Australia Must Sign the Nuclear Treaty Ban

January 23rd, 2023 - by Daniel Hurst / The Guardian

Statement Calls for Albanese Government to Join
Landmark UN Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons 

Daniel Hurst / The Guardian

(January 21, 2023) — Australian MPs from across the political spectrum have called on the Albanese government to join a landmark treaty banning nuclear weapons, declaring that the weapons “fundamentally undermine our peace and humanity”.

In a statement provided to Guardian Australia, a cross-party group of MPs warned of “escalating nuclear threats and provocations from nuclear-armed states” and said Australia must play an active role to end the nuclear arms race.

The new treaty is a chance for Australia to stand with its neighbours in south-east Asia and the Pacific, according to the Labor MP Josh Wilson, the Liberal MP Russell Broadbent and the Greens senator Jordon Steele-John. Speaking out on the second anniversary of the UN treaty coming into force, the MPs said the agreement was supported by “the clear majority of our regional neighbours with whom we share a common goal of peace, cooperation, and security”.

They called for Australia’s “timely signature and ratification”.

“The members of this cross-party group are ready to work constructively with the Albanese government to ensure Australia becomes a state party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” the MPs wrote.

The US and other nuclear-armed countries are firmly against the treaty, which imposes a blanket ban on developing, testing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons – or helping other countries to carry out such activities.

But the treaty now has 92 signatories, 68 of which have formally ratified it, and it is strongly backed by neighbours like Indonesia and New Zealand.

In opposition, Labor committed to sign and ratify the treaty, but only “after taking account” of several significant factors, including the need for an effective verification and enforcement architecture and work to achieve universal support.

Gem Romuld, the Australian director of the Nobel prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said the organisation hoped the cross-party statement would “spur the Albanese government on to fulfil its pre-election commitment”.

“Nuclear disarmament is an urgent humanitarian issue above party politics,” Romuld said.

“We can’t trust any of the nuclear-armed leaders to do the responsible thing and disarm; pressure from the global majority of nations, using the nuclear weapon ban treaty, is essential to move forward.”

The MPs said the treaty was intended to create a new international norm on the illegitimacy of nuclear weapons. They said history showed “prohibition treaties on weapons of mass destruction are essential to facilitate progress towards their elimination”.

Wilson, who is chair of the joint standing committee on treaties, said Australia’s peace and security was “massively improved when we help build and enhance the framework of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament”.

He said the Albanese government had “wasted no time embarking on a serious and steady re-engagement” with both the longstanding nuclear non-proliferation treaty and also the newer ban treaty.

Australia attended a key meeting in Vienna in June as an observer. In a symbolic step in October, Australia changed its voting position on an annual UN resolutionregarding the treaty, shifting to “abstain” after five years of “no”.

In November, the US embassy in Canberra warned that the ban treaty “would not allow for US extended deterrence relationships, which are still necessary for international peace and security.”

That was a reference to Australia relying on American nuclear forces to deter any nuclear attack on Australia – the so-called “nuclear umbrella” – even though Australia does not have any of its own atomic weapons.

But Indonesia’s ambassador, Siswo Pramono, said Australia’s positive shifton the treaty would “give encouragement to others to believe that we are on the right path” in seeking a world free of nuclear weapons.

The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, told the UN general assembly last year that Australia would “redouble our efforts” towards disarmament because Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “weak and desperate nuclear threats underline the danger that nuclear weapons pose to us all”.

Daniel Hurst is the Guardian’s foreign affairs and defense correspondent.

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