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IS BARNABY REALLY MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE POTENTIAL END OF CIVILISATION?

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 26 FEB 2018
PEOPLE FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
HUMAN SURVIVAL PROJECT

WAS/IS BARNABY REALLY MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE POTENTIAL END OF CIVILISATION?

BARNABY'S FAILINGS DO NOT HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO END CIVILISATION. SOME THINGS DO, BUT WE DONT TALK ABOUT THEM. MAYBE THEY SHOULD BE TOP OF THE POLITICAL AGENDA.


While the media circus that has been the Barnaby affair was maturing, and throughout its entire absurd unfolding, an issue has lurked in the background that – as has been known ever since the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955 – has the potential to end what we call 'civilisation'. That issue is neither new nor novel. It is well known. It is not at all fashionable. It has quite a number of nobel prizes hanging off it, including the most recent one, so it's eminently respectable. It might come to a more or less terrible Gotterdammerung in the next few months, or it might sputter on for years and decades. Nothing whatsoever could happen (which is the preferred outcome), or the world could end in an afternoon. (which we'd rather avoid).

It is of course, nuclear weapons.

Ever since Jan 26th of this year we have known that, according to the roomsfull of Nobels deployed by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (itself founded by former members of the Manhattan Project in 1946), the hands of the iconic 'doomsday clock' are at 2 minutes to 'Midnight', and this is as close to 'Midnight' as it has ever been. Last time it was there was in 1953/4, when the US and the USSR tested their first hydrogen bombs, and the US mulled pre-emptive strikes against the USSR, as it now does against the DPRK. 'Midnight', in this context, represents the large-scale use of nuclear weapons, bringing about the collapse of what we call 'civilisation' and the possible end of humans as a species.

The Doomsday Clock people are not the only ones warning of a rising risk of global apocalypse. Grim warnings, always couched in the most restrained language, have come from former US Defence Secretary William Perry, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, former commanders of both US and Russian nuclear missile forces, and the Pope, to name but a few. The idea that the apocalypse is but a tweet or a tantrum away is not uncommon. It seems, unfortunately, to be terrifyingly true.

It does sound a little more consequential than the antics of a former deputy prime minister. It should be frightening. Isn't this what Parliaments are supposed to discuss?

But what have we actually spent the last weeks with at the top of Australia's political discussion list? Nuclear weapons have been as far from the top of the hit list as can be imagined.

It could be otherwise. The UK's House of Lords, on 20Feb, had a high-quality discussion led by Baroness Sue Miller, a co-convenor of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, on rising nuclear risks and the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW, or 'Ban Treaty'), and the upcoming High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament at the UN in New York.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2018-02-20/debates/70AD5C91-959A-4F2E-8650-4E2EAA058F36/NuclearWeapons

Australia could lead the way on nuclear disarmament should real discussion on this literally world-ending topic actually take place. An incoming ALP Government (or for that matter the current one if only it would see the light), would need to prioritise signing and ratifying the TPNW. And it would also need to prioritise efforts to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons use worldwide, notably by urging its great and powerful ally to adopt No First Use.

A large number of parliamentarians, largely from the ALP, have now 'signed the pledge', pledging to work for Australia to sign and ratify the TPNW. This is largely the work of ICAN, who are to be congratulated for it. Even for those who misguidedly oppose the TPNW, if they are truly fair dinkum about nuclear disarmament, there is the upcoming High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament in New York, at which essential nuclear risk reduction measures could be discussed. There is a long list of commonsense measures that would help to move those clock hands away from 'midnight'. They demand our focussed attention.

….and we would need to see the discussion of these measures and of measures like them rise from an obscure and scary backroom topic beloved of policy wonks with backgrounds from the 1980's, to the truly 'hot' topic that possible nuclear war has always been.

John Hallam
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