A nuclear ban is here

Following the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons coming into effect on 22 January, Kate Hudson, General Secretary for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, details what this ban means for the UK and beyond.

Nuclear weapons protest

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/icanw/with/31400774491/ (CC BY 2.0)

Kate Hudson

Last month, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came into force. It makes nuclear weapons illegal for the first time, outlawing the development, possession and deployment of nuclear weapons by participating states. 

In a remarkable development, the Treaty also places obligations on signatories to assist victims of nuclear weapons use and testing, and requires environmental remediation for lands contaminated by nuclear testing. It explicitly recognises the disproportionate impact of nuclear-weapon activities on indigenous peoples, because of the choices made by nuclear powers for their testing sites. Many of the UK tests were conducted on the Australian First People’s territories in Emu Field and Maralinga, contaminating large parts of South Australia. These historic wrongs must be righted.

The Treaty currently has 51 state parties that will be legally bound by the treaty, and an overall supporter-base of at least 130 countries – over two-thirds of the international community – many of whom will be joining the treaty over the coming months and years. Not surprisingly, it is the states of the Global South, most of which are already self-organised in nuclear weapons-free zones, that have led the push to get this Treaty into law. They are well aware that any nuclear weapons used by states in the Global North will disastrously affect their populations, lands and food production. In their view, any possession of nuclear weapons is unacceptable; no hands are safe hands when it comes to nuclear weapons.

The UK Government has consistently rejected the TPNW, boycotting the vote in the UN, and saying that Britain will ‘never’ sign up to it, but they are at odds with UK public opinion. A new poll by Survation for CND, released as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force, shows that to be false:

  • 59 per cent of the public support the UK Government signing up to the TPNW, including 50 per cent of Conservative voters and 68 per cent of Labour voters.
  • 77 per cent support a ‘total ban on all nuclear weapons globally’, including 71 per cent of Conservative voters and 83 per cent of Labour voters.
  • Both the UK signing the TPNW and a total global nuclear ban have majority support across every single demographic (age, regions and nations, education level, income bracket, 2019 GE vote, and 2016 EU referendum vote).

This true reflection of public opinion on nuclear weapons is widely articulated, if less widely reported – it’s found in the outspoken positions of many faith leaders, of many trade union leaders, of many campaigns – and in the day-to-day work of those who want our resources spent on dealing with the pandemic and the climate emergency, not on weapons of mass destruction.

It is shameful that the Westminster Parliament so little reflects the opinions of the electorate on this issue. The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party stand up, and a handful of others, but what of the overwhelming majority? Still in a post-imperial haze? Fearful of new thinking? They need to get beyond nuclear weapons – change is overdue. So please help them do that – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is running an ongoing virtual lobby of Parliament and we are also asking MPs to support EDM 1072.

Please, do all you can to shift the balance. Civil society has played a big role in achieving the treaty – it’s time for us to join the global majority!

Kate Hudson is the General Secretary for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament