At the heart of the bargain in New York between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states, which recently secured the indefinite prolongation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, was agreement by the former that they would exercise the "utmost restraint" in conducting any nuclear tests prior to the finalisation of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the end of next year, and that they accepted "the ultimate goal" of complete nuclear disarmament. Yet China cynically restarted tests within 48 hours of the Conference ending, France is committed to a series of tests this autumn, while the nuclear weapons lobbies in the US, Britain and Russia are now urging their governments to follow suit. British ministers have pointedly refused to say that the UK will conduct no further tests.
This is a defining moment for the governments concerned. So long as nuclear weapons laboratories exist, experts will continue to find "valid" reasons for continued testing. The defensive arguments privately deployed by officials, like drunks at the pub of "just one more round before closing time", is unconvincing. Either short-term vested interests prevail, regardless of the far wider costs of endangering the politically fragile consensus reached in New York, or they must be firmly resisted.
Our new Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, should announce in Parliament that we shall after all honour our international obligations and rally to the support of Australia and New Zealand.
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