Wednesday, 03 August 2016 12:22 John Hallam


3AUG 2016



The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been urged in a letter from People for Nuclear Disarmament and the Human Survival Project (A joint PND-Center for Peace and Conflict Studies Initiative), to join with the majority of the worlds governments in a meeting in Geneva that starts Friday. The meeting is of the Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament, (OEWG) and has already held meetings in February and in May. The 2-week long May meeting was attended by over 100 governments and many NGOs including PND/Human Survival Project UN lobbyists John Hallam and Peter King, who raised questions of the risk of nuclear war and risks to human survival posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons.

According to PND UN lobbyist John Hallam, who submitted the main NGO working paper on nuclear war risk:

“It was clear in the deliberations of the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) that with the exception of one or two governments including, unfortunately, Australia, that we were talking to the converted. Most governments had already been persuaded by years of expert evidence that the large scale use of nuclear weapons will destroy civilization and that the real risks of a nuclear exchange are unacceptable and are growing not declining. The imperative therefore, is for immediate action to be taken both to lower nuclear risks and to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. Even the Australian government in fact, acknowledges that much.”

“The problem is however, that the Australian government believes that real action to eliminate nuclear weapons is somehow 'premature'. The problem is that if we follow this logic it will ALWAYS be 'premature'. And if the risk of a catastrophic nuclear exchange is non-zero, which it is, and that is extrapolated over an indefinitely long timescale, we get 100% certainty of a potentially species-ending catastrophe.”

“It is high time the Australian Government stopped procrastinating, stopped leading a small cabal of governments whose cry is 'not yet', and took decisive action to eliminate weapons that can eliminate civilization and possibly humans as a species.”


John Hallam, PND,

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m61-4-6987-4984 h61-2-9810-2598, PND 61-2-9319-4296





Dear Julie Bishop,

I am writing with respect to the upcoming (Fri5th Aug, 8-9, 16-17 and 19thAug) meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) in Geneva.

I attended the May2-13 OEWG meeting in Geneva, and presented for the NGO community (PND, Human Survival Project and Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace) on risks of accidental/inadvertent nuclear war to a plenary session and at an NGO meeting with Undersecretary for Disarmament Kim Won Soo. I authored A/AC.286/NGO.13 on nuclear risks.

Since then I have followed the deliberations of the OEWG with a great deal of interest, though it wont be possible for me to attend the Aug15-19 session.

Australia has (unfortunately) led a group of countries whose main argument – though they style themselves the 'progressive approach' – has been, or has been perceived as, one of making apologies for lack of progress to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

While, unlike many (not all) of my NGO colleagues I have some sympathy with a methodical, 'doing the hard yards' 'step by step' approach, the thing about a step by step approach is that the steps actually need to get taken, one after the other, first one step – and then the next, etc.

...And as global security gets worse (as it has) then nuclear risks escalate. As nuclear risks escalate, the need to eliminate nuclear weapons, far from receding into the background also escalates: We want to eliminate these weapons precisely BECAUSE they pose existential risks when used. If their use looks more and more like a possibility then the case for eliminating them forthwith becomes overwhelming. If the world is going over a cliff its the brake we need to step on not the accelerator.

Similarly I have some sympathy with an approach that says that security dimensions need to be taken into account. However, when this becomes in itself an obstacle to progress toward the elimination of nuclear weapons it must be remembered that:

--It is precisely the security THREAT posed by nuclear weapons that impels both governments and NGOs to want to eliminate them. And if the security threat posed by nuclear weapons is of such a dimension that it actually (as it does) threatens human existence itself – threatens our continuance as a species – then that consideration simply trumps all other possible considerations including what might in other circumstances be seen as core security considerations of particular governments. Most brutally put, if I can only secure the security of my particular government or state by threatening, or by participating in systems that threaten human existence and the continuation of civilization, then it is better that my government does not do this even if it is in conventional terms less 'secure'.

--It is strongly and rightly argued by scholars such as Ward Wilson that the contribution of nuclear weapons to security is either zero or negative, and that commonly accepted deterrence theory is nonsense. It is argued that nuclear weapons have in fact not deterred at all and that their mere existence poses (as it undoubtedly does) unacceptable risks to the world as a whole.

Rather than making excuses to defer or delay or postpone yet again clear global movement to the elimination of potentially world-ending weapons, Australia needs to both put real energy and momentum behind some of the elements of its vaunted 'progressive approach' (would that there really were 'progress'), and add its not inconsiderable weight to the majority of the world who support more immediate measures to eliminate nuclear weapons.

I note that, according to the Advanced Copy of the Draft Report:

“...27. A majority of States expressed support for the commencement of negotiations in the General Assembly in 2017, open to all States, international organizations and civil society, on a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapon(s), which would establish general prohibitions and obligations as well as political commitment to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapon-free world....”


“...28. A legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapon(s) would be an interim or partial step toward nuclear disarmament as it would not include measures for elimination and would instead leave measures for the irreversible, verifiable and transparent destruction of nuclear weapons as a matter for future negotiations. It would also contribute to the progressive stigmatization of nuclear weapons. States supporting such an instrument considered it to be the most viable option for immediate action as it would not need universal support for the commencement of negotiations or for its entry into force. It was suggested that the United Nations high-level international conference, to convene no later than 2018 pursuant to resolution 68/32, should review progress on these negotiations.”

Having attended most closely to the May 2016 session of the OEWG and having closely followed that of Feb2016, I can state confidently that (27) and (28) are an accurate representation of the nature of discussions at the OEWG and must not be altered.

Australia has however argued, incorrectly, that progress on nuclear disarmament or elimination is impossible in the absence of, or without the consent of, the nuclear- weapons-possessing states. This is a bit like arguing that heroin or ice cannot be prohibited without the consent of drug-dealers. Clearly the first step to the elimination of nuclear weapons is their unambiguous proscription, by one means or another, by Ban, framework agreement or Convention or Hybrid Approach – by a 'Nuclear Weapons Whatever', that whatever, unambiguously makes them beyond the pale of legality.

The majority of governments require no convincing, and are on the verge of agreement that a 'Nuclear Weapons Whatever' should be negotiated as soon as possible.

The draft report suggests next year (2017) as the starting date for this.

I am not of the view that this is premature. On the contrary it is well past time. This should have taken place decades ago. And the current fraught international security environment makes it more urgent not less so.

Australia should give its immediate and unqualified support to negotiations starting in 2017 to an instrument – A Ban, Convention, or Framework agreement, or hybrid approach – that outlaws nuclear weapons.

John Hallam


Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 12:25