As the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons moves closer to its 50th ratification, David Mackenzie examines the growing pressure the UK could be under to disarm its nuclear arsenal
The 50th ratification for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is expected soon, and is likely to take place before the end of this year. Only three ratifications are now needed to complete all the legal requirements for the Treaty to enter into force.
TPNW was adopted at the UN in July 2017 with the support of 122 member states. So far 84 of those UN states have signed the Treaty and 46 of these have deposited ratifications (the legislative procedures in their own country that will ensure that the treaty’s terms can be made binding in that country). Several of the remaining signatories have indicated that they intend to deposit ratifications very soon. When the 50th state ratifies, there remains only the 90 day period allowed by the UN for all states that are members of the treaty to prepare their practical and or legislative arrangements before the Treaty finally enters completely into force.
Terms of the Treaty
The TPNW prohibits the developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, assisting other states with these prohibited activities, stationing, deployment or installation of nuclear weapons belonging to other states on a state party’s territory. As well as prohibitions, the Treaty carries positive obligations, which include suppression of violations of the prohibitions on its territory and the requirement to urge non member states to join.
Scope of the Treaty
All of the prohibition Treaties have an effect on global understanding and interpretations of International Humanitarian Law. They have created stigma and they change the global perception of what is acceptable. Each of these treaties is binding on its state parties – the states which have ratified or acceded to it. It does not add any formal obligations to states which are not parties. For example, the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention have been ratified by a large majority of UN states but have not been ratified by the US, China, Russia and Israel, among others. To date, none of the nine nuclear-armed states have ratified or indeed signed the TPNW. The use of a nuclear weapon, as an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction, has always been illegal under the basic principles of international humanitarian law. The TPNW, as a specific and targeted legal instrument, builds on that legal basis.
General Impact of the Treaty
Major treaties on prohibition have all impacted hugely on states that haven’t ratified them. All of the disarmament Treaties have an effect on global understanding and interpretations of International Humanitarian Law. They have created stigma and they change the global perception of what is acceptable. This norm shift is significant in a world in which even authoritarian states guard their global reputations as they attempt to expand or protect their spheres of influence.
There are also significant practical factors. In a globalised economy physical resources and capital for investment in production are cross-border factors and the production of nuclear weapon systems and delivery platforms requires enormous sums. A number of significant international investment corporations, being risk adverse, have noted the emergence of the Treaty and have already decided to cease investment in nuclear weapons. The most recent example is the giant Japanese finance company MUFG which now classes nuclear weapons along with other inhumane weapons. The Treaty will also affect nuclear-related transit through territorial airspace or seas. Crucially, the US is fully aware of these impacts and has applied pressure, particularly on NATO states, to prevent them from engaging with the Treaty, on the basis that it will hamper their ability to maintain what they call their “extended deterrence” – the nuclear “umbrella”.
Support for the Treaty
Through the legislative processes available, parliamentarians and legislators have pledged and passed resolutions supporting the treaty globally rather than nationally, Already, over 1,600 elected representatives have called on their governments to join the TPNW, as have capitals in nuclear-armed states like Paris and Washington D.C.. This includes legislators in Scotland and in the rest of the UK.
Impact on the UK
Internationally, the UK is seen as the most likely of the nuclear-armed states to be brought to the table. There is the pressure arising from the distinctive Scottish public, parliamentarian and government stance which undermines any claim to a mandate. There is the serious fiscal and managerial disorder in the project to renew the nuclear weapon system and the growing likelihood that a fully equipped Dreadnought platform will not be ready in time to take over the from the ageing ISBN submarine fleet. There is also a looming crisis in overall government expenditure. States not party, as well as relevant institutions and non-governmental organisations, can observe the meetings of the TPNW after it enters into force and pressure will be put on the UK Government to seek observer status at the Treaty’s first Meeting of States Parties.
The Impact on Scotland
The Treaty’s Entry into Force will provide a strong boost to Scottish public, parliamentarian and government opposition to the UK’s nuclear weapons. It will also be a key factor should Scotland achieve independence, persist with that opposition, and ratify the TPNW.
The following Treaty Articles are especially pertinent:
Article 1. g) Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.
Article 4. para 4. A State Party that has any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or in any place under its jurisdiction or control that are owned, possessed or controlled by another State shall ensure the prompt removal of such weapons, as soon as possible but not later than a deadline to be determined by the first meeting of States Parties . . .
Scotland would then have the specific and unqualified backing of international law (as well as huge international support) to have the weapons removed and to resist any pressure to give the UK a long lease of the Clyde nuclear weapon bases. Without a feasible UK re-location option, the remnant Westminster government would be faced with no credible alternative to disarmament.