Stand by nuclear test ban

Fabian Hamilton on peace prospects in a world without Trump

The UK has a rich history of conflict resolution. Whether it’s in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, or anywhere in the world, the UK has rightly acted to save lives when necessary. But over the last decade, this Government has failed to take the proactive approach needed to make the UK a world leader in multilateral disarmament once again.

With our position on the UN Security Council, the G7 and our fantastic institutions such as the British Council, we are in dire need of the political will to take significant multilateral disarmament initiatives forward. 

Our excellent diplomatic corps and those who work to engage with states and leaders across the world are vital to promoting international peace and stability. 

After Donald Trump’s disastrous US presidency, we have seen the dangers of brinkmanship over diplomacy. Donald Trump brought the world to the brink of nuclear conflict on several occasions, namely with Iran and North Korea. Unilaterally withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran was a dangerous moment for regional peace and stability in the Middle East. In a welcome reversal of Trump’s decision, President Biden has committed to rejoining – once Iran complies with the agreement.

The United States looks to re-engage with the world again, and it’s so important that the UK follows suit. Now that the New START agreement between the US and Russia has been extended for the maximum of five years, it is surely incumbent on every nuclear power to convene and negotiate a broader treaty of the same calibre in time for New START’s expiry in 2026.

The UK is also a huge benefactor of multilateral disarmament agreements and the stability they bring with them. We must, therefore, play a leading role in negotiating them and encouraging allies to follow suit. 

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which outlaws all nuclear testing, was ratified by the last Labour government, so it is vital now, more than ever, that the current UK Government meets its moral responsibilities to make clear that any nuclear testing has the potential to undo over 60 years of progress on nuclear disarmament and that nuclear brinkmanship is only a path to escalation, not to stability. 

Without ratification by the US and China, the CTBT is severely restricted in its effectiveness by the notable absence of two of the world’s largest nuclear powers. Given the UK’s position on the United Nations Security Council and our historic relationship with the US, the UK is in a prime position to mediate an agreement between the US and China so both countries may finally ratify this vital treaty. 

Beyond the political and diplomatic process, it’s also important that we remember the human consequences of nuclear testing, already evident in US states like Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, where significant cancer clusters have been linked to previous testing.

All countries should be free from the threat of nuclear weapons, but also the threat of violence. In Colombia, for example, the UK has a part to play as the penholder for that country at the UN. 

Every day, trade unionists, environmental activists and human rights defenders are targeted and threatened with violence in Colombia. Last year was the deadliest year since the historic peace agreement was signed in 2016. 

Alongside the impact of climate change and the pandemic in the country, the UK must press the Colombian Government to ensure that the peace agreement is upheld. Without it, regional stability will be put at risk and violence will be widespread.

The UK’s role as a peacemaker is as important now as it ever was during the depths of the Cold War. Every day it becomes more and more clear that we cannot go back to business as usual after the pandemic – where conflicts are allowed to claim the lives of innocent civilians across the world and the proliferation of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons rages on. This country can be a force for change for a better world and it’s about time we reclaimed that moral duty. 

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