New nuclear weapons: "do as I say, not do as I do"

Posted by bex — 1 March 2007 at 9:00am - Comments

Current Executive Director for Greenpeace UK John Sauven

"Britain cannot expect other countries to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons if it upgrades its Trident nuclear weapons system", says the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in a recent speech at the London School of Economics. Mohammed ElBaradei cast doubt on his own moral authority in seeking to curb the nuclear ambitions of countries like Iran if governments like the UK just stick two fingers up at the world and say 'do as I say, not do as I do'.

El Baradei said that Britain cannot "modernise its Trident nuclear submarines and then tell everyone else that nuclear weapons are not needed in the future. They are told nuclear weapons are counter-productive because they do not protect your security. But when they look to the big boys, what do they see? They see increasing reliance on nuclear weapons for security, they see nuclear weapons being continually modernised.”

He also condemned the "unfairness" of a world in which nine countries seek to maintain their monopoly of nuclear weapons. And some, like the USA, even threaten to attack those that might want to join the club . As ElBaradei said "How do they expect this system of haves and have nots to be sustainable? How do I go to country X and say 'you should keep your obligation not to develop nuclear weapons', when the big powers are making no progress towards their obligations for disarmament?" Or as he has more eloquently put it in the past: "You cannot continue to have a cigarette dangling from your mouth and ask everybody else not to smoke."

There are two international treaties at the heart of decades of work to control and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CBTB). These international negotiations are part of a process which has already successfully halved the world's nuclear weapons stockpiles and ensured the majority of the world today is nuclear-free.

The UK must decide not only whether to build more nuclear weapons, but what kind of relationship it wants to have with the rest of the world. We can either continue to be a part of the solution in a jointly managed system of treaties for disarmament, arms control and building international security, or we can follow the US down a unilateral path that undermines international cooperation.

The first step needed is for all nuclear weapons states to commit that they will not develop any new nuclear weapons. Then they must prove that they are committed to a peaceful solution by taking all nuclear weapons pointed at targets off alert. Only then will all nations be able to work together to reinvigorate the international disarmament negotiations working towards a secure and stable peace. In addition, the NPT clearly states that nuclear powers are obliged to disarm — even though no deadline is given for this to take place. But the UK is about to go in the opposite direction if MPs vote in March to support Tony Blair's decision to develop new weapons of mass destruction.

What is different from the past debates on this issue is the growing number of powerful, voices who are speaking out against the UK developing new nuclear weapons. The former UN Secretary General said of Tony Blair's policy: "They should not imagine that this will be accepted as compatible with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”. Former shadow Defence Secretary Michael Ancram says: "The threat of using nuclear weapons is not only illogical but incredible… the need for genuinely independent alternative and flexible non-nuclear deterrence is if anything greater". Professor Stephen Hawking says: "To replace Trident would make it more difficult to get arms reduction. It would also be a waste of money because there are no circumstances in which we would use it independently". We hope that in the forthcoming debate MPs will start to listen to these people and not Tony Blair.

John Sauven
Executive Director, Greenpeace UK

This blog also appears on The Guardian web site

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