Global support for the ban treaty, and the UK’s position

Dozens of countries from all continents, as well as important international institutions such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Federation, have made clear their support for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Some of their statements are available here. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated by the majority of member states, and adopted on 7 July 2017 by an overwhelming majority.

The British government’s position

By contrast, the United Kingdom is opposed to the idea of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The UK boycotted the negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and participated in a US press conference outside the room to protest them. The government stated after the adoption of the treaty that it would not join it.

Read our leaflet on why the UK should join the treaty, and how this would work.

In August 2011 the prime minister, David Cameron, wrote that he did not agree that “negotiations now on a nuclear weapons convention should be the immediate means of getting us to a world free of nuclear weapons”. However, he acknowledged that such a convention “could ultimately form the legal underpinning for this endpoint”, but the prospects of reaching agreement on a convention “are remote at the moment”.

The United Kingdom’s priority is to reach consensus on the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to start negotiations on a fissile materials cut-off treaty. It believes that “until the necessary political and security conditions are in place, attempts to establish a new conference or body would risk diverting political capital and resources away from the NPT”, which it considers to be “the best vehicle we have for creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons”.

A 2009 government policy paper argued that, although a nuclear weapons convention will “likely be necessary to establish the final ban on nuclear weapons”, it would at present be “premature and potentially counter-productive” to focus efforts on such a treaty “when the many other conditions necessary to enable a ban have yet to be put in place”. In June 2010 it stated that “the idea of a nuclear weapons convention is a fine one”, but “a whole series of things need to be done before one comes to the happy situation where the nuclear world is disarmed, and a convention could then get full support”.

Together with the other Non-Proliferation Treaty nuclear-weapon states, the United Kingdom boycotted the Oslo conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in March 2013, hosted by the Norwegian government. While it considered the topic under discussion to be “a serious one”, it said that it disagreed “on the issue of the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and that a ban on such weapons is the right way to move us closer to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons”.

It expressed its concern “that the Oslo event will divert attention and discussion away from what has been proven to be the most effective means of reducing nuclear dangers – a practical, step-by-step approach that includes all those who hold nuclear weapons”. In response to questions raised about the Oslo conference in parliament, the senior minister of state said that the most effective multilateral forums for reducing nuclear dangers are the Conference on Disarmament and NPT review meetings. A public opinion poll in 2008 showed that 81% of Britons support a ban on nuclear weapons, with 17% opposed.


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