The Nuclear Ban Treaty in a Nutshell

Janet Fenton speaking at disarmament talks

A training day on the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty was held in Manchester on 8-Sep-18. It was Jointly arranged by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (UK WILPF) and Greater Manchester Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (GMCND). Janet Fenton and Taniel Yusef were the main speakers.

The day opened with Janet explaining the background to the Treaty, and here’s my take on the key points.

What is the Ban Treaty?

The full Nuclear Ban Treaty text is found here. It came into being at the United Nations in New York on 7-Jul-17. 122 states voted in favour, with just one against.

It outlaws nuclear weapons, in the same way biological and chemical weapons are banned.

What’s the back-story?

Fifty years ago, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was agreed. This allowed five countries – USA, France, UK, China and Russia – to keep nukes so long as they agreed to disarm. In exchange, other countries agreed not to obtain nukes.

The NPT had some success in stopping the spread of nukes, but failed miserably in its aim to disarm. The fatal flaw was the lack of any timetable.

The new Ban Treaty closes that legal loophole.

Why do we need to ban nukes?

A nuclear war could wipe out almost all life on earth. It’s the number one threat facing our planet.

But even a single nuke is utterly devastating. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent state that no effective humanitarian response is possible.

Can you imagine that? No medical treatment for survivors, no food, no shelter, no water.

Japanese A-bomb survivors have no need to imagine. They have seen what ‘no effective humanitarian response’ looks like in horrifying detail. Their first-hand testimony had a powerful moral influence on the Treaty.

Aren’t nukes already illegal?

Their use almost certainly is.

Existing rules of war (note 2) outlaw any attack that results in ‘excess’ civilian casualties. Since a nuclear attack would always result in massive civilian casualties, it’s almost certain to be illegal. The Treaty removes all legal doubt.

Why are women and girls singled out in the Treaty?

The Treaty commits to support and strengthen the participation of women in nuclear disarmament. Janet contrasted this with nuclear armament, where all big decisions were made secretly by small groups of men.

The Treaty also recognises that radiation has a disproportionate effect on young women and girls. They have about twice the chance of getting cancer from radiation compared to males. And pregnant women exposed to radiation run the risk of miscarriage and genetic defects to their unborn children.

Is the Treaty now in force?

Not yet. It requires 50 states to both sign and ‘ratify’ it. Over 50 states signed on the first day, but ratification takes longer – another year or two.

Once the Treaty becomes law, must countries get rid of their nukes?

No, it only applies to signatory states at present (note 3). But if the vast majority of the world signed then it would apply to all states.

Will the Treaty have any effect on countries with nukes?

Yes – it provides a moral compass and a framework on which to disarm in the future.

It also hits those involved in the nuke business where it hurts – in their pockets. They won’t be able to get finance, parts or materials from Treaty countries.

Does the UK support the Treaty?

No – it strongly opposes it.

It says the NPT is the way to get rid of nukes. That’s hard to take seriously given the UK is renewing Trident for the next 30+ years, at a cost of £205 billion.

Does Scotland support the Treaty?

Yes, both the First Minister and Parliament of Scotland fully support it.

Scotland is home to Trident, but would dearly love to kick it out. Maybe one day they will. If so, that would disarm the UK as there’s nowhere else to put Trident.

Anything else about the Treaty?

For me, it’s nice to see it recognises the importance of peace education.

What is the Parliamentary Pledge?

The Parliamentary Pledge commits an MP to work at getting their country to sign the Treaty.

What can I do?

How about asking your MP to sign the Parliamentary Pledge?

Not sure about how to persuade your MP? Maybe the advice from Janet and Taniel on how to lobby your MP will help.

Where can I find more details about the Treaty?

Janet Fenton took part in the Treaty negotiations. Watch Janet’s informative talk about the Treaty and the lead up to it.

Janet Fenton portrait photo
Janet Fenton – photo by Clare Conboy
Notes:
1. Jointly arranged by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (UK WILPF) and Greater Manchester Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (GMCND).
2. International Humanitarian Law – the principle of Proportionality – states that one side must not launch an attack if it results in excess civilian harm compared to the military gain of that attack.
3. ‘Treaty law‘ is only applicable to signatory states, whereas ‘customary law’ is applicable to all states. ‘Treaty law’ can become ‘customary law’ if there is overwhelming support. But because most of the nuke states opposed the Treaty right from the start, and refused to take part in the negotiations, they can argue that it cannot be considered ‘customary law’.

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