The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) are very concerned with the reported news that the North Korean Government has apparently successfully test-fired a missile – which could contain a nuclear weapon – to a potential distance of over 7,000 kms, putting them in the range of North America and much of Europe. (1)
The proliferation of nuclear weapons to now include North Korea is a real example of the weakness of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and why it is more important than ever to move forward with more effective multilateral policies for nuclear disarmament. That the existing nuclear weapon states are all planning to modernise their nuclear weapons – at huge financial cost – is a key part of what has influenced North Korea to pursue a nuclear weapons programme at all cost, even at the expense of the welfare of its own people.
Presently at the United Nations (UN), receiving next to no media coverage in the UK, over 120 countries are in the final discussions of developing an international treaty seeking to ban nuclear weapons. (2) These discussions partially arise out of deep frustration from the vast majority of UN members with the intransigence of the ‘P5’ nuclear weapon states – the USA, Russia, China, the UK and France – to not speed up moves to nuclear disarmament.
The nuclear weapon states, along with most NATO members and those under the American ‘nuclear umbrella’ like Japan and Australia, have boycotted all discussions to develop a nuclear weapon ban treaty. The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has argued their non-attendance is because of these ‘new’ nuclear proliferation threats from the likes of North Korea.
While it is a major breakthrough for North Korea to fire a missile which could theoretically travel such large distances, it does not mean they could yet be able to deliver it. The South Korean Government, for example, says there is no evidence the missile could withstand high temperatures and successfully re-enter the atmosphere. (3) So there remains a limited window of opportunity to put international diplomatic pressure on North Korea to negotiate on its nuclear programme. That opportunity should be taken.
However, North Korea’s belligerent stance partially derives from the perceived threat it sees to it, and it sees little evidence that the nuclear weapon states will ever seriously move towards multilateral nuclear disarmament. For example, here in the UK highly expensive plans to spend billions of pounds on four new Trident nuclear weapon armed submarines are moving forward, with similar programmes in the US, France, Russia and China.
The development of a UN Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, expected to be formally agreed in New York tomorrow, is a hugely positive development. It says that the vast majority of the governments of the world want a nuclear weapons free world. That also still remains the policy of the UK Government and all UK and Irish political parties, though little is being done by the current UK Government to realise it. It is now incumbent on nuclear weapon states to stop boycotting such discussions and actively work for nuclear disarmament, or North Korea will be joined by other states that have followed the actions of Israel, India and Pakistan to develop their own nuclear weapon programmes since the NPT was ratified.
NFLA Steering Committee Vice-Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:
“As a strong and vocal supporter of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the Mayors for Peace, NFLA warmly welcomes the dedication of many states to encourage and realise nuclear disarmament through the Nuclear Ban Treaty process. It contrasts with the belligerence of nuclear weapon states and North Korea over much of the past decade, where much was promised but little delivered. The only substantive success in that period was persuading Iran to cooperate on its own nuclear programme.
“Whilst there remains so few signs of significant nuclear disarmament amongst existing nuclear weapon states it is hardly surprising North Korea is continuing to develop its own programme. We have limited time to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table and the United Nations must try to do so. A fully nuclear armed North Korea is part of the nightmare scenario the NPT was supposed to prevent. Now we must look to the new Nuclear Ban Treaty process as the genesis of a more effective and widely supported corollary process to encourage North Korea and others to disarm these weapons of mass destruction.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) BBC News Online, 5th July 2017 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news-world-asia-40503558
(2) ICAN Live Updates on the Second UN Nuclear Weapons Ban Conference, 5th July 2017 http://www.icanw.org/updates
(3) Yonhap News Agency, 5th July 2017 http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2017/07/05/0301000000AEN20170705003553315.html