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Home Articles Flashpoints Letter to New Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Letter to New Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

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6273-4112,6277-8497, 08-9388-0299  
DFAT 6261-3111


Dear Senator Julie Bishop:

Congratulations on becoming Foreign Minister.

As foreign minister, you will have to deal with the question of nuclear
disarmament, an issue that was high on Alexander Downer's agenda when
I served on an advisory committee of DFAT, to him.

A number of critical issues in the nuclear disarmament area are coming
up in the more or less immediate future, on which you will have to
make decisions. In making those decisions, it is well to take into
account the existential (Human Survival) importance of nuclear
disarmament as an issue, and the leading role that Australia has from
time to time played in both nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation
by both sides of politics.

1)The High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament will be taking place at the United Nations General Assembly on 26thSeptember. As previous correspondence from me in the shape of a
memo to the entire UN General Assembly indicates, the 26thSept happens to be the exact 30thanniversary of the 'Serpukhov-15 Incident', otherwise known as 'The
Day the World Nearly Ended'. At that time, the fate of humanity was
for half an hour in the hands of Colonel Stanislav Petrov of the then
Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, whose satellite surveillance system
was telling him that the US had just launched. He chose to ignore the
warning and thereby saved humanity from the use of some 11,000
warheads, in the process ruining his own career. A film about him is
to be released in mid-October during First Committee. Colonel
Petrov's 'brush with the apocalypse' relates directly to a resolution
in the General Assembly that Australia has supported since 2008,
'Operational Readiness of Nuclear Weapons Systems', sponsored by
Switzerland, NZ, Chile, Malaysia and Nigeria.  Australia should
continue to proactively support this resolution.  

The question of 'Catastrophic
Consequences of Nuclear Weapons Use'is now foremost in
discussions on nuclear disarmament. A statement on 'Catastrophic
Consequences' was adopted at the previous First Committee by 32
governments, and at the May 2013 NPT Prepcom in Geneva (attended by
the author of this letter) by 80 governments. Though the Australian
representatives did find kind words to say about this statement,
Australia has so far failed to sign onto it. The potentially
catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons use are a potential 'game
changer' in discussions about nuclear weapons, and reflect
peer-reviewed research that indicates that large-scale nuclear
weapons use and its global climatic consequences, would have
catastrophic consequences for civilisation and could pose existential
issues for humans as a species. Australia should have been amongst
the very first to sign it in 2010, and should sign it without
equivocation or hesitation now. It is an issue that is highly likely
to come up at the High Level Meeting on Sept26th.

It's worth noting that Australia issued an 'Explanation of Vote' (EoV) in
the General Assembly First Committee on 7Nov2012, on behalf of
itself, Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech
Rep, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland
Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, The Netherlands,
Norway, Poland, Portugal, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia,
Spain, Sweden, Macedonia, and Turkey, emphasising that the goal of
nuclear disarmament continues to be worthy of high-level political
attention and supporting the resolution setting up the High Level
Meeting. Australia should continue to give nuclear disarmament the
high-level attention that it so truly merits. In light of this, you
should consider attending this meeting in person.  

3) First Committee in October
A bewildering number of worthy resolutions are submitted for adoption
by the First Committee of the UN General Assembly (GA) every October.
Australia traditionally sponsors a joint resolution with Japan, known
as 'United Action Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons'.
This has been,  and will likely continue to be, the most widely
supported resolution on nuclear disarmament in the GA, most recently
having been adopted 174-1-13.

Another worthy resolution that Australia promotes is that on the CTBT, last
adopted by 184-1-3. Australia must continue to strongly support this,
and to urge its great and powerful friends – Both the US and China – to ratify the CTBT.

A number of other resolutions are worthy of Australia's strong support,
including the one on operational readiness of nuclear weapons
systems,(adopted in 2012 164-4-19) and the 'New Agenda'
resolution.('Towards a Nuclear Weapon-free World – Accelerating the
Implementation of Nuclear Disarmament commitments, last adopted by
156-7-4, including a yes by Australia.). There will also probably be
a resolution or statement in October in the GA on catastrophic
consequences. Australia should liaise with Switzerland and South
Africa to get its name onto this.  

In addition, Australia should consider supporting amongst many others:


--The Malaysia-Costa Rica resolution on a nuclear weapons
convention.(Follow-up to the Advisory Opinion of the International
Court of Justice on the legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear
Weapons, adopted in 2012  123-24-24) Instead of abstaining on this
resolution as previously, Australia should join the distinguished
company of NZ, Sweden and Switzerland and 120 others in supporting it.  


--The Indian resolution on 'reducing nuclear dangers', last adopted


--The NAM resolution.


--Resolutions designed to unblock the impasse over a Fissile Materials Cutoff
Treaty (FMCT) and other matters in the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva.

Australia should consider a closer working relationship at the level of the GA,
with Switzerland, NZ, Austria, Chile, Malaysia, Norway, South Africa,
and Costa Rica amongst others who have led the charge on nuclear
disarmament over a number of years.

Australia should be proactive in pressing both its US ally and Russia to arrive
at an agreement that will lower the operational readiness of the
nuclear weapon systems that both sides currently maintain on high
alert. This will not substitute for nuclear disarmament and the
elimination of nuclear weapons, but will do much to make an
accidental apocalypse less likely.

Australia should continue, and build on, the excellent work it has done in the
Open-Ended-Working-Group (OEWG) in Geneva, on a practically oriented
'building-blocks' approach to nuclear disarmament.

Australia should give its strong and proactive support to the goal (to be
reached sooner rather than later) of complete elimination of nuclear
weapons, and a nuclear weapons convention or system of interlocking
legal instruments that render impossible the creation or re-creation
of nuclear arsenals.  

Australia should work more closely with its own nuclear disarmament NGO's
including but not only, ICAN, MAPW, and of course People for Nuclear
Disarmament and the Human Survival Project.

Finally your government should consider re-establishing the National
Consultative Committee on Disarmament, perhaps as an Advisory
Committee on National Security, Nuclear Disarmament and
Non-Proliferation, that flourished under Alexander Downer. Your
government should also consider enlisting the services of former
foreign minister Gareth Evans and former Prime Minister Sir Malcolm

I hope these thoughts on nuclear disarmament are helpful,

John Hallam
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fax 61-2-9699-9182

Last Updated on Sunday, 08 February 2015 22:17