Image credit: ICAN - Photo: 2019

Australia Urged to Sign & Ratify the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

By Neena Bhandari

SYDNEY (IDN) – Australia must sign and ratify the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), says a new report released here by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Australian-founded initiative which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

The report comes amidst growing international tension with important agreements, including the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – widely known as the Iran nuclear deal – and the 1988 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and Russia, being undermined.

The JCPOA was signed after protracted negotiations between Iran and six world powers comprising the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States – plus Germany together with the European Union.

“The international legal architecture surrounding nuclear weapons is collapsing, with the INF Treaty and Iran Deal under serious threat and no disarmament negotiations underway between nuclear-armed states,” ICAN Australia Director and report editor, Gem Romuld, tells IDN.

All nuclear weapon-possessing states are continuing to modernize their nuclear arsenals though there has been overall decrease in the number of nuclear warheads in 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook 2019 launched on June 17.

According to SIPRI, at the beginning of 2019, nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)—possessed approximately 13,865 nuclear weapons. Of these 3,750 are deployed with operational forces and nearly 2,000 of these are kept in a state of high operational alert.

Australia does not possess any nuclear weapons, but it subscribes to the doctrine of extended nuclear deterrence under the United States alliance, which is seen as key to Australia’s national security.

Romuld says: “Australia is currently acting as an enabler for the US’ nuclear weapons program, but this can and must change. The ban treaty provides the tool for Australia to shift direction and meaningfully contribute to the international rules-based order governing nuclear weapons.”

The Treaty, which was adopted by the UN in July 2017, currently has 70 signatories and 25 states (the latest being Bolivia) have ratified it. It is expected to enter into force in 2020 and become international law after the 50th ratification.

Explaining the country’s policy, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson says: “We do not support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as it does not involve the countries that possess nuclear weapons and risks undermining the cornerstone Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.”

Australia believes the TPNW would not eliminate a single nuclear weapon and it would be inconsistent with Australia’s U.S. alliance obligations. The DFAT website states that Australia would continue to advocate for practical steps towards nuclear disarmament, including through strengthening the NPT, particularly in the approach to the 2020 NPT Review Conference, and coordinating the cross-regional 12-member Non‑Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI).

ICAN’s report, Choosing Humanity: Why Australia must join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, addresses concerns and myths surrounding TPNW and suggests a practical pathway for signature and ratification. It builds a compelling argument for Australia to play an active role in the stigmatization, prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons by joining the treaty.

Sue Haseldine, a Kokatha-Mula Indigenous woman, was about three years old when the United Kingdom began conducting nuclear weapons tests in Maralinga and Emu Field in South Australia and Monte Bello Islands, off the Western Australian coast. The 12 major tests, conducted between 1952 and 1963, contaminated a huge area, including the Koonibba mission near Ceduna in South Australia, where Sue lived with her five sisters, two brothers and her extended family.

“The radiation from the first atomic bomb called ‘Totem 1’ spread far and wide. I am convinced that the deformities and birth defects in my family, premature deaths in the community and incidence of cancer, respiratory and thyroid problems have been because of the radiation poisoning. It doesn’t matter if you are Aboriginal or not, everyone in this part of the country has been impacted by premature sickness and death in their families,” says 68-year-old Sue, who remembers elders in the community telling her about the healthy life of hunting for wild game and collecting bush fruits prior to the Tests.

“The Australian Government owes an apology to all people. It should waste no time in signing TPNW so this never happens again,” maintains Sue, who has been suffering from chronic thyroid problems.

The report is being launched this week to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the United States detonating the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) in Japan.

Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) president and ICAN Board Member Sue Wareham tells IDN, Australia is currently implicated by allowing nuclear weapons targeting to occur at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory as well as contributing to global danger. “This also brings the risk of nuclear attack on Australia,” she adds.

“The report outlines a feasible and realistic pathway by which this part of Pine Gap’s functioning could be ceased. It is imperative, both morally and for our own and others’ security, that Australia choose the path of nuclear disarmament rather than nuclear threats.”

Australia hosts the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, a U.S.-constructed and financed intelligence facility operated by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, and the Joint Geological and Geophysical Research Station, a U.S. Air Force operated seismic monitoring station, in the Northern Territory.

Seventy-nine percent of the public supports Australia joining the treaty, according to Ipsos Update – November 2018. The Australian Labour Party had committed to sign and ratify the treaty at its December 2018 national conference if it had won the May 2019 Federal election.

ICAN Co-Founder and ICAN Australia Board Member Dimity Hawkins tells IDN: “We need governments, media and people willing to return to a braver stance on nuclear disarmament, to engage in a new constructive dialogue around the elimination of nuclear weapons. A new political will in Australia must be built to see the deadlock on this issue end. People the world over are closely watching what Australia does on this Treaty. It is vital that we see this issue progress beyond denial and partisanship.”

“Through this Treaty we have a pathway forward that not only offers a comprehensive way to stop these weapons, but addresses the humanitarian impacts, with positive obligations for environmental remediation and victim assistance,” Hawkins adds.

In the past, Australia has played an important role in efforts to achieve multilateral disarmament treaties, most notably with chemical weapons. Australia joined the treaties banning landmines and cluster munitions even when the U.S. had opposed them.

In the report, national health organisations, international legal experts, parliamentarians from all sides, faith leaders and others endorse Australia signing and ratifying the Treaty.

Former High Court judge and the report’s contributing author, Michael Kirby, tells IDN: “In Australia, virtually for the first time, we are currently seeing the intrusion of religion into the public space and the display of public prayers by political leaders. In my view, it would be better if they converted their public prayers (and hostility to nuclear-weapons control) into urgent engagement with effective international action to dismantle nuclear stockpiles and prohibit the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. Like feisty New Zealand, Australia should sign and ratify the Ban Treaty.”

Besides New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines have signed the Treaty without causing any disruption to their military cooperation with the U.S.

The report notes that only luck has prevented a nuclear launch since 1945. Extremists, hackers and unstable political leaders further worsen the odds.

The advocates of the treaty argue that TPNW provides fresh impetus and a practical pathway to disarmament. The Treaty complements existing international treaties on nuclear weapons, in particular the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1968 NPT, the 1971 Seabed Treaty, the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the five treaties establishing regional nuclear-weapon-free zones.

Australia is a state party to all of the aforementioned treaties, including the 1985 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Rarotonga. [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 August 2019]

Image credit: ICAN

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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