As she commits the UK (including Scotland) to austerity, unpredictable expenditure and a deranged level of risk by upgrading Trident, the overwhelming majority of world states are working at UN this week to establish a conference in 2017 to begin the process of creating a ban treaty as a first step in the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
The security council of UN comprises the nuclear weapons armed states who are signatories to the Non Proliferation Treaty which was initiated in 1968 by Ireland, a neutral country that does not possess or host these weapons.
The first resolution that UN agreed was to eliminate use of atomic weapons. That was in 1945, shortly after the US Government, with the complete formal assent of the UK Government, had authorised and implemented the incineration and radiation of two cities in Japan that were full of civilians, at the point when Japan’s surrender at the end of WWll was in negotiation.
In 1967, the UN’s First Resolution was not happening and the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was introduced. One of the main initiator was Ireland, a neutral state during WWll who did not have any nuclear programme. The NPT deal allowed signatories access to atomic (nuclear) technologies for civilian application proved they didn’t develop it militarily, and the nuclear armed states were to have a bit of time to work out how to safely dismantle and eliminate their nukes. The phrase used for the way they would sort out how they would completely disarm was ‘in good faith’. The global community would understand that it might not happen next week, because radioactive stuff was dangerous.
Then there was the cold war, with Nuclear Proliferation meaning more states getting weapons and the states that had them increasing the size of their arsenals several times beyond the point where each ‘nuclear weapon state, as they were now called, could annihilate every species on the planet and render it uninhabitable in perpetuity. Testing had a devastating effect on military personnel, civilians, indigenous people, and the environment, The peace movement and resistance grew accordingly but the idea that the states that had the weapons had to lead the ban effort also somehow became entrenched although the addiction and the closing down of other possible approaches to ‘superpower defense’ was by now pretty obvious.
The NPT was reviewed fairly regularly in a United Nations forum where the states who had nuclear weapons could veto any decision made by each other or by the states that didn’t have the weapons. There were reduction in the stock piles and agreements that reduced the testing. Several new countries acquired nuclear weapons but they didn’t sign up to the treaty. Some countries who had nuclear weapons programmes gave them up, but they hadn’t signed up to the treaty anyway.
By 2010, a staggering 4 decades later, The NPT had not achieved non proliferation and there was no sign that the states who held the weapons were ready to disarm. UN general secretary told the NPT that it needed to sort it out, and get the weapons banned.
Then the International Red Cross and Red Crescent made a statement that, because the event of a nuclear exchange the humanitarian consequences would be so catastrophic that they would be unable to respond, and the only protection was a complete ban.
The next review of the NPT collapsed in chaos as the nuclera armed states would not even agree a minute of what had happened.
Conferences were hosted by states that did not hold nuclear weapons to look at those consequences, and a pledge (the Humanitarian Pledge)was initiated by the Austrian government to start work on a ban treaty. Ireland, who had been so committed to disarmament at the start of the NPT, was one of the states which was very committed to the process of supporting and highlighting the Humanitarian Pledge. Ireland also understood and sympathised with Scotland, which still hosts all of the UK’s weapons while opposing UK nuclear weapon policy.
The International Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (ICAN) had come into being in 2007 and has focussed on the effect and impact of the 9 nuclear armed states on the hundreds of other states. Like Ban Ki Moon, the UN general Secretary ICAN supports the NPT provided that the vital third pillar, complete nuclear disarmament (by states who hold nuclear weapons) in good faith proceeds.
The UN established an open-ended working group to look at how to “fill the gap that could lead to elimination and prohibition of nuclear weapons” All States were encouraged to send delegates, and Civil Society Organisations could take part as well. The organisations like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Red Cross who have consultative status with United Nations, could sponsor representatives from others.
Taking part is a big commitment not only for civil society but also for many of the states that are too wee or poor to have a permanent mission (ie an office with diplomats in it) at the UN in New York or Geneva. They have to get sponsorship to send delegates to the meetings so if the nuclear armed states choose to prevaricate and delay proceedings its difficult for the sponsored diplomats to stick around. Time differences can also be utilised to prevent diplomats from consulting their governments at home if the decision to be made is substantially altered so that they are forced to abstain from taking a position.
All of the Nuclear Armed states, including the UK Government with Theresa May poised to press the button, decided to boycott the OEWG process, on two grounds:
1. that it would involve proposals for a ban treaty which would undermine the NPT; their understanding of that being that they were ‘allowed’ to keep their nukes for as long as they want and that disarmament should be done step-by-step, however long that might take.
2. the meeting would not be done by consensus, so they could not block decisions and if voting was utilised they might lose the vote (Ironic, as none of the ban supporting states chose to utilise the right to ask for a vote, only Australia which is ‘protected’ by US nukes.
Scotland is not allowed a ‘state’ voice and the UK refuse to represent us. We have been there, in the form of of Bill Kidd MSP representing Parliamentarians for Non-proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament, and I have been able to attend on behalf of the Scottish branch of WILPF and we have both received a lot of support from our international colleagues. Our First Minister has expressed support for the Humanitarian Pledge.
Some of the states who do not have their own nuclear weapons but are in NATO or have some other dependence on nuclear armed states view are under pressure from them. They are sometimes called ‘nuclear umbrella states’ as though they were protected rather than endangered and they are also sometimes called ‘weasel states’ though not usually to the delegates’ faces.
The OEWG finished its meetings in August, and the very very good news is that the recommendation by the OEWG to the United Nations First Committee with the backing of a large majority, strongly supports a conference in 2017 to negotiate a nuclear ban treaty open to all states and stoppable by none.
The Recommendation is being discussed in New York this week. It will go to a vote at the end of the meeting, that is the end of this month. If it is adopted, a ban treaty would make the states who support it able to refuse any nuclear weapons activity in their countries or waters including uranium mining or transportation and in addition to increasing the stigma (think of the change in attitude to having a drink and driving a car that happened when it was outlawed) it would create problems for nuclear armed states in military agreements and joint exercises.
Opposition to the resolution from the nuclear-armed states is expected to be fierce. Already they have sent “démarches”, or diplomatic instructions, demanding that governments withdraw their support for ban treaty negotiations and the pressure is likely to continue behind closed doors during the debate on the resolution in New York this week.
Along with other ICAN campaigners (and Bill Kidd MSP) I will be doing my best to counter this pressure wherever they can. Our supporters at home can do whatever they can to ensure that this historic decision is not kept out of public awareness.
Hopefully people will contact the BBC if good cover is not forthcoming and also report the story to both local and national press. Please call up phone-in radio broadcasts and raise it, whatever they are talking about. (you may have to be a bit inventive about what your wanting to say until you actually get on air).