of a delegation with two conservative MPs — Andrew Mitchell and David Davis — and one Labour colleague, Andy Slaughter, to lobby the US Senate on the case.
During meetings with Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Manchin, Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin, as well as in discussions with the State Department and the Senate Armed Services Committee we demanded Shaker’s release from Guantanamo Bay.
It’s past time this legal void should be closed, and Shaker allowed to return to Britain.
Without campaigning by ordinary people for justice for Shaker, there would never have been a resolution passed by the House of Commons to visit the Senate. It shows the value of protest.