Nukes Are Illegal - But Still Around

Photograph of a victim of Nagasaki atombombing taken in January 1946 by a U.S. Marine photographer | Credit: Wikimedia Commons - Photo: 2011

Nukes Are Illegal – But Still Around

By Neena Bhandari
IDN-InDepth NewsFeature

SYDNEY (IDN) – Junko Morimoto was 13 years old when the United States of America dropped the first atomic bomb on her hometown of Hiroshima. She was only 1,700 metres away from the hypocentre and if it weren’t for a stomach bug that confined her to home, she would have been amongst the 360 students who died at her city centre school on August 6, 1945.

Morimoto has an inoperable brain tumour affecting her balance. Nearly seven decades after the nuclear bombs exploded, Japanese people are still living each day with the terrible aftermath of the radiation on the environment and their health, with genetic damage passing to future generations.

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki taught us two things. One is that we human beings have acquired the ability to create hell. The other is that we are so foolish, untrustworthy and pathetic that we would actually put this frightening ability to use,” says Morimoto, an accomplished author and artist who migrated to Australia in 1981.

July 8 marked the 15th anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s landmark advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The court unanimously held that nations have a legal obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons under strict and effective international control.

Advocates for a nuclear-free world addressed a packed public forum at the Melbourne Town Hall on July 5, hosted by The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the Australian Red Cross.


Speaking on the occasion, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said, “Disarmament is not just an option; it is mandated by international law. This is best fulfilled through a nuclear weapons convention – a comprehensive treaty prohibiting the possession of nuclear weapons by any state, and establishing the legal mechanisms necessary to accomplish the elimination of all warheads within a defined period.”

Today there are more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of eight or nine countries, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook 2011.

The U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel possess more than 20,500 nuclear weapons. Over 5000 of these weapons are deployed and ready for use, including nearly 2000 that are kept in a state of high operational alert.

An international Global Zero movement for a world without nuclear weapons forecasts that global spending on nuclear weapons would surpass US$1 Trillion over the next decade. The nuclear weapons countries are collectively spending approximately US$ 100 billion on their nuclear programs this year.

“Political leaders should understand that nuclear weapons do not contribute to anyone’s safety. They make the whole world a much more dangerous place. More and more countries have the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon. If positive moves towards nuclear disarmament are not pushed much harder, more countries will seek nuclear weapons and the danger of nuclear war, by deliberation or by accident, will become greater,” Fraser told IDN.

In April 2010 the U.S and Russia, which possess 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear stockpiles, agreed to a modest reduction under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), but both countries currently are either deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems or have announced programs to do so. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan continue to develop new ballistic and cruise missile systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Emphasising the urgency to eliminate these weapons, Fraser said, “It is a cause for great concern that there is no genuine multilateral process presently under way to eliminate nuclear weapons. A convention banning the nuclear bomb is long overdue, and Australia should drive the international push for negotiations.”

The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has signalled her intention to move a motion on the floor of parliament, calling for a parliamentary resolution on the abolition of nuclear weapons. She has invited Opposition leader Tony Abbott to make this a bi-partisan initiative.


“This is a perfect opportunity for the government to lift nuclear and disarmament issue into a less partisan and political space to a more humanitarian issue”, Dr. Tilman Ruff, Chair of ICAN Australia, told IDN.

Australia is in an interesting situation because as a country it doesn’t have any nuclear weapons, but subscribes to the doctrine of extended nuclear deterrence under the U.S alliance.

“So long as Australia relies on U.S. nuclear weapons for its security, its credibility as disarmament advocate will be greatly diminished. With a U.S president sympathetic to the cause of disarmament, the time would appear ideal for Australia to adopt a nuclear-weapon-free defence posture, and begin contributing meaningfully towards nuclear disarmament,” Fraser said.

Australia has 40 per cent of the world’s uranium reserves and it is a significant uranium exporter. “Our uranium exports do pose a problem for disarmament. Even if there are safeguards agreements in place with countries receiving uranium, there is always a risk that it will be used in weapons or it will be freeing up domestic uranium reserves for that purpose. We need to be looking at ways to wind up the uranium industry in Australia, if we are serious about non-proliferation of nuclear weapons,” ICAN Australia’s Campaign Director, Tim Wright, told IDN.

The recent nuclear power crisis in Fukushima has alerted governments and public across the world to the inherent dangers of nuclear technology for electricity production. ICAN points out that the starting material is the same and the effects of radiation are completely indiscriminate and identical whether it is radiation from a nuclear reactor or a nuclear bomb.

“Any country that can enrich uranium to reactor grade for nuclear power generation also has everything it would need to enrich uranium to weapons grade. The two are non-separable. There is no restriction on either the enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium. Those are the two sources for fissile materials for weapons and there are currently no international restrictions that restrict countries access to those. That is simply not compatible with either achieving or sustaining a world free of nuclear weapons,” Dr. Ruff told IDN.


Advocates for zero nuclear want to shift the focus from non-proliferation to abolition. As former United Nations Assistant Secretary General, Ramesh Thakur said, “We need a multi-phased roadmap to abolition that prioritises concrete steps like introducing more robust firewalls to separate possession from use of nuclear weapons; further significant cuts in existing nuclear arsenals and a freeze on production of fissile materials in the medium term; a verifiable and enforceable new international nuclear weapons convention that requires total and verified destruction of all nuclear stockpiles within our lifetime.”

In his view, it is unrealistic to believe that the non-NPT (the 1968 Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty) nuclear-armed states (India, Pakistan and Israel) can be forced to sign the NPT as non-nuclear states.

The combined destructive force of all nuclear weapons in the world today is equivalent to 150,000 Hiroshima bombs, according to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

As Dr Ruff said, “There are profound, severe and unprecedented global consequences from even a relatively small regional use of a tiny fraction of the world’s nuclear arsenal. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded unequivocally that there was no way to reliably contain the effects of a nuclear explosion. Nuclear weapons and climate change pose unprecedented threats not only to the living but to the future of humans and the capacity of Earth to support complex life forms. Hence, there is an urgency to get to zero as quickly as possible.”

Australian Red Cross is taking a leading role internationally in voicing the need for further laws which confirm the illegality of using nuclear weapons.

As Dr Helen Durham, Red Cross Strategic Adviser, International Law, told IDN, “International law is a very fragmented system of law so it won’t be one overarching way to go forward, but I think that countries around the world need to understand that their citizens are concerned about this topic.”

Australian Red Cross will be engaging in a public education campaign to ensure people really understand the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. “We will conduct different events and in early November begin a web-based education program to harness young people’s interest. It is really about everyone standing up and saying these weapons are unacceptable,” Dr Durham said. (IDN-InDepthNews/15.07.2011)

Copyright © 2010 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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