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Home Articles Flashpoints Letter Faxed to Julie Bishop re Open-Ended Working Group on Nuke Disarmament Geneva May 2016

Letter Faxed to Julie Bishop re Open-Ended Working Group on Nuke Disarmament Geneva May 2016

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6273-4112, 08 9388 0299
Australia Geneva Mission 41 (22) 799 91 75
Tanya Plibersek
Anthony Albanese
Senator Scott Ludlum
Senator Lee Rhiannon
Senator Lisa Singh


Dear Julie Bishop,
I am writing to encourage you and your government to take a more proactive approach to nuclear disarmament at the Open Ended Working Group that meets in Geneva.
I note that in presentations to the OEWG in February, the Australian delegation pointed out that there are 'different approaches' to nuclear disarmament, and stressed the 'need to engage' with the nuclear weapons-possessing governments (both official and unofficial nuclear weapons states). I note also that the Australian delegation stressed the 'genuine' nature of security concerns that might lead some governments to assume that they might benefit either from extended deterrence arrangements, or even from nuclear weapons of their own – or from reinforcing rather then eliminating, existing arsenals.
Both nuclear disarmament NGOs and governments that favour a somewhat more urgent approach to nuclear disarmament than does Australia and the 18 government coalition with which we have (mistakenly) chosen to work are hardly unaware of these considerations. They rightly draw conclusions from the above considerations that are completely opposite from those you seem to draw.
First of all they conclude from the increasingly threatening international security situation that the elimination of nuclear weapons, far from becoming something that can be put 'on hold' until the security situation improves is more urgent than ever. And they are quite right to do so. As the security situation deteriorates – which there is every prospect that it will - the likelihood of actual nuclear weapons USE, and the likelihood of the use of a significant portion of NATO/US and Russian arsenals, increases. As that likelihood increases, the imperative to eliminate those arsenals becomes more and not less of an actual human survival imperative.
A human survival imperative of course, beats or should beat, all other possible priorities including the most pressing so-called 'security' priorities, and indeed must itself be regarded as the security priority to beat all possible other security priorities.
This also answers the 'genuine nature' of the security considerations that might drive a reluctance to eliminate nuclear weapons.
The problem is that it is the weapons themselves are ARE the security threat, and even if my large neighbour has got them, getting them myself (or asking my other big neighbour to station some of his on my territory) merely paints a big target on my backside, ensuring that if nuclear weapons get to be used I will be the very first to be vaporised and making the likelihood of that taking place all the greater.
The Austrian working paper on the Humanitarian Dimension and Security (A/AC.286/WP.4) canvasses these security arguments neatly. It notes that:
“The conclusions and arguments drawn from the humanitarian initiative, thus, challenge the equation on the security narrower dimension provided by nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence. They underscore a widely shared concern that a continuation of a narrower security approach that rests and relies on these weapons poses too high a risk that may be based on a precarious illusion of security and safety.”
“8. The argument that the humanitarian initiative does not take the "security dimension" into account is therefore misleading. To the contrary, it puts the security at the centre of the debate and raises very serious issues and questions that challenge the narrower security perspective of States relying on nuclear weapons. Not only does the humanitarian perspective raise valid concerns from the non-nuclear weapon States perspective as to the degree to which their own and their population's security may be threatened by the existence of these weapons in nuclear armed States. It equally raises questions to what extent the very security argument used by States that rely on nuclear weapons holds up to scrutiny. There is not a lower degree of danger for people living in nuclear armed States, on the contrary, they live under a heightened danger of a possible use of nuclear weapons against their country.”
Even five minutes serious thought will convince anyone who is honest with themselves that nuclear weapons are not the answer to anyone's security problem and merely make it worse – any more than wearing a suicide belt will make me safer. The weapons are in themselves a security threat of the very highest order, as the Austrian paper sagely notes.
Finally, there are indeed 'different approaches' to nuclear disarmament. However, the most fundamental divide is not between those who want, e.g., a nuclear weapons ban, and those who want, e.g., a nuclear weapons convention or an interlocking framework. Nor is it between those who advocate a 'step by step' (whatever that means) or a 'building blocks' approach vs a 'comprehensive' approach. (whatever that may mean.)
The most fundamental divide is between governments who see nuclear arsenals as an immediate and urgent threat to the security and possibly to the very existence of everyone, and those who believe mistakenly that notwithstanding the immediate risks posed to everyone, there are some security benefits to themselves in retaining weapons that in reality are as useful to national and international security as a suicide belt is to the one who wears it.
If Australia (and the rest of the 18 nation bloc) will recognise the existential urgency of eliminating nuclear weapons, these questions of 'different approaches' will disappear like the mirage they in fact are.
(There would for example, be nothing wrong with a 'step by step' approach if the steps actually got taken. And a 'building blocks' approach would be wonderful because the blocks would be used to build with!).
There are a large number of paths up the 'mountain' of nuclear abolition. And it is helpful and even necessary, to climb by all of them at once. But one must actually climb, up the mountain, and not aim instead for the bottomless abyss of nuclear deterrence.
I will be in Geneva for the Open-Ended working group. I trust I will see members of the Australian delegation there. It would be wonderful if they were really and truly making a contribution to the cause of nuclear weapons abolition with the enthusiasm and commitment that this human survival issue demands.

John Hallam
People for Nuclear Disarmament
Human Survival Project
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