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Scotland at the NPT

Most states support the elimination of Trident

During the two weeks of the meeting of states parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in Vienna in early May, media coverage was predominantly about the struggles with Iran over the agenda. But there were other, more substantive, arguments going on that could be very important for Scottish efforts to get rid of Trident.

Most importantly, despite assiduous efforts by the British government to head-off criticisms for the decision to hold on to nuclear weapons for the 21st century, several countries explicitly condemned Trident replacement, and many more expressed deep concerns about the modernisation of nuclear weapons in general.

Doing credit to British civil society, who kept Trident very visibly on the NPT table before and during the NPT meeting, the summary from the meeting Chair, Ambassador Yukiya Amano of Japan, gave unprecedented recognition to these criticisms in paragraph 12: “Concern and disappointment were voiced about plans to replace or modernize nuclear weapons and their means of delivery or platform, the increased role of nuclear weapons in strategic and military doctrines, and the possibility of lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. In response to those concerns addressed to the United States and the United Kingdom, they provided their clarifications and explanations on their efforts towards nuclear disarmament...”

As part of its clarification, the UK defensively declared: “The UK is retaining not modernising its deterrent. There is no change in the capabilities of the system, no move to produce more useable weapons and no change in nuclear posture or doctrine.”

Few were convinced. Though most couched their condemnation in politely diplomatic general terms, South Africa spoke for many when Ambassador Abdul Minty said: “We were disappointed to learn about the decision of the UK on the Trident to maintain its nuclear deterrent. This could have been a landmark decision for others to follow, which could have provided the necessary impetus to a disarmament process that desperately needs to be reinvigorated.”

Open Letter

On the first day of the Vienna meeting, NGO publications about Trident, including an open letter from the heads of Scotland’s Catholic and Protestant Churches, Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien and the Right Reverend Alan D. McDonald, were distributed to all delegations, reminding them of Scottish opposition to Trident and civil society protests against Trident deployment at Faslane. NPT delegations also showed great interest in discussing how the Scottish elections of May 3 might affect UK nuclear policy, and were outraged to learn that the MoD transported nuclear warheads across Edinburgh on the penultimate day of the Vienna meeting (one day after the new Scottish Parliament was sworn in).

NFLA & Mayors for Peace

The upshot of all this is that the NPT and international law uphold Scotland’s efforts to get rid of nuclear weapons, but Scotland needs to become more involved with the NPT and related initiatives in order to build support internationally. One suggestion is for more Provosts and Council leaders to join Mayors for Peace, a non-partisan initiative started by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to get nuclear weapons abolished worldwide. Another possibility is for the Scottish Executive to apply for Observer status at the NPT, on the grounds that a nuclear free Scotland would seek to join the Treaty as a non-nuclear state. There are precedents for this in the break-up of the Soviet Union, which resulted in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus all joining the NPT as non-nuclear countries. Similarly, Palestine has Observer status at the NPT, whereas nuclear-armed Israel is not a state party at all. Undoubtedly London would object, and there could be many hoops to go through before Scotland were accepted as an Observer, but it could nevertheless be worth exploring; not least to highlight this country’s strong desire to be free of nuclear weapons.

Dr Rebecca Johnson attended the NPT in Vienna on behalf of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and Faslance 365.

Nuclear Free Scotland Magazine - June 2007

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