The UN conference to negotiate a global multilateral nuclear ban treaty begins its substantive session on 27 March. All the nuclear states, including the UK, are boycotting the conference, because they prefer a step-by-step approach within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT, concluded in 1968, required the nuclear states to pursue negotiations to bring about nuclear disarmament at an early date. Nearly 50 years on, it can reasonably be concluded that they are in breach of this obligation.
Another approach is long overdue. Any use of nuclear weapons would be in breach of international humanitarian law. Disarmament undertaken in the context of this law rather than arms control could be concluded quickly, with the more difficult technical negotiations taking place later. This approach would build on the humanitarian disarmament treaties that have banned landmines and cluster bombs.
The government says it is committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. But its decision to renew Trident and its boycott of the UN conference cast doubt on this.
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