Global ban on nuclear weapons essential

Published on Mon 21 November 2016 7:49pm

There is no reason that we should expect a future without the use of nuclear weapons unless we strive relentlessly to bring about their abolition. To those who might claim that such an outcome is unrealistic or fanciful, I say that without the courage to imagine and pursue a world free of nuclear weapons, we are enabling the delusion of those who believe that violence and war achieves anything and we are biding our time until the next atomic disaster.

Mr Wilson (7:49pm) — I take this opportunity to reflect on an aspect of President Obama’s leadership that may well be sorely missed in the near future, especially if countries like Australia are not prepared to act more conscientiously on the issue of nuclear disarmament. Earlier this year, President Obama presided over the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, a series of meetings he initiated in 2010. At that summit in April, there was a particular focus on the dangerous and provocative conduct of North Korea—which was underlined when the regime of Kim Jong-un decided to fire short-range missiles to coincide with the meeting.

There is no doubt we are in desperate need of concerted efforts to reduce conflict, build regional and global cooperation, and both resist and wind back nuclear weapon capability. Yet, in March, Donald Trump—then a candidate, now of course President-elect—said that countries like South Korea, Japan and even Saudi Arabia may need to develop nuclear weapons. That would represent a very risky and unwise approach to nuclear weapons proliferation. As Sam Kleiner, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale observed recently in The Atlantic:

For 70 years, American presidents of both parties have understood the simple arithmetic involved—that the more countries have nuclear weapons, the more opportunities there are for nuclear war to break out, whether by design or by accident.

I had the privilege of attending a ceremony in Nagasaki in April as part of the Mayors for Peace initiative that saw the first Australian sculpture installed in the Nagasaki Peace Park located alongside the cenotaph that marks ground zero. The sculpture, titled Tree of Life: Gift of Peace, was created by the Anangu communities of Yalata and Oak Valley at Maralinga as part of a project overseen by the Alphaville arts organisation, with funding support from the cities of Fremantle, Cockburn and Subiaco in my home state of Western Australia. The Anangu people were harmed and dislocated as a result of the British bomb tests at Maralinga, and so the Australian sculpture represents a gift from one atomic survivor community to another.

During my time in Japan, I was able to speak with people who survived the atomic bombs that fell on their cities. These men and women are known as ‘hibakusha’, or atomic bomb survivors, and needless to say it was deeply affecting to hear from people who had experienced and survived a nuclear blast. At the time, there was speculation about the possibility that Mr Obama could become the first American President to visit Hiroshima. The hibakusha that I spoke with all expressed hope that this would occur, and it was wonderful that, at the end of May, President Obama took his place at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. He said, on that occasion:

We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations—and the alliances that we’ve formed—must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.

We may not realize this goal in my lifetime. But persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles.

There is no reason that we should expect a future without the use of nuclear weapons unless we strive relentlessly to bring about their abolition. To those who might claim that such an outcome is unrealistic or fanciful, I say that without the courage to imagine and pursue a world free of nuclear weapons, we are enabling the delusion of those who believe that violence and war achieves anything and we are biding our time until the next atomic disaster.

In the past, Australia has played a constructive and often successful role in fighting nuclear proliferation. But recently that has not been the case. It is not widely known that in August it was Australia’s representative who forced a vote and voted against the adoption of a United Nations report that was the first step in negotiating ‘a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination’. A fortnight ago, when the UN General Assembly decided to start those negotiations, Australia was one of 38 countries that again voted no. I am sure that would disappoint a clear majority of Australians. In fact, a 2014 Nielsen poll showed that 84 per cent of Australians want their government to be part of a global effort to prohibit nuclear weapons.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Tim Wright and his Asia-Pacific colleagues within the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for their advocacy on this issue. I am also pleased and proud that the Labor Party, at our most recent national conference, adopted the following position as part of our platform:

Given the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, Labor firmly supports the negotiation of a global treaty banning such weapons and welcomes the growing global movement of nations that is supporting this objective.

As the representative of a community in Fremantle that has played an active role in opposing nuclear proliferation, I intend to make that part of my work in this place.

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