UK and US ambassadors ‘fist-bump’ after speech against banning nuclear weapons

October 17, 2016

The UK’s disarmament ambassador Dr Matthew Rowland was seen fist-bumping his US counterpart after speaking at the United Nations against a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

His speech, given on Friday at a UN General Assembly debate, has been described as “hypocritical” and a “deliberate attempt to undermine the global quest for security” by the UK branch of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Ambassador Rowland, who is the UK’s senior representative on disarmament at the UN, said in his statement that rather than negotiating a treaty, nations should abide by the principle of “do no harm”. He also accused his colleagues of being naive to think that a legal treaty would work given that the UK parliament has just voted to renew the Trident submarines.

Under Article VI of the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), the UK is legally obliged “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon MP has said, “We share the vision of a world that is without nuclear weapons, achieved through multilateral disarmament”.

In response, Rebecca Sharkey, UK Coordinator for ICAN, said:

“It was staggering to hear the hypocrisy in Rowland’s speech. He lectured UN member states on the need to ‘do no harm’ whilst doing harm himself to proposals for genuine progress on nuclear disarmament. But the UK and other nuclear armed states continue to threaten catastrophic worldwide harm to people and the environment through their continued deployment of nuclear weapons which creates an existential risk of accidental, unintended or deliberate use. Far from being a leader on multilateral disarmament, the UK has been unilaterally rearming its nuclear arsenal and is now refusing to support new multilateral negotiations towards a global ban treaty.

The UK is rapidly losing any claim to the moral high ground or to credibility on nonproliferation and disarmament. It must decide whether it will support the UN ban process or end up on the wrong side of history.

“The fist-bump at the end of Rowland’s speech just rubbed salt into the wounds. Imagine how survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must have felt seeing such disrespectful behaviour. We want to see the UK, US and all nations work together for a secure world, and we call upon the ambassador to use his next speech to make a more constructive contribution and support the negotiations for a treaty.”

The discussions taking place at the UN General Assembly will conclude at the end of October with a vote on whether or not negotiations should start in 2017 on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Whilst the majority of nations now support the start of those negotiations, the UK, Russia, USA, China, and France refused to even participate at the 2016 UN mandated working group on nuclear disarmament that led to this historic UN resolution.

The existence of nuclear weapons poses a dangerous threat to humanity; any intended or unintended detonation will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences. The international community has already outlawed other inherently inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, from chemical and biological weapons to anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. A ban on nuclear weapons is long overdue – and the UK must be part of this process.

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