Janet Fenton: Will the UK Government’s contribution to UN nuclear disarmament be another Brexit?


SCOTTISH campaigners are attending the United Nations (UN) first committee meetings in New York on nuclear disarmament, lobbying for a vote for a resolution for a treaty banning nuclear weapons around the world. The vote is expected to take place between 26 October and 2 November. The statement below, sent by Janet Fenton of Scottish CND, sets out hopes that the big powers will listen to the majority of pro-peace nations.

2016 has been a continuation of turbulent times in a world on fire. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Mali, Ukraine, South Sudan…the list of wars is long. Europe is now directly confronted with that fact, through refugee crises and terrorist threats.

The Nuclear Weapon threat

Underscoring this is the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. In 2016 there are still 15,395 nuclear weapons in the world, each capable of causing global catastrophic humanitarian consequences. Since 1945, there have been many near-misses, and tests have caused immense damage and harm to people and the environment. Military experts now warn of theft or nuclear weapon cyber-hacking by terrorists, and proliferation continues with countries such as North Korea attempting to acquire nuclear weapons in response to the nuclear-armed states ramping up the modernisation of their arsenals.

The UN Response

At the international level, in response to this, powerful global nuclear disarmament efforts are developing quickly. In New York right now at the UN first committee, a majority of UN member states are recommending a UN resolution to convene a UN conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination in 2017.

Nato Countries

Although the Nato countries like Norway, the Netherlands, Iceland and Portugal might have been expected to support the nuclear-armed states in their attempt to block the treaty, we are seeing more progressive thinking. When states were deciding to present the recommendation to UN, these states abstained rather than blocking the process.

The Scottish First Minister and many of our MSPs have declared their support for the ban treaty and they can urge the UK Government to at least consider the arguments for the ban and not block negotiations that the majority of the world wants to take place.

A Multilateralist Approach

All the nuclear-armed states and many of those who support them have said that they are committed to implement multilateral disarmament: they state their support for existing treaties that commit them to elimination of nuclear weapons in good faith, saying that this can be achieved through a "step-by-step" approach. But modernisation is not compatible with step-by-step disarmament, and while a new ban treaty is not equivalent to the immediate elimination of all nuclear arsenals it would be a step leading towards complete nuclear disarmament, strengthening the existing treaty and having a positive impact on the international security environment.

One hundred and twenty seven nuclear-free states initially requested the discussion of a ban treaty, so the much smaller number of states which hold the weapons have a compelling moral responsibility to facilitate and participate in these discussions. 

Their policies reduce the level of security experienced throughout the rest of the world. In particular, resources are directed away from meeting human needs and addressing climate change, and the effects of accidents and testing has caused and continues to cause harm to millions.

Picture courtesy of Julia Davidson

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