Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Nuclear weapons are in the news again, for all the wrong reasons. But the adoption of a new UN treaty could kickstart a re-energised effort to abolish these expensive, dangerous and immoral weapons which have no place in today’s world.
On 7 July the UN General Assembly adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the nuclear ban treaty. It was voted in by 122 countries, with only one country voting against. However, all nine nuclear weapon states, and most nuclear umbrella states, failed to attend the treaty negotiations and boycotted the vote.
Among those states is Britain which, despite constrained public finances, is seeking to spend over £200 billion over thirty to forty years replacing Trident.
This is hard to justify when evidence is mounting that the UK faces a health funding crisis. Earlier this year the British Red Cross was forced to intervene and assist UK hospitals in 20 A&E departments, calling the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’. More recently, a study by the Nuffield Trust found the NHS was under pressure in several key areas, after a decade which has seen some of the lowest spending increases in history.
This problem is coupled with uncertainty in future public finances stemming from Brexit, and reports of overspending on the nuclear deterrent. A recently released report from a government watchdog on major projects criticised Trident replacement efforts as poorly managed, over-budget and beset by technical problems.
By abandoning our reliance on an increasingly redundant and dangerous approach to national security, Britain can win on two fronts. Firstly, it can reduce the risk of a catastrophic nuclear war whilst adopting a more convincing approach to national security. Secondly, it can demonstrate its diplomatic prowess and take a lead on multilateral disarmament and make the world safer.
As explained in the Medact report ‘A safer world: treating Britain’s harmful dependence on nuclear weapons’, there are better ways of achieving peace and national security than through the retention of nuclear weapons:
‘While nuclear weapons give us a terrifying military might, they do not prevent or counter new forms of warfare and non-state terrorism; nor can they be used to fight sea level rise, extreme weather, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, antimicrobial resistance and rising levels of inequality.‘
Although the nuclear ban treaty only applies to those countries who ratify it, it demonstrates huge international support for full nuclear weapons disarmament. There were three key drivers for the adoption of the treaty.
The first was the obvious need to place nuclear weapons on an equal footing with other abhorred and indiscriminate weapons, including landmines, and chemical and biological weapons, which had all been previously made illegal.
The second was the growing scientific understanding that a limited regional nuclear war could result in severe climatic disruption and a deterioration of food supply that would place up to two billion people at risk of starvation.
The third driver was the fact that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was not working. Although the treaty committed all nuclear weapon states to make genuine efforts towards disarmament, in reality, they have been modernising and upgrading their weapons systems (as with Trident).
The last five years has seen the world grow more dangerous and unstable. The number of armed conflicts across the world has grown, whilst a backlash against globalisation has resulted in a rise of aggressive, nationalist and authoritarian governments. Climate change and resource scarcity are further acting as ‘threat multipliers’. Thus, the risk of nuclear weapons being used mistakenly, accidentally or stupidly has probably grown.
Ultimately, long-lasting and sustainable peace and security can only be built through international cooperation and the adoption of a multi-dimensional peacebuilding strategy. By choosing to relinquish its nuclear weapons, the UK could play a major diplomatic role in catalysing genuine multilateral disarmament across the world.
In the UK, doctors and health professionals are renewing interest in dismantling Trident from both a moral and medical standpoint but also a simple economic case.
You can do your bit. In September over 500 peace activists, academics, medical professionals and students from across the globe will be meeting in York to bring fresh momentum both to the national and international fight to relinquish nuclear weapons and make the world a safer, healthier and wealthier place. Why not join us?
Dr David McCoy is the director of Medact, a UK public health and peace-building charity
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns