Today marks 76 years since the start of the nuclear devastation that claimed 200,000 lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 2021, we are no further from a world without the threat of nuclear annihilation than we were then. Every single one of the UK’s nuclear weapons is eight times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima which was responsible for 200,000 deaths. As the pandemic forces a wider appreciation of what is truly necessary in our society, the case for nuclear disarmament and demilitarisation is as clear as ever.
The government stockpiled deadly nuclear weapons but couldn’t stockpile life-saving medical equipment in the run-up to the pandemic. They took an axe to the aid budget but are still planning on pressing ahead with Trident at a cost of up to £205 billion. They are now spending billions upgrading our missile capabilities but claim we can’t afford to give nurses a meaningful pay rise. If there was ever a time to turn swords into ploughshares, it’s now.
But when it comes to nuclear weapons, the UK is part of a vocal and powerful minority. The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into force earlier this year, banning their use under international law. It’s been signed by 122 countries so far, but not the UK.
As Hiroshima survivor and anti-nuclear campaigner Setsuko Thurlow said: “Nuclear weapons have always been immoral. Now they are also illegal.” But the Government has rejected this, claiming that signing it would damage our existing commitments to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and that a ‘step-by-step’ approach is instead required. As we’ve seen, this Government has rarely abided by the solemn and international treaties it has actually committed to. Their commitment to expand the UK’s nuclear stockpile by 40% flies in the face of article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which binds signatories to take effective measures “in good faith” towards nuclear disarmament.
A legal opinion commissioned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) found the decision to increase the nuclear arsenal is in violation of the NPT, ending three decades of gradual reductions and threatening world peace. On top of this, they refuse to announce a No First Strike policy, instead signalling a willingness to they will widen the scenario for a pre-emptive strike by reserving the right for the UK to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threats.
Finally, in another move typical of this government, they are now intending to stop giving public figures for the nuclear arsenal, making it more difficult to scrutinise the expense involved in developing these weapons.
The UK Government are not just international outliers when it comes to nuclear weapons either, they’re also out of step with the UK public. Recent polling conducted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament showed a clear majority of support for a total global nuclear ban and the UK signing up to the NPT across every age, regional, national, educational, class and voting demographic surveyed.
The fixation with whether or not Jeremy Corbyn would press the red button when he was Labour leader ultimately reflects an elite preoccupation. There is nothing more deeply anti-democratic than the idea that one individual or a handful of people should hold sway over such a monumental decision as whether to initiate nuclear Armageddon. Reiterating your willingness to kill potentially millions of people is not political leadership. A grown-up conversation about the UK’s place in the world and the long-acknowledged obsolescence of our nuclear deterrent is long overdue.
You cannot build meaningful security on the promise of mass destruction. It is an affront to human life that at a time when we are facing the challenges of a global pandemic, rising global poverty and a climate catastrophe, the Tories pouring yet more money into destructive nuclear technology.
In the face of a Government that seems determined to ratchet up nuclear tensions, it’s more important than ever to learn the lessons of Hiroshima. Today, let’s recommit to peace, and challenging the dangerous and deeply anti-democratic evil of nuclear weapons in the UK and around the world.
This article was first published on Labour Outlook on the 6th August 2021.