Quotable

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel


Sunday, February 25, 2018

The debate you won't hear in the U.S. Congress

On February 20, 2018 Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer presented a "Question for Short Debate" in the House of Lords, Parliament of the United Kingdom: "To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the outcome of the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading to Their Total Elimination."

The July 7, 2017 joint statement by France, the United Kingdom and the United States clearly stated that they "do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to" the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was passed by a majority of nations that same day. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.

It is unconscionable that any nation claiming to uphold the rule of international law and the United Nations Charter would refuse to support one of the most important treaties in modern history.

The only attempts at something resembling debate (about nuclear weapons) in the U.S. Congress have been recent concerns about the President's authority to order the launch of nuclear weapons, and the recently released Nuclear Posture Review will hopefully generate some useful debate. However, members of Congress are mostly mute about the U.S. signing the Ban Treaty.

Click here to read all the contributions to the debate surrounding Lord Domer's question.

Here is Lord Domer's opening contribution to debate on her question:

My Lords, I declare an interest as a co-president of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. I thank all noble Lords who will contribute their considerable expertise this evening. Many noble Lords taking part in this debate will have spoken in the debate in 2013 that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, introduced, which was really the last substantial debate that we had on the issue generally.

What has changed since 2013? Certainly not my views. I still see nuclear weapons as an immense danger to the future of the planet. But the nuclear landscape has changed significantly, and there is a growing consensus that luck is running out—because we have been lucky that there has been no catastrophic accident, and no accidental launch. In the words of former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now the CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the,

“margin for error in avoiding disaster is getting thinner because of the introduction of new, smaller weapons, the broadening of circumstances in which their use is being contemplated, and a lack of high-level communications between major nuclear weapons powers”.

He said that the chance of nuclear use was,

“higher than it’s been since the Cuban missile crisis”.

His words are, rightly, chilling.

That increased threat was one of the factors that led to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which is about to become international law. It was voted for by 122 countries, with one against, and some abstentions—of course, all nuclear weapon states abstained. The treaty, widely known as the ban treaty, will become international law when 50 states have signed and ratified it. The ban treaty prohibits states parties from developing, testing, producing manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, so it is pretty comprehensive. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, known as ICAN, won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for its work on the ban treaty.

The treaty results from the frustration of the vast majority of countries of the world with the few nuclear weapon states, which have completely failed to honour Article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Noble Lords will know that Article 6 requires that nuclear weapons states make meaningful steps towards nuclear disarmament. In return, other countries agreed not to develop nuclear weapons. It is 50 years since that agreement was signed and, although there have been steps to limit the number of nuclear weapons, there has not been the disarmament envisaged by Article 6.

In this very House, 50 years ago, Lord Chalfont, the then Minister, said that,

“we regard the Non-Proliferation Treaty as an essential first step in achieving the ending of the nuclear arms race and making progress towards general and complete disarmament”.—[Official Report, 18/6/1968; col. 514.]

So, 50 years on, my first question to the Minister is whether multilateral nuclear disarmament is still a UK Government aspiration. It seems to me that our Governments always say that it is an aspiration, but then always say that “now is not the time”.​
An example of this would be when the UN convened the open-ended working group to try and kick-start the process, stuck ever since 1996, of the UN Conference on Disarmament. The UK boycotted that opportunity—but why? I asked that question in March 2016, and this is the reply:

“The UK is not attending the Open Ended Working Group … on nuclear disarmament in Geneva …The Government believes that productive results can only be ensured through a consensus-based approach that takes into account the wider global security environment”.

But how can consensus ever be reached when those with nuclear weapons will not even attend meetings to debate the issues?

The UK boycotted the first two international conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. Why? Does closing our eyes to the reality of a nuclear war really change those realities? Of course it does not. The president of the International Red Cross said at the conclusion of those conferences that,

“if a nuclear conflict happened today, there is no humanitarian assistance capacity that could adequately respond to such a catastrophe”.

Of course, beside the appalling immediate deaths, the world would face the much wider threat of a prolonged nuclear winter.

Nuclear weapons are now the only weapons of mass destruction that are not subject to a categorical ban. Chemical and biological weapons are rightly banned, but nuclear weapons, the most apocalyptic WMDs, remain legally acceptable. Now the ban treaty fills a major gap in international law and will change that.

The treaty was adopted, in July last year, before the increased dangers posed by President Trump’s new nuclear posture, which Senator Ed Markey says,

“isn’t deterrence—it’s an invitation for America’s adversaries to expand and diversify their nuclear arsenals too”.

The accuracy of his quote is echoed in the Chinese PLA Daily, which responded to the new American posture by saying that China needs more nuclear warheads to deter the US threat. Just this month the news is bad. Russia is reported to be deploying nuclear weapons on the borders of Poland and Lithuania. The US Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, said that Pakistan is developing new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical ones, which will bring more risks to the region. All of this has led atomic scientists to move the Doomsday Clock forward to two minutes to midnight. The situation is extremely urgent.

In the light of that, the UK must become a much more positive influence for progress, just as it did on climate change when we were the first country to introduce a climate change Act with mandatory targets. This example was crucial to getting the final Paris accords. I am asking the UK Government to stop boycotting global efforts to even discuss this massive issue and take an active part. I am sure that other noble Lords will mention some of the positive moves that can be built on: the Iran deal—held to be a success despite President Trump’s attempts to sabotage ​it—and the resumption of the NPT review cycle, with a preparatory committee this May hopefully leading to a reinvigorated NPT.

I ask that the UK should play a constructive part in the forthcoming UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament. This conference could make all the difference. It could set the scene for immediate steps in changing policy, such as no first use and de-alerting, before moving the agenda on to longer-term issues of a phased programme to reduce nuclear stockpiles. Will the Minister confirm that the UK will take part in the conference, to be held in New York in May? We have plenty to offer. The UK has done some valuable work on verification; Aldermaston could be a global centre of excellence in nuclear disarmament. We also owe participation to our NATO partners. Having asked them to oppose the ban treaty process, it is now time for nuclear weapon states to provide something in return: a commitment that we are willing to engage with serious nuclear disarmament initiatives.

There is a clear choice. Although this serious subject is not really the time for a joke, this one does illustrate the stupidity of the situation we have got ourselves into. There are two aliens, and the first one says, “The dominant life forms on planet Earth have developed satellite-based nuclear weapons”. The second alien asks, “Are they an emerging intelligence”? The first alien says, “I don’t think so; they have them aimed at themselves”. We have the nuclear weapons aimed at ourselves as mankind. It is time that we made a choice to start on the road to disarmament. It will be a long and difficult road, but we have to start talking. We have to attend the UN high-level conference in New York and I hope that the Minister will have a positive message about that for this House this evening.

1 comment:

  1. robots2005 AI32080March 9, 2018 at 10:58 AM

    I believe the surveillance of nuclear materials in the crust and in the ocean will be key during the second quarter of this century. I've divided AI into three types: the first one hacks, the second one engineers better AI, and the 3rd one makes sci-fi weaponry.
    The second one will attempt to secure nuclear materials. For this reason, I believe it will be necessary to capture one or more comets and place them at Lagrange Points. Holes are made in the comets and silicon or better photomultiplier tubes are placed in the comets. Lots of them. The rim of Earth's crust and oceans are imaged for Uranium and other materials. Once detected, local mobile imaging can be deployed on the ground or at sea. This Cherenkov radiation detector in concert with mobile detection should be about 1000x better than is a solely Earth surface system as mantle neutrinos obscure the locations of crust and ocean uranium. I don't see any other good system of preventing ocean filtering of uranium. I don't know how big the captured comet will need to be or just how many silicon PM tubes will be needed. As much as I don't want robotics in space, the PMTs or a superior future imaging technology will need to be made on the Moon.

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