Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 75 years on: Growing nuclear risks demand global action

Published on Fri 7 August 2020 7:11am

There is no question that Australia has the capacity to significantly lift our diplomatic focus and resources in order to play a greater role in global efforts to build regional and international cooperation on this issue, to resist the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to make progress towards their ultimate elimination.

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on 6 and 9 August 1945.  It should be a solemn occasion to reflect on the fundamental horror and inhumanity of war, and a reminder of the catastrophic power humans have not only created, but inflicted on one another, and then allowed to grow and proliferate. There is much greater risk today of a world-ending nuclear apocalypse than there was in 1945 – indeed the hands of the Doomsday Clock are set now at only 100 seconds to midnight, representing the greatest proximity to disaster.

As we work together to address the harm of a global pandemic, we need to keep an eye on the existing threats to global peace and wellbeing. At the top of that list are climate change and nuclear conflict, both of which require concerted global action. While of course the present focus is on overcoming the scourge of COVID-19, we would do well to address a worrying level of complacency and disengagement on the issue of nuclear weapons when we should be making progress towards their reduction and abolition.

In recognition of and respect for the 75th anniversary of the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki I have tabled a motion in parliament calling for broader parliamentary and government engagement in the vital cause of non-proliferation and disarmament, while noting a number of recent developments that have weakened the international system of weapons monitoring, impaired progress towards nuclear disarmament, and undermined agreements to prevent weapons development and testing. In the last few years we have seen missile tests in North Korea, moves by the US and Russia towards hypersonic missiles and smaller so-called ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons, the likely collapse of the ‘Open Skies’ treaty, and the prospect that the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement may not be renewed in February 2021.

One of the few positive developments has been the establishment of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an outcome for which the Melbourne-born ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) campaign received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.  Since that time 82 countries have signed and 40 have ratified this agreement – including Botswana and Fiji in the last month – which will enter into force after the 50th ratification.

There is no question that Australia has the capacity to significantly lift our diplomatic focus and resources in order to play a greater role in global efforts to build regional and international cooperation on this issue, to resist the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to make progress towards their ultimate elimination.  Australia has a strong legacy of work in this space, and it is a tradition we should honour by taking-up again with renewed creativity and commitment. It is naïve, idealistic, and self-defeating to believe the world can remain safe without eliminating nuclear weapons.

Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament is an effort that needs action and activism at every level. I am glad that the cities of Fremantle and Cockburn continue to participate in the Mayors for Peace initiative which started in post-war Japan and now includes more than 7,921 local governments worldwide. In my former role as Deputy Mayor of Fremantle I was fortunate to join a delegation of Anangu artists from South Australia to install the first Australian sculpture in the Nagasaki Peace Park in 2016. That bestowal of the sculpture called ‘Tree of Life, Gift of Peace’ made a connection between two nuclear survivor communities because of course the Anangu and Pitjantjatjara peoples were victims of the British nuclear tests in the 1950s.

This week I look forward to joining local commemorative events in my community as people around the world join in saying “never again”, and working to make that true.

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