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  • Saoirse McGilligan

Steps towards the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

When we think about peace we often think about war as an antonym. Indeed, Tolstoy’s War and Peace comes to mind (although thankfully my proposals are much shorter).


It seems inevitable that we come quickly to the issues of security and disarmament, therefore, when discussing war. The topic is vast and so in keeping with recent UN developments, and specifically the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, I chose to focus on nuclear disarmament.


Article 11 of the UN Charter states that the General Assembly might consider the principles of cooperation including the disarmament and regulation of armaments.


There are two key proposals on how to achieve peace involving disarmament. The first is to focus on what is happening in the world around us right now.


In 2017, the UN passed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. As of 24th October 2020, there are 84 signatories and 50 parties (countries who have ratified it), with the treaty requiring 50 country ‘parties’ in order to come into effect. So, in accordance with its articles, it will come into effect do on 22nd January, 2021.


I suggest that the UN look to ongoing projects, such as the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear weapons. ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. One particularly effective strategy is the #ICANSAVE MY CITY campaign on social media, which encourages individuals to campaign to their local city, the local city signs up to ICAN and in turn campaigns the government. So far Paris, Sydney, Kannur and Nagasaki are just some of the cities to sign up to ICAN.


My second proposal ensures that nuclear weapons and killer robots are part of people’s everyday understanding. We need to understand what they are, their history, their role in society today and the ethical questions surrounding them. Most people will not engage in a topic if they do not understand it or do not think it relevant. The reality is that nuclear weapons affect us all, as humanity but also as a planet. Therefore, we all need to know about them. Proposal Two is inspired by work already happening by some organisations, such as Pugwash which is currently organising an ethical science festival for young people. Proposal Two focuses on workshops for young people so that they can engage in the ethical questions of nuclear weapons and killer robots.


Who would run these workshops? Well, it’s unlikely that one solution would fit all, but in the UK for example there are various UN university societies across the country. Students who are members of these societies could run the workshops for younger people in the surrounding areas. This could ensure a multidisciplinary approach.


So, the two key proposals:


Proposal One: Coordinated activity led by local politicians and university students to persuade city authorities to join the #ICANSAVE My City campaign, moving public opinion towards support for the ratification of the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.


Proposal Two: Noting the adverse impact upon human development by the development of nuclear weapons over 75 years, University UN associations in the UK lead an ethics-based campaign to raise awareness of the similar dangers posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons (killer robots), leading to their control and elimination.

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