Dr Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), gave a talk during the Annual General Meeting of the United Nations Association Coventry Branch on 23 January 2020. She also took part in the UN75 conversation which followed.
See below for a video of the talk.
Here is a report of the talk by Mohammed Aaqib LLM.
Dr. Hudson began her talk by praising the Charter of the United Nations describing it as an “extraordinary and inspiring” foundational document in aspiring towards achieving peace.
The origins and responsibilities of the CND were then discussed. Founded in 1958 for the purposes of nuclear disarmament and initially saw a strong wave of commitment by the United Nations (UN) through the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons commonly called the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This document was drafted in 1968 and ratified in 1970 to become the “cornerstone of all nuclear disarmament aspirations”.
There will be a review conference for the NPT in April 2020 which will essentially review its progress from a holistic perspective to develop the actions necessary for its future success.
There has been a significant reduction of nuclear weapons since the Cold War but there are still 14,000 weapons in existence which are continuing to become stronger and much more modernised thus increasing their harmful effects
In 2018, the United States created the Nuclear Posture Review in which it pledged over a trillion dollars to modernise and upgrade its nuclear weapons. This was a significant action as it has moved the nuclear issue into a dangerous direction as it moves away from the general global consensus of having them as a deterrence.
Although there are nine countries with nuclear weapons (US, UK, France, China, Russia, Pakistan, Israel, India, and North Korea), most of the global south (Africa, South America, and Latin America) have created Nuclear Free Zones. The move by these countries to become nuclear-free was decided after the NPT Review Conference 2010 as they deemed it to be vital to take better action in adhering to the NPT. This movement was later termed the “Humanitarian Initiative” with one of the main justifications being the impact that nuclear weapons would have on their countries due to subsequent changes in water currents, radiation, etc.
In 2017, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to create the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW, commonly known as Global Ban Treaty or the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty). This would legislate over the manufacture, use, and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Currently, over 60 countries have signed and 34 have ratified TPNW.
Dr. Hudson professed her desire for TPNW to come into force this year as it would become binding in international law for the countries that become signatories to it. The goal is to get the UK to sign and ratify TPNW unless it can be formed into customary law which would change the legal ramifications as countries would become bound by the TPNW irrespective of whether they are signatories to it.
The UK was one of the first signatories to the NPT in 1968 and attended a conference in Vienna on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons but in 2017 the UK government refused to sign the TPNW saying “we do not believe that this treaty will bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons. This treaty fails to address the key issues that must first be overcome to achieve lasting global nuclear disarmament.”  This followed a joint press Statement from the permanent representatives to the United Nations of the United States, United Kingdom, and France along similar lines
The UK government later boycotted the whole process. This stance is still effective today with the Conservative Party pledging that Britain will never sign the TPNW. There are also political influences that exist whereby countries within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) such as Sweden and Germany for example, maintain similar positions.
A primary goal of CND is to persuade the current government to sign and ratify the TPNW, but it will not be advising them to dispose of all their weapons before the Treaty is signed. Rather this can be achieved gradually whilst they maintain a commitment for non-proliferation with a time-constrained plan for the process of disarmament
However, the UK government is committed to replacing the current system known as Trident which consists of submarines, warheads and ballistic missiles (four at present). They are seeking to replace Trident due to the shelf life of the nuclear weapons and to answer morality and legality questions that are presented during debates on its replacement.
One of the main arguments against replacing the current system is cost which CND estimates at £205 billion. CND believes that Trident is also opposed by senior military officials. Socialists argue the focus should instead be on health and education and there are also technological issues as it is argued they will become obsolete when ready. This is because they are claimed to be undetectable underwater but with the development of underwater drone technology the likelihood of this being achieved continues to decrease. There is also a risk of computer systems being hacked into as well as human error playing a part in possibly breaching its security.
During the UK Strategic Defence Review, a risk assessment was completed which presented Tier 1 threats (climate change, terrorism, cyber warfare, pandemics) and Tier 2 threats. The threat of nuclear warfare was downgraded from Tier 1 to Tier 2.
What can be done? Dr Hudson listed the following: holding fringe events to mobilise support for the cause; lobbying diplomats (although there has been a lack of progress with this in recent years); lobbying members of the public; reaching out to schools to engage students with the Peace Education Programme; setting up peace stalls; organising demonstrations; writing letters to MPs; and so on.
Furthermore, CND’s current initiative is to continue progressing with work on creating more Nuclear Ban Communities. This has 2 branches; Mayors for Peace (began in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a stronger commitment to peace) and Nuclear Free Local Authorities . This latter consists of cities from around the world uniting towards the same cause, irrespective of their country supporting the Treaty which creates bottom-up pressure on politicians/government.
The annual announcement of the update to the Doomsday Clock was made by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on the same day as this talk. This was established in 1940s to state the veracity of global threats to mankind at that present time with midnight being the “catastrophic destruction of humanity and the planet.” The hands were placed at 2 minutes to midnight in 1953 at the height of the cold war and then came back to 2 minutes 2 years ago due to nuclear weapons, conflict with Iran and North Korea and the climate emergency which was amplified by information warfare. It is now set to 100 seconds to midnight due to the continuing failure of governments to address the threats to humanity, particularly, nuclear warfare and climate change.
Dr. Hudson concluded her talk by reiterating the need for governments to take rapid steps to act against the threat of nuclear warfare whilst also expressing the need to prevent the climate crisis from escalating further. She pointed out how CND has increasingly tackled this issue by incorporating this cause in its campaigns through the use of slogans such as “Climate Not Trident,” for example.