Time to kick the nuclear addiction

IssueJuly - August 2010
Feature by Tim Street

The urgent need for nuclear weapon states to end their decades-long addiction was a recurring demand from disarmament activists at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference (NPT), held at the United Nations in New York during May.

On 12 May, Liam Fox, the new British defence secretary, showed just how much of a nuclear junkie the UK has become, when he stated in his first speech that: “We have got a very clear agreement that we will continue with the nuclear deterrent.”

The UK’s dependence on the nonsense of nuclear deterrence exists in defiance of international law, public opinion (the majority of the public wish to see Trident scrapped) and the many states calling for nuclear abolition now.

At the NPT conference, activists and several non-nuclear weapon states emphasised that the nuclear weapons states, under Article VI of the NPT, and as unanimously affirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1996, must act speedily and in good faith to eliminate nuclear weapons via a global abolition treaty.

By its continued deployment of nuclear weapons, Britain has, for decades, failed to comply with its NPT obligations. Furthermore, by planning to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system and breathe new life into the arms race, the government is committed not only to wasting tens of billions of pounds, but to defying international law.

The UK’s statement to the NPT on 20 May cited the progress it has made towards implementing its Article VI obligations. Yet such reductions and closures of nuclear facilities are inadequate because they were made in response to the end of the cold war twenty years ago. Then, on 26 May, William Hague, the new British foreign secretary, revealed that Britain’s total number of nuclear warheads would not exceed 225, and announced a review of the circumstances in which the UK’s nuclear weapons would be launched.

This could be a step forward for transparency and confidence-building, especially if the UK gave “negative security assurances” and no-first use pledges to non-nuclear weapon states. Yet the fact remains that no use of nuclear weapons, under any circumstances, can ever be justified. Furthermore, the government’s decision not to include Trident in its forthcoming strategic defence review illustrates the persistence of the nuclear mindset.

The nuclear weapons states could fulfil their commitments under the NPT to disarm and forever end the nuclear menace through a legally-binding, verifiable and time-bound treaty which would – irreversibly – abolish nuclear weapons.

With this in mind, and with strong support from UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, 28 individual NPT member states and the Non-Aligned Movement group as a whole (116 states) called for work to begin on a Nuclear Weapons Convention at the NPT.

The principal block on achieving nuclear disarmament is the fact that many among the powerful elites controlling nuclear arsenals feel threatened by the prospect of having to forever forgo their nuclear weapon fix. President Obama can say he wants a world free of nuclear weapons, and agree nuclear arms reductions with Russia, but what lessons will Iran and North Korea draw from his recent call for $180 billion to upgrade the US nuclear arms complex and its nuclear delivery systems’? The UK’s dependence on nuclear weapons is itself dependent on the US, resulting in the UK’s subservient role in the “special relationship”.

The truly “special relationships” between states are the international treaties outlawing landmines, cluster munitions, biological weapons and chemical weapons.

Such successful examples of states working together to make the world a safer place for all show that, with the requisite political will, it is possible to immediately begin negotiating a ban on nuclear weapons, the most destructive weapons ever invented.

Topics: Nuclear weapons