Negotiations are underway at the UN to create a legally-binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, with over 130 countries participating (www.un.org/disarmament/ptnw). However, the UK along with most NATO members is not attending.
The UK’s non-participation raises serious doubts over the UK’s compliance with its international obligations, including its commitment to pursue negotiations on multilateral nuclear disarmament under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
Ahead of the negotiations, UNA-UK’s Chair, Lord Wood, urged the UK to reconsider its decision to stay away:
The decision of nuclear-weapon states not to participate in the upcoming UN negotiations is regrettable and could contribute to a deterioration of relations between those with nuclear weapons and those without. […]The UK has an important role to play on this front. Firstly, the UK should work energetically to improve relations with non-nuclear-weapon states. This includes reversing its decision not to participate in the 2017 UN nuclear disarmament negotiations and by taking other unmistakable steps to demonstrate Britain’s commitment on this issue.
Secondly, the UK should take actions to help restore the health of the NPT regime, including by initiating an inclusive process to work on the 2010 64-point Action Plan and by publishing an annual report on the UK’s contribution towards its implementation.
Lastly, the UK should acknowledge the negative effect that any perceived failure to honour its international obligations could have on the standing of the wider system of international laws and norms, a system upon which – according to the UK’s own analysis – Britain’s security and prosperity depend.
The Government response in a letter from Sir Alan Duncan said that:
The UK Government will not attend the negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons which started on 27 March, along with almost all NATO allies. We do not believe these negotiations will lead to effective progress on global nuclear disarmament. The Government firmly believes that the best way to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is through gradual multilateral disarmament negotiated using a step-by-step approach and within existing frameworks. Such an approach is needed in order to build trust and confidence and to take tangible steps towards a safer and more stable world where countries with nuclear weapons feel able to relinquish them.
The UK takes its commitment to the rules-based international order very seriously. The UK remains an active member of international bodies which promote and safeguard the rules-based international order. We lead on a range of dossiers in the UN Security Council. We also have a strong record on the promotion and protection of human rights, including through the UN Human Rights Council.
Read the full text of the letter here.