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Detailed  Report

Model Citizens’ Assembly on TPNW

Sunday 10th January 2021 – “Should the UK Join the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)?”

Lauren’s introduction – explained how this session came about as a direct result of the UN75 UK Festival in October, and the fact that the final night of that Festival saw the entry into force of the UN’s TPNW treaty.

USG Fabrizio Hochschild – Opening Remarks: as leader of the UN75 Secretariat and driving force behind the Global Conversation that the UN mandated for its 75th Anniversary, Fabrizio congratulated Peace Child Intl. for its contributions to the Global Conversation – in the UK, Estonia, Tunisia and elsewhere plus its follow-up initiatives: this Model Citizen’s Assembly and the State of the Planet Song Festival PCI has planned for UN Day 2021. He mentioned that UN75 came at a precarious time for the UN and the planet: from COVID to Climate change and the threat of nuclear war, the breakdown in international disarmament agreements, never has the world needed strong international institutions.  The Conversation revealed that 74% of people thought UN was essential and, in spite of being polarised on many issues, 97% thought climate change was very important.

The Secretary-General wants new ways of engaging with people – especially young people. “The Secretary-General wants youth to be driving force.  Young people generally more optimistic, more interconnected and more international.  If we take forward our call to action, 2020 could be a 1945 moment: the year when we become committed to work together as a human family to solve the problems we face together. Young people can lead that endeavour.”


ONE:  Dr Rebecca Johnson:

Why should the UK join the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? (she gave these reasons):

  • Nuclear Weapons cannot make us safe or secure: they cannot protect us against climate chaos, pandemics, terrorists or incompetent populists running governments;
  • They have divided Britain since 1950s – getting in the way of pooling our resources to deal with these greater threats;
  • Scotland has endorsed treaty. They see it as a way to end Scotland’s unwilling complicity in the UK government’s Nuclear policy and end the basing of dangerous nuclear weaponry on Scottish soil in Faslane and Coulport;
  • Accidental detonation of Nuclear weapons would be catastrophic – and would you really trust the current nuclear weapon state leaders never to let it happen? Trump, Boris, Putin, Modi, Khan, Netanyahu, Macron, Kim Jong Un?
  • Chatham House told the TPNW negotiators that the world had come close to nuclear war 13 times since 1960;
  • This treaty joins the body of International law on Jan. 22nd 2021 – preventing the use or threat of nuclear weapons + their production, storage, and sharing of technical details. We in the UK have the chance to deploy our legal, technical and diplomatic skills and resources to support this treaty, especially in the area of the verification of the elimination of nuclear arsenals;
  • If we don’t want NATO to use nuclear weapons on our behalf, we have to persuade our government to join the TPNW and stop funding and threatening to use them;
  • States Parties to the Treaty will meet in Vienna later this year – environmental remediation and assistance to victims of nuclear testing will be high on the agenda. UK government should be there;
  • Because the UK government will not join TPNW overnight but we should start preparing the ground by attending in Vienna as an observer;
  • UK governments have long supported multilateral process for nuclear disarmament. They failed to step up to join the TPNW negotiations; we need to persuade them to step up at Vienna;
  • The UN Secretary General called the TPNW the “next great pillar of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.” The UK government needs to wake up and accede to it.
  • This is our treaty. A “We the Peoples….” Treaty. It is up to us to keep active until the last nuclear weapon is eliminated: so we must inform and mobilise the British people. We must persuade our MPs and work with our local councils to adopt motions of support for TPNW.  We have to get the UK government to attend Vienna as an observer.

TWO:  James Mccormick

Why should the UK NOT join the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? (he gave these reasons):

  • Despite COVID, the issues of national security do not go away, so it is vitally important that we come together to discuss and debate issues like the one we’re discussing tonight.
  • Let me clear: the UK Government shares the aspirations of first speaker. We do not want to see nuclear conflicts. The UK is committed to the long term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The key question is: How do we get there?
  • UK is a firm champion of multilateralism: My department works every day with the international community to make progress on nuclear disarmament and at the heart of that work are loads of international treaties that protect intl. security and the safety of us all.
  • To be effective, a treaty must have consensus between all of the relevant parties; it must provide practical solutions to the security dilemma that all countries face, and the objectives they seek to achieve; it must be firmly embedded within the existing international architecture.
  • Nuclear weapons have emerged and persisted for a reason. The key cause is concern about other countries’ intentions. A treaty that does not tackle this inherent problem will not succeed. (implication: the TPNW fails on all those measures)
  • A treaty like the NPT is drafted with great effort and far-sightedness. The NPT is the cornerstone and key framework for everything we do on nuclear disarmament. There’s a provision in the NPT that enables us to work towards complete disarmament under effective international controls.
  • Crucially, it addresses that fear, that security dilemma and looks to ease tension and build trust so that we can get to the place where we can disarm.
  • The NPT protects non-nuclear states ability to develop the peaceful uses of nuclear energy which is so important to prevent Climate Change today. And it has developed ways to protect nuclear power plants from terrorists;
  • The central question is: is the NPT working now? And for me, the answer is an emphatic YES – it is working. The great fear when it was signed was that other states would seek to develop nuclear weapons. And, in the last 50 years, the NTP has seen at least 30 states abandon their plans for making nuclear weapons. Global stockpiles have been reduced by close to 80%. It has provided the Intl. Atomic Energy Authority the tools to investigate Iran’s non-compliance with the NPT and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action we’re using to bring Iran back into compliance.
  • The NPT has been a catalyst for many other treaties – the US/Russia arms control treaties; a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban which will ban ALL nuclear testing when it comes into force. And there’s much more to come.
  • That is why the NPT is seen as the Flagship for humanity’s efforts to deal with this very real problem of nuclear arms elimination and its vital that we, here in the UK, do all that we can to protect and strengthen it.
  • In 2020, we published the papers which chart the history of the original negotiations for the NPT – do read them as they show countries coming together and working for months and years to ensure the security of their nations for generations to come;
  • In contrast to the NPT negotiations, the negotiations for the treaty we’re discussing today took just 4 weeks;
  • From our perspective, the text of the TPNW is ambiguous: it’s not clear on how it seeks to achieve its goals;
  • Firstly, and critically, the treaty simply ignores the security context and provides no suggestions for how we should increase trust and transparency between nuclear weapons states to allow them to disarm;
  • And, despite calling for a ban, the treaty does not address the considerable technical and procedural challenges involved in nuclear disarmament verification. Even if there were a ban tomorrow, you’d have to have these provisions and the TPNW doesn’t provide the detail on how that would be achieved.
  • It also needlessly overlaps with other treaties, like the CTBT, by including another prohibition on testing but without including the measures, like inspections, that would actually make it work;
  • Finally, crucially, the TPNW risks creating confusion in the Intl. Community. It has an alternative system for creating the safeguards I talked about before for the IAEA which would confuse their mandate, they don’t have the resources to do them… – and it doesn’t push for the new, accepted, current global standard which is much safer. It is not there.
  • Consequently, the TPNW will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapons.
  • At worst, it will create divisions in the Intl. Community which will make progress even more difficult
  • Crucially, we do worry that it’s going to undermine and weaken the NPT: having competing treaties is not helpful. We want to unify everyone around the NPT and the TPNW makes that more difficult;
  • So – should the UK sign the TPNW and unilaterally give up all its nuclear weapons today? From my perspective, that would be the worst, possible option. The UK’s nuclear weapons forms part of our contribution to NATO’s collective defence whose purpose is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons and, in that as we have seen, it has been hugely successful over the decades.
  • Deterrence is a very simple concept: it means that our potential aggressors know that they have more to lose from their aggression than they can possibly gain. So can we give these weapons up now? Sadly not. The threat of nuclear conflict did not go away at the end of the Cold War – in fact they are increasing in terms of their scale, diversity and complexity. For example, in 2010, NATO agreed to work constructively with Russia – but, ever since, Moscow has become more aggressive, authoritarian and nationalist. Just look at the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for the Assad regime in Syria even when it used chemical weapons.
  • Now it may seem that these threats are far removed from our daily lives but it is vital that we retain the ability to deter extreme acts of aggression of this kind against us or our NATO allies. To disarm unilaterally now would not make us safer, nor would it make the use of nuclear weapons less likely. Indeed it would remove the nuclear deterrent that, for 60 years, has prevented the use of nuclear weapons – including against us. A world in which aggressor nations like Russia have nuclear weapons and we do not is not a world in which UK families are safer. Signing the TPNW now is incompatible with our NATO membership and would likely result in NATO member states feeling that they have to develop their own.


Rebecca’s Answer(s) and Question(s) to James:

Nothing to surprise me in what James said: I’ve read all the UK Government’s objections to TPNW.

You say that TPNW is a competitor to NPT. That is simply NOT TRUE. If it was a competitor, UN S-G Guterres would not have called it a “Pillar of the nuclear disarmament regime.”  That’s the language of the NPT which clearly shows that, in the eyes of the UN and more than two thirds of its Member States, that the TPNW is necessary for the implementation of NPT’s clause 6. It goes beyond good faith – adding verification measures that were never in the NPT. I’ve worked on NPT since the 1990s and been at every NPT review meeting – seeing how the Nuclear Weapons States have made it their own little fiefdom, relegating the non-nuclear weapons states to bit-part players. But it was Non-nuclear states, Ireland others, that initiated the NPT drawing the NWS in.  But the TPNW offers two very clear ways for NWS to get rid of their nuclear weapons:

  1. To do as South Africa did: get rid of all its nuclear weapons and then invite IAEA in to verify;
  2. To sign the Treaty and work with IAEA personnel to get rid of the weapons;

My question for James would have to do with resources: given that the Biden administration looks likely not to renew Trident missiles which we rely on for our nuclear deterrent, what is the justification for us to spend up to £200 billion pounds renewing our Dreadnought submarines instead of spending the money on verification procedures for this MULTILATERAL treaty ( – no one’s asking for unilateral anything) – multilateral verification procedures leading to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons on our planet?

James’s Answer(s) and Question(s) to Rebecca:

On your first point, around Verification: the NPT envisaged a step by step process.  So the Verification provisions in Article VI are when we come to a new treaty for complete disarmament, under proper controls. We need to have a firm verification mechanism – and trust! – in order to make that work.  At the moment, the UK is leading of the effort to deliver a proper verification process: there’s a lot of science involved, and we’re working with a lot of different countries, including non-nuclear states, to get that in place. But in order to get to that, you have to address the issues of lack of confidence / lack of trust which are set out in the NPT – as I said in my presentation.  The point is: we’re not there yet – and the TPNW cannot help us to get there.

The 2nd point you asked about resourcing – the upgrades and so on:  first thing you need to note is the public’s support for nuclear weapons: a Yougov poll puts public support for the retention of nuclear weapons in some form at 54% with 24% opposed. It was also what a majority voted for in the Conservative Manifesto in the election of 2019.  There is an Integrated review of all aspects of our security policy going on so the government are looking at every aspect of this question, including Nuclear safety. But retaining them is our mandate – yes they are expensive, but we could list many other things that the government spends money on which cost billions of pounds. But it’s not an either or question. The question is: are they safe? – are they fit for purpose?

The final point I want to make is that the UK is not sitting back on its laurels. There is a lot that we’re doing to advance the disarmament agenda:

  • We’ve reduced our nuclear stockpiles by over half since their Cold War peak in the 1980s.
  • We have the smallest stockpile and are the only nuclear weapon state with a single nuclear weapons system
  • We won’t be introducing new systems or technologies which could de-stabilise matters;
  • We’re also working on issues you’ve talked about – like building up trust – which is why we set up the P-5 process which brings together China, Russia, USA, France and the UK to sit down and talk about how we can move this agenda forward to arrive at the kind of treaty which NPT Article 6 envisaged.
  • Back to resources – it’s a lot, but we have to invest them to make sure that our systems are safe and effective;

My question for Rebecca is – and I know I’ve repeated this point about trust – but it’s important given all that’s going on between ourselves and Russia, the US-China tensions etc. – given all that, why wasn’t the emphasis by these other nations to improve trust instead of the TPNW which doesn’t do any of that?  That surely has to be the first step before any kind of treaty can happen, so why wasn’t that approach adopted? ( – as I suggested)

Rebecca’s Answer:

Why wasn’t that approach adopted? Because Trust doesn’t come in and out of the NPT – it’s out in the world as a whole!  I support the P-5 process and, in fact, suggested it to Gordon Brown in No. 10 in 2009 – which is where it started. But it’s not enough just to get together on a glossary.  You have to identify the steps – and that’s what I, with other organisations and colleagues, have been doing, producing the report: “Thirteen Steps” for nuclear disarmament which was adopted at the NPT Review Conference in 2000. Nobody ever suggested that the NPT itself should be a negotiating body. So these steps were identified as unilaterally, plurilateral amongst the nuclear weapons states and needing to be supported by civil society. It was the failure of the 13 Steps process in the following decade which led directly to the initiative to actually ban – and eliminate – nuclear weapons to change the normative and legal context within which the nuclear weapons states carried on modernizing and upgrading their arsenals.


 Q. What was the reason for the TPNW?

A. James: There was frustration at slowness of progress on the NPT. That is why other countries moved forward with the TPNW. I would love to wish nuclear weapons away with a treaty like this, but I don’t think it will work.

Q. How can we ensure that bad actors will make good on their promises.?

A. Rebecca: It will apply to everyone

Q. Does Artificial Intelligence and digital technology make accidental nuclear war more or less likely?

A. James. Don’t know. The Jury is out. The NPT provides a good enough framework to prevent accidents.

Q.  Why do we need another treaty?

A.  Rebecca: Without  TPNW we don’t have a forum. TPNW provides a pathway for implementation. If we just rely on the 5 countries and the NPT, we’ll have stalemate.

A.  James: All things we are talking about are possible via existing conversations under NPT.

Q.  Why does NATO consistently miss opportunities to make Russia a NATO member?

A.  James: It’s very unfortunate, but we are where we are. Since 2010, NATO said they wanted to work with Russia but they didn’t want to. With a Biden Presidency, we may get an extension to New START – which would be good.

Q.  Can you expand on what’s happening with Scotland?

A.  Rebecca: Scotland currently hosts 2 nuclear sites: Faslane and Coulport. Scots have been firmly opposed. Scottish MPs went to observe TPNW meetings in 2017 and advised Nicola Sturgeon to express the Scottish Government’s desire to join the treaty. She did.

Q.  If the UK joins the TPNW Treaty – would it break up NATO?

Q.  Rebecca said no. But we would have to re-negotiate the terms of our membership of NATO;

Q.  Will absence of MAD not lead to greater destruction?

A.  James. It would increase risk but plenty of historians would say that Mutually Assured Destruction has prevented a third World War. If everyone got rid of their nuclear weapons together, that would be another story.

Q:  What concrete steps that UK have taken for arms control?

A.  Rebecca: very few. The UK has a tiny nuclear arsenal compared to the USA and Russia – so it doesn’t make much difference what the UK or France do;

Q.  Is a nuclear deterrent good value for money?

A.  James can’t say. (We need to know more about this?)

Q.  How can nuclear weapons be disposed of?

A.  Rebecca: Warheads are dismantled. We know how to do this.

Q.  Richard Jolly: with the UK economy declining, wouldn’t it make sense to divert funds to social needs?

A.  James: We can do both things at the same time. We must invest in human security but not to invest in technology would be dangerous.


ONE:  James Mccormick:

“If we want to secure a world without Nuclear Weapons, we need to focus on solutions that will actually get us there.  The NPT has been hugely successful in reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons and countering proliferation. Hugely Successful. Go back to when it was signed to where we are now and no one could question its effectiveness.  To move forward, we have to build within the NPT: it’s near universal; the Nuclear Weapon states are part of it and it’s done a great deal of what Rebecca talked about – like making verification work.  If we want to create conditions in which there can actually be full nuclear disarmament, we have to work within a treaty that is effective – and we don’t think that the TPNW adds to that. We think it talks about a future stage which we’re not at yet. It doesn’t provide answers and we think it’s going to be a distraction and divisive in the Intl. Community as people trip over these different treaties. For our part, protecting the NPT, focussing on that and unifying the world around actually making progress on it, that’s where our focus should be and that’s why we will not sign the TPNW.”

TWO:  Rebecca Johnson:

“I think it’s a huge pity when a country like the UK is pushed into a position where it will not sign a UN, multi-laterally negotiated treaty. We say we believe in democracy, the rules-based international system, we say we believe in multi-lateral nuclear disarmament and we say that we believe in implementing the NPT that has NOT been implemented yet, particularly not Article VI, in over 50 years. As UN-S-G Guterres said, what TPNW does is to add to the regime that was started in 1968 with the NPT, that has been added to by bilateral treaties and the removal of many nuclear weapons by the UK, France, USA and Russia at the end of the Cold War.  But this treaty is really necessary to show the whole world – the non-nuclear states, the future proliferators and all the nuclear weapons states because there are not just five, there are NINE. We all stand or fall on how well we build a world without nuclear weapons. We have to develop the security institutions and the TPNW is set to become one of the most important security, disarmament and non-proliferation institutions in the world.”    


Lauren asks:  Which were the strongest / weakest Arguments?

On Rebecca’s YES side, the strongest Arguments were:

  • Anonymous: The amount of money spent on nuclear weapons is obscenely: £200 billion on Trident renewal could be so much better spent on other things – especially Post-Covid;
  • Anonymous: The UK doesn’t gain anything from it;
  • Anonymous: Scotland is in favour of Signing the TPNW – and it hosts the nuclear weapons sites
  • Richard Banham: I do not believe James’ argument that the new treaty(TPNW) will ‘muddy the waters.’ I am sure the international community will be able to deal with the overlap.
  • Mary Olson: TPNW offers non-nuclear states THE RIGHT to be nuclear-free.  Does that matter to Britain? Unlike France and the USA, Britain did not challenge New Zealand in the 1970’s when it declared itself Nuclear-Free.  Is there no realization that every nuclear weapon threatens every state and every person?
  • Anonymous: Deterrence is based on good luck. It’s only through happenstance that we’ve avoided a nuclear disaster up to now.
  • Mohammed Aaqib: I believe the self-defence/deterrent arguments are very weak. The fear with nuclear weapons is that they can be utilised at any point by hostile countries. Country A might provide evidence of potential attacks whether they are true or not. With submarines becoming more detectable and information leaks growing more prominent this is a greater concern.

On Rebecca’s YES side, the weakest Arguments were:

  • Anonymous: that the Scottish government would sign the TPNW.  Until and unless Scotland becomes an independent nation, I don’t think that argument has any bearing on the issue at all;
  • The fact that she didn’t have a good question for James;
  • Kristian: The TPNW should be talking about more technical warfare; cyber weaponry.

On James’s NO side, the strongest Arguments were:

  • The point that the two treaties trip over each other: his argument is that TPNW is a distraction. It probably is.
  • Carol: We all ultimately want the same thing. The question is: how to get there.  James said the reason why TPNW had come up because of frustration that it had taken 50 years to reduce them by 80%.  That’s actually not bad for international negotiations of this kind. Frustration is not a good reason for a new treaty.
  • Brian: Korea worries me the most.
  • Emma DeBiase: The arguments that were made strongly was when James said that the weapons are to protect ourselves, and it is our last resort if needed.  It is there to protect the UK and taking that away makes the UK a target.
  • Sylvia Boyes: as James said, the only time we have decreased the numbers of nuclear weapons is via bi-lateral agreements between Russia and USA. That’s where we should focus;

On James’s NO side, the weakest Arguments were:

  • He didn’t address central question of original intention
  • Discussion about different leaders having power for all of their countries.
  • Carol said: China has made it very clear that they are not interested in working with intl. community;
  • Mike Allen: I’m with Richard: I’m not convinced that the two treaties are incompatible or detract from each other.

POLLING  –  Decision  Time

Lauren hands over to Paul, who asks the Jury to vote first;  then he asks the audience to vote.

The results:

  • Jury: Poll Vote                 5 (33%) YES – the UK should join the TPNW;                  10 (76%) NO – the UK should NOT join the TPNW;  
  • Audience:  Poll Vote       72% YES – the UK should join the TPNW;           29%  NO – the UK should NOT join the TPNW;  

In the Jury application forms, 9 of the jury said “Don’t Know” to the question. In the End of Assembly poll, “Don’t Know” was not an option – and 7 of the don’t knows answered NO to the question; 2 of them voted YES – a clear victory for the NO argument.

In the Audience application forms, 18% of the Audience said “Don’t Know” to the question; 7% said NO and 79% said YES. In the End of Assembly poll, again,  “Don’t Know” was not an option: 29% answered NO to the question – a rise of 22%. The YES vote dropped from 79% to 72%. 

In our survey, we questioned whether we’d asked the right question as both witnesses agreed: “We have to eliminate Nuclear Weapons.” It should perhaps not be a straight choice between NPT and TPNW, but should allow exploration of other methods to build trust and reach the shared goal of eliminating nuclear weapons in a safe, and verifiable, manner. We shall continue and explore this question in future MCAs.