Nuclear disarmament? Forget it.
More than 100 countries snubbed by nuclear powers
Tuesday 2 June 2015 07.17 EDT
Last modified on Tuesday 2 June 2015 08.15 EDT
The latest nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) review conference did not make waves. There was hardly a word in the mainstream media.
Perhaps it was not surprising. What is there newsworthy in hundreds of diplomats and scores of NGOs over a period of four weeks calling for nuclear disarmament, in effect praising motherhood and apple pie?
Yet the UN-sponsored conference in New York did not end in bland consensus. Far from it. It ended in disarray and angry exchanges.
South African delegates compared “the sense that the NPT has degenerated into minority rule” to apartheid. Specifically, the US blamed Egypt for an “unrealistic and unworkable” demand – setting a deadline for a conference on a nuclear-free Middle East.
In rare praise for Barack Obama, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, thanked the US – and the UK and Canada – for blocking Egypt’s proposal.
The conference failed to agree on any meaningful steps towards nuclear disarmament, including of course filling what is called the “legal gap “ – ie prohibiting the use if nuclear weapons in the same way, by a treaty, that other weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons, are prohibited.
But more than 100 governments committed themselves to working for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons by endorsing a “humanitarian pledge”. That pledge, said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons ICAN,
“must be the basis for the negotiations of a new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons”.
The official nuclear-armed states are estimated to possess about 15,650 nuclear weapons (the vast majority in US and Russian arsenals; the UK has “no more than 120” of what Michael Fallon described to MPs earlier this year as “operationally available” nuclear warheads).
The Foreign Office minister, Baroness Anelay, told the NPT review conference that the UK would “retain a credible and effective minimum nuclear deterrent for as long as the global security situation makes that necessary”.
Disarmament campaigners pointed out that such an approach could encourage other countries to adopt a “deterrence doctrine”, thereby actually inciting nuclear proliferation.
“My government”, said the Queen’s Speech last week, “will work to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons…”
Lord West, former first sea lord and Labour security minister was quick to point out, curiously she did not mention Trident. A “yawning gap”, he called it.
Yet, he added, Trident was seen as so important for the Conservatives that Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, “wrote to every household in Barrow before the election saying that voting for the Labour candidate would put the deterrent at risk and hence all their jobs.”.
West, like Labour’s front bench, are in favour of replacing the four-submarine Trident fleet. But he also described the fact that the navy being reduced to just 19 “escort” ships – destroyers and frigates – as “nothing less than a national disgrace”.
Pressure on the defence budget, a large part of which will be devoted to Trident amnd aircraft carriers over the next decade, threatens to force further cuts in the navy’s conventional surface fleet – the ships it needs most for maritime operations, including surveillance and combatting pirates and drug traffickers.
“We are at a turning point”, said West. “Defence is in a crisis…Without an increase in defence spending we are on a road to disaster.” Something must give.