Two Minutes to Midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have now set their Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, reflecting the increased risk of nuclear war.

That risk is as serious as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is not only due to the US/North Korea face -off but also to the fact that the combination of the downgrading in Russian early-warning systems and ever more accurate US missiles means that risk of a launch on a false alarm is greatly increased. How long can we expect to run such risks unscathed, especially as oncoming climate change exacerbates tensions across the globe?

Now here’s a crude classification of views on what to do about nuclear weapons. The missing category is of course those who either don’t know about them or choose not to think about them. Let’s leave them to one side for the moment. Then there’s the hard core military view that the particular team they belong to should not deprive itself of any available weapon, no matter how horrifying. This was the case back in the 90s for the defence of the use of depleted uranium in anti-tank artillery. We don’t use it and we lose a key advantage. This is also closely linked to arguments justifying torture. Let’s leave that lot in their bunker and go to the other end of the spectrum – those who believe that if we don’t take genuine steps like the UN nuke ban treaty, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) to eliminate nukes then it is only a matter of time before they are used again.

Now let’s jump to the middle, those people, and especially politicians who are, or claim to be, against nukes but diss the Nuke Ban Treaty and instead advocate “step-by-step” approaches to disarmament that involve the nuclear-armed states (NAS) themselves as key players. If they are at all literate in disarmament lore they tend to back the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And that, of course, is the mainstream UK political stance (including, sadly, one Jeremy Corbyn).

And now the TPNW has arrived to put the Step-by- Steppers on the spot, mainly because it is aimed at putting new life into the NPT by focussing on that treaty’s Article V1 – the obligation on the nuclear-armed states to pursue elimination of their arsenals in good faith. This of course they have not only not done but they have produced what looks like a negative print of the Article in which they are currently engaged in renewal, modernisation and the production of ever more efficient killers. It is precisely this arrogant cynicism on the part of the nuclear-armed states that has led the majority non-nuclear world to demand a fresh approach. Recall, we are all downwind on this one. And the model that the TPNW uses is only new in terms of nuclear weapons – it is the methodology that has led to the banning of landmines, chemical weapons and cluster munitions and which does not depend on getting the agreement of all the users and potential users of a weapon but on setting the standard in a UN Treaty which then moves the weapon into pariah status and thus puts pressure on all to ratify.

So, my dear Step-by- Steppers, if you don’t back the TPNW I have a few questions for you. First, have you actually read the text? Well, then. Are you aware that the US reckoned that the Treaty would be effective even before it reaches the necessary 50 ratifications? Are you aware that it is already having an effect on investment in the nuclear weapon industry? But the biggest question is simply, what are you doing for nuclear disarmament?

And if you think that this issue is on the margins and far from the central concerns for the day to day, such as grinding poverty and maintaining a decent health service, then I would ask you to think again. It is two minutes to midnight.

David Mackenzie.