As we mark this act of national courage from 30 years ago, we’d not be honouring that courage or according proper respect to that achievement by being passive and rosy-eyed about the present situation with respect to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.
Mr Wilson (11:51am) – I’m grateful to the member for Fenner for allowing us to mark a significant anniversary in the vital cause of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, and I thank all members for participating in this debate. In 1991, South Africa made the courageous and principled decision to walk away from nuclear weapon capability at a point at which they already possessed six nuclear weapons. It meant that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons came into effect under the promising star of a decision that showed what could be achieved through the commitment to mitigate and then undo the existential threat posed by weapons that should never have been used and can never be acceptable.
As we mark this act of national courage from 30 years ago, we’d not be honouring that courage or according proper respect to that achievement by being passive and rosy-eyed about the present situation with respect to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The NPT, for all its cooperative innovation, early success and hopefulness, has, in recent years, run out of steam. Countries like the US and Russia are investing in updating their arsenals and investing in the development of new, so-called tactical nuclear weapons. The deep idiocy behind those devices is the idea that you could make and potentially use a nuclear bomb that might be sufficiently small to not trigger Armageddon.
Until the end of the Trump presidency, there was the real prospect that both the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty would fall apart. As Arms Control Today noted, that would have meant that, for the first time in nearly 50 years, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. Fortunately, the election of President Biden has meant at least an extension of the START agreement.
In March this year, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announced he intended to increase the cap on his country’s nuclear arsenal by 40 per cent. That is not consistent with article 6 of the NPT. It’s a shame the present Australian government remains silent about the deterioration of international agreements and norms that promote disarmament and work against nuclear proliferation. It used to be a distinctive feature of Australia’s principled, skilful and influential middle-power diplomacy. We made a difference on this absolutely critical issue, and I’m glad that Labor is resolved to do so again if we’re elected to government.
Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, now Chair of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders working for peace, has said, in relation to Prime Minister Johnson’s announcement:
While the UK cites increased security threats as justification for this move, the appropriate response to these challenges should be to work multilaterally to strengthen international arms control agreements and to reduce—not increase—the number of nuclear weapons in existence.
In his 1998 address to the UN General Assembly, President Nelson Mandela reflected on South Africa’s nuclear disarmament leadership by saying:
We must ask the question, which might sound naive to those who have elaborated sophisticated arguments to justify their refusal to eliminate these terrible and terrifying weapons of mass destruction—why do they need them anyway!
In reality, no rational answer can be advanced to explain in a satisfactory manner what, in the end, is the consequence of Cold War inertia and an attachment to the use of the threat of brute force, to assert the primacy of some States over others.
Mercifully the nuclear weapons ban treaty is another example of cooperative innovation. It’s no surprise that South Africa signed the TPNW, as it’s known, on the day it opened for signature and then ratified it in 2019. It’s heartening that this week in Canberra the Australian Local Government Association resolved unanimously at their national general assembly to support the TPNW and to call on the Australian government to do likewise. I applaud that decision, and I acknowledge and thank ICAN for their all-day, everyday advocacy and campaign work.
As someone who in the course of my time as a councillor and deputy mayor in the City of Fremantle was fortunate to participate in the Mayors for Peace initiative and visit Hiroshima, where that powerful antinuclear campaign began, I’m not surprised, but I am quite proud, that the City of Fremantle was one of five movers of the ALGA motion on the ban treaty this week. Right now the nuclear weapons ban treaty has 86 signatories and 54 state parties. It came into force on 22 January this year. I believe the significance of that day will grow and grow in the years to come, and I hope we’re able to mark that anniversary soon for the achievement of the treaty’s purpose. We should all hope so, because, until we achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons, we are, unfortunately, marking time until they are used.