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Home Articles Flashpoints Letter to Julie Bishop re Ban, Sept 2018 High Level Meeting on Nukes

Letter to Julie Bishop re Ban, Sept 2018 High Level Meeting on Nukes

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John Hallam
UN Nuclear Weapons Campaigner,
People for Nuclear Disarmament NSW



Dear Foreign Minister Julie Bishop:

Another letter from me urging you and your Government – in fact, urging any Australian Government and indeed Governments worldwide – to sign and ratify the Nuclear Ban/Prohibition Treaty should be no surprise.

What is surprising is rather your Governments persistent recycling of arguments against that treaty that are utterly discredited and that surely, you and your department must know in your heart of hearts to be completely incorrect. Notably, the Ban Treaty does not undermine, but reinforces, the NPT. Nor does the Ban Treaty 'ignore' strategic reality: It is precisely a rational response to that ugly reality.

I urge, indeed would beg, you to ditch this opposition to a legal instrument that can only strengthen legal and moral norms against the use, threat of use, possession, and development of nuclear arms, and to embrace it. The Government should announce that it has seen the light and will sign, ratify, and promote this treaty that makes nuclear weapons illegal. It should urge other countries in similar geostrategic positions such as Japan (and NATO) to do likewise. It should urge NATO to make the needful changes to its security doctrines to eliminate any role for nuclear weapons.

The argument will doubtless be made that this somehow 'ignores strategic reality'. This is nonsense. It is precisely strategic reality and the growing risk of nuclear confrontation, both between the US and the DPRK and, terrifyingly, between NATO and Russia, that makes the elimination of nuclear weapons from strategic doctrines a matter not of warm and fuzzy feelgood 'vibes', but a matter of hard survival. If we don't do this we risk becoming toast.

The idea that some form of 'extended deterrence' does anything other than paint huge targets on parts of central Australia and potentially on Australian cities is nonsense. The nuclear weapons connection does not enhance our security: it holds us at risk.

If Australia signed and ratified the Ban Treaty at the earliest possible opportunity – next 20Sept in the UN General Assembly in New York – it would immensely enhance our security. Our persistent and irrational opposition risks that security.

I wish I could find words that would cut through an opposition that I and others in the disarmament movement view as not merely irrational, but, as the international security situation itself deteriorates as in the short to medium term it surely will, - that we see as potentially imperiling the very survival of millions of city-dwelling Australians.

There is however, much more to be done apart from backing the Ban Treaty.

As you are doubtless aware, in Sept 2018, there is to be a High Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament. This is a process completely separate both from the Ban Treaty and also independent of the NPT process, though it in no way competes with either.

It is moreover, a forum in which incremental steps can be taken, as also under the NPT process. As you will know, this author has nothing against the step by step approach which your Government says it favors – as long as one step, then another, actually gets to be taken, and followed by other steps.

The incremental measures that most need to be raised at the High level Meeting right now (not excluding other measures) are Risk reduction measures.

The need to reduce the risk of an 'accidental apocalypse' has hardly been greater than now, with the 'Doomsday Clock' at two and a half minutes to 'midnight', where 'midnight' is the large-scale use of nuclear weapons that ends 'civilization' and much much more than that.

Risk reduction measures and the need for them have been discussed in a number of UN forums both convened by myself and by the Swiss and other governments.

They are basically unexciting, 'commonsense' things like:
--Lowering the alert status of nuclear weapon systems as urged by the Operational Readiness resolution (which Australia votes for) and by the Indian Reducing Nuclear Dangers resolution, which Australia opposes, but ought to support.

--No First Use. Its clear that if everyone adopted No First Use of nuclear weapons (and no one mistakenly thought someone else had gone first), nuclear weapons would never in fact be used. Which would save civilization and much much more, from destruction.

--Improved military to military communications. This means existing 'hotlines' which are currently being downgraded or abandoned (incredible folly), but also the idea of a Joint Data Exchange Centre (JDEC) to be located in Moscow. That idea has been around since 1998, and has been reaffirmed by US and Russian Governments four if not five times. But it has never been implemented.

There are a number of other ideas for risk reduction including the ending of military exercises (esp in the Baltic States) that involve potentially or actually nuclear – armed forces.

The risks of nuclear weapons use are as great as they have ever been. Involvement in extended deterrence relationships does not protect Australia from those risks rather it exposes us to them. Action to reduce those risks and Australian Government advocacy for such risk reduction steps, will rather, help to reduce those risks globally and to reduce Australia's exposure to them. In advocating for such steps Australia thus serves both the global security interest and our own security interest.

On the eve of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemorations of 2017, Australia's responsibility to its own citizens and to the world to reduce nuclear risks, and to act to eliminate nuclear weapons is as pressing as it has ever been and the deteriorating geopolitical situation merely makes that more urgent.

Please prove to us that you are able to take a leadership role in furthering what is after all, a survival priority.

John Hallam
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