It’s time for Australia to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Aug 16, 2023
White clock five to twelve with sign its time Image: iStock/ stockfotocz

As Labor heads into the 2023 National Conference in Brisbane I trust there will be movement on two issues close to the heart of every Australian who cares about global justice and peace: the long overdue recognition of Palestine and Australia signing the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

It shouldn’t be too much to hope for.

After all, Australia has long advocated a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. One state, Israel, already exists. All that remains is for the other state – Palestine – to be given recognition by Australia, as more than 70% of the world’s nations have already done. In a 2017 Financial Review article, Bob Hawke called on the Australian government to recognise the State of Palestine: “Australia was there at the very beginning…the least we can do now, in these most challenging of times, is to do what 137 other nations have already done – grant diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine.” There’s a commitment in Labor’s existing national policy platform to recognise Palestine when in government. Labor is in government. It’s time.

Australian Labor has a proud history of championing nuclear disarmament – recalling Tom Uren’s role as an anti-nukes campaigner, the Canberra Commission set up under the Keating government, and the International Commission on Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament established under the Rudd Government. Australia is a party to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. Australia has also joined the other treaties prohibiting unacceptable weapons, including biological and chemical weapons, and landmines and cluster munitions. We should build on this positive history by signing the treaty prohibiting the worst weapons of all, nuclear weapons. There’s already a commitment in Labor’s existing national policy platform, a resolution moved by Anthony Albanese and seconded by Richard Marles in 2018 (and since confirmed in 2021) that Labor would sign the treaty when in government. Labor is in government. It’s time.

The evidence is overwhelming that Israel- even before electing the most right-wing government in its history – is an apartheid state. Just ask Israeli journalists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Israeli human rights NGOs including B’tselem. Last year five former European ministers affirmed this in an open letter to Le Monde. And as reported in The Times of Israel this week, former Israel Defence Forces General and Deputy Director of Mossad, Amiram Levin, has accused the IDF of being a ‘partner in war crimes’ when it stands by as settler extremists attack Palestinians, and said the situation in West Bank is ‘absolute apartheid’.

The Australian government’s move to refer to the Palestinian Territories as ‘Occupied’ and to the settlements as ‘illegal’, while welcome, does no more than re-state settled international law as affirmed by countless UN resolutions and the International Court of Justice. The recognition of Palestine would be a genuine move forward and would send a clear message that Israel’s now 56-year brutal occupation is an unacceptable state of affairs. It’s time.

Nuclear weapons do not keep the peace; they make the world infinitely more dangerous. For as long as nuclear weapons exist there is the possibility they will be used, whether by accident or design, by an unhinged leader, a terrorist group, cyber-attack or by simple mistake. Indeed, there have been many nuclear near-misses and ‘broken arrow’ incidents involving nuclear weapons over the decades that could have ended in global disaster. As Gareth Evans has noted in a recent opinion piece “Nuclear Weapons as a Threat to Global Peace”, it is ‘sheer dumb luck’ rather than good management that we are still here to tell the story.

It’s time to end our defence reliance on extended nuclear deterrence, the assumption that US nuclear weapons will act as a deterrent against military aggression. For a start, there is no clarity that the US covers Australia in its extended nuclear deterrence umbrella, unlike with South Korea and Japan. More importantly, the policy is morally and legally bankrupt since it threatens – via defence or retaliation – the mass incineration of flesh and blood civilians, their loved ones, homes, cities, lands, waters and climate. Indeed, these weapons of mass destruction hold all life on earth to ransom. As Peter Hooten, Former Assistant Secretary of Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation at DFAT has said “Nuclear deterrence may be claimed to work until the very day it doesn’t, but when that day comes, there will be no shelter to be had under a nuclear umbrella.” And Joseph Rotblat, one of the early scientists working on nuclear weapons programs and later recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against these weapons, described nuclear deterrence as “the ultimate form of terrorism”.

I conclude by noting that while every species will be harmed by a nuclear war, only one species can stop it. It’s time for Australia to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

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