Written by Sara Medi Jones
Sara Medi Jones is a CND Campaigns Officer representing CND at the NPT Review Conference
Yesterday was a full and busy day at the United Nations. Opening statements from each of the participating countries will be heard until Thursday and CND enjoyed observing some of these in the General Assembly Hall.
Iran went first and wasted no opportunity in attacking the United States’ nuclear weapons system and the sanctions which have been imposed on Tehran. Their Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also welcomed Palestine as the latest signatory to the NPT. Zarif’s disappointment at any progress towards the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East was echoed by a large majority of subsequent speakers.
The Jordanian minister turned the argument we hear often in the UK – that nuclear weapons are essential for our security – on its head, saying that the only way to guarantee a safer world is for all nuclear weapon states to work together to disarm and deal with new dangers. Sweden was optimistic about room for progress over the next few weeks, with their Foreign Affairs Minister maintaining that disarmament is not hopeless and that anti-nuclear weapon campaigners inspire her to do more.
On the fringes of the main conference, CND hosted a panel discussion on whether the UK scrapping Trident could break the deadlock in nuclear disarmament discussions. CND’s chair Dave Webb explained the current situation in Britain, highlighting that the upcoming election provides an opportunity for a step forward. Politicians Bill Kidd MSP (Scottish National Party) and Jean Lambert MEP (Green Party) expanded on the theme. Jean stressed the need for the international community to support politicians and political parties which back disarmament, as they are likely to be accused of giving up British influence in the world. In turn, the debate about scrapping Trident can then influence decisions in other nuclear weapon states.
International disarmament expert Jean-Marie Collin explained that this is certainly the case in France, which also needs imminently to make a decision about the future of its nuclear-armed submarines. French media has increasingly been reporting the repercussions of the UK election result on Trident replacement.
Jackie Cabasso, the Executive Director for NGO Western States Legal Foundation, was slightly more pessimistic about the possible impact in the United States, stressing that the way disarmament took place would be important. She raised important concerns about the nuclear relationships and agreements which would linger between both countries, as well as the likelihood of what the money would be spent on instead – more war.
Tadaaki Kawata from Gensuikyo (the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs) spoke of his frustration with the step by step approach advocated by the NPT, and said that scrapping Trident would provide a new impetus to international discussions.
Contributions from the floor resulted in a debate about the role of corporations in relation to nuclear weapons. The meeting provided many fresh angles on the campaign against Trident replacement.
During our event, news trickled in of the UK’s intervention in the main hall and the general response was disappointment, though not surprise, at a statement which managed to both affirm their commitment to disarmament and at the same time their intention to retain nuclear weapons ‘as long as… necessary’.
The French government will make a statement today, and we met with members of their delegation last night to get an insight into what they will be saying. France has almost 300 nuclear warheads but has no plans to get rid of these soon. The delegation insisted that the step-by-step approach to disarmament is working and highlighted their work in drafting a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. While the French are proud of their NPT record, it does not look likely that they will engage at all with what they termed the ‘hazardous’ humanitarian initiative, especially as they were at pains to stress how safe their nuclear weapons are. We politely disagreed.
At the end of the first day, CND is inclined to agree with the assessment of the Slovakian Minister. He said the NPT needs resuscitating, and swiftly.