The world came together at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday 20 September for a historic moment in the planet’s security. But far from being at the front of the queue for the meeting, Theresa May’s UK government essentially gave the ground-breaking moment the middle finger. And this stance should worry us all.
As The Canary previously reported, on 7 July the UN passed a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. In the ‘legally binding instrument’, countries signed up to it have committed never to “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”. The UN treaty also effectively forces signatory countries to get rid of any existing nuclear weapons. And it makes it illegal for one country to “threaten” another with their use.
In total, 122 countries have signed the prohibition treaty. These include ‘Western’ states such as Austria, Cyprus, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland; the majority of African and Middle Eastern nations; most Latin American states; and some former Soviet countries. And so, on 20 September, dozens of countries began signing the treaty, which will come into force in 90 days’ time after at least 50 states have ratified it. Opening the ceremony, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that:
This treaty is an important milestone towards the universally held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons… There remain some fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in existence. We cannot allow these doomsday weapons to endanger our world and our children’s future…
Not everyone is happy
Around 70 countries, including the UK, refused to be involved in or sign the UN treaty. These were the majority of NATO members, Russia, China, and Israel. Each of the nine countries known to possess nuclear weapons failed to agree to the legislation. The only NATO member to participate in the process, the Netherlands, voted against the treaty. And it was the only country to do so.
Supporters of the treaty say it sends a clear message that the international community wants security, but without nuclear weapons. The General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Kate Hudson, told The Canary:
Throughout the last month at the UN, it has become clear that the international consensus is against nuclear weapons. Successive UK governments have claimed to support a nuclear-free world. Yet our current government has boycotted these talks and sided with Donald Trump in disparaging this important initiative.
We are confident that many states will sign up. 122 voted for it in the UN and are at the end of their tether over the failure of the nuclear weapons states to take steps to disarm under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They will not let this lie. This is the beginning of a very serious process that other governments cannot ignore.
Reds under the bed?
After the treaty was passed in August, the US, UK and France issued a joint statement, saying:
But Hudson told The Canary that the US and UK attitude reeked of “unacceptable double standards”. She said:
The current situation between the US and North Korea shows one thing. And that is that nuclear proliferation is inevitable if a small number of powerful states insist they need nuclear weapons for their security; and if they try to prevent others getting them. It is seen as unacceptable double standards and will lead to more countries attempting to develop nuclear arsenals. They will see nuclear weapons as a necessary deterrent, using the same logic that our government uses when it justifies retaining and replacing Trident.
Money, money, money
But a major driver behind the UK and US desire to keep nuclear weapons is, in short, money. For example, as The Canary reported in 2016, UK banks not only finance our nuclear deterrent (Trident), but also that of our supposed ‘enemy’ Russia; and some senior UK politicians enjoy a direct financial profit through us keeping nuclear weapons. You can read the full article here, but as The Canary said at the time:
Essentially, UK multinational banks [and politicians] are playing one big game of ‘Battleships’, funding both UK and Russian nuclear weapons programmes. Except no missiles will ever be fired, and a winner will never be declared – because that would be unprofitable.
We, the taxpayer, are duped into allowing complicit Governments to squander our money on an imaginary threat. [One] which merely serves to make former MPs richer and multinational banks and their wealthy shareholders more money.
May’s disparaging attitude
Hudson also told The Canary that “commercial interests” should not drive government decisions about nuclear weapons. She explained:
There is no doubt that there are huge commercial interests involved in nuclear weapons. When the question of replacing Trident first came up in 2006, the Defence Select Committee held a series of inquiries. BAE Systems was there, arguing that a decision on replacing the submarines should be taken immediately so that their ‘drumbeat of production’ was not disrupted. It is absolutely clear that decisions about possession of weapons of mass destruction cannot be driven by commercial interests.
The UN treaty is an important step towards multilateral disarmament. But as is often the case with the UN, the treaty is only legally binding for those countries that sign it. And there is little recourse, except diplomatic pressure, against those that don’t recognise it.
The fact that around 70 countries can essentially scoff at the rest of the world, in part because prohibiting nuclear weapons would mean severe financial losses for some of them, encapsulates the nefarious nature of the global financial and governmental system we live under.
With the US and North Korea’s sabre rattling, however, the UN treaty is still a highly important – albeit symbolic – move at a crucial time in our planet’s history. Whether one side or the other would ever ‘push the button’ is a topic open for debate. But what we do know is that a world with nuclear weapons is less safe. And this treaty takes us all one step closer to a nuclear-free future.
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