Banning Nuclear Weapons: Another Way to a Safer World

For some years an international campaign has been gradually building – ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. The goal is a treaty banning nuclear weapons, a Convention such as the Landmine Convention and the Cluster Munitions Convention. It will follow the same process, and requires enough nations, supported by their citizens, to sign up to it, bring it into being and then to ratify it. Once ratified, the development, possession and use of nuclear weapons becomes illegal. The beauty of this approach is that it sidesteps the bogged-down Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in which states that have undertaken to get rid of their remaining nuclear weapons endlessly argue about ‘process’ with the aim of hanging on to their horrifically destructive toys.

Three in four states support negotiations for such a Treaty. So, overwhelmingly, does the public. In March this year Oslo hosted an intergovernmental conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons with ICAN acting as the civil society partner, engaging with delegates and helping to inform their thinking. While there, ICAN also held a Civil Society Forum. A total of 127 states took part. Such are the humanitarian dangers of nuclear weapons that it became clear that no nation has the resources to cope with the effects of even one of these weapons being used. By the end of the conference attending states wanted a follow-up conference which Mexico has agreed to host next year.

Unsurprisingly, the big 5 – US, UK, Russia, China and France – refused to take part, making some ill-judged statements about how the conference would upset NPT negotiations. There was, of course, a lot of behind-the-scenes pressure on governments not to take part. Article 36, following a Freedom of Information request, finally received copies of documents showing the process of the British Government’s thinking about this important conference, from the initial position of considering taking part, the P5 (Permanent Security Council members) taking a collective decision to boycott the conference, through to issuing this statement while the Conference was in progress:

We are concerned that the Oslo event will divert attention and discussion away from what has been proven to be the most effective means of reducing nuclear dangers – a practical, step-by-step approach that includes all those who hold nuclear weapons. Only in this way could we realistically achieve a world without nuclear weapons. … We are half way through the [Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT)]’s five-year cycle but some appear already to have abandoned the Action Plan, convening alternative processes which will divide the international community.

Well, no. The NPT is not proving to be “effective”, nor is this “alternative process” dividing the international community. It is the P5 weapons that are doing that with their desire to hang on to power.

Article 36 adds, “Internally, in planning communications between London and Oslo on 22 January 2013, a UK official wrote that “we feel that the focus and format of the conference will not lend itself to the UK setting out our narrative and key messages around our forward leaning approach to multilateral disarmament.” So the concern here is really about whether or not the UK will look good in the meeting.”

It is quite clear that 1) the UK wants to be part of a process they can veto (the NPT) and 2) the British Government is obsessed with maintaining a long-disappeared world status. Lacking is any desire to make the world safer. To quote Article 36:

By refusing to engage at all with the content of the Humanitarian Conference, by boycotting the meeting, and then by being so strident in expressing opposition to the meeting, the UK actually contributed to building up a sense of the Oslo conference as a significant political moment. Whilst the P5 like to think that nothing significant can be done on nuclear weapons without their participation, there is growing consideration of how non-nuclear armed states can come together to change the rules regarding these weapons – the absence of the P5, en bloc, from the Humanitarian Conference served greatly to strengthen that dynamic.

So there you have it (you can read the full report from Article 36 here). Basically put, nuclear weapons are good for P5 egos. And they are both angry and scared that the rest of the world might find a way of emptying their box of toys. Whatever nationality you are, spread the news about ICAN. Sign the petition. The more people sign up, the more their governments will know they have civil society’s mandate to create a Convention Against Nuclear Weapons.

And here is something else you can do:

Nuclear Abolition Week, 6 – 13 July will witness the launch of ICAN’s new public outreach initiative – Share Your Shadow. A nuclear bomb explosion can vaporise everything in a matter of moments. It can also create permanent memories of those killed – nuclear shadows, still to be seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In solidarity with all those victims, take a photo of your own shadow and share it with your friends on Twitter, Facebook and any other channels. Get your friends to join in. To find out more, click here.

Remember – this is one campaign that civil society has a good chance of winning!

Lesley Docksey is a lover of animals, campaigns and writes on war/peace, climate change, and the environment. She is the former editor of Abolish War. Read other articles by Lesley.