Today there are more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world (over 5000 of which are deployed, the rest stockpiled). The majority are held by the United States and Russia. Other countries: the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and possibly North Korea, are also nuclear-armed. Many of the nuclear weapons held around the world have hundreds of times more explosive power than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 which completely destroyed the city and killed around 140,000 people.
Nuclear weapons have no legitimate purpose; nor would their use be legal (civilian casualties are unavoidable), they are also genocidal and utterly immoral. When confronted with any of today’s real security threats nuclear weapons are irrelevant: they cannot address climate change, poverty, hunger, overpopulation, non-state armed groups or terrorists, and they are useless against pandemics such as AIDS or avian flu.
Not only do nuclear weapons kill indiscriminately but the radioactive fallout from their detonation means that their effects know no geographical boundaries. Immediate survivors in the vicinity of any nuclear exchange face devastating long-term ill effects or death. Research shows that even a so-called ‘small exchange’ of 50 nuclear weapons could cause ‘the largest climate change in recorded human history’ and potentially could kill more people than were killed in the whole of the Second World War.
As long as there are nuclear weapons in the world there is always the danger they will be used, whether by accident or intention.
Nowruz No War (Iran)
Even a cursory glance of the media would seem to show a situation of an ongoing crisis with Iran and impending war. Young gamers are already playing in virtual invasions of Iran and Iranians are commonly shown as brutal savages. Meanwhile real covert operations are taking place, ordinary Iranians are suffering the consequences of ever more brutal sanctions and politicians talk not so much of whether violence should be used, but rather what kind of violence might be more “useful”: further sanctions, further assassinations, backing local terrorist groups such as MEK and Jundallah, bombing or even full scale invasion.
The assertions of a crisis are vague and often based upon hearsay amplified by political leaders and sensationalist journalism. Unless checked they may become a self-fulfilling prophecy as tensions heat up.
Sanctions against Iraq took a horrendous toll on the civilian population, during the 12 years between the 1991 Gulf War and were in many ways merely a softening up prior to the Iraq Invasion of 2003. Already Iranian civil society, and with it the chance for genuine indigenous progress on human rights and democracy is being weakened by sanctions, threats of war and the spectre of covert operations.
IN 1968 Iran signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, in practice signing up to produce/use nuclear materials for domestic purposes only. They are now having tlks internationally about their Nuclear programme lets hope this continues and is not derailed by agitators.
In the minority
The desire for global abolition of nuclear weapons is strong internationally. Many countries have signed treaties to make large areas of the world into nuclear weapons free zones. These cover Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the South Pacific, Latin America and Africa; 180 non-nuclear weapon states have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - they don’t possess nuclear weapons and their safety does not depend on owning them. The UK is one of only a handful of states that has nuclear weapons.
Our choice to re-arm, instead of disarming, through the decision to replace our current Trident nuclear weapons system, is a signal to the rest of the world that we believe our security depends on weapons of mass destruction. But the same argument could be used by any country in the world. It is not impossible that the UK should decide to rid itself of nuclear weapons as required by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Four countries — South Africa, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine have already done so. In so doing, we would be complying with our obligations to disarm under the NPT, contributing to progress towards multilateral disarmament, and helping to create a climate where states turn away from nuclear weapons altogether.
The United States has been developing an extremely expensive weapons system over several decades now generally termed ‘Missile Defense’. Previously this system – coming to prominence under President Reagan in the 1980s - was commonly referred to as ‘Star Wars’ because of its plan to use satellites and missiles which travel through space. In its latest version, the US is now involving Europe in this system via the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and claims it will protect the US and its allies from attack by missiles.
An Offensive system which encourages an arms race
Contrary to US claims, this system (consisting of missile bases and radar stations across the world and including sea-based components) will allow the US to attack other countries in a first strike capacity without fear that they will be able to effectively attack back because such a retaliation would be neutralised by the system. In other words, the US Missile Defence system is offensive. Having such a weapons system inevitably leads to an arms race as other countries feel pushed to level the balance of power and threat by developing their own competitive missile defence systems or weapons systems that might overcome the US system.
US Missile Defence helps the US achieve a strategy of global military dominance, that is control of land, sea, air, space and information. In 2002 the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed with Russia, in order to further develop the system.
UK on the front line
The UK allows bases at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales in Yorkshire, which operate outside British law and parliamentary scrutiny, to be crucial components of the system. In doing so our country becomes complicit in the US military agenda and Britain is put on the front line in any future US war.
A potential aggressor could seek to destroy US Missile Defence facilities in Europe in the context of an imminent war with the US. During Bush’s presidency the plans sparked controversy and increased tension with Russia. Continuing development of the system remains a bone of contention between the two countries and does nothing to help efforts towards reduction of the enormous numbers of nuclear weapons each country still has.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military alliance of 28 countries from North America (Canada and the US) and Europe (26 states, including the UK).
The alliance was formed in 1949, with member states Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States. In the 1950s Greece, Turkey and West Germany joined. Spain joined in 1982. Two waves of NATO expansion happened after the Cold War with Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joining in 1999, and Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia joining in 2004. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009. Read our briefing on NATO expansion and the destabilisation it is causing.
Although ostensibly set up as a defensive organisation, in 1999, its mission statement was rewritten to allow for offensive action across the Eurasian landmass. Part of the NATO military strategy is a dependence on nuclear weapons.
Hundreds of US NATO nuclear weapons sited in Europe
As part of NATO’s armaments, between 150 and 240 US nuclear weapons are sited in five European countries - Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. The weapons are B61 gravity bombs, which will be carried to their destination by aircraft. B61s are described as tactical nuclear weapons - they are widely defined as being more usable in the battlefield and have a variable explosive power between 0.3 and 170 kilotons (the Hiroshima atomic bomb had an explosive power of around 15 kilotons). The use of just one would cause enormous and indiscriminate loss of life, massive destruction and poisonous radioactive fallout.
Breaching the NPT
NATO’s nuclear policies conflict with the legal obligations of the NPT signatories. Although Articles 1 and 2 of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) forbid the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states, NATO’s nuclear weapons in Europe are located in non-nuclear weapons states. Most of the US nuclear weapons in Europe would also be flown to their targets by the host countries’ own air forces. The US argues that the treaty will no longer apply in wartime, but maintaining nuclear weapons means that all NATO states (except France) are involved in preparation for their use in peacetime.
NATO has rejected a policy of ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons. This means that the alliance would be prepared to use nuclear weapons in a first strike. The UK’s own rejection of a no first use policy is also linked to NATO’s policy – as former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon stated in 2005, “A policy of no first use of nuclear weapons would be incompatible with our and NATO’s doctrine of deterrence, nor would it further disarmament objectives.”
UK nuclear weapons assigned to NATO
The UK is required, under the terms of the NPT, to take steps to achieve nuclear disarmament. Instead, the UK’s nuclear weapons system has been assigned to NATO since the 1960s; a replacement for Trident is also likely to be NATO assigned. Ultimately, this means that the UK’s nuclear weapons could be used against a country attacking (or threatening to attack) one of the NATO member states since an attack on one NATO member state is seen as being an attack on all member states. Potentially, since the 1999 rewrite of NATO’s mission, they could also be used outside the NATO area in a first strike capacity.
Withdrawal of nuclear weapons
Map of UK nuclear facilities and sites with nuclear waste in storage (courtesy of CoRWM)
In June 2008, a nuclear weapons expert reported that around 100 US nuclear weapons previously stored at the United States Air Force base at Lakenheath in Suffolk had been secretly removed. In accordance with NATO policy the UK government neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such weapons or their removal. But it is widely accepted that US nuclear weapons had been stationed in the UK since 1954. At Lakenheath they were ready and available for rapid deployment on US F-15 ‘Strike Eagle’ aircraft. The UK had no control over their use.
This welcome reduction in the numbers of US nuclear weapons in Europe comes after the previous withdrawal of weapons from the Ramstein Air Base in Germany in 2005 and from Greece in 2001.
CND believes that a vital step towards global nuclear disarmament would be achieved with the removal of all US nuclear weapons from European bases. Britain should also withdraw from NATO, and all foreign military bases on British soil should be closed. NATO should not be expanded but should be disbanded and the influence, resources and funding of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) extended towards a nuclear free, less militarised and therefore more secure Europe.
CND opposes all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction: their development, manufacture, testing, deployment and use or threatened use by any country.
The external strategic objectives, as decided by delegates to our annual conference, are:
- Elimination of British nuclear weapons and global abolition of nuclear weapons
- Cancellation of Trident by the British government. And policy not to replace or enhance Trident nor develop, purchase or deploy other nuclear weapons or allow the deployment of any foreign nuclear weapons on British soil or in British waters.
- An all encompassing Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty is agreed.
- Implementation of an arms conversion policy by the British government
- Immediate negotiations leading swiftly to the rapid, timetabled abolition of nuclear forces worldwide and the conclusion of a Nuclear Weapons Convention
- Prevention and cessation of wars in which the nuclear weapons of Britain or other countries might be used
- Abolition of other threats of mass destruction or indiscriminate effect
- Full international compliance with agreed Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
- A strengthened Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) agreed
- Global abandonment of space weapons and missile defence programmes. An international agreement on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space
- Implementation of a ban on the manufacture, testing and use of Depleted Uranium weapons
- Nuclear-free, less militarised and more secure Europe
- Extension of the influence, resources and funding of the Organisation for Security and Co- Operation on Europe (OSCE)
- No military nuclearisation of the European Union
- Withdrawal of all US military bases and nuclear weapons from Europe and no nuclear or other expansion of NATO
- Formal Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones in Europe established.
- Britain withdrawn from NATO and all foreign military bases on British soil closed.
- The closure of the nuclear power industry
- Prevention of new build nuclear power stations and replacement of nuclear by universally acceptable sustainable energy technologies
- Establishment of safe policies on nuclear waste storage and on re- use of contaminated land transport of plutonium and depleted uranium
- Independent control and verification of plutonium, uranium and depleted uranium stocks.
They aim to…
- Change Government policies to bring about the elimination of British nuclear weapons as a major contribution to global abolition.
- Stimulate wide public debate on the need for alternatives both to the nuclear cycle and to military attempts to resolve conflict.
- Empower people to engage actively in the political process and to work for a nuclear-free and peaceful future.
- Co-operate with other groups in the UK and internationally to ensure the development of greater mutual security
Text from ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’
Daniel Miller and @honestlyAbroad