The lives and stories of the people of the Pacific rarely catch the attention of the western half of the northern hemisphere. In the case of New Zealand, Gollum and hobbits briefly made a difference, that is, until the distinctive and competent response to the pandemic under the leadership of Jacinda Ardern.
Less well known is the fact that New Zealand under Ardern has been a world leader in nuclear disarmament, as one of the originally small group of nations who worked on the idea of a UN treaty that would actually prohibit nuclear weapons, with a view to their complete elimination. This became the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which was adopted at the UN by the votes of 122 states in July 2017.
Today's big news is that the TPNW is on the cusp of entering into force, with only three further states required to ratify it. As we tell this story, let's salute Marilyn Waring, hardly a household name but a key figure behind New Zealand's nuclear-free stance in the 1980s. She is widely recognised as the mother of feminist economics, inspiring the wave of new economists, such as Kate Raworth and our own Katherine Trebeck, with a feminist and ecological outlook.
The implications of the TPNW are huge, especially for Scotland. It will prohibit the developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, assisting other states with these prohibited activities, stationing, deployment or installation of nuclear weapons belonging to other states on a state party's territory.
All of the inhumane weapon prohibition treaties (such as on chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions) have an effect on global understanding and interpretations of international humanitarian law. They have created stigma and they change the global perception of what is acceptable. Each of these treaties is binding on its state parties – the states which have ratified or acceded to it. Although it does not add any formal obligations to states which are not parties, this norm shift is significant in a world in which even authoritarian states guard their global reputations as they attempt to expand or protect their spheres of influence.
The use of a nuclear weapon, as an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction, has always been fundamentally unlawful under the basic principles of international humanitarian law, and the TPNW, as a specific and targeted legal instrument, builds on that legal basis.
There are also significant practical factors that will impact on the nuclear-armed states who refuse to acceded to the treaty. In a globalised economy, physical resources and capital for investment in production are cross-border factors, and the production of nuclear weapon systems and delivery platforms requires enormous sums. A number of significant international investment corporations, being risk adverse, have noted the emergence of the treaty and have already decided to cease investment in nuclear weapons. The most recent example is the giant Japanese finance company, MUFG, which now classes nuclear weapons along with other inhumane weapons. The treaty will also affect nuclear-related transit through territorial airspace or seas.
Crucially, the US is fully aware of these impacts and has applied pressure, particularly on NATO states, to prevent them from engaging with the treaty, on the basis that it will hamper their ability to maintain what they call their 'extended deterrence' – the nuclear 'umbrella'.
Internationally, the UK is seen as the most likely of the nuclear-armed states to be brought to the table. There is the pressure arising from the distinctive Scottish public, parliamentarian and government stance which undermines any claim to a mandate. There is the serious fiscal and managerial disorder in the project to renew the nuclear weapon system and the growing likelihood that a fully equipped Dreadnought platform will not be ready in time to take over from the ageing ISBN submarine fleet1. There is also a looming crisis in overall government expenditure.
States not party, as well as relevant institutions and non-governmental organisations, can observe the meetings of the TPNW after it enters into force and pressure will be put on the UK Government to seek observer status at the treaty's first Meeting of States Parties. The treaty's Entry into Force will provide a strong boost to Scottish public, parliamentarian and government opposition to the UK's nuclear weapons. It will also be a key factor should Scotland achieve independence, persist with that opposition, and ratify the TPNW.
The following treaty articles are especially pertinent:
Article 1 (g): Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.
Article 4.4: A State Party that has any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or in any place under its jurisdiction or control that are owned, possessed or controlled by another State shall ensure the prompt removal of such weapons, as soon as possible but not later than a deadline to be determined by the first meeting of States Parties...
Scotland would then have the specific and unqualified backing of international law (as well as huge international support) to have the weapons removed and to resist any pressure to give the UK a long lease of the Clyde nuclear weapon bases. Without a feasible UK relocation option, the remnant Westminster Government would be faced with no credible alternative to disarmament. It's time to catch up.
David Mackenzie is a retired schoolteacher and education officer. He volunteers for Nukewatch and Scottish CND