If we have to, we’ll drag our government kicking and screaming to the next round of UN nuclear ban negotiations, writes KATE HUDSON
THIS week the international community has gathered at the UN in New York to negotiate a global nuclear weapons ban treaty. Yet in spite of successive British governments’ supposed commitment to multilateral disarmament — a pledge repeated just last summer in Parliament’s debate on replacing Trident — Britain opposed the negotiations taking place and is boycotting the talks.
Nevertheless our ambassador to the UN did manage to make an appearance on the opening day — to come in behind US opposition to the negotiations.
In fact, three of the nuclear weapons states made a bid for attention by holding a press conference outside the ban negotiation room, led by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who denounced the talks.
Described by one commentator as a representative of the Trump regime, she was backed up by the French and British ambassadors. The latter, Matthew Rycroft, insisted that the ban cannot and will not work, repeating the government’s longstanding view that the best way to achieve global nuclear disarmament is gradual multilateral negotiations with a step by step approach within existing international frameworks.
As we have said many times before, if there were any evidence of that actually happening, this position would be taken more seriously.
It’s this complete lack of seriousness by all the nuclear-armed states that has actually led to these negotiations. The vast majority of states don’t have nuclear weapons and they have lost patience with the prevarication and hypocrisy of those that do.
So they have taken matters into their own hands by holding these negotiations. Taking place this week, and with a further round in June and July, there will be a treaty as a result and nuclear weapons possession will be in an entirely new legal framework.
As it is, the requirement for nuclear disarmament has been enshrined in international law since 1970, in the form of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT commits its signatories — including Britain — to take steps to disarm if they have nuclear weapons and not to acquire them if they don’t.
While the non-nuclear states have kept their side of the bargain, all the nuclear powers still have their weapons and are even upgrading or modernising their arsenals — Trident replacement in Britain’s case.
While substantial bilateral or unilateral reductions have taken place since the end of the cold war, these have largely been the result of stockpile consolidation or systems modernisation.
The review conferences of the NPT, held every five years, have failed to break the logjam and make genuine progress towards nuclear disarmament, largely because of obstruction by the nuclear-armed states. The most recent review conference in May 2015 failed to reach any agreement.
Meanwhile, negotiations at the UN Conference on Disarmament, the world’s only permanent multilateral disarmament treaty negotiating body, have been stalled since 1996.
It is in this context of frustration that the international initiative on the humanitarian impact of nuclear use — the precursor to demands for a global ban — began.
The 2010 NPT review conference’s final document officially expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” for the first time.
Following this, a group of countries began delivering joint statements on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
By 2013, over a hundred governments had joined the initiative and a conference was arranged in Oslo. Their arguments were based on new studies which added to the historical experience from the use and testing of nuclear weapons which has demonstrated their devastating, immediate and long-term effects.
These studies have shown that nuclear war would result in mass starvation due to the impact on agricultural production and profound climate change.
As Scientists for Global Responsibility pointed out in 2013, “the firepower of just one Trident nuclear submarine could not only devastate 48 cities and cause tens of millions of direct casualties, but also cause a global cooling lasting several years and of a magnitude not seen since the last ice age.”
Conferences in Oslo and Nayarit to discuss these effects and the way forward were followed by the Vienna Conference in 2014. Over 150 states attended, including for the first time — under pressure from civil society — the US and Britain.
The conference concluded with the hosts delivering a historic pledge to “stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and other associated risks” and to “identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”
On December 7 2015, the United Nations general assembly adopted the pledge in the form of Resolution 70/48. This resolution led to the establishment of a special UN working group which published a final report in August 2016 recommending that a conference be held in 2017 to negotiate a global ban on nuclear weapons.
The nuclear nations and their proxies — including most of the Nato countries — tried to stop this outcome but failed, as over a hundred countries voted in favour of the final report. In October 2016, states voted on a resolution along the same lines at the UN general assembly.
A hundred and twenty-three countries voted in favour, with only 38 voting against. Those opposed included the Britain, the US, France, Israel and Russia. Even North Korea voted in favour of the ban conference. The other nuclear states (India, Pakistan and China) abstained. The result is the negotiations now under way.
This is a breakthrough in international disarmament efforts. A treaty banning nuclear weapons will be of enormous importance in further establishing that most of the world agrees that there is no place for these weapons of mass destruction.
The job ahead of us is to bring our government, kicking and screaming if need be, to the negotiating table. They have boycotted this first round of the talks. They need to be at the next round from the end of June.
Now is the time to expose their doublespeak on multilateralism and make them live up to their obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Kate Hudson is CND general secretary. Visit cnduk.org to join CND’s actions in support of the nuclear weapons ban negotiations.