This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.
It’s easy to say you want a world without nuclear weapons. Nearly everyone does: even David Cameron. It’s like saying there should be no global poverty: the hard part is taking action to do something about it.
Imagine if David Cameron returned from his recent trade-boosting visit to China and had to concede, shamefaced, that he hadn’t mentioned trade with the UK.
Worse still: what if he returned and boasted of the fact that he hadn’t mentioned trade with the UK?
Well this is precisely what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has just done following a UN meeting on nuclear disarmament.
‘What discussions,’ FCO Minister Hugh Robertson was asked in Parliament, ‘were held by [the FCO] on the replacement of the Trident submarines at the recent High Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament at the UN?’
‘No discussions’, he replied.
Even more disturbingly, Robertson went on to claim that this was all good and proper.
‘Maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the current system is fully consistent with our obligations as a recognised nuclear weapon state under the treaty on the non-proliferation (NPT) of nuclear weapons,’ he stated.
Disingenuous doublespeak. He may as well have said: “building new nuclear weapons is the same as negotiating to get rid of them.”
And that is precisely what the UK, and all other nuclear armed states, are bound to do by the NPT. Article VI of the treaty states:
‘Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to… nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.’
The UK government claims to have a long-standing commitment to multilateral initiatives towards a world free of nuclear weapons, but it simply doesn’t practice what it preaches.
One recent initiative which the UK won’t even engage with is around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons: supported by 125 states as well as NGOs around the world.
But the UK, in a joint statement with France and the US, expressed ‘regret’ that states and civil society actors have sought to highlight these dangers.
After a landmark conference on this issue in Oslo this year – which the British government failed to attend, despite Defence Secretary Philip Hammond being in Norway at the time – the UK still hasn’t RSVP’d to an invitation from the Mexican government to go to the follow-up conference in 2014.
Here, our friend Hugh Robertson at the FCO can shed a little more light on the government’s position:
‘We are concerned that some efforts under the humanitarian initiative appear increasingly aimed at negotiating a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the possession of nuclear weapons’.
What a concern! States and global civil society want the UK to fulfil its treaty obligations and ‘negotiate’ towards disarmament!?
The government’s apparent aversion to a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) is all the more disturbing given how instrumental the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has been recently in the historic elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. These treaty apparatuses have been shown to enable and facilitate true progress on disarmament, yet the UK still refuses to join the call for similar initiatives for nuclear weapons.
When this is the attitude of our politicians, how can we see their professed commitment to disarmament as anything other than shallow and meaningless rhetoric?