United Nations Treaty to Ban nuclear weapons and progress towards signing it in Australia

Radio program for CICD’s Alternative News

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Andrew: Welcome to this edition of CICD’s Alternative News on Melbourne’s Community Radio station 3CR.

I am Andrew Fullarton and I will be interviewing Bevan Ramsden, a long time activist for peace and Australian Independence. We will discuss today, the United Nations Treaty on banning Nuclear Weapons and the progress in Australia towards the signing of this treaty.

Bevan what does this Treaty involve ?

Bevan: Intense and very effective lobbying by organisations spearheaded by ICAN, the International Campaign against Nuclear weapons, resulted in the acceptance by the vast majority of United Nations countries of a Treaty to ban Nuclear Weapons in 2017. As one might expect, the powers holding nuclear weapons, there are 9 of them, opposed the development of this treaty as did Australia, following, as usual, the position of the United States.

Supporting countries have to sign and ratify the Treaty in order to be bound by it.

The Treaty is very comprehensive and includes the following clauses:

Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to:

                     (a)   Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

                     (d)   Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

                     (g)   Allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.

To January, this year, 70 UN countries have signed the Treaty among them are New Zealand and South Africa but NOT Australia.

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Andrew: What has been done in Australia to put pressure on the Australian Government to sign the Treaty ?

Bevan: ICAN, who, by the way was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2017 for its efforts, has campaigned very effectively in Australia drawing many organisations into the campaign including trade unions such as the Health Employees Union, the Australian Medical Association and smaller organisations and peace groups such as the CICD and IPAN. ICAN has also obtained the signatures of 70 ALP members of parliament committing them to supporting the signing of the Treaty by an Australian Government. ICAN’s lobbying, together with a large number of individuals and organisations, was successful in having the issue debated at the Labour Party National Conference in December last year with a resolution being passed as follows:

“Labor in government will sign and ratify the Treaty [on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons], after taking account of the need to:
– Ensure an effective verification and enforcement architecture;
– Ensure the interaction of the Ban Treaty with the longstanding Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
– Work to achieve universal support for the Ban Treaty.”

To have a mainstream political party pass this resolution is a step forward particularly as the Labour Party has a fair chance of winning the next federal election. It is also an indication of the strength of community opinion on this issue and I believe the ALP conference was responding to this pressure.

Andrew: If the ALP wins government in May do you see any impediment to them implementing this conference resolution and signing the treaty?

Bevan: I wouldn’t say impediments rather there are very important consequences for an Australian government signing the Treaty; consequences which flow from complying with the clauses in the Treaty.

It remains to be seen whether an ALP government in power will “take the bit between the teeth” so to speak, sign the treaty and take the steps to comply; steps which call into question aspects of Australia’s relationship with a nuclear super power, namely the United States.

Andrew: Can you give some examples of these relationship issues ?

Bevan: Compliance with the Treaty prevents a country assisting a nuclear country in deployment of its nuclear weapons. Currently Australia facilitates the United States in communicating with its nuclear armed submarines via the Very Low Frequency radio communications base at North West Cape in Western Australia. These communications signals can include the trigger command to release a nuclear missile. It would appear therefore that an Australian government after signing and ratifying the Treaty would have to advise the United States that Australia can no longer allow them to communicate with their nuclear submarine using the NW Cape radio facility.

Andrew: Such actions might put some strains on the US-Australia military alliance. Are there any other consequences ?

Bevan: I am sure our listeners will have heard of the “nuclear umbrella” which it is alleged is provided by the United States to protect Australia from a nuclear missile attack by threatening the enemy with a retaliatory nuclear strike to deter them from carrying out their attack. Incidentally it is difficult to find any reference to this “nuclear umbrella” protection in the ANZUS Alliance or subsequent alliance agreements. However, taking it at face value, I will quote a determination made by the Human Rights Clinic of the Havard Law School in the US:

I quote”: “Although the (TPNW) Treaty does not explicitly address the status of nuclear umbrella states like Australia, its prohibitions make it unlawful for a state party to base its national defense on an ally’s nuclear weapons. Therefore, as a state party to the (TPNW) Treaty, Australia would be obliged to renounce its nuclear umbrella. From a legal perspective, Australia can take this step without undermining its collective security agreement with the United States, i.e., the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS Treaty)” End of quote.

This legal body believes renouncing the nuclear umbrella would not undermine the ANZUS security treaty. In practice, it would be very interesting to see the impact on the US-Australia Alliance of taking this renunciation step.

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Andrew: Thank you for this update on the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons and progress in Australia towards signing it. Your comments on the consequences on the US-Australian military alliance of signing the treaty are certainly food for thought. Those of us who oppose US military bases would be happy, I am sure, to see these consequences of signing the treaty addressed by an Australian government

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Good morning and thanks for listening.


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