Today is Hiroshima Day, the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States. As we remember the immense suffering and huge death toll of that event, we must also acknowledge the sad truth that many of the pillars that have sustained the international anti-nuclear proliferation consensus are slowly crumbling, putting our fellow humans and the planet even more at risk.
The most discussed example of the lack of compromise around non-proliferation efforts has been the US’s behaviour towards the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The deal, commonly known as the ‘Iran deal’, took years to negotiate before its introduction in 2015. President Trump took the US out of the deal to allegedly stop Iran’s “malign activity” in the region. But the noise coming from key elements of the US administration seems to indicate that they are positioning themselves for a conflict, building up the necessary political and media structure that often goes with it.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty was signed by Russia and the US in 1987 and represented the first treaty to ban a whole category of nuclear weapons. The INF has been the cornerstone of non-proliferation advocates around the world. Its demise, confirmed by the US and Russia on Friday, represents a further example of an international community unable or unwilling to find compromise and middle ground. The Greenham protests can claim to have achieved that – all the more reason for stepping up efforts from across society to demand a new treaty.
The way forward
In a world where, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), there are more than 14,500 nuclear weapons, what can we do to revert the decline of the non-proliferation consensus?
The most important step is to support the implementation of the United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Before this treaty, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to a categorical ban. As Beatrice Fihn, the head of ICAN, said after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for ICAN’s campaign: the destruction of humankind is one “impulsive tantrum away.”
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons represents the kind of bold, decisive actions that members of the international community need to take to avoid the mutual assured destruction brought about by nuclear weapons.
24 nations have so far ratified the treaty – not including the UK. So why should we sign up?
The best-ever Hiroshima Day, the only one we should be aiming for, is the one where we celebrate the destruction of the world’s last nuclear weapons. That’s when the world will truly be far safer.
2. Human welfare
Nuclear weapons bring with them catastrophic humanitarian consequences. Furthermore, according to the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, their use is not compatible ‘with the rules of international humanitarian law, in particular the rules of distinction, precaution and proportionality’.
If we, as a nuclear power, were to step forward to sign the treaty, we could have a massive impact.
Aside from the human and financial cost of nuclear weapons, the environment would suffer untold damages for thousands of years due to the effects of nuclear weapons. The employment of these weapons would ensure that what doesn’t get destroyed by climate change will be destroyed by nuclear radiations.
Today, more and more developed and developing countries are directing increasing shares of their national income towards the development of nuclear weapons. It is shocking that a country like the UK, battered by 10 years of austerity, still finds all the necessary resources to sustain and expand its nuclear weapons, including the renewal of its nuclear submarine fleet.
We need a new consensus, one that allocates those resources towards the wellbeing of the population instead of its destruction. For instance, imagine what these funds could do towards providing those after-school services so essential in supporting young people.
The UK has only one per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons – but if we, as a nuclear power, were to step forward to join the majority of the world’s states that are already supporting the treaty, we could have a massive impact.
Recent British foreign policy has had disastrous impacts, done great damage to our standing around the world, in Afghanistan and Iraq to name just two cases. Signing the treaty could be a step towards us finding a new place in the world as a beacon for peace, security and human rights – the place Britain should be occupying.
Each and every one of us needs to fight to build the consensus necessary to ban nuclear weapons once and for all, ensuring security for this and future generations.