Australia is showing a distinct lack of fortitude on the issue of nuclear proliferation, writes Gem Romuld, from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
It’s easy for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop MP to espouse commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. Any government can proclaim their sincere desire for a world free of the nuclear threat; but these are empty words at best and more likely to be counterproductive.
When the constituency feels that their representatives in government are doing something about nuclear weapons, it grows complacent. Former President Barack Obama spoke so beautifully about ending the nuclear threat that he won a Nobel Peace Prize. At the same, he committed US$1 trillion over the next 3 decades to maintaining and modernising the US nuclear arsenal.
Obama demanded Mexico “pull the resolution”; a UN resolution that went on to win majority support at the UN General Assembly last October, launching negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons this March.
Now the US and North Korea are taking turns to conduct missile tests, and President Trump is never far from the nuclear briefcase. If he feels inspired to open it up, we are depending on a lower-down dissident to refuse orders and avert catastrophe. The silver lining here is that these abhorrent bombs are again under the spotlight.
There are 15,000 nuclear weapons still in existence, held by nine countries. Around 95 per cent of these are held between Russia and the United States. When it comes to nuclear weapons, the only responsible actors are the countries that reject the weapon altogether.
Thankfully, a movement of responsible actors has taken the initiative to pursue a vitally important tool on the path to elimination: prohibition. Experience tells us that when a weapon is outlawed, the stigmatising effect of the prohibition impacts on the behaviour of all states regardless of whether they are a state party to the treaty.
When banned, nuclear weapons will lose legitimacy and status. Nuclear weapons producers will have a harder time getting finance. Nuclear allies, such as Australia, will have to choose: are we for or against nuclear weapons?
Australia won’t yet support a ban on nuclear weapons because it’s not willing to challenge the outdated concept of extended nuclear deterrence. In the DFAT rabbit hole, while ever nuclear weapons exist, we need them to protect us from nuclear weapons. But there is change in the air; Labor and the Greens firmly support a ban. The circuit breaker has arrived.
When nations gather at the UN on March 27 to begin negotiating the ban treaty, Australia’s seat will be empty. This boycott casts serious doubt on our commitment to the disarmament obligations contained in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and to the United Nations in general.
We must push past the Government’s rhetoric and pursue real action to eliminate nuclear weapons; the impending ban treaty is the perfect chance.