‘F!$@ing disgraceful’: Experts condemn Australia’s stance on nuclear weapons

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A protest in France aimed at encouraging France to sign the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, which so far it has not. 

By RENYUAN OUYANG

The Australian Government’s stance on the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty “has been comprehensively fucking disgraceful in every conceivable perspective”,  former Australian  foreign affairs minister Professor Gareth Evans said recently.

“For the first time, we had a treaty being negotiated which clearly prohibited … possession,  acquisition, transfer or anything to do with nuclear weapons,” he said.

Prof Gareth Evans.

“We believe we have the creative energy and capacity to actually make a difference, but there is a traditional look over the shoulder to what the Americans want us to do, rather than thinking about what we ought to be doing.”

The Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty is a legally binding treaty approved by the UN in July 2017, which requires states to declare if they own, possess, or control nuclear weapons or explosives.

Within 30 days of signing, states must begin eliminating their nuclear-weapon programs. It  has been endorsed by Austria, Algeria, Chile and 119 other non-nuclear-armed states. 

Non-signatories include nuclear-armed states US, Russia, and China, and also Australia which is not a nuclear power.

Prof Evans, now Chancellor of ANU, was speaking at a panel discussion at the Monash International Affairs Society in April.  Other members of the panel, chaired by nuclear expert Associate Professor Maria Rost Rublee, shared his frustration.

Politicians, diplomats, and nuclear experts gathered to discuss the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, and Australia’s response to it. Photo: Renyuan Ouyang

Nobel Peace Prize winner Tim Wright, who is the Asia-Pacific director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said the Australian government refused to take part in the treaty because of pressure from the US, despite support from the Australian population.

“We’ve had polls showing over 80 per cent support for this treaty,” Mr Wright said.

Ian McConville.

However, the director of the Nuclear Policy Section (International Security Division) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ian McConville, said Australia benefited from being under the protection of the US’s nuclear force. 

“We have data [which] specifically says we do rely on the US’s conventional and nuclear deterrence to meet our security needs,” Mr McConville said.

Mr McConville said trust and relationships were needed to limit nuclear weapon development. 

“One of the problems is there is a complete absence of trust,  a complete absence of any habit of corporation and a complete absence of exchange on a command and control system and information in relation to how you could reduce dangers.” 

“We all need to do much more work to help countries to build trust.” 

However, Austrian Ambassador Bernhard Zimburg said even without nuclear deterrence, conventional warfare would still exist.

“The nuclear deterrence did not stop the Russian Federation in attacking Ukraine. If you look at the post WWII history, there [have been] plenty of conventional wars,” he said.