Last year I addressed this Conference and welcomed the unequivocal commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons given by Britain, China, France, Russia and the USA, at the close of the 2000 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York. At the time the UN Secretary General described this commitment as "...a significant step forward in humanity's pursuit of a world free of nuclear dangers."
How quickly times have changed. In the last twelve months we have moved closer to the nuclear precipice, not further away. The current US headlong rush to develop missile defences and place weapons in space is undermining the security of the global community. US preparations for renewed nuclear weapon testing is destroying the possibility of securing a lasting nuclear weapons test ban. Cuts in US funding for anti-proliferation programmes in Russia opens the door more widely to a trade in nuclear weapons materials. Continuing research on new nuclear weapons -- small gmini nukesh -- makes the prospect of nuclear weapons use more likely in future not less likely.
It would be wrong to lay the blame for all the world's ills at the doors of the United States where there are many millions of decent people -- people who, in opinion polls, remain firmly opposed to a new gStar Warsh programme currently pursued by their Government, and people who like us, want a global agreement on climate change because without it they realise they will eventually suffer the consequences which are already being felt by the poor in vulnerable coastal regions or arid lands around the World.
For nuclear weapons the choices for the vast majority of the worlds people are unchanged: it is either a nuclear free future or no future. We either find international mechanisms for mutual security between nations or we suffer international anarchy in relations between sovereign states. Historically this has always led to war. International institutions like the United Nations are far from perfect but we can make them better if we can find the political will to do so. Imperfect as the UN currently is, it is better than no UN.
What can we do?
There is no magic answer. There is no new solution for the problems we have wrestled with year on year. We must carry on doing what we have done. We must use whatever legitimate and peaceful means are open to us to turn peoples concern about the future into action to resist nuclear proliferation through a new arms race between nuclear weapon states, or through an increase in nuclear weapon states or by the spread of nuclear weapons into Space.
I have argued before that local government can be a powerful ally of communities and ordinary people if it is confident it is reflecting local opinion and aspirations. Therefore to promote nuclear free towns and cities the people who live there must tell their local politicians about the future they want and desire. What we as local politicians can do depends not only on the legal powers we have but vitally on the support our constituents give us. So it is as important as ever that citizens remain vigorous in their campaigning for an expansion of nuclear weapon free zones, nuclear free municipalities and nuclear free ports. These things will not be handed down freely. They must be won by popular will.
For those of us who live in a nuclear weapon state we must continue to work through our democratic processes for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Britain now probably has the smallest number of nuclear weapons of the five original nuclear weapon states at around 185 warheads. Not all are deployed but each of the four British Navy Trident Missile carrying submarines is expected to carry between 36 and 44 warheads depending on the combination of single and multiple warhead missiles on board. Assuming 120 warheads are available for delivery from 3 Trident boats at any given time, then Britain still retains the prompt destructive power equivalent to approximately 1000 Hiroshima bombs. To consider releasing such destruction on the Planet and its people is stomach churning. It is unthinkable.
In 1996 the International Court of Justice provided an advisory opinion on the legality of the use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons in which it concluded that "a threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law."
The Court noted that nuclear weapons have "unique characteristics" including "their destructive capacity, their capacity to cause untold human suffering, and their ability to cause damage to generations to come;" their destructive power c cannot be contained in either space or time;" a nuclear explosion "releases not only immense quantities of heat and energy, but also powerful and prolonged radiation," which "would affect health, agriculture, natural resources and demography over a very wide area, "and" has the potential to damage the future environment, food and marine ecosystem, and to cause genetic defects and illness in future generations."
Under humanitarian law, "methods and means of warfare, which would preclude any distinction between civilian and military targets, or which would result in unnecessary suffering to combatants, are prohibited. In view of the unique characteristics of nuclear weapons, c the use of such weapons in fact seems scarcely reconcilable with respect for such requirements."