Trident is illegal. Nuclear weapons have no legitimate purpose: their use would be illegal under almost every conceivable circumstance, as huge numbers of civilian casualties would be unavoidable. That is why continued possession of nuclear weapon means that Britain is contravening international rulings and declarations.
International Court of Justice
In 1996 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) gave an advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons. The Court concluded that:
the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law (paragraph 2E)
states must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets (paragraph 78).
The basis of humanitarian law is that parties to any conflict should seek to distinguish between civilian and military targets. This is repeated in the basic rules of the 1949 Geneva Convention.
The Geneva Convention Protocol 1977 prohibits attacks on civilians and methods of warfare which are intended, or may be anticipated, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment (Article 35). The inherent impossibility of distinguishing between civilian and military targets and the obvious fact that the use of nuclear weapons would result in a massive number of casualties in a wide area, clearly renders the use or threat of a nuclear weapons system illegal. It is clear that the use of Trident would result in a massive number of casualties across a wide area.
The UK signed a legally binding international treaty in 1968, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), agreeing to negotiate in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. The NPT commits its signatories to undertake ‘concrete disarmament efforts’, not invest in a brand-new nuclear weapons system that will ensure Britain is nuclear-armed for further decades to come.
A legal opinion by Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin, Matrix Chambers, on The Maintenance and Possible Replacement of the Trident Nuclear Missile System in 2005 concluded that Trident replacement would constitute a breach of Article VI of the NPT and would be a material breach of the treaty itself.
Following the announcement of a planned increase in the number of Britain’s nuclear warheads, legal experts have confirmed that this contravenes Britain’s obligations under the NPT. A legal opinion commissioned by CND and authored by renowned experts Professor Christine Chinkin and Dr Louise Arimatsu shows a clear breach of Article VI of the NPT,
Even the official UN spokesperson said they do not believe it is ‘consistent’ with the UK’s obligations under the treaty.