On Friday 3rd May, the Royal Navy is hosting a National Service of Thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey to mark 50 years of what they call ‘the Continuous at Sea Deterrent’. To the lay person that means half a century of British submarines, armed with nuclear weapons, on patrol 24/7. Celebrating five decades of UK WMD, in a place of worship? You really couldn’t make it up.
As young people are seized with concern about our possible extinction, and countless thousands exist in poverty and government-imposed degradation and suffering, our ruling elite has shown once again how out of touch it is. Submarine patrols with the capacity to destroy millions of people at the flick of a switch, are hardly something to be grateful for.
But what is most striking is how successive British governments have engaged in 50 years of dissimulation and doublespeak over nuclear weapons. When the nuclear patrols began in 1969, Britain had just signed up to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Concerns about proliferation and the spiralling stocks of the nuclear states led the UN General Assembly to try and bring these developments under control. In July 1968, the US, Britain and the Soviet Union signed the NPT. It not only forbade nuclear technology transfer and the making or acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear weapons states, it also crucially included Article VI: ‘Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.’
When the Treaty was launched, there was considerable optimism. Indeed, enthusiasm for the eradication of nuclear weapons took a number of forms at this time. For example, several countries took steps to make themselves nuclear-free. In January 1968, the Japanese prime minister pledged that Japan would not make nuclear weapons. That same month, Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau began the phasing out of the deployment of US nuclear weapons in Canada. Also in 1968, a nuclear weapons-free zone was established by 20 countries in Latin America, renouncing the acquisition and siting of nuclear weapons on their territories. Signatories to this treaty, the Treaty of Tlatelolco, also agreed to IAEA jurisdiction over their nuclear power facilities. Two other treaties were also signed around this same time: the Outer Space Treaty of 1966, which banned the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in space; and the Seabed Arms Control Treaty of 1971, which did the same for the seabed.
It was precisely at the point that it had signed up to get rid of its nuclear weapons, in a context of optimism, enthusiasm and concrete steps towards denuclearisation internationally, that the British government began its continuous so-called at-sea ‘deterrence’ patrols. And in spite of its NPT commitments and repeated claims to want a nuclear weapons-free world, it has retained its nuclear arsenal with its phenomenal killing capacity.
Fast forward to 2019. Taking matters into their own hands, following the failure of the NPT to bring about nuclear disarmament, the significant majority of states in the UN General Assembly have voted to adopt a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Open for signature in September 2017, state after state is signing up, yet the UK government refuses to support it, and is doing its level best to prevent other countries backing it too. At the same time it is in the process of spending at least £205 billion on Trident replacement, Britain’s second new nuclear weapons system since the end of the Cold War.
With a country so out of step with global aspirations – and action – for peace and disarmament, maybe it’s not surprising that our government thinks it’s OK to gather the establishment to rally round a weapon of mass destruction in a place of worship. Do they believe their own rhetoric that nuclear weapons keep the peace? Who knows, but either way their dissimulation and doublespeak over nuclear weapons renders them uniquely unfit to run a country.
Almost two hundred Anglican clerics have publicly condemned the Westminster Abbey service. We will be adding to their voices on Friday by protesting against the folly and hypocrisy of our political establishment outside the Abbey on Friday at midday. Please join us.