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71 Years On, We’re Still Dodging Bullets While Australia Leads The Charge To Promote Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear-explosion

By Sue Wareham | New Matilda | August 8, 2016

Early August marks the anniversaries of the atomic bombings on August 6 and 9, 1945, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – dates which most often come and go with little to offer except a terrifying reminder of humanity’s capacity to destroy ourselves. Nevertheless, we’ve made it to 71 years, having tempted fate with tens of thousands of the most destructive devices ever created, escaping within a whisker of global catastrophe more times than bears thinking about.

Still, there are over 15,000 nuclear weapons in the hands of just nine nations – Russia, the US, China, France, the UK, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Double standards that divide the world into nuclear weapons haves and have nots are writ large – stark, provocative and unsustainable.

However, in this 71st anniversary year, some good news is creeping in. The stranglehold that the nuclear-armed states have held on the disarmament agenda is starting to unravel. In recent years, a groundswell of governments and civil society actors have demanded with increasing clarity and effect that humanitarian imperatives take precedence over the military doctrines of nine countries.

In a nutshell, the effects of a nuclear weapon explosion are so catastrophic that the weapons must never be used again. As a result, 127 nations and counting have signed the “Humanitarian Pledge” that commits them to efforts to “stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate” the weapons.

These are not empty words. The UN has initiated an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) which met in February and May this year in Geneva, and will meet for the last time from August 5 to 19, to discuss “legal provisions and norms” for a nuclear weapons free world.

The group will make recommendations to the UN General Assembly which meets later in the year, and negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons are high on the list of expected recommendations. Already, some nations are urging the commencement of such negotiations as early as 2017.

The OEWG’s dreary title is unfortunate, for its very existence is nothing short of historic. It is bringing us closer than we have ever been to stigmatising, banning and eliminating the worst of all weapons of mass destruction.

The Australian government’s role, notwithstanding its ineffectual murmurings about how bad the weapons are, has been to lead the charge in opposing the growing push for a ban treaty, arguing that, without the support of the nations with the weapons, it’s an impractical process. That’s a bit like arguing that we must consult with criminals about the sort of laws they’d agree to before we enact any.

It also misrepresents the purpose of a ban treaty, which is to delegitimise and stigmatise the weapons and change the legal landscape by which nations are judged.

Australia’s stance, of course, has everything to do with our reliance on “extended nuclear deterrence”, which is a preparedness to have US weapons destroy cities on our behalf. Just which cities, or in what circumstances, the government refuses to say.

Two other classes of weapons of mass destruction – chemical and biological – are both explicitly banned by treaty. In 2014, former UN high representative for disarmament affairs, Angela Kane, described the strong stigma that the prohibitions attract:

“How many states today boast that they are ‘biological-weapon states’ or ‘chemical-weapon states’? Who is arguing now that bubonic plague or polio are legitimate to use as weapons under any circumstance, whether in an attack or in retaliation?”

Let’s look at the example of the UK, whose leader in 2003 helped initiate a catastrophic war based on the lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. On July 18 this year, the British parliament voted strongly in favour of renewing, at budget-breaking expense, the country’s own WMD program, the Trident nuclear submarines.

The new British PM, Theresa May confirmed that she would be prepared to press the button that unleashes them. No doubt she is aware that when Trident was chosen in 1980 as a replacement for its predecessor, Polaris, it was estimated to be capable of killing up to 10 million Russians.

If, however, a ban treaty were already in place, the pressure that could have been exerted for Britain to abandon these horrific weapons is likely to have been overwhelming. To vote to renew a WMD program is bad enough, but to do so when the vast majority of the world’s governments have banned these weapons because they are immoral and illegitimate could prove one step too far.

If we’re serious about a nuclear weapons free world, it is imperative that the current momentum for a ban treaty is not lost. The nuclear-armed states and their supporters such as Australia are doing their best to undermine it. From the perspective of the rest of the world however, criminals are not the best people to have control of the law.

Finally the “never again” plea from the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has a glimmer of optimism about it. We face enormous opportunities as well as challenges.

August 9, 2016 Posted by | Militarism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

No more time to wait for a nuclear weapons ban

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | Statement to the UN First Committee | October 28, 2014

Nuclear disarmament has for too long been about waiting. Waiting for nuclear-armed states to fulfill their obligations. Waiting for the so-called “conditions” to be right for disarmament.

While we wait, we do not get closer to the elimination of nuclear weapons or to a more secure world. While we wait, the risks of the use of nuclear weapons remain or even increase. While we wait, the catastrophic and overwhelming consequences of such use do not diminish.

We do not have time to wait.

The conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons hosted by Norway and Mexico have clearly explained and documented these consequences.

Physicians, physicists, climate scientists, humanitarian agencies, and survivors have all presented alarming evidence about the effects of nuclear weapons.

This evidence has shown that a single nuclear weapon can destroy an entire city, inflicting massive numbers of instantaneous casualties.

This evidence has shown that acute radiation injuries kill people in a matter of minutes, days, or weeks; and that radiation-caused cancers and other illnesses continue to kill for years among those directly exposed and across generations.

This evidence has shown that the use of even a small fraction of existing nuclear arsenals would cause environmental devastation, including disruption of the global climate and agricultural production.

This evidence cannot be ignored.

We know that the only way to ensure these consequences will never occur is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. And the only way to do that is to eliminate them entirely. The General Assembly, NPT  states parties, the International Court of Justice, the overwhelming majority of states that belong to  nuclear-weapon-free zones, and civil society have all said this repeatedly. That part of the debate is over.

We don’t have time to wait. States are in fact legally bound not to wait. Every state party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is committed to pursuing effective measures for nuclear disarmament.

Most importantly, we do not have to wait.

While the nuclear-armed states modernise their arsenals and refuse to engage in multilateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament as they are obliged to do, there is at least one effective measure that the rest of  the world can take.

That is to prohibit nuclear weapons through a legally-binding instrument.

This is not a radical proposal. Indiscriminate weapons get banned. It is what we do as human society in the interests of protecting ourselves. We have done it before with other weapon systems, including biological and chemical weapons. A treaty banning nuclear weapons would complete the set of
prohibitions against WMD.

This should not be a controversial proposal. An international prohibition is merely the logical outcome of an examination of the risks and consequences of nuclear weapons detonation. It is complementary to existing international law governing nuclear weapons.

This is a meaningful proposal. It could have a variety of effects on the policy and practice of states. It could establish a comprehensive set of prohibitions and provide a framework under which the elimination of nuclear weapons can be pursued.

This is a feasible, achievable proposal. It can be negotiated in the near-term, and have normative and practical impacts for the long-term.

Naturally, as we get closer to beginning a diplomatic process, thoughts will turn to how and where such a treaty should be negotiated.

ICAN has no fixed view on this except that effective processes that have meaningful results tend to be based on some important principles of multilateralism. Negotiations must be inclusive, democratic, and involve civil society and international organizations.

A crucial foundation for our confidence in this idea is the conviction that such a treaty can and should be negotiated by those states ready to do so, even if the states with nuclear weapons oppose it and decide not to participate. A few recalcitrant states should not be able to block a successful outcome. It would be better for all states to participate and to move towards prohibition and elimination without delay. But this seems unlikely at the present time.

While we must keep working towards that goal with absolute determination, we believe states should put a prohibition in place now.

To the nuclear-armed states that see this as a hostile idea: it is not. You have applauded groups of states for adopting nuclear-weapon-free zones in their regions. Globalising this prohibition on nuclear weapons will give increased political and legal space for you to pursue elimination. All of you have registered your commitment to a nuclear-free world. A prohibition of nuclear weapons is an important part of the process to achieve that universal goal.

To the states in alliances with nuclear-armed states that are concerned such a treaty would be inconsistent with existing commitments: it would not be. All states have agreed that nuclear weapons should be eliminated. No security alliances have ever crumbled because a weapon system was outlawed and eliminated. Any states that consider humanitarian action a priority should understand that a ban treaty would be consistent with their existing obligations and principles.

To the states that have already foresworn nuclear weapons through the NPT and nuclear-weapon-free zones, and that might baulk at the idea of taking on more of the burden for nuclear disarmament: this ban treaty will not be a burden. It will reinforce the stigma against nuclear weapons. It will undermine their purported value. It will further erode any misplaced perceptions that these weapons of mass destruction confer symbolic power and prestige. It will make global the commitments you have already made regionally. It will give you an opportunity to take charge, for nuclear disarmament is the responsibility and right of everyone. Finally, it will have normative and practical impacts that will facilitate elimination. We welcome the opportunity to consider this approach with you. As Kenya said earlier this month, discussions about this should not cause anxiety.

A window of opportunity is now open to take an important next step towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. We should seize this opportunity before it closes. The conferences in Oslo and Nayarit have helped us see nuclear weapons as the devastating and inhumane weapons they are. We’re confident that the Vienna conference in December will reinforce that humanitarian perspective.

It is clear to us that the logical conclusion of these evidence-based gatherings is to begin a diplomatic process to prohibit nuclear weapons through a legally binding instrument.

This will take courage. We have confidence that the overwhelming majority of states will join this process. And we look forward to accompanying you along the road to a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) represents more than 360 partner organizations in 93 countries.

November 4, 2014 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment