Rising sea levels? How about the rising risk of someone using a nuke?

Lords cite 'irresponsible rhetoric' and communication as factors. Sound familiar?

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Never mind the climate, things are looking decidedly dicey on the nuke front, according to the UK's House of Lords.

Its report, titled Rising nuclear risk, disarmament and the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (PDF), paints a bleak picture, citing an end to nearly a quarter-century of "benign circumstances" since the close of Cold War along with irresponsible rhetoric and rising tensions as factors in the increasing risk.

Nine states currently possess nuclear weapons. Five (China, Russia, France, the UK and the US) have signed up to and are recognised as legitimate possessors of The Bomb by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Three (India, Israel and Pakistan) didn't sign the NPT and one, North Korea, signed up but went ahead with development anyway.

Doubtless with an eye on media platforms magnifying and spreading shrill rhetoric at a rate never before seen, the Select Committee on International Relations reckoned that there now exist "serious risks of nuclear use due to misinterpretation and miscalculation".

Far be it from us to suggest that the odd angry tweet from atop a golden toilet bowl in the small hours could set in motion a chain of events leading to an equally small orange hand hitting the big red button.

The committee does, however, pay tribute to the NPT, which, in its 49-year history, has mostly upheld its three pillars: non-proliferation, the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and disarmament. The fly in the ointment is, of course, North Korea, which is the only non-nuclear signatory to have gone on to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon.

While the progress in reducing the stockpiles of the 1980s was lauded, the report noted that global progress towards disarmament has stalled amid a worsening security environment. Furthermore, the committee pointed to the "modernisation" programmes of some states that were anything but and introduced heightened risks in the form of tactical nuclear weapons.

This lack of progress led to The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (aka The Ban Treaty) where non-nuclear weapon states pretty much called for a total ban on the things. The Ban Treaty was adopted in July 2017 (122 states for, one against and one abstention) and was opened for signature in September 2017. The committee noted that The Ban Treaty was not yet in force.

However, communication is key.

The committee urged the UK and NATO to have a chat with the Russians about nuclear stability despite the country being "in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty". There were also blunt words on the posturing of the US government as concern was expressed that global nuclear non-proliferation efforts have been "undermined by the US's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal".

The hand-wringing continued with concerns that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty was still not in force (although a de facto moratorium exists) and that "we are dangerously close to a world without arms control agreements" as sabres continue to be rattled.

A review conference for the NPT is due in 2020, on its 50th anniversary. The committee called on states with nukes to use the milestone to demonstrate a commitment to disarmament and engage with those states currently lacking the weapons.

Otherwise, that pesky risk of "misunderstanding and miscalculation" could lead to what the committee understates as "nuclear use". ®


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