The Independent View: time to support the UN nuclear ban treaty

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Less than a year ago, the United Nations’ nuclear weapons ban treaty opened for signature. States from across the world are stepping forward to sign up to prohibit nuclear weapons – over 60 on current count. This is a giant step forward on the road towards global abolition. The treaty follows decades of grassroots campaigning across the world – CND has been calling for a global ban on nuclear weapons since its founding in 1958 and we are delighted at the development.

Over one hundred countries are likely to sign the treaty, but will Britain make the most of this crucial opportunity for peace? At the moment – under the Conservative government – things are not looking too positive.

When the ban treaty was negotiated, the government boycotted the process, despite claiming that it plays a full and active role in the UN’s disarmament discussions. As the first round of talks got underway the UK Ambassador chose to stand shoulder to shoulder with the US Ambassador as she denounced the efforts to bring about a nuclear free world.

Successive UK governments have stated their support for multilateral nuclear disarmament, but they have failed to take action to match the rhetoric.

The Liberal Democrats are in a prime position to build the political consensus here in Britain in support of the nuclear ban. The nuclear ban should and can win the support of all the major political parties, but the Lib Dems can lead the way at a time of increasing tensions between the major powers. In recent months we have heard the announcement of new ‘usable’ nuclear weapons, which increase the possibility of nuclear warfare. Diplomatic efforts, such as the nuclear ban, are the only way out of a new arms race.

During the Lib Dem annual conference it is vital that the question of nuclear weapons and Britain’s possession of them, remains on the political agenda. There are many in the Liberal Democrats who want Britain to play a fairer and more just role in the world, not the neo-colonial, US poodle role that we are currently playing. Lib Dems can call for Britain to break out of the nuclear club, and join the overwhelming majority of states which demand global nuclear disarmament.

When you have this debate in public meetings or on street stalls, some people will say that getting rid of Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, won’t solve the problem of nuclear weapons elsewhere in the world. Yes: it’s true that Trident is a relatively small part of a massive global problem that needs to be dealt with. But that’s where the UN’s nuclear ban treaty comes in. For many years we have argued that nuclear weapons must be banned in the same way that chemical and biological weapons have been banned – or more recently cluster munitions and landmines have been outlawed. This new treaty fits the bill. In short, it’s a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, prohibiting their use, stockpiling, testing, production, manufacture, stationing and installation. Importantly it also bans assisting with prohibited acts, such as the United States leasing the Trident missiles to the UK to carry nuclear warheads.

States are encouraged to join the treaty as soon as possible, but there are provisions for joining at a later stage. The treaty makes it possible for Britain to sign up while submitting plans for eventual disarmament and this is what Libs Dems should be preparing for. The Conservative government’s insistence that Britain will never sign has to be vigorously rejected. Let’s see the Lib Dems breaking the Tory policy and developing its own plan for disarmament, responding to Britain’s genuine security needs, shaping its new role in the world, within the framework of the United Nations global nuclear ban treaty.

* Baroness Sue Miller and members of the Liberal Democrats will discuss the UN nuclear ban treaty at a fringe event on Monday 17th during the party’s autumn conference.

* Dr. Kate Hudson is General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner.

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20 Comments

  • John Marriott 17th Sep '18 - 8:59am

    There used to be a time a few years ago when I would have supported scrapping Trident. My argument went something like this: Would a few submarines patrolling who knows where really stop a jihadist with a nuclear device in his rucksack? Well, while that threat could exist in the not too distant future, the world has changed, or rather, it would seem, to have reverted back to the way it was before the Berlin Wall came down.

    Yes, of course I am in favour of getting rid of all nuclear weapons. The trouble is that they can’t be uninvented. I thought we had a UN ban on the manufacture and storage of chemical weapons, which most countries around the world signed up to. Well, recent events in Salisbury would appear to tell us otherwise.

    We still live in a very dangerous world. Crazy as it seemed, Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) appeared to work after WW2 and, with the rise of Putin and China, would appear not to be beyond its sell by date even today. After the experience in WW1 most experts thought that poison gas would play a major rôle in any future conflict. However, because both sides had this capability in 1939 is probably why neither side used it, except, perhaps, for Zyklon B in Nazi concentration camps. Just like Aneurin Bevan back in the 1950s, I don’t want to send any British Foreign Secretary “naked” to any conference table, where nuclear disarmament might be on the agenda.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Sep '18 - 1:36pm

    The reason the director of CND is writing here, not a party member but one who can influence, seems one sided and short sighted, and misguided, if not featuring a robust view different to this.

    The Liberal policy of old most certainly was never this, but was this country should not have r need independent nuclear weapons because it should be a strong and loyal part of a full nuclear umbrella protection by the US, as part of NATO being a vigorous supporter of western nuclear capability defence.

    It was actually both a strong pro western stance , and a strong pro nuclear stance in effect, though it lacked a sense of financial or national responsibility. That many supported it who were unilateral nuclear disarmament proponents was of course their right, and made their case for them easily.

    This is the reason those of us who are multilateral nuclear disarmament proponents never support this policy of the old Liberal party or Labour in the eighties.

    With five members of the security council, us one of them, all nuclear, to have us not be, is to resign from any influence to get greater nuclear disarmament and to compare us to non nuclear countries is to in effect resign from that council.

    I rather like us on it, with China still a dictatorship, Putin and Trump!

    Even Melenchon, from left of Corbyn, quite apart from centre liberal type, Macron, in France has no particular enthusiasm for them going non nuclear on their own.

    With Brexit, to go it alne weapons and all, we may as well drift off alltogether to the US under Rees Mogg, not!!!!!!!1

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Sep '18 - 4:15pm

    David

    Unnecessarily strong, in force of response, the settled almost unanimous mood of conference is pro the stance of Gina Mller, the party is more pro multilateralism, than anti, and anyway, if split, you make the case for my point, this should have both sides.

    I am the one on here more than most, not in favour of trampling on free speech, it is for balance I argue, let us have an article from the Joint Chief of Staff!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Sep '18 - 5:04pm

    David

    I worry how people who see doing the fair thing, as wrong because it does not support them, see all sorts that are not there, as they see what they perceive only.

    I welcome non members but seek balance, therefore as the article here from someone I have no feeling other than real and genuine respect for her view, but it should, as independent, now have another from a similarly independent voice of different viewpoint.

    It is called arguing with both sides represented.

    The party in my view made a mistake on abortion this week, as in Scotland, conscience, including defence, debates should be balanced and votes based on individual point of view not lobbying, or party, or faction.

  • John Marriott 17th Sep '18 - 5:05pm

    Interesting debate so far. Here’s something else to think about. I do have a concern as to whether the USA will continue to provide the nuclear shield for Europe as it has done since the Cold War began. Whilst the French proudly support their “force de frappe” and we subscribe to an independent deterrent that is actually dependent on the US, countries like Germany continue to fail to provide the 2% of GNP agreed upon by fellow NATO members. If the US does retreat into isolation then a few European countries are going to have to step up to the plate and perhaps that ERG missile system was not such a daft idea after all.

  • Richard O'Neill 17th Sep '18 - 8:34pm

    In a world of Putin I can’t see that scrapping a nuclear capability is remotely sensible now. Much mocked, but the idea of MAD (mutually assured destruction) is clearly as much responsible for the lack of major war for the last seventy five years as the formation of NATO or the EU.

  • I think in discussing the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,
    we should be mindful of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

    Whilst these haven’t been signed and ratified by all, they have had a profound effect, with only N.Korea continuing to test after the late 1990’s. I think we can now say that we have entered a new stage in the nuclear stand-off, namely: no one wants to be the first to resume testing and so restart the nuclear race.

    A ramification of this situation is that developing a successor to Trident (and other nuclear weapons systems) is going to be problematic. Personally, I would at the current time be pushing for the two test ban treaties to be fully signed up and ratified, leaving the Prohibition treaty on the table to remind people what the goal is. With the fully ratified test ban treaties, the game begins to change again, particularly as the major powers nuclear arsenals age and approach their end of operational life.

    Perhaps what is needed is a Partial Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons treaty, that is signed by the major players, agreeing to maintain the current status quo – ie. no new nuclear weapons, which sort of acknowledges that the current weapons are the last.

  • There are not just two sides to any argument. The issue of nuclear weapons is one which can only be discussed in terms of the real situation on our planet. For example the threat of a nuclear weapon being used by a group of terrorists is increasing. This is because of advances in technology, and also that the knowledge to built a nuclear weapon is becoming mainstream in the sense that knowledge is more widely disseminated.
    We must also look at all our actions internationally against the test of whether they really contribute to a nuclear free world.

  • @simon McGrath. Please explain your comment. Many members of NATO have no nuclear weapons. Why would we have to leave if we gave ours up?
    I suggest this is a non argument.
    Please address the real issue of getting rid of these weapons of mass destruction.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 18th Sep '18 - 10:27am

    Lorenzo, you seem to suggest that we need to keep nuclear weapons to have “influence” in the world. But Britain is currently doing little or nothing to use this supposed “influence” to bring about disarmament.
    Britain would surely be far more truly influential if it unilaterally gave up its nuclear weapons, signed the UN Treaty, and campaigned for other nations to do so too.

  • Richard O’Neill 17th Sep ’18 – 8:34pm………….In a world of Putin I can’t see that scrapping a nuclear capability is remotely sensible now………

    I disagree entirely; in a world where the super-super-power is run by Trump the chances of a nuclear war by ‘default’ is higher than it has ever been.

    There are several publicly known (and probably more unknown) past instances when
    a decision by a ‘minor player’ might have started an inexorable escalation to full scale nuclear war. The 1962 example of Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov on the Russian submarine B-59 is a case and, in 2002, Thomas Blanton, who was then director of the US National Security Archive, said that Arkhipov “saved the world”.

    I also remember seeing a fictional scenario of an escalation of hostilities in the Baltic and how, despite the LibDem on the panel being the only one talking sense, a nuclear war was the outcome.

    Another point is that, in all those situations world leaders had seen/served in world wars; today’s leaders have not. With a draft dodger in the White House, a man who fires off threatening e-mails on a whim, things could get out of control very quickly.

    Be afraid, be very afraid.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Sep '18 - 1:21pm

    Catherine

    I suggest this country has influence, it should use more. I think what you argue for would be a good stance if you believe it , but would have no influence. France would be the only nuclear weapons power in Europe. It would strengthen nuclear as an option because they are not going to do anything unilateral. It could happen that we agree with France to be non nuclear in Europe.

    I believe as on abortion, this party prefers to posture or push rather than nurture and nourish the views of all, I cannot support the abortion policy that allows free abortion to those who want it as visitors to this country, nor can I support the drive to impose a view on issues we as a party should leave to mps on a vote of conscience. I admire, respect and cohabit with your views and you with mine. It is getting trampled on with nastiness on the left, referring to people as racist for worries about high immigration, now this on these issues. Moderate this party isn’t.

  • Peter Hirst 21st Sep '18 - 7:36pm

    I think we can develop a credible defence policy while setting a schedule for abandoning our nuclear weapons if it is what we want to do.

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