UK House of Lords: From the Doomsday Clock to the UN High-Level Conference

What is your parliament doing to promote the UN High-Level Conference?

On January 25, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 2 minutes to Midnight due to the increased risks from nuclear weapons conflicts and from climate change.

Parliaments and parliamentarians around the world are responding to the growing threats of nuclear conflict by urging their governments to participate in the UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament on May 14-16, and to use this opportunity to take concrete measures on nuclear risk-reduction and disarmament.

On February 20, the UK House of Lords, for example, held a debate on nuclear weapons and the upcoming UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament.

The debate was initiated by Baroness Sue Miller, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), who asked ‘that the UK play a constructive part in the forthcoming UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament.

This conference could make all the difference. It could set the scene for immediate steps in changing policy, such as no first use and de-alerting, before moving the agenda on to longer-term issues of a phased programme to reduce nuclear stockpiles.’

A number of members of the House of Lords participated in the debate, mostly in support of the High-Level Conference (see quotes below). At the end of the debate Baroness Goldie presented the government’s position, which is that the UK has not yet decided on whether to attend the UN High-Level Conference, and if so at what level.

UN High Level Conference supported by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, (OSCEPA) meeting in Vienna from Feb 22-23, held a session on Arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation: challenges and opportunities for the OSCE area.

Lassina Zerbo, Secretary-General of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), opened the session by referring to the increased risks of nuclear conflict as a call to action. However, he also gave an optimistic message that it is possible for countries to cooperate together to prohibit nuclear weapons activities and build global capacity to verify this, as has been done with the CTBTO.

There were a number of interventions from parliamentary delegations. PNND Council Member Hedy Fry (Liberal, Canada), recalled OSCEPA declarations adopted by all member delegations (56 parliaments including those of France, Russia, UK, USA and all NATO countries) supporting de-alerting of all nuclear forces and adoption of no-first-use policies, and calling on all OSCE countries to participate in the UN High-Level Conference. See OSCE Parliamentary Assembly calls for nuclear weapons stand-down.

Questions and debates in other parliaments

The Parliamentary Action Plan for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World recommends that ‘Parliamentarians help ensure a successful HLC (UN High-Level Conference)  by encouraging their governments to participate at the highest level, initiating debates and parliamentary resolutions in support, and promoting key measures that could be adopted at the HLC.’

Please encourage your parliamentarians to initiate a debate in parliament, or to ask your government’s intentions with respect to the UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear DisarmamentLet us know the results.

Some quotes from the UK House of Lords debate:

For those of us who live in the Euro-Atlantic space, where over 90% of the world’s nuclear arms are deployed some minutes from use, these risks are compounded by heightened tensions between NATO and Russia, dangerous rhetoric and brinkmanship from nuclear-armed states, and the growing risk of cyber threats to nuclear command and control systems, which we grossly underestimate. Lord Browne of Ladyton (Labour, former Secretary of Defense).

Will the Minister confirm that the UK will take part in the conference, to be held in New York in May? We have plenty to offer. The UK has done some valuable work on verification; Aldermaston could be a global centre of excellence in nuclear disarmament. We also owe participation to our NATO partners. Having asked them to oppose the ban treaty process, it is now time for nuclear weapon states to provide something in return: a commitment that we are willing to engage with serious nuclear disarmament initiatives. Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Lib Dem)

The conference  will be held in a climate of increasing possibility of a nuclear exchange between North Korea and the United States, or India and Pakistan, or Russia and NATO. There is no better time for world leaders to come together to take nuclear war off the table. Baroness Walmsley (Liberal Democratic Spokesperson on Health)

‘Although I disapprove of the UN treaty [on the prohibition of nuclear weapons], I am strongly of the view that the leaders and nuclear strategists of the nuclear powers need to start focusing on what is without a doubt the greatest existential threat facing all our nations and indeed the globe. They have taken their eyes off the ball. Lord West of Spithead (Labour, former Chief of Defence Intelligence, First Sealord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Home Office Minister Responsible for Counter Terrorism)

There is to be a United Nations high-level conference on disarmament in May. My simple question to the Minister is: will we be there and, if not, why not?  I speak for many churches and many people of faith in this nation when I ask our Government simply to take part in the process.The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

The NPT itself will unravel unless common ground can be built using processes such as the high-level conference. We must recognise that non-nuclear states are setting up these additional processes only because of the failure of the UK and other P5 states to honour their Article 6 commitments. Lord Judd (Labour)

While millions starve, over $100 billion per year is spent globally on nuclear weapons, including many millions of pounds by the UK. The money could be better spent to create jobs, support renewable energy, protect the climate and clean air, maintain our conventional defence forces and implement the sustainable development goals’. Baroness Walmsley