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November 30, 2021

Time to outlaw nuclear weapons

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John Hallam, campaigner, People for Nuclear Disarmament, Sydney

Foreign minister Julie Bishop should do a 180-degree about turn on nuclear weapons policy at the United Nations General Assembly First Committee, meeting now in New York.

Moves have been gathering momentum over the last six months or so for a negotiation to commence in 2017 on a ‘legally binding instrument’ that would prohibit nuclear weapons.

This move is being opposed tooth and nail by the nuclear weapon states, and diplomatic notices (known as ‘demarches’) have been delivered to capitals worldwide, demanding that governments not give the idea support. These seem certain to fail, and it is most likely that a series of meetings in March and June-July will be held to negotiate an agreement or series of agreements to make nuclear weapons illegal.

Some 84 per cent of all Australians support a treaty that would make nuclear weapons illegal. The ALP, the Greens, and others support such a treaty.

The Turnbull government and foreign minister Julie Bishop have said they oppose such a treaty.

At the final meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group last May, they broke a painfully cobbled consensus, claiming there wasn’t a majority for negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons. A vote was taken and there was a massive majority.

The need to eliminate nuclear weapons and to reduce nuclear risks is more pressing than ever, with the danger of a US Russia nuclear conflagration at levels it has not been since the 1980s.

The Australian government and some other governments claim that a nuclear weapons prohibition would fail to achieve its end, and would be divisive. They claim that unless the nuclear weapon states are involved, making nuclear weapons illegal will be without value. They claim that progress is being made by a step-by-step approach.

In fact progress is not being made by a step-by-step approach because the steps never seem to get to be taken.

Making nuclear weapons illegal would be a powerful way of marginalizing them and making it clear that they are morally illegitimate.

The very fervour of opposition from those who have nuclear weapons makes it clear that they are in fact dead scared of becoming in effect, outlaw states as long as they hold nuclear weapons – which indeed is precisely what they are.

We don’t ask for the consent of heroin dealers when we make drugs of addiction illegal. We jail them.

By opposing an instrument to make nuclear weapons illegal, Australia is selling nuclear disarmament short. We are being anything but realistic, anything but practical, and our folly is making catastrophic outcomes more likely.

We urge Julie Bishop to do a 180-degree turn and vote unequivocally to make nuclear weapons illegal. We must follow that by demarches to our allies and friends urging them to do likewise.


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