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Bruce Kent: As I please

We need to get our priorities right, argues Bruce Kent

What an odd world of priorities we live in. Any more about Brexit – important though it is in so many ways – tends now to produce a yawn.

Yet the recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has not even started to be a priority. We must all make it one.

It was passed with the support of 122 countries at a UN conference a couple of weeks ago. Only the Netherlands voted ‘No’.

The nuclear weapon countries, including our own, took no part. In fact Michael Fallon, our Conservative defence secretary, went out of his way to say that the new UN treaty would be ignored.

He may not be able to ignore it. International law can be created by custom and practice as well as by statute, and the international court of justice, when a case gets to it, as it will, may have other ideas which challenge those of Fallon.

The new treaty takes us into a new legal world of possibilities.

Previously, nuclear weapon states were not too unhappy with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It did not require them to actually DO anything except to negotiate nuclear weapon abolition ‘in good faith’.

Of course, for almost 40 years they claimed to have been negotiating ‘in good faith’.

Even though this country is about to spend something like £205bn on building and running a new set of nuclear-armed submarines, it still describes itself as being in ‘good faith’.

“To safeguard the future of humanity we have to eliminate not only the instruments of waging war, but war itself.”

Now the game has changed. The new 2017 treaty does not mess about. Article 1 could not be clearer. It says that:

‘Each Party undertakes never under any circumstances to: (A) Develop, test, produce, manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess, stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.’

That is only the beginning. Six other prohibitions follow. Paragraph (D) expressly says states must undertake never to ‘[u]se or threaten to use nuclear weapons....’

So much for nuclear deterrence.

How has this gone down? Very well with most of the world. The Japan Council against A & H Bombs points out that ‘upon adoption, the Treaty will be made open for signature to all States from September 20, 2017. This will call into question the position of each member state.’ So it’s not too late to put pressure on the British government to endorse the treaty.

Pope Francis once again will not be pleased with his European and United States bishops. They issued a statement on 6 July which looks good until you come to the section which mentions a list of things to be done: ‘Reduce reliance on nuclear deterrence in national and international security strategies....’

Reduce reliance – that is exactly what the new UN treaty does not say. This US/European bishops’ statement gives nuclear weapons a credibility they do not deserve.

Our expensive submarine system does nothing for our real security. We can’t retaliate – even if we wanted to – against suicidal groups like ISIS who do not have territory to defend. Nothing will ever make us safe against the ever-present risks of accident. The list of those is very long. That is why Robert MacNamara said that we were saved ‘not by good judgement but by good luck’.

Let’s return to Joseph Rotblat, who years ago took us back to fundamentals. In his ‘A World without War’ speech in 2002 he said: ‘getting rid of nuclear weapons is not enough. To safeguard the future of humanity we have to eliminate not only the instruments of waging war, but war itself.’

Time to write to your local paper explaining what a lot of dangerous nonsense is today passing for defence.

Bruce Kent is vice-president of CND and Pax Christi.

Topics: Nuclear Weapons