A global abolition treaty: getting us to zero

A global abolition treaty: getting us to zero

Dimity Hawkins: Hello, everybody! I’d like to start by thanking the Nautilus Institute and in particular, Richard, for bringing us all in here together today. It’s been an extraordinary day of conversation. I think the discussion that’s taken place has really affirmed my growing belief that we’re getting towards that often elusive tipping point, that we’ll see nuclear disarmament actually take a hold in the world right now. It’s a tipping point that’s been sixty-four years in the making. Since the moment they started using these weapons and the moment they invented these weapons, there have been people around the world who have been working against them, and we should not forget that.

We’ve felt close to it at times in the past, but there’s something really new coming right now. And it’s going to be good. I think it’s going to be good. There’s a groundswell of public opposition growing to nuclear weapons right now. We all know that it is that which will change the world.

The bold vision of individuals and groups like International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and many, many others around the world, coalitions of groups large and small who will force the governments to listen and to act. And indeed they’re starting to do so. So just this week, in this country, there were some remarkable things that happened, and Joe Camilleri mentioned it earlier in passing.

But on Thursday last week the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, a major parliamentary cross-party committee, released a 200+ page report–I haven’t quite gotten through it all yet–reviewing all nuclear disarmament treaties in Australia and internationally. Many months of effort went into this, and many of the people speaking today, or in the audience here today, have participated in that inquiry.

The report is groundbreaking in many ways. It is a benchmark from which other initiatives will need to measure their success and of which they should take special note. And congratulations needs to be given to all those who participated in it. From an ICAN perspective, there are three things that deserve particular mention arising from this important report.

Recommendations eight and nine call for our government to make clear in the international fora its support for the adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, and also ask of the Australian government that they allocate research and consultation resources to the development of a Nuclear Weapons Convention with a clear framework and a plausible verification.

But in addition, in Recommendation 21, the parliament is called upon to commit to the abolition of nuclear weapons. We heard earlier from Joe a plan that all of our governments should start to do that. This has already been called for in this important report.

Admittedly, some of this seems remarkable only a few months after the Rudd government outlined an ongoing role for nuclear deterrence in Australia’s latest Defense White Paper. In this, as we’ve heard today many times, numerous references were made to the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in securing our future.

Just one quote from the paper says,

“It is the government’s judgment that stable nuclear deterrents will continue to be a feature of the international system for the foreseeable future, and in this context extended deterrence will continue to be viable.”

Well, no it won’t.

President Obama is right now offering the world steps towards a promise of a greater security. And if we are going to take up this offer, if we’re going to make it a reality, Australia needs to turn rhetoric into action and clear the pathway for the U. S. by eliminating old references to reliance on nuclear deterrence–that faulty old umbrella–and from our defense policy.

To get serious about real security, we should be putting our intellectual, political, and diplomatic energies into a real solution. And that, I believe, is a Nuclear Weapons Convention. So what is this convention and what are we all on about? I’m assuming that not everybody in the room has read it. It’s quite long as well and it has been around for a while.

A group of experts from around the world first developed the model Nuclear Weapons Convention in 1997, then updated again in 2007, and then ICAN relaunched it at that time. That’s our campaign. The model is a result of a massive collaboration of experts from around the world over many, many years, and it is becoming increasingly recognized for its merits in technicalities, legalities and for the sheer sense of it all.

The model Nuclear Weapons Convention, now accepted as a U. N. document, outlines how we can get to zero nuclear weapons. It will set the rules, schedule, and verification mechanisms for the prohibition of the development and testing, production and stockpiling, transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said in a speech a year ago when urging all parties to the NPT–particularly the nuclear weapon states–to work towards disarmament.

He said

“they could pursue this goal by agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments. Or they could consider negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention, backed by a strong system of verification as has long been proposed at the United Nations.”

He had, at that time, circulated a draft model, which is this one here.

As noted by Gareth Evans, when he gave evidence that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) inquiry into this issue,

“a Nuclear Weapons Convention would have within its scope the whole content of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), plus the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, plus the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, plus some additional verification strategies.”

Mr. Evans noted that “it would be a great global catch-all,” one which would allow us to start from the beginning. But importantly, it will also allow us to reach an end. To rid the world of nuclear weapons, we need a road map and we need a plan. Yes, the plan must incorporate many steps, but we need a plan that brings these steps together and then takes it all the next yard, eliminating these weapons once and for all. And that has to be a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

To get there, we need our government and others to take a lead right now, to truly commit to a convention, to commit to getting the world to zero. Whether taking measures to reduce our carbon emissions in answer to the crisis of climate change, or in working towards nuclear disarmament, zero is truly now recognized as an aspirational goal. It’s a very happy reversal of Cold War thinking.

Civil society has been pushing for zero since the invention of these weapons. At times in our past, we’ve seen massive surges of public sentiment on this issue and great leaps forward, but we’ve also too often seen a slowing in diplomacy, a failure of government action, and making the ultimate goal seem at times unreachable.

We need all governments to get past their hurt pride–that it is non-government organizations and experts who’ve developed the most comprehensive plan to get rid of these weapons. Technical, legal, diplomatic, as well as policy experts who have taken the time to seriously examine the model Nuclear Weapons Convention have agreed that it is an exceptional start.

So we need governments to sit down and examine the model Nuclear Weapons Convention to say what works and what doesn’t, and to make a concerted start at finding the common ground–that increasing common ground–on the desire to get rid of these weapons.

The model was never intended to be pulled off the shelf and put into force. It is just that. It’s a model. It’s a starting point. It’s a discussion place where we can step off from and find that road to zero. With the Obama opportunity right now, with growing international political will, the time to do that is now.

Is a Nuclear Weapons Convention achievable? Yes, it is. Is it needed? Yes, it is. Desperately so. And can we do it? As the man says, “Yes, we can.”

About Dimity Hawkins

Dimity Hawkins spoke on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

She presented this speech at a public forum on nuclear disarmament, Who Will Stop Nuclear Next Use? The forum was organized by the Nautilus Institute at RMIT. It was held on Sunday 20 September 2009 at RMIT Storey Hall.