Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Transparent Holidays from the UK Ministry of Defence

ICAN-UK reports that the UK government has quietly - almost secretly - sold its last remaining shares in the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) to the US company Jacobs Engineering Group. This now means that Britain no longer has any stake in the production of its Trident nuclear warheads and that all production, design, and decommissioning of nuclear weapons in the UK is privately owned, with US companies having a majority stake.

The issue here is not so much selling UK nuclear security to the US - that was done long ago when London became Washington's attack dog - but once again violating the NPT by sharing nuclear technology.

The government's response is that it's "the UK government, not AWE, that sets the UK's nuclear policy." There's still the matter of the NPT.

And in a related issue, the UK Ministry of Defence has chosen the holiday season to announce plans to build an AWE facility at Burghfield, Reading, Berkshire. The local council has generously granted anyone opposed the opportunity to make their voices known by January 6th. They may review documents, plans etc. at West Berkshire Council offices 6 days AFTER the announcement, released on Friday December 19th to ensure the time loss of the weekend before people react.

So, that means as of December 25th, a holiday, folks can gather pertinent information to oppose the plan. Of course, December 26th is also a holiday. And December 27th and 28th are a weekend. So, everyone will have to rush in on December 29th & 30th before things shut down for the New Year and no doubt reopen again on Monday January 5th - one day before the deadline.

They're so transparent in their lack of transparency.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A nuclear-weapon-free southern hemisphere?

We’ve decided to set up a small working group of NGO representatives interested in working to secure the entry into force of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty. We met yesterday with representatives from African states to discuss way to encourage countries which haven’t yet done so to ratify. Our goal is to secure three more ratifications, and therefore entry into force, in time for the next summit of the African Union, which will take place in January. It has been a long time since there were any victories of this kind, so it would provide much-needed momentum for the anti-nuclear movement. The entire southern hemisphere would be a nuclear-weapon-free zone.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Returning to the International Court of Justice

There have been discussions here in Geneva about the possibility of returning to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the meaning of “good faith” in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Parties are required to enter into good faith negotiations for disarmament, and this obligation might even extend to the countries outside the treaty – India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. This question must be clarified. Even if the court were unwilling to say that the obligation required countries to immediately commence negotiations leading to a nuclear weapons convention, it would at least say that the nuclear weapons states should be doing much more than they are currently doing.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Simulated debate for nuclear weapons convention

The Ban All Nukes Generation organised a mock debate for a nuclear weapons convention. About 50 students were involved. It was a really interesting session, and the various states represented in the discussions did manage to agree on quite a few things, which was reassuring. Tilman Ruff, who chairs the Australian section of ICAN, was in charge of the session. There have been discussions about holding similar mock debates around the world. Most of the diplomats at the Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting were aware that this event was taking place.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Nuclear-weapon-free, my cup of tea

ICAN activists from Norway, Germany, Australia and Sweden held an event called “Nuclear-Weapon-Free – My Cup of Tea” today in Geneva. As well as serving tea and buscuits, we distributed information to passersby, including postcards promoting the formation of a European nuclear-weapon-free zone. We had big banners and people wearing white jumpsuits and juggling yellow balls with radiation symbols.

Several people from ICAN attended a workshop with Dr Kathleen Sullivan on disarmament education. It was a really useful exercise. She asked us to think about how we feel about nuclear weapons and how we can work together for disarmament.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Australia acknowledges need for an NWC

Australia today delivered a statement on nuclear disarmament to the Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting in Geneva. It was much different from statements made in previous years. It even included a reference to the need for a nuclear weapons convention (NWC) for the first time ever. This is something which disarmament experts have described as quite significant. The reference is a cautious one, but using those words in this forum is rare. The only other countries so far to have mentioned an NWC at the meeting have been Costa Rica, Malaysia and Iran.

The statement read: “Australia under a new Government is fully committed to realizing a world free from nuclear weapons … A world free of nuclear weapons will require carefully calibrated steps that buttress international peace and security. Every state, whether holding nuclear weapons or not, must play a part in realizing that world. And at an appropriate time, the international community will likely need to consider complementary legal frameworks, including a possible nuclear weapons convention, for the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.”

Australia welcomed reductions made by the nuclear weapon states in the size of their arsenals but said that “the international community, Australia included, remains hungry for further, irreversible reductions and greater transparency from states holding nuclear weapons. Concurrent with their warhead reductions, nuclear weapon states need to confirm a reduced role for their nuclear weapons in national security policies.”

It concluded with these words: “We are making progress towards realising the vision of a world free from nuclear weapons, albeit neither as fast nor as consistently as we would wish. Yet one thing is for certain – that without a renewed global commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation … the vision will remain little more than that. Australia is ready to join such a renewed commitment.”

The momentum of ICAN grows internationally

It has been little over a year since ICAN was launched, and much progress has been made since then. Active national campaigns have emerged in many countries, mainly European, and today a small number of us met in Geneva to share our ideas and enthusiasm for ICAN, in hopes of building on the momentum already generated.

Tilman Ruff, from Australia, commenced discussions by describing his vision for the campaign as a vehicle that would allow different groups with their own specific agendas to work together for the ultimate goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world. That goal, he argued, is best achieved through a nuclear weapons convention (NWC).

I provided an update of the Australian campaign, drawing particular attention to the new Government’s pre-election commitment to “lead the international agenda for a nuclear weapons convention”, and I spoke of the materials we have produced – a foldout, mini-magazine, DVD and education booklet – which have been designed so that they can be distributed internationally.

Various people from the United Kingdom informed the group that an ICAN working group had been set up there. Its focus is on generating parliamentary support for an NWC and opposition to the renewal of Trident. ICAN in the UK has produced a four-page summary of the model NWC and intends to produce an even briefer summary for use by the general public.

ICAN has begun to take greater prominence in France, where meetings were held in 20 cities or towns to discuss the model NWC. The Mouvement de la Paix organized a meeting with parliamentarians to explain and promote the model NWC, and under the ICAN banner it intends to launch a postcard campaign urging French President Nicolas Sarkozy to support an NWC.

A very strong national campaign was launched in Norway with a petition containing the faces of 100 prominent people – artists, former political leaders, musicians and authors – who support an NWC. ICAN in Norway persuaded the Foreign Ministry to translate the model NWC into Norwegian and to host an international conference on a vision for a nuclear-weapon-free world. This conference was attended by several nuclear-armed states.

ICAN in Sweden has begun to translate some of the English campaign materials into Swedish, and medical student activists have held Target X demonstrations and “Nuclear-Weapon-Free – My Cup of Tea” events to generate support for an NWC.

A representative from the Netherlands expressed hope that ICAN would become central to the campaign for nuclear disarmament in her country, and spoke of an effort to persuade former Dutch leaders to sign on to a statement similar to the one made in the Wall Street Journal by former US leaders George Schultz, Henry Kissinger and others.

Alyn Ware, who was involved in drafting the model NWC, provided some advice for promoting the draft treaty to parliamentarians and diplomats. He said that the focus should not simply be on those who oppose it or are unsure about it, but efforts must also be made to ensure that those who support it are doing so actively. He argued that the NWC is far from being a “pie in the sky” idea, especially given it now has support from China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

For those who argue that an NWC is premature, or that a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament is to be preferred, we should point out that the General Assembly resolution relating to the NWC merely calls for “negotiations leading to a nuclear weapons convention”. Therefore, there is no good reason for states to oppose it. He said that the NWC would not weaken the Non-Proliferation Treaty – it would rather be a way of implementing Article VI.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When will states heed civil society's call?

One of the most positive things about the current Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting, which is being held in Geneva for the next two weeks, has been that almost all non-government organisations (NGOs) present have focused on the need for a nuclear weapons convention (NWC). It is central to everything that’s happening here. The national delegations will have to take heed to our call sooner or later!

A group of 50 German students is here to take part in simulated negotiations for an NWC. During the week, they will meet with ambassadors from the nuclear weapon states to ask questions about their stance on the NWC. Sadly, this might be more of an educational experience for the delegates than for the students, who seem to know a great deal about the Model NWC.

Patricia Lewis, the director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, spoke to the students on Sunday about ways to advance the idea. She raised the possibility of a group of experts set up by the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly to look into the feasibility of an NWC.

We could put pressure on a government or several governments to set up an Ottawa- or Oslo-style process for an NWC – that is, a process which occurs outside the existing disarmament machinery, she suggested. She expected that one or more of the nuclear-armed states would be interested in participating in such a process from the outset, if only to ‘keep an eye on things’

Another option would be for the NPT to set up a committee to look specifically at the NWC in the lead up to the 2010 Review Conference, but a major problem with this approach is that it would exclude India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea unless they acceded to the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states. The Conference on Disarmament could also promote an NWC – although she concluded that this approach would be less likely than other approaches to gain traction.

Towards a nuclear weapons convention

Support for a nuclear weapons convention (NWC) has grown over the last year, with more governments, civil society groups and prominent individuals arguing that it is feasible, necessary and urgent. Some who had previously seen an NWC as premature now assert that the time has come to begin negotiating one.

The Chairman’s factual summary of the 2007 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) preparatory meeting acknowledged that during the meeting several countries had called for the development of an NWC and the formation of a subsidiary body dealing with nuclear disarmament at the 2010 review conference.

Costa Rica submitted a revised version of the Model NWC which had originally been drafted in 1997 by a consortium of disarmament experts. The revised version took into account relevant international developments over the last decade. Costa Rica also submitted the document to the UN General Assembly during last year’s session.

Each year, the General Assembly adopts a resolution titled “Follow-up to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons”, which calls on all states “immediately to [commence] multilateral negotiations leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention”.

Last year, 127 nations voted in favour of the resolution, compared with 125 nations in 2006. Two countries changed their vote: Bulgaria from “no” to “yes” and Georgia from “abstain” to “no”. However, the Bulgarian delegation subsequently advised the Secretariat that it had intended to vote against the resolution. Therefore, the change in number is not significant.

However, it is worth noting that ten nations did not have a vote recorded. If they had participated in the vote and voted as they did in previous years, then the result would have been 134 in favour, 29 against and 28 abstentions (as opposed to 127 in favour, 27 against and 27 abstentions).

Among the countries voting in favour of the resolution were four nuclear-armed nations: China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and Israel voted against the resolution, as did all European countries which host US nuclear weapons on their soil as part of the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement.

Australia abstained from voting, even though the new Government had made a pre-election commitment to lead the global push for an NWC. Presumably this was because the Government had not yet had sufficient time to consider the resolution (or any others) since being sworn in. It is expected that Australia will vote in favour of the NWC resolution at this year’s General Assembly session, and it might also persuade other previously sceptical nations to do the same.

Last September Australia’s shadow foreign minister, Robert McClelland, argued that “ultimately the question to be asked is not why there should be a nuclear weapons convention but why the international community has not yet agreed to start negotiating one”. He later informed the Australian Press Club that a Labor Government would be “committed to driving the international agenda for a nuclear weapons convention”.

However, neither the Australian Foreign Minister nor the Prime Minister has yet confirmed that the Government stands by its pre-election commitment. Prime Minister Rudd has merely declared an intention to engage in “activist middle power diplomacy”, including on nuclear weapons issues. As mentioned in my previous post, Australia didn't mention an NWC in its opening statement to the present NPT preparatory meeting being held in Geneva.

Representatives of the ICAN in Australia have suggested to the Government that it might consider establishing an advisory committee within the Foreign Ministry to make recommendations on the most effective way to advance an NWC. The committee would decide, for example, whether an NWC should be promoted through the Seven Nation Initiative and whether it would be feasible to convene a summit of world leaders before the 2010 NPT RevCom to discuss the possibility of negotiating such a treaty.

Australia is not the only country in which ICAN has generated enthusiasm for an NWC. Last year, the campaign was launched nationally in Canada, Denmark, France, India, Malaysia, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, and a growing number of individuals in those countries have added their voice to the call. The campaign has managed to foster close ties with parliamentarians and other key decision makers in several countries.

ICAN and an NWC were central to this year’s World Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which took place in New Delhi and attracted more delegates than any previous conference, including a large contingent of medical students.

The campaign has printed and distributed hundreds of thousands of brochures, postcards and booklets aimed at gaining support for a nuclear-weapon-free world through an NWC, and in partnership with three international organizations it has circulated thousands of copies of the updated Model NWC.

ICAN has received endorsements from high-profile disarmament experts, including Dr Hans Blix and Gareth Evans, who agree that the time for an NWC is now. Professor Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her involvement in the campaign to ban landmines, has also backed the campaign. At last year’s NPT PrepCom, she remarked: “We are told by some governments that a nuclear weapons convention is premature and unlikely. Don’t believe it. We were told the same thing about a mine ban treaty.”

An NWC would help to overcome the current stalemate in negotiations for disarmament. It would encourage the involvement of the four nuclear-armed nations which currently sit outside the NPT: Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. This year’s preparatory meeting should be used as a forum for generating support for an NWC and deciding how best to transform the Model NWC, or something like it, into law. Yesterday we heard China speak of the need for an NWC and today we heard Costa Rica and Malaysia do the same. We hope that over the coming two weeks many nations join them in their call.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Australia fails to affirm commitment to nuclear disarmament treaty

We were surprised and disappointed today at Australia’s failure to affirm its support for a nuclear weapons convention – a treaty to ban nuclear weapons and ensure their elimination – at an important meeting of states parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In a statement to the meeting this morning, Australia’s disarmament ambassador Caroline Miller announced that the Rudd Government is committed to playing “a new, more active role in multilateral affairs” with respect to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, but she didn't confirm whether it stands by its pre-election promise to “lead the international agenda for a nuclear weapons convention”.

This commitment was one of the most significant that Labor made on international policy, so it should have received a mention in Australia’s opening statement. We mustn’t wait another year – or longer – before getting fully behind this important initiative. A nuclear weapons convention is our best hope of moving beyond the current stalemate in disarmament negotiations. It isn’t acceptable for any state to adopt a business-as-usual approach at these kinds of forums. The consequences of doing so are too grave.

Australia still has the opportunity to use this meeting as a forum for promoting, publicly as well as behind closed doors, the commencement of negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention. And it has a popular mandate to do so. China this morning expressed strong support for a nuclear weapons convention, and we hope that several other nations will do the same over the next two weeks.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dismantling bombs to make room for new ones

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced earlier this week that his country will dismantle some of its airborne nuclear weapons. This is good news, right? Well, yes … but not entirely.

He made the announcement at the inauguration of a new nuclear-armed submarine, appropriately named The Terrible, and stressed that France’s “nuclear deterrent” remains its “life-insurance policy”.

Disappointingly, this scenario has become quite typical. The five original nuclear weapon states – the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China – are all bound by Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to disarm.

But the trend has been to get rid of obsolete weapons while building new ones – and then they claim that they’re fulfilling their disarmament obligations. This kind of proliferation, known as vertical proliferation, should be universally condemned. But very few countries are bold enough to criticise.

On a more positive and personal note, I have been selected to attend the Australian Prime Minister’s 2020 Youth Summit in Canberra. It will be a great chance to encourage the new Government to lead the international charge for nuclear weapons abolition and to get other young people enthusiastic about the cause.

Youth have been at the heart of efforts to end extreme poverty and to tackle climate change; we must now also put our energies into the equally important task of banning the Bomb. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Palm Sunday protesters demand disarmament

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the traditional day of protest against war and injustice. It coincided roughly with the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and large peace rallies took place across Australia. I was invited to address the crowd in Melbourne, and this post is a summary of what I said.

I don’t usually quote Arnold Schwarzenegger – because we have quite different political views – but last year he said something about nuclear weapons that made remarkable sense. He said: “A nuclear disaster will not hit at the speed of a glacier melting. It will hit with a blast. It will not hit with the speed of the atmosphere warming but of a city burning. Clearly, the attention focused on nuclear weapons should be as prominent as that of global climate change.”

I worry that large numbers of conscientious people across the world have become complacent about the second inconvenient truth of our time. There are still some 26,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, several thousand of which are kept on hair-trigger alert – able to be used within minutes of a command.

The situation really is frightening. The international Doomsday Clock sits at just five minutes to midnight, which means that the threat of nuclear annihilation today is as high as it was through most of the Cold War years.

I believe that Australia, as a middle power, can and must drive an international push for a treaty the outlaw – and ultimately eliminate – the worst weapons of terror. I’m pleased that one of the Labor Party’s pre-election promises was to do just that. Robert McClelland, who is our Attorney-General now and who was Shadow Foreign Minister at the time, said that ultimately the question to be asked is not why there should be a ban but why the international community has not yet agreed to start negotiating one.

This is good news, no doubt. But the Australian Government must ask itself these hard questions: What credibility does it have promoting the abolition of nuclear weapons so long as continues to export uranium to nuclear-armed countries or to countries which on-sell it to nuclear-armed countries? And what credibility does it have promoting the abolition of nuclear weapons so long as it continues to nestle cosily under the United States nuclear umbrella? Further, by lending bases, ports and infrastructure for the US nuclear war-fighting apparatus, we also lend weight and credence to the idea that nuclear weapons bring security.

Another question I would like our Labor parliamentarians to consider is: What role might Pine Gap play in a possible US-led nuclear attack against, say, Iran or North Korea? And how would that sit with their consciences? It seems clear to me that, if we are to be credible in advancing a nuclear-weapon-free world, we must adopt a nuclear-weapon-free defence posture. It’s what New Zealand did in the 1980s; it’s what we must do now.

In addition to this, we need to stop making excuses for the United States’ failure to disarm. Time and again, we praise our mightiest ally for dismantling a small number of its obsolete Cold War nukes while failing to criticise it for the nuclear weapons modernisation it’s involved in.

Similarly, we failed to criticise the United Kingdom last year when, remarkably, its Parliament gave the go-ahead to re-build the nation’s fleet of nuclear-armed Trident submarines – with a whopping price tag of more than £50 billion.

In some respects, we’re contributing to the proliferation of nuclear weapons through our silence. But, significantly, we are also contributing through our actions. Selling uranium to nuclear-armed countries is irresponsible. The Government assures us that the sales are subject to stringent and entirely effective safeguards. This is not true. Last year, the Medical Association for Prevention of War released a damning report, Illusion of Protection, in which it pointed out the fundamental flaws in domestic and international safeguards systems.

Safeguards are little more than a veil to make unquestioning citizens feel comfortable about the dodgy deals being made by governments on their behalf. And even if safeguards were 100 per cent effective – which they’re not and never will be – we’re still freeing up a country’s domestic reserves of uranium for nuclear bomb-making. That’s a problem which no amount of safeguarding can remedy.

Thankfully, the new Australian Government has ruled out the possibility of exporting uranium to India – an idea that former Prime Minister John Howard had been toying with, even though India isn’t a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the Rudd Government intends to continue selling uranium to other nuclear-armed states, including China.

And it might also proceed with a deal to export uranium to Russia, which has the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and the world’s worst nuclear safety record. You can have your say on this by making a submission to the Senate inquiry into the matter.

Despite these comments, I am pleased at the commitments the new government has made. It seems to be taking a much more active approach towards nuclear disarmament than the previous government. Our task, as activists, is to make sure that it lives up to its various commitments – and the most important of them, in my view, is the undertaking to lead the global push for a nuclear weapons ban.

People often say to me that it’s naive to think we will ever get rid of nuclear weapons. I say to them: what’s naive is to think that nuclear weapons can be retained, in perpetuity, and not used.