Nuclear arsenal: be afraid, be very afraid

by ray goodlass

Ray’s Reasoning: my column from today’s Daily Advertiser

On top of President Trump’s announcement last week that he is going to raise America’s defence spending by a massive $70 Aus. billion (10% no less), paid for largely by short-sighted cuts to foreign aid, also  came two very disappointing news items about nuclear weapons that added together warrant the much more serious adjective of ‘disturbing’. Downright frightening in fact for anyone who cares about the future of the planet and everything living on it.

Firstly, I read from Washington the President Donald Trump has said he wants to build up the US nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the “top of the pack,” saying the United States has fallen behind in its atomic weapons capacity. So the scariest Commander in Chief wants to have his finger on the button of even more weapons of mass destruction. We should all not just be alarmed, but very, very afraid.

Secondly, and much closer to home, came the news from Australia’s Paul Barratt’s former secretary of the Department of Defence and Sue Wareham, vice-president of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons that Australia is about to boycott forthcoming major UN multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

In more detail, on March 27 in New York, negotiations will commence on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, following a strongly supported resolution passed in the General Assembly last December – with 123 nations in favour, 38 against and 16 abstentions – for “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

The UN resolution and the forthcoming negotiations are the result of intense government and civil society action in recent years that has highlighted the catastrophic humanitarian impacts of these most terrifying and destructive of all weapons, and the imperative to prevent any further use.

Australia’s boycott of these disarmament talks, will have grave implications, quite apart from the unconscionable act of snubbing the most promising disarmament initiative in decades. It calls into question our commitment not only to the UN but also to the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, article 6 of which obliges all member states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to … nuclear disarmament”.

The key to a ban treaty’s effectiveness lies in its power to delegitimise and stigmatise weapons that kill and maim whole populations indiscriminately. Which nation would boast of a “smallpox deterrent” or a “nerve gas deterrent”? Yet despite the existence of treaties to ban these other weapons of mass destruction, there is still no equivalent treaty to ban the only weapons that can destroy a city in an instant and leave human suffering and environmental devastation on a scale we can’t imagine.

It also beats me how will Australia be able to condemn nuclear missile tests by, say, North Korea, or other possible future proliferators, when we support a nuclear apartheid and oppose efforts to place all nuclear-armed nations on the same legal footing?

So Australia will yet again stick out as merely an appendage to the US rather than an independently minded nation that considers global interests and its own interests above those of its ally. Have we learnt nothing from the recent exposure of John Howard’s sycophantic motives for taking us into the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003? (Secret Iraq Dossier: Australia’s Flawed War, SMH, 25 February 2017)?

Australia’s decision is irresponsible and unworthy of a nation that – notwithstanding our support for extended nuclear deterrence – has had a long history of engaging with UN disarmament initiatives.  his decision should be reversed.