Australia Moves to Consider Signing, Ratifying TPNW
By John LaForge
At the United Nations on October 5, Australia boldly ended five years of opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) reports. Rather than voting against the annual UN General Assembly resolution urging countries to join the treaty — as it did under its former government — Australia “abstained” for the first time.
The plucky reversal by a military ally of the United States, the leader of minority opposition to the landmark treaty, was applauded by campaigners and by other governments. Gem Romuld, with ICAN Australia, said in a statement, “The majority of nations recognize that ‘nuclear deterrence’ is a dangerous theory that only perpetuates the nuclear threat and legitimizes the forever existence of nuclear weapons, an unacceptable prospect.”
New Zealand’s minister for disarmament and arms control, Phil Twyford, said his government welcomed “Australia’s approach” to the treaty. Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia, Siswo Pramono, said the Aussie’s positive shift on the treaty would “give encouragement to others who believe that we are on the right path” in seeking abolition. Indonesia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Ireland were among the United Nations members co-sponsoring this year’s UN resolution pressing additional ratifications of the TPNW.
In 2018, Anthony Albanese, Australia’s Labor leader and new prime minister, initiated a resolution committing the party to sign and ratify the TPNW. As he introduced the motion, Albanese said, “Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane, and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Today we have an opportunity to take a step towards their elimination.” The Labor party reaffirmed its position in 2021, and Albanese’s “abstain” vote is merely abiding by the party’s platform. A formal cabinet-level decision to support and join the TPNW is pending, according to the Guardian.
The treaty, which prohibits the development, testing, stockpiling, use, and threatened use of nuclear weapons, now has 91 signatories, 68 formal ratifications; it entered into force last year.
The hostile US reaction to Australia’s action on October 7 was as swift as it was laughable. The US Embassy in Australia’s capitol Canberra announced that the vote to abstain would “obstruct” Australia’s reliance on US nuclear forces. However, most Australians view nuclear weapons as a threat to the world and want them abolished. The country’s Medical Association for Prevention of War tweeted, “The majority of the Australian people support our country joining the TPNW. Our government should act accordingly.” An Ipsos poll taken in March 2022 found 76% of Australians supported signing and ratifying the treaty, the Guardian reported.
Both the Trump and Biden Administrations have urged US allies to reject the 2017 treaty, and both of them continued Obama’s $1.7 trillion program, launched in 2014, to rebuild the country’s entire nuclear weapons complex and replace all the major nuclear weapons systems — including submarines, bombers, land-based missiles, and forward-deployed H-bombs in Europe — with new versions. The plan’s unfathomable nearly $2 trillion cost — a proposed 30-year-long avalanche of weapons industry contracts — continues in the face of increasingly severe global crises of climate chaos, ocean-level rise, war-displaced populations, droughts, wildfires, flooding, deforestation, desertification, famine, and water shortages.
When in office, Trump publicly scolded countries that had joined the treaty, preposterously telling them to withdraw their ratifications. For his part, President Biden reportedly urged Germany and Japan to avoid, even as “observers,” the First Meeting of States Parties to the treaty, which took place in Vienna last June. Several US allies snubbed President Biden’s directive and attended the meeting, including Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Australia, and NATO members Belgium, Germany, and The Netherlands. Opposition by the United States, as one of only nine nuclear powers in the world, represents a small global minority, ICAN’s Romuld told the Guardian.