Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Nuclear Disarmament: how much longer must we wait?

Letter sent to The Guardian newspaper: Your defence and security editor quotes an anonymous Foreign Office official as asserting that rather than supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (“the Ban treaty”) the UK Government supports “gradual multilateral nuclear disarmament.” (“UN nuclear arms treaty comes into force today,” 22 January 2021). Foreign office minister Lords Ahmad of Wimbledon re-inforced this position when he told peers in a mini-debate on the Ban treaty in the Lords on 20 January “ [the Ban treaty] fails to offer a realistic path to global nuclear disarmament and, importantly, risks undermining the effective non-proliferation and disarmament architecture that we already have in place, in particular the work that has already been achieved with key partners on the NPT [multilateral nuclear non-proliferation treaty]” (https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-01-21/debates/DCB6C09F-E381-42B2-AA59-7DCA1984D34C/ProhibitionOfNuclearWeapons) Papers I discovered at the UK National Archives in Kew show that on 23 January 1968, Fred (later Lord) Mulley, as the UK Labour Government's minister of state for foreign affairs, addressing the 358th plenary meeting of the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENDC) in Geneva, ( the predecessor committee to the current UN Committee on Disarmament) explained to ministerial delegations why nations should sign up to the newly negotiated NPT: "As I have made clear in previous speeches, my government accepts the obligation to participate fully in the [nuclear disarmament] negotiations required by [NPT] Article 6 and it is our desire that these negotiations should begin as soon as possible and should produce speedy and successful results. There is no excuse now for allowing a long delay to follow the signing of this treaty." (emphasis added) Shortly after, on January 26 1968, a confidential memo by Mulley for the cabinet defence and oversea (sic) policy committee laid out Britain's position on the key nuclear disarmament clause, which became NPT article 6, commented: " It will be essential to follow the treaty up quickly with the further disarmament measures if it is to be brought into force and remain in force thereafter." A few days afterwards, on 30 January 1968, and the NPT was presented to the cabinet for its endorsement. A supportive foreign office memo stated: "a lot of the thinking behind the treaty, and some of the language, originally came from us." On 27 June that year, the NPT, including the key article 6 obligation on nuclear weapon signatory states, to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith, was presented to parliament as Cmnd 3683. In the fifty years since the multilateral NPT came into force, not one British nuclear weapon or nuclear warhead has been withdrawn from service or dismantled as a result of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. How much longer should we wait for ”speedy” results?

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