The big five nuclear-armed states that are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – the so-called P5 (China, the US, Russia, France and the UK) have issued a joint statement on preventing nuclear war and a nuclear arms race. This was presumably prepared as a positioning statement for the now postponed NPT Review Conference.
The statement contains a couple of notable positives. The admission that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought “– a deliberate echo of the Reagan-Gorbachev statement of 1985 – was made in a Biden-Putin statement in June last year and it is good to see it re-affirmed here by all the P5. The obvious logic of that stance (as Reagan and Gorbachev understood) is that nuclear weapons must be eliminated.
The second plus is more subtle and indirect. Even big nuclear-muscled states have to pay attention to their global reputational status and will attempt to deflect criticism before it sticks for good. In the context of the NPT Review Conference that criticism has focussed on the failure of the P5 to make any progress on Article V1 of the Treaty, which is why the statement defensively quotes that Article verbatim. If we put our justified cynicism about their motives to one side for a moment we can see that the fact that they have said this indicates a measure of power behind the barrage of criticism and challenge that has come their way, specifically from the accelerating credibility of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This is a huge incentive to keep calling them out for the yawning chasm between their words and their actions.
A quick look at the actual terms of Article V1 will underline that chasm. Signatories are obliged to “ . . pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Cessation of the nuclear arms race? In Scotland we would say ‘Aye right’! What about China’s burgeoning silos, the talk of moving US nuclear weapons further east in Europe, Russia’s hypersonic missiles, the UK’s increase in its warhead numbers? Oh, and that “treaty on general and complete disarmament” when the TPNW, which the nuclear states have regularly dissed, is precisely that? Give us all a break.
Then there is the standard kicking of disarmament into the long grass, as we wait, patiently or otherwise, for “a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament”. There is no plan, no proactive step-by-step programme, no hint of recognition of urgency as the risks to the planet increase day by day.
One junior member of the P5 gang deserves special mention. The UK has been particularly blatant in its NPT-related hypocrisy, claiming to be Article V1 compliant while increasing the size of its WMD arsenal by over 40% and prompting UK CND to report it directly to the United Nations. And yet the UK may now acquire international significance in a way not at all envisaged within the Global Britain propaganda. Scottish independence is very much back on the agenda. A new Scotland, given the current popular and parliamentary rejection of the UK’s nuclear weapons, will very likely, with the full backing of the TPNW and huge international support, demand that the remnant UK removes its WMD from the Scottish bases and Scottish waters. Since there is no viable alternative to the Scottish bases at Faslane and Coulport elsewhere in Britain, the UK may find itself the first P5 state to be truly Article V1 compliant. Going back to the issue of reputation how much better it will be for the UK to recover the high ground by easing itself towards TPNW acceptance, rather than wait for circumstances to force it to do so.
A new report by Dr Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy on how the UK could respond to the TPNW will be published to mark the anniversary of the TPNW entering into force See: oes-this-mean-for-britain-cnd-webinar/ to register