UK government confirms boycott of ban negotiations

March 15, 2017

In an answer to a parliamentary question and a letter to an ICAN campaigner, the UK government has confirmed that it will not attend negotiations on the ban treaty, starting at the end of March. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) claims that the negotiations “will not bring us closer to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”

The majority of the world’s countries disagree – and consider that an international prohibition applying equally to all states is an essential step towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. History shows that the prohibition of unacceptable weapons helps to delegitimise these technologies, reducing the political and practical support available for their development, possession and use.

The majority of the world’s states have also, crucially, concluded that the prohibition of nuclear weapons is the right thing to do. Given the well-documented catastrophic impacts of any nuclear detonation on people and places – and the risks of an intentional or accidental detonations, to which UK citizens are exposed in possessing and transporting these weapons about the country – banning nuclear weapons is the only morally permissible course of action. It does not matter whether the UK possesses “only 1%” or 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal – these weapons remain dangerous, abhorrent, and incredibly destructive, and it is unacceptable for any state to have them in any quantity.

As well as rejecting this clear moral imperative in refusing to negotiate on a comprehensive prohibition treaty, comments made to the Australian Senate earlier this month suggest that the UK government and other nuclear armed states may have also been working to discourage other countries from taking this principled course of action. Refusing to attend negotiations is incompatible with the UK government’s stated commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, multilateral disarmament (including the other instruments mentioned in the FCO’s letter), the protection of civilians in conflict, and being a leader on international law – but attempting to stop other states from participating would be unacceptable.

The ban treaty will be concluded with or without the participation of the UK, and as part of international law will be impossible for the government to just disregard. The negotiations starting this month represent a historic opportunity, for all the countries of the world that are willing, to take an essential and achievable step towards a world without these weapons of mass destruction.


Email from the FCO to ICAN campaigner Liz Mullett:

Sent: 09 March 2017 10:01
Subject: United Nations to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban in 2017

Dear Ms Mullett,

Thank you for your email of 15th February to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about a proposed treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.

As a responsible nuclear weapons State the UK is committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons and we recognise our obligations under all three of the pillars of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). We will continue to take tangible steps towards a safer and more stable world, where countries with nuclear weapons feel able to relinquish them. We have reduced our own nuclear forces by over half from their Cold War peak in the late 1970s. Of the recognised nuclear weapons States, we possess only approximately 1% of the total global stockpile of nuclear weapons. The Government continues to work to deliver the Strategic Defence and Security Review commitment to reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads by the mid 2020s.

We work with our international partners to tackle proliferation and to make progress on multilateral disarmament. The NPT is the cornerstone of these efforts and has been critical in limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The best way to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is through gradual multilateral disarmament negotiated using a step-by-step approach and within the framework of the NPT.

The UK will not take part in the negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty which begin in March. These negotiations will not bring us closer to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. We believe that productive results on nuclear disarmament can only be achieved through a consensus-based approach that takes into account the wider global security context. We will continue to press for key steps towards multilateral disarmament, including the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and successful negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.

Yours sincerely
Counter Proliferation & Arms Control Centre

—–Original Message—–

From: Liz Mullett
Sent: 15 February 2017 00:37
Subject: United Nations to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban in 2017

Dear Madam / Sir,

On 27 October 2016 at the United Nations, governments voted overwhelming voted in favor of a resolution to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, known as “L.41: Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations”.

The adoption of this historic resolution means that the United Nations will convene negotiations in 2017 for a new legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. This is a great step forward for the prospects for nuclear disarmament.

Over the last year, an overwhelming majority of states have expressed support for starting negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states.

International tensions are increasing, and have lead to an increasingly hostile rhetoric surrounding nuclear weapons. Despite commitments under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the nuclear armed states seem intent to modernize and retain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely, at great global risk.

But a ban on nuclear weapons will establish an international norm against the possession of nuclear weapons, which will help to reduce the perceived value of such weapons.

Past processes suggest that a ban treaty would affect the behavior even of those states outside the treaty. It will draw the line between those states that believe nuclear weapons are unacceptable and illegitimate, and those states that believe nuclear weapons are legitimate and able to provide security. This pressure would influence other international forums, as well as debates at national level.

I therefore urge you to confirm your government’s intent to participate actively and constructively in these negotiations with the goal of adopting a robust treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. And I hope you will encourage other governments to do the same.

I wish you the best of luck in the work to prohibit nuclear weapons. Be assured that people from all over the world will stand with you in this most important and urgent endeavor.

Yours sincerely,

Liz Mullett

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