Nuclear weapons now illegal

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, initiated in Melbourne back in 2007 by ICAN, has now been ratified by 50 countries meaning it will enter into force in 90 days on 22 January 2021.

This is a truly major achievement by this small, now international organisation which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Here’s what ICAN says the ratification will mean:

  • All countries that have ratified the treaty will be bound by it. 
  • It establishes clearly that nuclear weapons are inhumane, unacceptable, and now illegal, and that no state should possess, use or threaten to use them.
  • It puts Australia out of step with international law on nuclear weapons. 
  • A ban treaty can change the behaviour of countries that haven’t joined, as demonstrated by the bans on landmines and cluster munitions. 
  • More financial institutions will divest from companies that produce nuclear weapons, in line with policies to exclude weapons banned by international law. 
  • It creates pressure and momentum for more nuclear weapons abolition action!

To our great shame, Australia is not among the 50.

Australia toyed with the idea of acquiring nuclear weapons in the 50s and 60s and it reluctantly ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1973 – one of the world’s most universal treaties with 192 members. (The NPT arguably suited the US and Soviet Union and facilitated the ongoing build-up of nuclear arsenals, escalating an ongoing arms race by the weapons states. It protected the original five nuclear weapons state arsenals and did not stop India, Pakistan, Israel or North Korea from taking them up.)

Australia showed leadership in disarmament for a brief period:

  • In 1985 the Australia Group drove the establishment of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • In 1985 Australia signed the Treaty of Raratonga – the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty
  • In 1995 Australia introduced the resolution for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the UN General Assembly (yet to enter into force)
  • In 1995 Australia initiated the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons which called on nuclear weapons states to take the lead by committing themselves to the elimination of all nuclear weapons

But in the last two decades, other than the TPNW, there has been little progress on disarmament. The Australian Government says it wants to ….. develop consensus towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. This will take time.

Australia does not support the “ban treaty” which we believe would not eliminate a single nuclear weapon. Additionally, it creates parallel obligations to the NPT, has not engaged any state that possesses nuclear weapons in its negotiations, ignores the realities of the global security environment, has weaker safeguards provisions than the existing NPT framework, and it would be inconsistent with our US alliance obligations.

Australia’s view of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

The US has apparently written to signatories of the TPNW urging them to withdraw their ratification saying it was a ‘strategic error’.  It’s not of course – it’s 50 countries saying we don’t want to live under the threat of nuclear war. 

Nuclear weapons were always immoral and dangerous, the NPT failed in even limiting nuclear weapons capability but at least now they are illegal.

The Australian Democrats have a long history of promoting nuclear disarmament and campaigned vigorously against nuclear weapons testing for three decades.

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