The hypocrisy of Western nuclear policy has led to the North Korea crisis

The only long-term solution to the stand off between the USA and North Korea is full nuclear disarmament of all states around the globe.

The stand off between the USA and North Korea currently holding the world hostage has been caused by a failure of the international nuclear system over the past fifty years.

Although there has been some decline in the number of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, there has been no serious attempt to rethink the purpose or morality of them on the part of the states that have them.

Back in 1968, fewer than 20 countries negotiated the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. This recognised that five countries – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, had already acquired nuclear arsenals.

These five committed to the process of nuclear disarmament, while all others accepted obligations not to acquire or try to acquire nuclear weapons or programmes. After the treaty entered into legal force in 1970 with around 60 members, many more joined year by year.

Unfortunately, to encourage non-nuclear countries to sign, the 1968 treaty actively promoted nuclear technologies for what were called “peaceful purposes”.

Many countries – including Iraq, North Korea and Iran – pursued nuclear programmes with help from nuclear-armed states like the UK.

When suspicions arose that they wanted to emulate the five and develop nuclear weapons, the treaty was used to pressure them.

In 2003, North Korea became the first and only country to withdraw from this treaty, when the father of the present leader, Kim Jong-un, announced his regime’s intention to arm itself with nuclear weapons.

This happened when the Bush White House invaded Iraq after describing Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil”, ending years of talks aimed at de-nuclearising the Korean peninsula and normalising relations between North and South Korea, which divided the region after the Korean War against Communism in the 1950s.

The US deployed nuclear weapons in and around South Korea until the 1990s, and still stations thousands of troops and weaponry.

Many North Koreans have been taught that getting their own nuclear “deterrents” is the only way to defend themselves against the United States, which possesses the world’s most powerful nuclear arsenal – around 7,000 warheads.

Intelligence analysts estimate that at most North Korea may have developed 10-12, and many doubt even this, despite Kim Jong-un’s boastful claims.

As a proud advocate of nuclear disarmament, I think that even one nuclear weapon is far too many. Western countries holding them and telling others that they can’t is simply hypocrisy.

When Kim Jong-un claims the need for nuclear weapons for deterrence he is only echoing what Britain’s pro-nuclear lobby have been saying to justify renewing Trident.

The safer course is to eliminate all nuclear weapons, a course being followed by the majority of the United Nations who are engaged in a humanitarian-based legal process to ban nuclear weapons.

This good news – even if barely mentioned in the UK media – led to the adoption on 7 July this year of a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

This new Nuclear Prohibition Treaty goes further than the 1968 non-proliferation treaty by requiring states “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

It also outlaws stationing, installing and deploying, nuclear weapons and bans assisting, encouraging or inducing “anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under this treaty”.

When this treaty is opened for signature at the UN on 20 September, the UK will probably not sign, as the Tories have shamefully boycotted this multilateral UN disarmament process, including the UN negotiations this year.

With 122 UN member states voting in favour, this new treaty is already more strongly supported by the world’s nations than the non-proliferation treaty we signed in 1968.

Faced with the Trump-Kim nuclear sabre-rattling, we can all see now that there are no safe hands for nuclear weapons.

If the world steps back from the brink this time we need to ensure that all its leaders take seriously their commitment to dismantling all the world’s deadly nuclear arsenals. The live UN disarmament process is the vehicle ideal placed to make this happen.

Molly Scott Cato is and economist and Green MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar. She tweets here.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.