ICAN reveals Australia’s plan to undermine the work of civil society for a ban treaty

October 2, 2013

Documents obtained by ICAN campaigners in Australia through freedom-of-information laws reveal that the Australian government refused to endorse the 80-nation humanitarian statement delivered at this year’s Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting in Geneva because it referred to a Red Cross resolution with which the government fundamentally disagrees, and because it had concerns that the statement was designed to build support for a ban on nuclear weapons.

The declassified diplomatic cables, ministerial briefings and foreign ministry emails show that Australia’s opposition to the landmark Red Cross resolution – adopted by the international movement in November 2011 – prompted Australian Red Cross chief executive officer Robert Tickner to seek an explanation from the then-foreign minister, Senator Bob Carr, who responded to his letter but deliberately withheld information about Australia’s true position. Senior public servant Caroline Millar was fearful that to do so would “add oxygen” to the issue.

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and former foreign minister Gareth Evans were critical of Australia’s decision not to endorse the humanitarian statement. Responding to a letter from Mr Fraser, the then-prime minister, Julia Gillard, explained that Australia did not support it because “a push for a near-term ban on nuclear weapons formed part of the context of the statement’s intention”.

Australia is opposed to any moves to delegitimize the use or possession of nuclear weapons. It considers a ban on nuclear weapons to be incompatible with its continued reliance on US “extended nuclear deterrence”, which it claims “has provided security and stability in our region for more than 60 years and [has] underpinned regional prosperity”. Australia now hopes to steer other nations away from pursuing a ban on nuclear weapons, the documents reveal.

“We were disappointed to learn that Australia plans to undermine the work of progressive nations and non-government organizations to advance a global ban on nuclear weapons. It should instead be driving international efforts for such a treaty. Despite their enormous destructive potential, nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet subject to a total ban,” said Tim Wright, Australian director of ICAN.

“Australia cannot credibly advocate nuclear disarmament while claiming that US nuclear weapons guarantee our security and prosperity. Not only is this a ludicrous notion; it is also a dangerous one because it signals to other nations that nuclear weapons are useful and necessary,” he added. “We are urging the new Australian government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to support a similar humanitarian statement to be delivered during this month’s First Committee session of the UN General Assembly.”

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