While much of the world’s attention was focused last week on the G20 meeting in Hamburg, and Donald Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin, a historic decision took place at the United Nations (UN) in New York.
On Friday, 122 countries voted in favour of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”.
Nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction without a treaty banning them, despite the fact that they are potentially the most potent of all weapons. Biological weapons were banned in 1975 and chemical weapons in 1992.
This new treaty sets the international norm that nuclear weapons are no longer morally acceptable. This is the first step along the road to their eventual elimination from our planet, although the issue of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions remains unresolved.
Earlier this year, thousands of scientists including 30 Nobel Prize winners signed an open letter calling for nuclear weapons to be banned. I was one of the signees, and am pleased to see an outcome linked to this call so swiftly and resolutely answered.
More broadly, the nuclear weapon treaty offers hope for formal negotiations about lethal autonomous weapons (otherwise known as killer robots) due to start in the UN in November. Nineteen countries have already called for a pre-emptive ban on such weapons, fearing they will be the next weapon of mass destruction that man will invent.
An arms race is underway to develop autonomous weapons, in every theatre of war. In the air, for instance, BAE Systems is prototyping their Taranis drone. On the sea, the US Navy has launched their first autonomnous ship, the Sea Hunter. And under the sea, Boeing has a working version of a 15 metre long Echo Voyager autonomous submarine.