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Next week the United Nations nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meeting in New York will be making preparations for the five-yearly review due in 2015.
The process might sound obscure, but it is important. Nuclear weapons have the power to destroy the whole planet many times over, cost vast amounts of money, consume resources that could be better spent elsewhere and, furthermore, they make war more, not less, likely.
When the NPT was first made law in the 1970s, approved by the vast majority of the member states of the UN, it had three central themes.
First, that the existing five declared weapons states — China, Russia, France, Britain and the US — be recognised as such and take steps towards disarmament.
Second, that all non-nuclear weapons states which signed the treaty must not themselves acquire them and the declared states must not export them or their technology.
Third, that all states could legitimately develop nuclear power for civil purposes.
On the face of it there is much cause for depression at the continued existence of these weapons and their proliferation in India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
Equally depressing is the upgrading of the weapons’ capability, even if accompanied by warhead reduction, by the five declared weapons states. But there are some causes for hope and optimism.
Much of our planet is covered by nuclear weapons-free zones, particularly Africa, Latin America, Antarctica and central Asia, and a number of states including South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have renounced nuclear weapons.
Whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu’s bravery in exposing Israel’s nuclear weapons programme resulted in his spending 18 years in prison, 13 of which were in solitary confinement. Ever since his famous release, he has been under restrictions, house arrest and under continual threat of reimprisonment.
His passport has been confiscated and he has been refused permission to leave Israel. His heroism and bravery have caused him intense pain and suffering but he enabled the world to know something of the truth about Israel’s programme and how it illegally obtained the technology and know-how to produce WMD.
In a moving message for Easter, CND vice-president Canon Paul Oestreicher called for support for Vanunu.
“He has remained steadfast to his convictions. He is now imprisoned in Israel, a state whose citizenship he has renounced yet which will not allow him to leave.”
The concept of a nuclear weapons-free Middle East has been long sought. It was first envisaged at the 2000 review of the NPT when a regional convention outside the NPT process, designed to include Israel, was conceived.
This was warmly welcomed by all states in the region except Israel, yet the declaration was repeated at the subsequent five-yearly reviews of the NPT.
In 2010 it was agreed that Finland should host such a conference. This did not happen and at the last preparatory committee meeting in 2013 in Geneva the Arab League and a number of individual states expressed anger at the lack of progress. Egypt, for example, walked out in disgust, although it has not left the treaty.
Failure to act could well start a dangerous process of proliferation as a number of countries have the finances and technology to develop their own weapons, potentially starting an arms race in the
Middle East which would dwarf the horrors of the Syrian war and the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The historic decision by Britain and the US not to involve themselves militarily in the Syria conflict led to a rapid reopening of relations with Iran and discussion on access to its nuclear processing facilities.
At present there is an interim six-month agreement with Iran under which some sanctions have been lifted.
At next week’s meeting in New York there will be another round of negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
The prize of a long-term agreement between the UN’s permanent five member countries and Iran is too much for the US right.
Senator Robert Menendez, the hawkish Republican chairman of the foreign relations committee, has condemned the talks and his colleagues support even deeper sanctions against Iran.
On the back of this huge development it is high time the NPT organised the Middle East conference and the US should put pressure on Israel to attend.
However, there is momentum for peace. Last month the Inter-Parliamentary Union global parliamentary assembly approved a comprehensive resolution calling on all parliaments “to work with their governments on eliminating the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines” and to urge their governments to start negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or package of agreements to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world.”
Over a year of painstaking negotiation by parliamentarians for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament brought this step forward.
The baton must now pass to MPs, all over the world, to apply further pressure on their governments.
The need to achieve a nuclear-free world is a priority now more than ever, but this requires courage and optimism. That is why we in Britain need to oppose the renewal and catastrophic waste of replacing our very own Trident WMD.
A year ago the world learnt of the horror of the deaths of clothing workers in Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The Bangladeshi government recorded 1,100 deaths, and 2,500 people were rescued. Dangerous buildings collapsed, fire escapes were locked, there was no safety procedure and the survivors lost their jobs and faced destitution.
The cheap clothes these workers were producing were destined for export to the Western world by companies such as Primark, which has just posted record profits.
The International Labour Association investigated the disaster and called for $40 million fund for compensation. A year on, only $15m has been contributed.
Yesterday the Bangladesh government announced payments of $645 per head from the fund.
According to Human Rights Watch, 15 of the big clothing importers from Bangladesh have not contributed anything, including Grabalok/Store 21 and Matalan. Primark has given $8m.
The Bangladesh government has given some support to the victims and has attempted to improve safety conditions, but there is a huge wider question.
In the race to the bottom of global economics the clothing industry routinely moves from poor low-paid economies to even poorer lower-paid labour markets.
The World Bank and IMF applaud the economic “benefits” of this process.
Meanwhile workers die, children are exploited and the shiny global brands make millions in profits.
Brave trade unionists are fighting back in Bangladesh. A young worker, Reshima, described the morning of the tragedy.
“We did not want to work but the general manager came and threatened us and said that if we did not work we would not get paid next month’s salary. He slapped one of my friends and dragged me out of where I was hiding under the staircase and took me to work.”
We must challenge those who constantly condemn health and safety laws and regulations as being bad for business.
The case for international trade unionism and solidarity has never been stronger or more obvious, the case for exerting consumer power as an act of solidarity never more important.
Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.
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