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Britain Votes to Retain Trident Missiles, Renews Commitment to Nuclear Weapons


July 20, 2016
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

On Monday 18 July, the British parliament voted in favour of building four new nuclear-powered submarines to carry US Trident missiles armed with modernized nuclear warheads for the next half century. The vote gives permission to the government to sign multi-billion pound contracts with the aim of ensuring that the UK will continue to possess and deploy an enormously dangerous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Special to Environmentalists Against War

UK Votes to Maintain its Trident Nuclear Force
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

(July 19, 2016) -- You have probably heard the disappointing -- but -- sadly -- not -- surprising news that the UK Parliament has voted with a large majority (472 -- 117) to renew the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system.

Beatrice has written here:

"The UK seems to be in denial about the prospect of multilateral negotiations banning nuclear weapons in the next few years, but with most of the world preparing to launch negotiations of a ban on nuclear weapons, the UK will face hard choices when nuclear weapons are prohibited before the expensive new submarines are ready to sail." [See full article below -- EAW]

Elizabeth Minor of Article 36 has articulated well how "voting for the renewal of Trident whilst global momentum is coming to a head for a prohibition on nuclear weapons seriously contradicts the UK government's rhetoric of commitment to a nuclear weapon free world". Please read the rest of her article on the ICAN UK website here.

Along with a few others, I watched the second half of the debate from the public gallery at the House of Commons, and was heartened by some of the passionate and articulate speeches against Trident, especially from Scottish MPs.

Tasmina Sheikh MP, for example, argued that "indiscriminate death on an unimaginable scale is what Trident means. This debate cannot take place in a moral vacuum". Other MPs quoted Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow, and highlighted the UK's obligations concerning the protection of civilians.

Hats off to ICAN partner Medact for their eye -- catching die -- in outside Parliament as the debate was taking place yesterday, and for Dr Frank Boulton's excellent speech to the crowd highlighting the medical effects of nuclear weapons and calling for a global ban on humanitarian grounds.

There were also great banners and speeches from faith organisations and other ICAN partners at the protest in Parliament Square organised by CND, whose placards were as popular as ever -- CLIMATE NOT TRIDENT, NHS NOT TRIDENT, JOBS NOT TRIDENT.

Last week at the Stop Trident lobby, Scottish campaigners Janet Fenton and Gwen Sinclair presented a letter to MPs signed by a resident from every constituency in Scotland, calling on Parliament to scrap Trident and support a global ban:

We are continuing to highlight the dangers of the nuclear weapon convoys which routinely transport fully assembled nuclear warheads by road across the country -- please check out the Nukes of Hazard website for more.

With best wishes,
Rebecca S / ICAN



Britain Renews Commitment to Nuclear Weapons
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

(July 19, 2016) -- Late on Monday 18 July, the British parliament voted in favour of building four new nuclear-powered submarines to carry US Trident missiles armed with modernized nuclear warheads for the next half century.

The vote gives permission to the government to sign multi-billion pound contracts with the aim of ensuring that the UK will continue to possess and deploy an enormously dangerous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, threatening other countries and exposing its people to serious risks of nuclear accidents, use or attacks for a further generation.

Earlier in the day, UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon claimed that nuclear weapons are needed to deter all threats, including from IS, North Korea and terrorists, and that since the UK could not predict what security threats it would face in 2040-2050, it had to continue to possess its own weapons of mass destruction.

Opposition MPs from the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Labour Party and the Green Party pointed out that these kinds of arguments only serve to encourage proliferation of nuclear weapons and seriously undermine the UK's commitments to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In 1968, the UK ratified the NPT, which contains a legal binding obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith. In the international arena, the UK often stresses its support for the NPT, calling it the 'cornerstone' of nuclear disarmament.

Yet, 48 years on, the UK is boycotting new UN nuclear disarmament talks, established on the basis of new evidence about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the risk of their use, be it accidental or intentional.

The fact that a majority of British MPs voted to possess and deploy nuclear weapons for at least another 45 years highlights the UK's dishonest stance on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

"Nuclear weapons are not a source of pride or an insurance policy," said Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, "they are deeply immoral, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons designed to cause as much death and destruction as possible.

It was shocking to hear the new Prime Minister Theresa May declare with such pride that she would not hesitate to fire Trident at cities full of civilian men, women and children. No government that claims to be committed to humanitarian law and the protection of civilians should deem it acceptable to possess and use nuclear weapons."

Despite the UK parliament voting to renew their Trident nuclear weapons programme, opinion polls show that the United Kingdom is not unified in this view.

There is overwhelming opposition in Scotland, where the UK's nuclear missiles are actually stored and deployed, and opinion polls in the rest of the UK show strong support for getting rid of the hugely expensive nuclear weapons programme through a multilaterally negotiated process.

The British decision to continue its reliance on weapons of mass destruction comes at a time when the rest of the world is moving towards prohibiting these weapons outright. Over 120 states have endorsed the international "humanitarian pledge", in which they commit to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

Several proposals for starting negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons in 2017 were made at the UN working group on multilateral nuclear disarmament in May, and it's possible that the UN General Assembly will vote on taking forward such negotiations later this year in October.

"The UK seems to be in denial about the prospect of multilateral negotiations banning nuclear weapons in the next few years," said Fihn, "but with most of the world preparing to launch negotiations of a ban on nuclear weapons, the UK will face hard choices when nuclear weapons are prohibited before the expensive new submarines are ready to sail."

The UN working group on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations will conclude its work and make recommendations to the General Assembly on a treaty banning nuclear weapons in August. The United Kingdom decided to boycott this working group after being denied the right to veto the conclusions of the discussions and the recommendations.


UK Parliament Votes to Keep
Nuclear Weapons as Momentum Gathers for Ban Treaty

Elizabeth Minor, Researcher at ICAN Partner

(July 19, 2016) -- On 18 July, a majority of MPs voted for the continuation of the UK's possession of nuclear weapons, endorsing the replacement of the four submarines that the UK uses to continuously convey weapons of mass destruction around the oceans -- with the potential to cause catastrophic loss of life and health, destruction, and a devastating range of environmental and humanitarian harm by accident or design.

The intention, for its supporters, is to extend the UK's use of nuclear weapons in national policy for a generation. However, with global momentum coming to a head for a new international treaty to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, this is far from assured.

Over the past six years, global concern at the severe and insurmountablehumanitarian impacts of the detonation of any nuclear weapon has grown.

The emergence of new evidence and the greater visibility of the character and consequences of nuclear weapon use, with the state-led Humanitarian Initiative of international conferences to discuss this aspect of these weapons, has galvanised calls from the majority of the world's states for renewed action to abolish this most destructive of all weapons technologies.

With over 120 states having pledged to take action to "stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate" nuclear weapons based on their catastrophic humanitarian consequences, talks are this year under way at the UN to identify the international legal and other measures that need to be taken for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Support for a treaty to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons, with or without the participation of the nuclear-armed states (which would fill a gap in the current legal regime) is gathering. A mandate to start negotiations on such a treaty is expected to be agreed at the UN in October.

The UK cannot simply ignore these developments. Even if the UK does not initially join a ban treaty, its negotiation and agreement will have practical impacts on the UK's nuclear weapons programme by curbing investment in companies manufacturing nuclear weapon systems, and will make it clear that countries that keep nuclear weapons are on the wrong side of the law.

It will no longer be possible to claim, as the Prime Minister inferred in last night's debate, that the UK's naming as a nuclear-armed state in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty somehow conveys legitimacy on its possession of nuclear weapons -- such possession will be enshrined as equally illegitimate for all states.

The pressure of this international stigma will make it progressively harder for the UK to retain such unacceptable weapons.

Voting for the renewal of Trident whilst global momentum is coming to a head for a prohibition on nuclear weapons seriously contradicts the UK government's rhetoric of commitment to a nuclear weapon free world.

The majority of the world's countries want to take action to prohibit nuclear weapons because of their horrific humanitarian effects -- impacts that the UK must face up to and not just dismiss. In the context of such international concern, the fact that the Prime Minister during the debate indicated her willingness to indiscriminately incinerate 100,000 civilians at the touch of a button is particularly jarring.

With 471 MPs voting in favour of the UK's nuclear weapons and 116 against, a significant minority spoke against renewing the UK's weapons of mass destruction. A number drew attention to the forthcoming ban treaty, highlighting the UK's non-participation in current UN talks and its rejection of the Humanitarian Initiative.

MPs also drew contrasts between the UK's stated commitment to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and its possession of indiscriminate weapons, and noted the successes of other international processes to ban and eliminate unacceptable weapons in which the UK has had a role.

Members also highlighted the impacts on people and the environment of nuclear weapons as clear reasons not to continue with their possession, and also gave their views on these weapons' inherent immorality.

Chris Law MP recounted the experiences of Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow, suggesting that the Prime Minister should consider the "horror, shock, pain and loss, and the complete devastation, of a nuclear strike" that only survivors can describe. "That in itself," he remarked, "Should be the complete reason why we do not replace Trident."

With countries around the world uniting around this position, the UK is placing itself firmly on the wrong side of history.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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