Why is the world asking Britain to give up nuclear weapons?

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Why is the world asking Britain to give up nuclear weapons?


A Trident nuclear submarine in Scotland. © bodgerbooks

Kjølv Egeland. writes about why it is possible that Britain will need to change its ideas about nuclear weapons.

‘Will Trident take away money needed for the army or the National Health Service?’ ‘Will we get enough for our money?’ And: ‘Aren’t four submarines too many?’ These were questions in the talks in Westminster about Britain’s renewal of the Trident nuclear submarines in the summer. Westminster did not allow questions about whether nuclear violence is OK.

What about Britain’s international commitments? or Why does Britain need nuclear weapons when Egypt, Finland, Indonesia, and Liechtenstein do not? There was not much time to talk about these questions.

Britain has a right to have nuclear weapons, at least for a time. It says other co8ntries do not have this right and it will not give up the right for itself. But there is a legal obligation for the UK to give up nuclear weapons. British governments have ignored this legal obligation. And there are strong protests from countries with no nuclear weapons and from civil society organisations.

In 1968, the British Parliament agreed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). NPT says that countries without nuclear weapons must not have them. It also says that all of the countries who agreed the Treaty will have talks about ways to stop the nuclear arms race and nuclear arms soon. The International Court of Justice is the world’s highest authority on international law. In 1996 it said that Britain and the other countries who agreed the Treaty must have talks to end nuclear weapons with strict international control.

Britain says no to these obligations and says that is OK because all the other countries with nuclear weapons are just as bad. Of course, other countries with no nuclear weapons are not happy about Britain saying no to these obligations.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a country that suffered from nuclear testing. In 2014 it sued the UK because it was not respecting international law. Britain was lucky because the court dismissed the case.

Trident means Trident

Every year, at the UN and in other places, Britain says it has a special right to have nuclear weapons. But most of the countries in the world are asking Britain to keep its promises,

In the summer of 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May said giving up Britain’s nuclear weapons would be a big risk that Britain must never take. But to countries around the world – in Bamako, Belgrade, Brasília, and Buenos Aires – her ideas must seem very strange. For most governments around the world cannot accept nuclear violence and the threat of nuclear violence.

In The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation, Jacques Hymans says that the leaders of countries with nuclear arms see their nations as in some way “better” than their possible enemies. This is true of imperial Britain with the British bomb in the second half of the 1940s. A few decades before, at the talks at the Hague Convention, the British said more powerful weapons were necessary to stop ‘savage races’. The idea that Britain has the right to have nuclear weapons is now part of its culture. The two other countries in Europe with nuclear weapons are France and Russia. Like Britain they were both empires.

Ideas of empire are not dead

Britain doesn’t have an empire now but the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty shows that the idea of empire is not dead.

The NPT clearly says Britain and the other countries with nuclear weapons must disarm, but it doesn’t really say no to nuclear weapons. That is, it says no to nuclear weapons except for the five countries with nuclear weapons, who are also the permanent members of the UN Security Council: USA, UK, France, Russia and China. And they are committed to disarm. This situation allowed former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair to say that the NPT ‘makes it very clear that Britain has the right to have nuclear weapons’ and that ‘it is clear that the major nuclear powers can remain nuclear powers’.

The NPT was agreed in the mid1960s, before decolonisation was complete and when most of the new countries in the Global South were not yet very strong at international talks. The NPT has the idea that some countries are ‘more equal’ than others.

Having nuclear weapons is like imperialism. It controls the lives and property of distant people. But it does not ask the people for their agreement. Nuclear war does not just involve an attacker and a defender. All other countries in the world would suffer from a nuclear war.

Action from the Global South

For the first time, in 2016. countries mostly from the Global South but some from Europe, put forward at the UN a plan to start talks on a new legal agreement to stop all nuclear weapons.

The treaty would make nuclear weapons illegal for all countries. None of the countries with nuclear weapons are likely to take part. And it is likely that only the countries without nuclear weapons will sign the treaty at first.

So far Britain has spoken strongly against the idea.

But the plan to stop nuclear weapons is important. It shows that there is pressure against inequality in international society.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://www.newint.org/blog/2016/10/26/the-uk-and-nukes-why-the-global-south-is-asking-to-disarm/

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).