Letter from 14 NGOs urges Boris Johnson to back historic UN vote

October 26, 2016

A letter signed by 14 UK based NGOs has been presented to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urging him to back historic UN negotiations banning nuclear weapons.

The letter was coordinated by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN UK) and signed by organisations including Greenpeace, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and the global health charity Medact.

The open letter urges the Foreign Secretary to ensure the UK backs a UN vote scheduled for tomorrow that would enable talks to start in 2017 on a ban on nuclear weapons. Such a ban already exists for chemical and biological weapons.

In the letter the campaign coalition argues:

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

According to the signatories, it is not yet clear which way the UK will vote – but many were disappointed by a recent speech given by the UK ambassador Dr Matthew Rowland in which he said that nations should adopt a principle of “do no harm” instead of a negotiating a legally binding ban.

Commenting on Dr Rowland’s statement in their letter the campaign coalition says:
“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 government is choosing to retain its nuclear arsenal and upgrade associated systems, as well as currently refusing to support new multilateral negotiations towards a global ban treaty. The UK is rapidly losing its claim to credibility on nonproliferation and disarmament: the government must reevaluate whether it will support the UN ban process or end up on the wrong side of history.”

The vote at the UN General Assembly marks the end of a year of talks laying the groundwork for formal negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban next year. Whilst the majority of nations now support the start of those negotiations, the UK, Russia, USA, China, and France all boycotted the 2016 UN mandated working group on nuclear disarmament.

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”.

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