The intention of Count the Nuclear Weapons Money is to show the true scale of the investments that nine countries are planning for the modernisation of their nuclear arsenals over the next 10 years. Volunteers in New York, London (UK), New Mexico, Philadelphia and Wellington (New Zealand) gathered to manually count $1 Trillion over 7 days and 7 nights.
Our Youth Ambassador Kehkashan Basu is speaking at the UN High-Level meeting on Nuclear Disarmament in New York today. You can read her presentation here.
Another step towards future justice
Hamburg/ Göttingen (Germany) 18th July 2018 – The University of Göttingen (Germany) announced yesterday that they will end all investments in fossil fuel and nuclear energy industries. The move follows an appeal from students of the university organised by Fossil Free Göttingen, and a similar announcement by the City of Göttingen in May last year.
‘We commend the University of Göttingen for taking this important step to divest from fossil fuels and help protect the climate for current and future generations,’ said Alyn Ware, Disarmament Programme Director for the World Future Council.
‘The growing threat to our future posed by climate change has stimulated students to take action,’ says Luisa Neubauer, Communications Officer for Fossil Free Göttingen. ‘The fossil fuel industry has been blocking change to sustainable energy for their own financial interests. We must therefore make it in their financial interests to change. Divestment can help achieve this.‘
‘In line with our motto “IN PUBLICA COMMODA – FOR THE GOOD OF ALL”, we not only bear responsibility for the findings of science, but also for how these findings can influence and guide society,’ said President of the University Ulrike Beisiegel. ‘For this reason, we also take on social responsibility for our investments and select them not only according to economic considerations, but also, in particular, using socially, ethically and ecologically sound criteria.’
The decision by the University impacts its investment portfolio of €190 million. Following the decision, the University Stiftung (investment foundation) will not invest in coal, gas or oil companies, nor companies involved in nuclear energy.
However, unlike the City of Göttingen which decided to also exclude nuclear weapons and conventional weapons from its investment policy, the University of Göttingen decided not to exclude these industries.
Nuclear weapons divestment is part of Move the Nuclear Weapons Money, a global campaign initiated in 2016 by the World Future Council and others to cut nuclear weapons budgets, end investments in nuclear weapons and shift these budgets and investments into social, economic and environmentally beneficial enterprises.
‘We had hoped that they would also include nuclear weapons divestment in their recent decision. However, the nuclear weapons divestment campaign is still young, and perhaps the University will follow the example of Göttingen City once they have had experience of implementing their policy with positive result.’, says Alyn Ware, who is also the Global Coordinator for Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (‘Alternative Nobel Prize’).
‘Nuclear weapons also pose an existential threat to humanity and absorb billions of dollars that are sorely needed for better purposes, such as investment in renewable energy,’ says Ms Neubauer. ‘In times of increasing tension between nuclear-armed countries, a demonstration of financial restraint can help governments step back from the nuclear brink.’
‘The Göttingen City action to divest from fossil fuels and weapons producers is a wonderful follow-up to the example of the Göttingen Eighteen, the group of Nobel laureates and other scientists from Göttingen who in the late 1950s argued against the deployment of nuclear weapons in Germany,’ says Dr Ute Finckh-Krämer, PNND Council Member and an adviser to the Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign. ‘The action complements similar divestment actions at State and Federal level. Berlin City, for example, has taken action to exclude investments from city funds in fossil fuel, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and the conventional weapons industry.’
For interviews and all other media enquiries, please contact,
Programme Director Peace & Disarmament
Tel: +420 773 638 867,
Media & Communications Manager, World Future Council
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Hamburg, Büchel (Germany) 13th July 2018 – Peace and disarmament activists from the World Future Council, Büchel is Everywhere, Nukewatch, Abolition 2000 Youth Network, and other organisations gathering at the Büchel airforce base in Germany this weekend, claim that the U.S. nuclear weapons deployed at the base and at other NATO countries inflame the conflict between NATO and Russia, provoke nuclear counter measures and increase the risk of a nuclear exchange by miscalculation or accident. The weekend protest is part of an international peace action camp at Büchel which started on July 10 just before the recent NATO Summit and finishes two days after the July 16 Helsinki Summit of Presidents Trump and Putin. It includes delegates from a number of countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States.
A principle target of the protest is the controversial practice of placing US nuclear weapons known as B61s in other countries, and US plans to replace the current bombs with new ones. Under a program called “nuclear sharing” Germany, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, and The Netherlands still deploy a total of 150 Cold War-era US gravity H-bombs. The governments admit to nuclear sharing agreements, but will not confirm the numbers or locations of nuclear weapons on their territories. Critics point out that all five countries are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which explicitly prohibits nuclear weapons from being transferred to or accepted from others.
‘An overwhelming majority of the German public objects to US/NATO plans to replace the B61s deployed across Europe (including the 20 at Büchel Air Base) with new Hydrogen bombs called the B61-12,’ said Marion Küpker (Germany), a disarmament campaigner with the organization Büchel Is Everywhere. ‘Each of these bombs is more than 10 times as powerful as the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our united resistance will stop the new, illegal nuclear bombs nobody needs.’
‘The world wants nuclear weapons abolished,’ said Bonnie Urfer (United States), former co-director of Nukewatch. ‘To waste billions of dollars replacing them with new ones is outrageous considering the millions now in poverty or in need disaster relief, emergency shelter, and safe drinking water.’
‘Nuclear weapons threaten current and future generations,’ said Marzhan Nurzhan (Kazakhstan), Convener of the Abolition 2000 Youth Network. ‘We continue to experienced the catastrophic impact of nuclear weapons in our country decades ago, so we know that any use of nuclear weapons in a war would create a humanitarian disaster that would continue for hundreds and thousands of years.’
‘Presidents Trump and Putin are about to meet in Helsinki to discuss how to reduce the tensions and military provocations between the two countries,’ said Alyn Ware (New Zealand/Czech Republic), Council Member of the World Future Council speaking from Buchel. ‘The nuclear threat is the highest since the end of the Cold War. The two Presidents should use this opportunity to take their nuclear forces off high alert, commit to never initiating a nuclear war, renew the New START treaty and supplement the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty by removing all tactical weapons from forward deployment, i.e. the US nuclear weapons in Europe and Russian tactical weapons deployed near their western borders.’
On July 11, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation and Cooperation in Europe approved the Berlin Declaration which endorses the call for nuclear-armed States to adopt policies never to initiate a nuclear war (‘no-first-use’ policies) and to adopt other disarmament and confidence-building measures. The declaration also calls on OSCE governments to affirm and achieve the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
‘As the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly includes the legislatures of Russia and the United States, as well as of all NATO countries, the Berlin Declaration could be very influential in the run-up to the Trump-Putin Summit and beyond the summit,’ says Mr Ware who also serves as the Global Coordinator for Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. ‘The Berlin Declaration joins other parliamentary and civil society calls for Dialogue, détente and disarmament, indicating the breadth of support for the Buchel action this weekend.’
Note: The World Future Council 3DnukeMissile will be on display at the gate of the Büchel airbase on July 14.
Contacts for comments or photos of the action and 3DNukeMissile: Alyn Ware +420 773 638 867, Wolfgang Schlupp-Hauck +49 (0) 176 5062 8377, Marzhan Nurzhan +420 770 649 750 or Marion Küpker +49 (0) 172 771 32 66
For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact
Media & Communications Manager, World Future Council
Tel: +49 40 307 09 14 19
The World Future Council
The World Future Council (WFC) works to pass on a healthy planet and fair societies to our children and grandchildren. To achieve this, we focus on identifying and spreading effective, future-just policy solutions and promote their implementation worldwide. The Council consists of 50 eminent global change-makers from governments, parliaments, civil societies, academia, the arts and the business world. Jakob von Uexkull, the Founder of the Alternative Nobel Prize, launched the World Future Council in 2007. We are an independent, non-profit organisation under German law and finance our activities from donations. For information on the Future Policy Award, visit: https://www.worldfuturecouncil.org/future-policy-award
For press enquiries, please contact Miriam Petersen, firstname.lastname@example.org, +49 40 307 09 14 19.
This Valentine’s Day, instead of splurging on roses and chocolates, why not do something different and take a moment with that special someone to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of the most important multilateral treaties, of which you have probably never heard: the Treaty of Tlatelolco. Read more
With the passing of Judge C.G. Weeramantry on 5 January the peace, disarmament and sustainability movements have lost a monumental figure. Judge Weeramantry dedicated his life to strengthening and expanding the rule of international law and demonstrated how the rule of law can be used to address critical global challenges such as the continued threat of nuclear weapons, the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment.
In addition to being one of the brightest legal minds on these issues, he was a tireless activist. Nuclear weapons were always a particular concern of his. As we face a future still marked by the nuclear threat, his wisdom and activism will be sorely missed. Fortunately, in the five decades spanning his career he has produced some of the most pioneering, convincing and eloquent analysis and arguments on the need to eliminate nuclear weapons.
We would do well to revisit some of Judge Weeramantry’s treatises and learn from them as we continue to make the case for a world free of nuclear weapons. These include:
As relevant today as when he wrote it, Judge Weeramantry’s strong dissent from the majority’s decision to leave undetermined the legality of the use of nuclear weapons in self-defence when the survival of the state would be at stake, is one of the most authoritative and comprehensive arguments on the illegality of nuclear weapons “in all circumstances and without reservation.”
See here for a summary.
The World Future Council co-published this informative booklet with the Weeramantry International Centre for Peace Education and Research on the occasions of the 2005 and 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conferences. In concise yet convincing arguments, Judge Weeramantry highlights the uniqueness of the nuclear threat and how our complacency risks the human future: “Never in the history of humanity has such urgency existed in relation to any issue and never were the consequences so devastating to the human future and to all that we hold dear. The danger grows not from year to year or from month to month but from day to day.”
As long as nuclear weapons exist, Judge Weeramantry’s unique insights and arguments remain powerful and pertinent. Using the legacy he has left us to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons would be the greatest tribute we can pay him.
From October 1-3, a three-dimensional street painting of a nuclear missile being fired from the ground was unveiled next to the German Parliament. The art project occurred in conjunction with the opening of an international conference Disarm! For a Climate of Peace – Creating an Action Agenda.
You probably don’t know but today marks the UN International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Not to be confused with the UN International Day Against Nuclear Tests – that was on 29 August (don’t feel too bad if you totally forgot about it).
UN ‘International Days’ are designed to promote international awareness and action on certain issues. For the most part, they deal with key security, development and health issues that the international community is facing – e.g. water security, slavery and environmental degradation, just to name a few examples.
Over the years, the number of such days has ballooned – to date, there are 130 such observances (not counting the UN 2016 International Year of Pulses and 6 UN Decades in which we currently live). The main reason for this growth is that it’s low-hanging fruit for member states to propose a commemorative day as many are dedicated to lofty ideals that few others would want to oppose (what country wants to go on record as not caring about migratory birds?).
That’s why you can now have your awareness raised about child labour, albinism, blood donation, elder abuse, family remittances and desertification and drought – all in one week in June! You cannot help but feel that packing the calendar with so many commemorative days devalues and defeats the purpose of awareness raising.
And so today it’s nuclear weapons’ turn, as we mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. A lofty goal if there ever was one, a world free of nuclear weapons has been a shared vision of the international community since the first nuclear weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, 71 years since those attacks it’s safe to say that the goal has proven elusive.
When in 2013 the UN General Assembly voted in favour of designating 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, few thought it would be a game changer. That’s not to say it’s without value. Intended to enhance “public awareness and education about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons and the necessity for their total elimination, in order to mobilize international efforts towards achieving the common goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world”, the day rightfully highlights the critical gap in public awareness on the dangers on nuclear weapons.
But it was never going to constrain the actions of any of the nuclear-armed states. For them it has been business as usual.
All nine have been involved in renewing and extending nuclear weapon programmes or modernising forces, none of them have lowered the role of nuclear weapons in their defence policies (quite the contrary – in some cases, nuclear weapons have enjoyed increased salience in military posturing), one carried out a nuclear test as recent as 9 September (less than a fortnight after the UN International Day Against Nuclear Tests no less!) and the majority has forcefully resisted multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts—case in point being that the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and Israel voted against the resolution that designated 26 September as the International Day as well as, inter alia, “calls for urgent compliance with the legal obligations and the fulfilment of the commitments undertaken on nuclear disarmament.”
And so it has been left to the non-nuclear weapon states to take up the baton and advance nuclear disarmament. By definition, what they can achieve as countries without nuclear weapons is limited in the push for a world free of nuclear weapons. But two recent initiatives are worth highlighting – worth raising awareness about, if you will.
On Wednesday, Austria announced that it would join other UN member states in tabling a resolution next month at the UN General Assembly to convene negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons in 2017.
The move follows a recommendation adopted last month by the UN Open Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament in Geneva for the General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The recommendation was supported by 62 countries (all non-nuclear weapon states).
The recommendation was part of a more detailed report that will be presented to the UN General Assembly, and which also includes a recommendation for States to undertake measures to reduce and eliminate the risk of nuclear weapons use, increase transparency about nuclear weapons and enhance awareness about the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. In yet another sign of their reluctance to implement their nuclear disarmament obligations, none of the nine nuclear weapons possessors participated in the OEWG.
The second initiative is a bold legal action that puts the legal obligations on nuclear disarmament back at the heart of the debate and action.
In April 2014, the tiny Pacific Island state of the Marshall Islands took the nine nuclear-armed States to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), claiming they are in violation of their nuclear disarmament obligations, as rooted in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Customary International Law.
The unprecedented legal action requests a declaratory judgment of breach of obligations relating to nuclear disarmament, cessation of the nuclear arms race, and good faith as well as an order from the Court directed at the nine nuclear powers to take, within one year of the judgment, all steps necessary to comply with their nuclear disarmament obligations.
The cases have proceeded against the three nuclear-armed states that have accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ – the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan. In March this year, the Court held hearings in these cases on preliminary issues. Next week, on 5 October, the Court will issue its judgement on these issues and whether the cases are to proceed to the merits phase.
What the Austrian-led push for a legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons and the Marshall Islands’ nuclear disarmament cases have in common is that they are born of frustration about the ongoing inaction of the nuclear-armed states to implement their disarmament obligations and advance the nuclear disarmament enterprise in any meaningful way.
Although it remains to be seen where both initiatives will go and what effect they will have on the policies of the nuclear-armed states, they are being pursued in the full spirit of today’s goal – the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
George Orwell famously wrote in his novel 1984 that, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Indeed, the words we choose can shape our thinking. We should therefore make sure that our language accurately conveys our intentions and thoughts and is as reflective of reality as possible.
Ever since former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, in a cynical attempt to exploit divisions in the Labour Party, announced less than a fortnight ago that the House of Commons would vote on the renewal of the four submarines that carry Britain’s nuclear warheads (a system collectively known as “Trident) on 18 July, debate about Britain’s future as a nuclear-armed state has filled the country’s airwaves and newspapers (Parliament voted in favour of renewal by a majority of 355). This, in itself, is a good thing as a robust public debate on such an important issue is needed. However, some of the terms used in this debate are inaccurate or misleading.
Let’s look at three such terms and consider how they have skewed the Trident debate.
One of the most misleading terms used in the debate on nuclear weapons is “deterrent” to describe a nuclear weapons capability or system. The term comes from the belief that nuclear weapons deter against aggression or a nuclear attack through the promise of retaliation—a security doctrine known as “nuclear deterrence”.
Although the primary geopolitical circumstances for its existence have ceased with the end of the Cold War (when nuclear deterrence took on the shape of “Mutually Assured Destruction”), the doctrine continues to permeate strategic thought in the nuclear-armed states and allied states covered by “extended nuclear deterrence”. For many in the defence and security elites in these states the doctrine is sacrosanct.
Incessant use of these terms in previous decades has meant that few people nowadays question the appropriateness of using “deterrent” as a synonym for any given nuclear weapons system. Every single British news gathering source—print media, broadcast news and online sources—covering the Trident debate referred to the weapons system as the UK’s “nuclear deterrent” or “deterrent”. Interestingly, and revelatory of just how successful the defence and security elites have been in controlling the terms on which the debate is had, even commentators with reservations about the Trident programme, or opposed to it, often use the term.
The problem is that the term “deterrent” is infused with meaning. The designation of a nuclear weapons system as a “deterrent” is invariably accompanied by the implication that it indeed does what the term suggests—that it deters. By using such terms, we tacitly acquiesce to this belief and invest considerable purpose and meaning into these inanimate instruments.
Yet, we cannot prove deterrence works. The fact that there has not been a nuclear war or a major war between the nuclear-armed states does not prove that deterrence work.
The contrary argument—that nuclear weapons and deterrence-fuelled nuclear brinkmanship has a considerable probability of triggering conflicts, possibly of the nuclear kind—is equally difficult to prove. However, there is considerable evidence within historical occasions where nuclear deterrence did not prevent war, as well as occasions where nuclear war was only narrowly avoided. There is further credible analysis that the deterrence doctrine has lost any relevance it may once have had in today’s multipolar world and changing security landscape.
As such, the use of “deterrent” to describe a nuclear weapons system is a sly way to shape people’s thinking on the utility, legality and acceptability of such a system. Just consider the difference in the following two ways to ask about Trident: (1) Should the UK give up its nuclear deterrent?; (2) Should the UK give up its thermonuclear bombs? The use of “deterrent” makes the former practically a leading question, while the latter is factually more correct. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume more people would answer “Yes” to the second one.
Nuclear weapons are instruments of terror and mass destruction. That’s what we should call them.
Furthermore, we should remind whomever attempts to get away with shrouding them in terms such as “deterrent” or “strategic stability” of the catastrophic consequences their use would cause and the risks inherent to their existence.
Newly minted Prime Minister Theresa May opined on the eve of the debate that voting against Trident renewal would be “A gamble with the safety and security of families in Britain that we must never be prepared to take.” She, and many of those who voted in favour of Trident, also called the nuclear weapons system the UK’s “ultimate security guarantee”.
She, quite simply, has it backwards.
She was repeating a well-rehearsed mantra. The primary reason given for retention of nuclear weapons is that they are regarded as a vital part of a nation or alliance’s security. What defenders of nuclear weapons often fail to realise is that their country is of course not alone in caring about its security and the more they tout the indispensible role of nuclear weapons as the ultimate security guarantor, the more they are in the business of convincing other countries to acquire these weapons. No nation or group of nations can have a monopoly on “security”.
Luckily, the vast majority of states recognise that their security is better served by renouncing nuclear weapons. Indeed, through national and regional nuclear weapon-free policies, the entire southern hemisphere, as well as parts north of the equator, have sought security without nuclear weapons.
So, whose security are nuclear weapons supposed to serve? They don’t serve planetary security; they don’t serve human security; instead, they are used by a few to advance narrowly devised national security interests or those of military alliances. But even that is a false security. Recent research into the ever-growing list of cases of near nuclear use has revealed the kaleidoscope of risks inherent in nuclear operations.
The truth is that because the effects of use of nuclear weapons cannot be controlled within space or time and their employment in operations and deterrence policies are vulnerable to errors, their wielding by a few comes at the price of insecurity for the rest. This is a blatant form of inequality and injustice.
We thus have to recapture the meaning of security.
Through fear-mongering and misinformation, nuclear weapon advocates have permeated our collective thinking with the dangerous notion that these weapons have kept us safe and that their disarmament will bring with it insecurity and risks. It is imperative that we turn this on its head: nuclear disarmament comes at the benefit of our shared security. Greater security, not insecurity, for all lies in prohibiting and eliminating these instruments of terror. The security challenges coming from interconnected threats such as climate change, environmental degradation, demographic changes, resource scarcity and pandemic disease cannot be met by nuclear weapons. If anything, the adversarial deterrence policies in place are a great obstacle to achieving the unprecedented cooperation needed to address this host of transnational threats.
Crispin Blunt MP, one of the few Conservatives who voted against renewal had it right when he said in the debate yesterday:
“I oppose the renewal of Trident because I care about the security of my country. I’m not prepared to be party to the most egregious act of self-harm to our conventional defence. This is a colossal investment in a weapons system that will become increasingly vulnerable and for whose security we will have to throw good money, after bad – in fact tens of billions of it more than already estimated – to try to keep it safe in the decades to come.”
In the Trident debate, it was regularly suggested that the UK should continue to “possess” nuclear weapons. Merriam-Webster defines “possession” as “the condition of having or owning something”, which would undoubtedly apply to UK and other nuclear-armed states. But the term falls woefully short of accurately describing the nuclear enterprise.
The reality is that these weapons are being used every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day.
Merriam-Webster defines “use” as “the act or practice of employing something”. With regard to nuclear weapons, “use” is generally understood as the actual detonation of a nuclear warhead. But their threatened use is part and parcel of the policies of the nuclear-armed states and nuclear alliances.
Indeed, this “threat to use” underpins the deterrence doctrine. Nuclear deterrence relies on a perceived willingness to use these weapons, without which the credibility of the doctrine would implode. Nuclear weapons are thus best understood as continually “employed” by possessor states to project threat and power.
An analogy with firearms is enlightening in this respect. Falling short of actually pulling the trigger (thereby using a gun in the strictest sense of the word), pointing a gun at someone to secure a certain decision or type of behaviour or advance your own interests should surely also be regarded as use of said gun. Consider, for example: “He used a gun to rob me!”
The reality is that the nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear-armed states are not like a gun locked away in a cabinet at home or even holstered on the person. They are not residing in inert stockpiles. Rather, they are at all times employed in dynamic military policies and exercises to intimidate, coerce and extort.
They thus more resemble the drawn gun pointed at someone. As I write this, thousands of nuclear weapons are aimed at cities, with some of them on “hair-trigger alert”, ready to be fired at a moment’s notice. It is a “security system” predicated on the constant readiness and preparations to wage all-out nuclear war, which is riddled with risks, including unauthorized launch, mistaken launch on warning, accidental detonation and inadvertent escalation.
Talking about countries that “possess” nuclear weapons runs the risk of depicting a static situation that is under control. It lulls people into a false sense of security. It is our responsibility to remind people that “possession” actually entails a dynamic enterprise that breeds an existential form of insecurity for all, including their possessors.
There is no greater tactic of exclusion and obfuscation than bombarding (for lack of better word) someone with technical terms. For too long, those in the establishments committed to continue brandishing nuclear weapons have successfully employed this tactic. It has further allowed them to sanitise a discussion that should be had primarily on humanitarian grounds.
The widespread usage and dissemination of terms that, rather than state the facts, manipulate thinking, is all too prevalent in the nuclear weapons debate.
Some of these terms need to be challenged or exposed, while others need to be recaptured to represent their true meaning.
Instead of describing the systems and policies that rely on nuclear weapons in terms of “deterrent” and “strategic stability”, we should expose the risks they are rife with and underline the catastrophic consequences any use would have.
Instead of letting a few monopolise and corrupt the concept of “security” in narrowly devised goals that come at the detriment to the security of the rest, we should recapture the meaning of security as one that recognises that human and planetary security are better served through the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Ultimately, words don’t even begin to capture the horror of nuclear weapons. Anyone shown what these instruments of terror do—the destruction, the death, the burns, the birth deformities, the tumours—should be at a loss for words…
As the fallout of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union continues to spread through Britain and abroad, the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system has become the latest issue to be sucked into the ‘Brexit’ vortex.
At what would prove to be his last international engagement, David Cameron announced last Saturday at the NATO Summit in Warsaw that the parliamentary vote on renewing the four nuclear submarines that make up the nuclear programme will be held on 18 July. Yes, next Monday.
“While Britain may be leaving the EU, we are not withdrawing from the world”, Cameron confidently proclaimed. What gall to tout these weapons as a sign of Britain’s good faith participation in global affairs, especially considering the vast majority of the world’s peoples and nations are desperately looking to the UK and the other eight nuclear-armed states to finally remove the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over our shared future.
And yes, this too is related to Brexit. It’s related in three ways: first, the vote to renew Trident is being used by the Conservative Party to close its ranks after a bitter EU Referendum campaign and subsequent leadership election, which has regurgitated Theresa May as his successor, has left it divided; second, the vote is being used to exploit divisions in the Labour Party, which is currently embroiled in an acrimonious leadership battle of its own and remains split on the issue of Trident; third, the vote is being used by the outgoing Cameron to make it clear to the rest of the world that despite the Brexit vote, Britain has no intention of retreating from the global stage.
To use an issue as important as Trident renewal as a political football – like the Conservative Party has done with the EU Referendum – is bad enough. However, there is something uniquely sinister and cynical about proclaiming the renewal of a system designed to kill millions as demonstration of Britain’s commitment to remaining ‘open for business’ and globally engaged. “While Britain may be leaving the EU, we are not withdrawing from the world”, Cameron confidently proclaimed. What gall to tout these weapons as a sign of Britain’s good faith participation in global affairs, especially considering the vast majority of the world’s peoples and nations are desperately looking to the UK and the other eight nuclear-armed states to finally remove the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over our shared future.
There are plenty of reasons for British elected representatives to vote against Trident renewal come Monday. Rather than being the bulwark of British security, the retention of Trident ensures the UK remains exposed to the hydra-headed risk of its nuclear deterrence policy, not least the very real risk of launch by accident or miscalculation. The risks have only been compounded in recent years, with non-state actors seeking to acquire or develop nuclear capabilities and evolving cyber security threats exposing vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems.
Meanwhile, the costs of renewing Trident – estimated to be anywhere between £167 and £205 billion – at a time when vital public services are suffering far-reaching budget cuts is inappropriate at best, irresponsible at worst.
Then there are the well-known moral concerns about continuing to brandish and threaten with weapons that are designed for one purpose only: to kill large numbers of civilians, set cities ablaze and spread the horrific trans-generational health effects of radioactive fallout.
As the effects of these weapons cannot be contained in time or space, the UK’s decision to renew Trident does not exist in a political domestic vacuum – the international community has a stake in it. And it’s clear where the vast majority of this world’s peoples and nations fall on the question of whether the UK’s nuclear weapons offer more benefit than harm: an overwhelming majority of UN Member States have continually called for the UK and other nuclear-armed states to disarm their nuclear arsenals for the good of international peace and security.
Neither does the decision exist in a vacuum free of the rule of law. The UK is under clear international legal obligations, enshrined both in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law, to eliminate its nuclear weapons. In fact, the Pacific island state of the Marshall Islands has taken the UK and fellow eight nuclear-armed states to the International Court of Justice for its alleged breach of its nuclear disarmament obligations. The Court has yet to decide on whether the case against the UK is to proceed to the merits phase but it should give MPs pause for thought that they are about to vote on something that is currently under review by the highest judicial organ in the world and which may be found as evidence of the UK’s continuing breach of international law.
Despite these arguments, it is expected that Parliament will overwhelmingly vote in favour of renewing Trident on Monday. Many MPs will do so as they dread the prospect of the UK losing the power and prestige Trident is perceived to convey. In particular, they are gripped by the fear that the UK may lose its seat on the UN Security Council if it disarms. For all their proclamations of commitment to internationalism, they have nothing but contempt for international law and the global community’s desire for a world free of nuclear weapons. Others will do so because they remain convinced Trident is the ultimate security guarantor, despite the clarion of calls and expert reports highlighting the risks involved with these weapons. And yet others will vote in favour as the manufacturing of the Trident submarines will take place in their constituencies and in their twisted arithmetic a few thousand jobs outweigh the peace and security of the nation and rest of the world.
Ultimately, the issue of nuclear disarmament is best understood as a social and justice struggle like the abolition of slavery, the end of apartheid and the suffragette movement. While the Conservative Government and many Labour MPs will play fast and loose with Britain’s security and global standing by voting for Trident renewal on Monday, the minority voting for Britain to live up to its nuclear disarmament obligations and being a responsible stakeholder will have to settle for the scant comfort of knowing they will be on the right side of history.