Reacting to the Global Ban

On 7th July 2017, a powerful step toward a nuclear free world was taken at the UN headquarters in New York. The first legally binding international agreement in nearly 50 years, to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons was passed by 122 countries. It will open for signatures on September 20th and hopes to begin the process of moving multilateral disarmament talks after the frustrating slow pace of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT has seen very little progress since its signing in 1968. The ‘grand bargain’ that promised that nuclear states would take steps to disarm as long as non-nuclear states would not proliferate the weapons themselves, has given way to a farcical back and forth between the two sides. All the NPT really did was confirm suspicions about the disregard the nuclear states have for those that are on the outside looking in on their exclusive club.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (henceforth Global Ban), marks a shift in this rhetoric. It is a defiant, but frankly necessary move by those that are outside of the club to change the rules of engagement. The UN hopes it will provide an “unambiguous political commitment” toward achieving global disarmament and developing a dialogue about nuclear weapons. This coincides with the mounting tensions in the East Asian peninsula. North Korea has continued to postulate aggressively that its nuclear weapons can creep closer and closer to US borders where the infamous unpredictable Twitter-warrior (and President) Donald Trump, sits in sole command of the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. It seems that for the first time in my lifetime, nuclear war is beginning to be talked about in not so hushed tones.

However amongst all the meaningful discussion of the Global Ban, something has come awry. Why, when 122 countries have come together in the UN, is the default conclusion of the North Korean dispute, hushed tones of nuclear war? Hope in the UN should have been inspired, the recognition of the alternative, disarmament should have made it back into the news. Alas, the UK did not fail to disappoint with abysmal mainstream coverage of the Global Ban. Apart from a few newspapers, the Global Ban flew quietly under the radar of the everyday British citizen who were instead greeted by sensationalized analysis of the end of days visa vie North Korea. Unfortunately, news outlets usually reflect the government bias, failing to keep the public informed of the full picture. Hopelessly reliant on these sources, large swathes of the public will remain unenlightened to the great lengths other countries are going to achieve a nuclear free world.

The Global Ban highlights the false claims made by the United Kingdom that state its commitment to multilateral disarmament. While the majority of countries constructively engaged in meaningful discussion about what could be done, the UK ambassador to the UN, Dr. Matthew Rowland, seemed to only attend to scoff at the apparent ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘deliberate attempt to undermine the global quest for security’. He was spotted afterwards fist-bumping the US ambassador, Nikki Haley, in what is another great example of lapdog diplomacy between the UK and USA. The failure of any of the Nuclear Armed States to sit at the treaty, is a reminder of the stubborn nuclear order these nations wish to continue. Earnest in their claims for a multilateral disarmament process, until the perfect opportunity lands in front of them. It is dismissed as illegitimate and laughed off as an attempt by the small countries to interfere in grown up decisions. The behaviour, we have seen, begins at the UN and ends at home, resulting in poor coverage of the talks which could have been conducive to honest debate about the future of nuclear weapons in the UK. Instead we continue nonchalant discussions about the potentially imminent nuclear war while we wait in trepidation for the latest episode of Love Island.

On the 18th July 2017, CND handed in 7,000 letters to 10 Downing Street. The letters, addressed to Theresa May and Boris Johnson, call attention to the attempts by the UK to undermine the Global Ban talks and the failure to engage in the process. These letters highlight the opportunity the UK has squandered to leading the international community by being the first nuclear state to participate in the proceedings, and the hypocrisy it now represents, in failing to commit to the multilateral disarmament it says it champions. The signees represent the fraction of those that heard about the Global Ban and were ready to make it known to the government, their disappointment at the UK’s failure to engage with on such an important forum.

CND deplores the government’s handling of the Global Ban and calls on it to recognise its mistake in choosing to remain idle. It seems self-evident that if the government deems it necessary to stifle news coverage of the achievement of a Global Ban, it has something to fear. We must move to a more open discussion of all nuclear weapons, especially the ones we can actually do something about, our own. Only then can the hopes of the Global Ban be realised.

By George Rutledge, CND Research Assistant

**Please note, the views expressed in this piece are that of the individual, and not representative of CND as an organisation***

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#BooksnotBombs: Student Tuition vs. Trident Replacement

When many of my peers and I left 6th Form we had aspirations to further our education. This is a decision that is no longer as simple as it once was. We were told stories of our parent’s generations who were the odd ones out going to university, and gasped with shock as they reminisced of a time where you could be paid to go to these places. Surely not! We are frequently reminded to dash our hopes of such fantasies for ourselves. Chastised for setting ourselves unrealistic goals and for asking too much from student protest. The media reports false truths about the modern student position, making smarmy comments about us being able to pay back our loans if we stopped eating avocados, and saved like all those wise generations that came before us.

University has swung from a privilege to commonplace pursuit for those leaving school and in many respects that is a great thing. However, it appears to me that the university push that I felt behind me at school had ulterior motives. Sadly, like so many things in life, the motive is money. A friend of mine who graduated last year, recently shared with me her first student loan repayment letter. She, like the hundreds of thousands that have graduated in recent years, is looking at repayments in the ballpark of £50,000, a staggering debt for a 21 year old to begin their adult life with. Furthermore, we noticed she had been slapped with a further £5,000 or so, in interest repayments which had culminated across the time she was getting her degree. Wonderful. Sad as it is to say though, it was not a surprise to any of us that winced as she read the letter aloud for us in our dingy student house.

Student debt is becoming normalised and frankly it is infuriating. In the four years I have been at university, I have watched dismayed as the government laid honey traps for naïve 18 years olds, who like myself, were sold on the necessity of a higher education degree in an increasingly competitive workplace. I was the first year to despair at a full university degree under the £9,000 tuition fee rise and jump at the government’s hospitality in offering student loans that would not only cover my degree, but an extra £3,000 and something in the form of a maintenance loan too. Phew. Thank god for David Cameron, what a thoughtful bloke. Knowing no better, and pressured by schools, parents and government rhetoric, we entered the university machine.

I watched over my four years as a student as my campus fell victim to privatisation and students were disciplined for protesting against the changes. Behind the scenes, my loans were being privatised too, without my knowledge, and suddenly it was too late. Students were lied to. On the basis of their eagerness to learn, we continue to be exploited. Have you heard of The Sale of Student Loans Act 2008? I hadn’t. These underhand changes to how we learn have made the entire experience bittersweet. The government has offloaded its education costs onto the individual in a spectacular fashion, and sold it to the youth as an opportunity. Universities has become a market, where students are customers first, and foremost. Over 80% of universities hiked their prices up to the £9,000 cap in 2012, which demonstrates the profit driven culture that has permeated education, without any regard for the quality of the service being provided.

The discussion continues sorely today, highlighted by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto promise of cutting the fees all together this year. Student protest continues to expose the lies that were sold to us at the beginning of our degrees that see the Student Loans Company rake in upward of £12 billion from the age group statistically in the lowest paying jobs. The government’s go-to rebuttal to the criticism is that they cannot afford to subsidise the increased university uptake. Budget is stretched, and education is a money-pit, like the NHS and other social services. All these excuses ignore the elephant in the room.

The government can always find money to invest in things that it deems priority. Trident’s renewal is set to spend £205 billion of the UK budget towards the sustaining of the nuclear deterrent by the 2030’s. This is enough money to pay for over 8 million students tuition fees, and yet it will remain tucked firmly away out of reach of those things that are open for discussion in the budget. If anything is a waste of money, surely developing nuclear weapons in what is quite clearly the safest corner of the planet, is ahead of providing healthcare for the sick, and educating the future of the nation. The continued assurance that these weapons are ‘essential’ bringing into scope bizarre priorities of those who make decisions on behalf of the rest of us.

We urge the UK government to listen to the generation that is set to inherit the country and realise the damage it is doing to the longevity of its labour force. We can see a clear solution to the tuitions problem right in front of us; cut Trident, not education. Education surely, is the key to resolving the geopolitical disputes for which nuclear weapons are reserved, renewal only entrenches the behaviour that enable nuclear proliferation to continue in other countries. If the United Kingdom wants to continue to count itself as a world leader, it needs to recognise what is worth nurturing. Our nuclear arsenal makes up less than 2% of the nuclear stockpile globally, a mere drop in the water in the grand picture but considerably more in the scale of the UK. It is unsustainable to make excuses about nuclear weapons, education is essential, health is essential, nuclear weapons are not. Without either of the first two, society would collapse, can the UK government really claim that the same is said for Trident?

Latest figures claim that three quarters of students will not be able to repay the full debt by the time it is written off after 30 years. Despite this the pay cap is now ready to be pegged against inflation, should, god forbid, the student value-for-money statistics start to creep up from their all-time low of 35%. Trident however, remains impervious to austerity. The government has failed to guarantee to its younger population that it values their contribution, and instead plows ahead of with an outdated nuclear programme that fails to address the needs of modern society.

By George Rutledge, CND Research Assistant

**Please note, the views expressed in this piece are that of the individual, and not representative of CND as an organisation***

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