Fabian Hamilton: ‘It benefits everybody for the world to be at peace and fewer weapons used’

The UK may no longer be frozen in the depths of the Cold War, but new challenges, and rising threats around the world, means aiming to keep tensions between global powers stable is still key.

There is no specific minister for disarmament or peace in the Government, the brief is taken in across various ministerial roles.

But for Leeds North East MP Labour Fabian Hamilton, his shadow front bench position focussing on just that is of more importance than ever.

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“Actually it's a really important idea,” Labour’s Mr Hamilton said, speaking to The Yorkshire Post's political podcast Pod's Own Country this week.

Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton. Photo: JPI Media

“Many countries in the world, especially advanced industrial countries, do have this position in Government. Now, I'm in the odd and unique situation that I don't actually shadow an individual minister, I shadow a number of ministers.

“I just concentrate on multilateral arms control, international disarmament agreements. And, and, of course, the many places where a peace agreement is actually in place such as Colombia, and Cyprus.”

Tensions between nations may not be at fever pitch, but the rise is state-sponsored cyberattacks and poisonings on foreign soil show, Mr Hamilton said, that “it’s just as important today as it was in the depths of the Cold War.”

“We do face new challenges, the world has changed substantially, but [...] it's never been clearer to me that the world needs fresh multilateral disarmament programs. And the UK should be at the forefront of that,” he said.

The crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has understandably made countries look more inward, focussing on protecting the lives and livelihoods of their own citizens.

“But it seems to me that we should be more concerned, for example, about what's happening in Libya,” Mr Hamilton said.

“Now, Libya, most people don't know where it is, they may have only the vaguest idea that maybe Colonel Gaddafi was once in charge, and they've got a lot of oil, and it's a lot of desert, and the British used to run the place during the war.

“But it's much more complicated than that. What happened in Libya matters to us, not just because of the oil supply, but because of the number of refugees that a country with almost no government - the state's been hollowed out there. - those refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Italy and eventually making their way towards us in the United Kingdom.

“That matters to us on a very selfish personal level, nevermind the humanitarian cost to the individuals whose lives have been destroyed by the appalling civil war that's going on there and by other countries interfering, so I think it's easy to actually bury your head in the sand.

“But if you do you forget about the way this country is affected by what happens worldwide, and of course, our humanitarian desire to see people living in peace because it benefits everybody for the world to be at peace, and for fewer weapons to be produced and used.

“I'm not saying we don't produce them for our own defence, we must, but actually, to sell them to rogue states or those states that then use them to prosecute wars, isn't in anybody's interest, and that's why I think we do need a peace and disarmament minister.”

The UK finding its way as an independent state outside of the European Union will also mean a renewed focus on leading the world on such issues, and with a new - arguably more stable - President of the United States, Mr Hamilton felt real progress could now be made.

“Let's find this new role for ourselves worldwide, the United Kingdom and the British military, for example, a hugely respected and our international development programs in the past were, well run, not corrupt, delivered what they said they were going to deliver.

“And we're very generous. Now that's been cut back a little bit because of the economic issues arising out of the pandemic, but nonetheless, we are well respected. British Armed Forces, for example, respected as being very humanitarian in their approach one, one diplomat once said to me ‘the Americans train their military personnel to be soldiers, to fight wars, and Britain trains its soldiers to care about people, and care about those whose countries they happen to be in’,” he said.

“So we can do a great humanitarian job, we are well known for being well trained, and not being corrupt, or corruptible. I think that's really important.”

And he added: “We could do so much good in the world. And the fact we're one of the permanent five members of the Security Council of the United Nations, gives us a reach far beyond our size, and our economic consequence. So there's a lot of reasons why global Britain is a very good idea if it's done right.”

While he said he hoped a new relationship with America - and President Joe Biden, who he met a number of times when Mr Biden was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - would take this further.

“Donald Trump withdrew from so many international treaties, which really piled shame on the United States which has always tried to be a peacemaker, and an international player and a very important player in terms of leadership.”

Mr Biden has already signalled confirmed he would extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was due to expire in February.

First signed between the US and the then USSR in 1991, the most recent agreement from 2011 limits Washington and Moscow’s deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550 each.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden and Russia’s President Vladamir Putin agreed to extend that treaty for another five years.

Mr Hamilton said: “In that five year period, they could negotiate a far, far better treaty, which will see the reduction in these horrific strategic weapons.”

He also pointed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would ban the testing of nuclear weapons and was agreed by the UN in 1996, but was never ratified by a number of countries including the US or China.

“Now, if President Biden is minded to approve to sign and ratify this treaty, which is not impossible, and actually quite likely, I think, in the next four years, then once that's done, China will follow immediately.

“And once China follows, there'll be countries like Egypt and other smaller countries in the world, that will also ratify it, and it will become an article of international law, that will have a profound effect.

“Most people never heard of it. But it will have a profound effect on the proliferation of nuclear weapons worldwide, and the reversal of that, the reduction of nuclear weapons and nuclear warheads, which will only serve to make the world a safer place.”

And Mr Hamilton was determined that the pandemic did not distract attention from the peace and disarmament agenda.

“It's shocking in a way that it has taken the headlines away from the terrible, terrifying events that are happening, for example, in Yemen at the moment where Saudi Arabia is continuously and indiscriminately bombing civilians in Yemen."

He added: “But here's the horrifying thing. We supply the Saudis with most of their weaponry.

“Now, it's one thing to sell weapons from state to state. But it's something altogether different if the state you're selling to uses those weapons to prosecute a war like this. And my party's policy is to cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately, until we've had a proper inquiry by the United Nations as to how these weapons are being used to prosecute this war.”