This is a summary of Ambassador Kmentt’s address to Scottish CND’s AGM on 21st November 2020. A recording of the talk is available here.
Speaking in a personal capacity Alexander addressed the significance of the TPNW and the arguments against it, and went on to outline how its progress might best be supported. A key feature is the focus on the humanitarian consequences and the recognition that these consequences are much more grave and complex than previously understood. The Treaty moves the discourse from the abstractions around the deterrence concept to the concrete – the real risks and impacts of the weapons and the emphasis on human security. It is an expression of the need for the non-nuclear states to take responsibility themselves for addressing the risks, rather than simply making demands on the nuclear-armed states. The Treaty has depended on working within the UN General Assembly, thus breaking free of the usual consensus model for disarmament negotiations which has hitherto given a de facto veto to the nuclear-armed states. The TPNW illuminates the impossibility of combining deterrence theory with human security and international humanitarian law. For example deterrence can make no provision for restitution and environmental repair in the case of an accidental detonation. The TPNW can transform the whole discourse.
The established nuclear think-tanks are fighting back against the Treaty but the fact and nature of this opposition is evidence of the sharp challenge it presents to the conventional discourse. It is notable that the nuclear establishment fight-back does not deal with the humanitarian dimension. It is argued that the TPNW must be ineffectual since the nuclear-armed states are not involved, yet it present a sharp challenge to the deterrence doctrine. It is claimed that the Treaty disregards the “security” environment, yet there is no attempt to elucidate whose security is at risk. The Treaty exposes the basic position of the nuclear-armed states – to postpone disarmament until the “security” environment allows it, so indefinitely. There is also the accusation that the TPNW undermines the NPT, despite it being precisely crafted to support Article V1, and despite the fact that Ireland, which was key in developing the NPT, and South Africa, which responded to the NPT by disarming, are strong supporters.
Civil society can support the Treaty by taking advantage of the broader and more inclusive discourse that focusses on humanitarian consequences, as with climate change high-lighting the links bewteen the two threats. This is pertinent for Scotland as the location of nuclear weapons and the risks that brings in the case of accidental detonation or nuclear conflict. In the UK, a House of Lords committee at least acknowledges the Treaty, urging the government to take its existence seriously, to be more open and to adopt a less aggressive tone.
There are two scenarios. The TPNW may be unsuccessful in challenging the nuclear status quo or it can lead to greater engagement with international humanitarian law. Maintaining its momentum is the key.