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Australian Labor Party in a progressive move, plans to sign and ratify UN Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

Labor’s pledge to commit to nuclear disarmament puts the alternative party of government on the right side of history.

The gulf between the shenanigans of way too many politicians, and the growing urgency of grave and looming threats has rarely seemed wider. Action on crucial issues languishes while parliamentarians make naked grabs for power, acting in the interests only of themselves. Poor personal behaviour seems endemic. On the two unprecedented dangers looming over all humanity – nuclear war and climate disruption – Australia has been not just missing in action, but actively on the wrong side of history, part of the problem rather than the solution.

The government’s own figures demonstrate that our country, awash with renewable sun and wind, is way off track to meet even a third of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030 – itself nowhere near enough.

Not only is nuclear disarmament stalled, but one by one, the agreements that reduced and constrained nuclear weapons, hard-won fruit of the end of the first cold war, are being trashed. All the nuclear-armed states are investing massively not simply in keeping their weapons indefinitely, but developing new ones that are more accurate, more deadly and more “usable”. The cold war is back, and irresponsible and explicit threats to use nuclear weapons have proliferated. Any positive effect that Australia might have on reducing nuclear weapons dangers from the supposed influence afforded us by our uncritical obsequiousness to the US is nowhere in sight. Our government has been incapable of asserting any independence even from the current most extreme, dysfunctional and unfit US administration. The US has recently renounced its previous commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT); we have said nothing.

The one bright light in this gathering gloom is the 2017 UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. For its role in helping to bring this historic treaty into being, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) was awarded the Nobel peace prize for 2017 – the first to an entity born in Australia. This treaty provides the first comprehensive and categorical prohibition of nuclear weapons. It sets zero nuclear weapons as the clear and consistent standard for all countries and will help drive elimination of these worst weapons of mass destruction, just as the treaties banning biological and chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions have played a decisive role in progressing the elimination of those other indiscriminate and inhumane weapons. The treaty lays out a clear pathway for all states, with and without nuclear weapons, to fulfil their binding legal obligation to accomplish nuclear disarmament. It is currently the only such pathway.

Regrettably, the Australian government was the most active “weasel” in opposing the treaty’s development at every step and was one of the first to say it would not sign, even though we have signed every other treaty banning an unacceptable weapon.

Hence the Labor party’s commitment at its recent national conference in Adelaide that “Labor in government will sign and ratify the Ban Treaty” is an important and welcome step. It is a clear commitment, allowing no room for weaselling.

The considerations articulated alongside this commitment are fairly straightforward and consistent with the commitment. First, recognition of the need for “an effective verification and enforcement architecture” for nuclear disarmament. The treaty itself embodies this. Governments joining the treaty must designate a competent international authority “to negotiate and verify the irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons” and nuclear weapons programmes, “including the elimination or irreversible conversion of all nuclear-weapons-related facilities”. Australia should also push for the same standard for any nuclear disarmament that happens outside the treaty.

Second, the Labor resolution prioritises “the interaction of the Ban Treaty with the longstanding Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”. The treaty has been carefully crafted to be entirely compatible with the NPT and explicitly reaffirms that the NPT “serves as a cornerstone of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime”, and that its full and effective implementation “has a vital role to play in promoting international peace and security”. All the governments supporting the treaty support the NPT, and the NPT itself enshrines a commitment for all its members to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, and the International Committee of the Red Cross are among those who have affirmed that the treaty and the NPT are entirely consistent, complementary and mutually reinforcing. Even opponents of the treaty recognise that prohibition is an essential part of achieving and sustaining a world free of nuclear weapons.

Third, the Labor resolution refers to “Work to achieve universal support for the Ban Treaty.” This too is mirrored in one of the commitments governments take on in joining the treaty, to encourage other states to join, “with the goal of universal adherence of all States to the Treaty.”

An Australian government joining the treaty would enjoy wide popular support in doing so – an Ipsos poll last month found that 79% of Australians (and 83% of Labor voters) support, and less than 8% oppose, Australia joining the treaty.

Australia would also stop sticking out like a sore thumb among our southeast Asian and Pacific Island neighbours and be able to work more effectively with them. Brunei, Cook Islands, Fiji, Indonesia, Kiribati, Laos, New Zealand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Palau, Philippines, Samoa, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Vietnam have already signed the treaty.

Most importantly, joining the treaty and renouncing nuclear weapons would mean that Australia would become part of the solution rather than the problem of the acute existential peril that hangs over all of us while nuclear weapons exist, ready to be launched within minutes. Time is not on our side. Of course this crucial humanitarian issue should be above party politics. The commitment from the alternative party of government to join the treaty and get on the right side of history when Labor next forms government is to be warmly welcomed. It is to be hoped that the 78% of federal parliamentary Labor members who have put on record their support for Australia joining the treaty by signing Ican’s parliamentary pledge will help ensure Labor keeps this landmark promise.

 Dr Tilman Ruff is co-founder of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) and Nobel peace prize winner (2017)

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December 29, 2018 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA, politics, politics international, weapons and war

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