Moves to Outlaw Nuclear Weapons Possession Winning Global Support

In honor of Thanksgiving, I want to share a speech given this month for which I’m grateful. Melissa Parke, an Australian Member of Parliament, delivered this appeal for a nuclear weapons ban to Australia’s House of Representatives, Nov. 12, 2015:

The devastation, both human and environmental, seen in Japan in 1945 demonstrated conclusively that humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist. Yet, while the threat of nuclear weapons may seem like a thing of the past, right now there are nine nations that possess more than 15,000 nuclear weapons, 1,800 of which are on high alert, with the ability to be launched within minutes.

Nuclear-armed countries spend more than $143 billion per annum on maintaining and updating their arsenals, diverting public funds from critical services such as education and health care, yet nuclear weapons are ineffective and counterproductive in addressing global and national security challenges. Effective in annihilating everything? Yes. Making the world safer? Certainly not.

The late Hon. Tom Uren, a Member of Parliament for 32 years who served as a minister in the Whitlam and Hawke Labor governments, was a passionate anti-nuclear and peace activist. A prisoner of war at the Omuta camp located 80 kilometers from Nagasaki, Uren witnessed the second US atomic bombing. He said, “I will never forget, as long as I live, the color of the sky on the day the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on that city on August 9, 1945.”

Upon returning to Japan 15 years later, Uren’s opinion, that “no nation should use nuclear weapons against any other member of our human family,” was affirmed as he witnessed the ongoing devastation. The Tom Uren Memorial Fund, created after his passing in January this year, supports the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN….

ICAN is an Australian civil society initiative that has been pivotal to the success of three major government and civil society conferences over the past three years that have put the [uncontrollable] impacts of nuclear weapons, and the need for a nuclear weapons ban, squarely on the global political agenda. … [The Dec. 2014 Vienna conference, attended by your Nukewatch reporter, warned that the impact of nuclear weapon detonations, irrespective of the cause, “would not be constrained by national borders and could have regional and even global consequences,” including long-term damage to the environment, climate, and social order, and “could even threaten the survival of humankind.”]  

The ICAN-commissioned Nielsen poll in 2014 indicated that 84% of Australians want the government to work toward a treaty banning nuclear weapons. With biological weapons, chemical weapons, land mines and cluster munitions banned, nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet explicitly prohibited under international law.

It is a matter of deep regret that at the recently concluded session of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, Australia was the leader of a loose grouping of nations that worked to prevent progress toward the negotiation of a treaty prohibiting the use, production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

Australia refused to join the overwhelming majority of the international community in declaring that nuclear weapons should never be used again under any circumstances. It objected to the words “under any circumstances.” This raises the question: under what circumstances does the government believe that nuclear weapons should be used?

I am pleased that, despite Australia’s best efforts to undermine moves towards a ban, the UN First Committee adopted a Mexico-led resolution to establish a subsidiary body of the General Assembly that will begin discussions in 2016 on the elements for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The Australian delegation failed in its bid … for eternal deadlock. …

Australia must remove itself from its extended nuclear deterrence policy and shift its national security strategy towards an effective and sustainable security paradigm, like the vast majority of nation states that reject any role for nuclear weapons in their defense.

… I call on the Australian government to follow over 150 governments, the UN Secretary General and the Red Cross movement, and support the complete eradication of nuclear weapons. To quote the UN Secretary-General, “There are no right hands for wrong weapons.”

Tom Uren passed away on Australia Day* this year at the age of 93. Just three years earlier, on Australia Day in 2012, nearly 800 Order of Australia recipients, including former prime ministers, governors-general, foreign affairs and defense ministers, premiers, governors, High Court judges, and chiefs of the armed forces, called on the government to adopt a nuclear-weapons-free defense posture and work towards a nuclear weapons [ban] convention.

One of those 800 Order of Australia participants was Tom Uren. … In this week of remembrance … let us commit to take those steps towards a nuclear-weapons-free world.  – Melissa Parke, Member of Parliament, Australia

* Official National Day of Australia, celebrated on 26 January 26 – not by indigenous peoples – it marks the arrival in 1788 of the First Fleet of British ships in New South Wales.