Australia will boycott global summit on treaty to ban nuclear weapons, citing the need for deterrent of US arsenal
Australia previously joined nuclear weapons states Russia, the US, Israel, France and the UK to vote against the resolution, while China abstained
Australia will boycott global negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons at the United Nations next month.
The global summit, to be held in New York on March 27, will go ahead with Australia out of the room.
“The Australian government’s long-standing position is that the proposed treaty to ban nuclear weapons does not offer a practical path to effective disarmament or enhanced security,” a foreign affairs department spokeswoman told Guardian Australia.
“Australia regards the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as the cornerstone of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts. Consistent with this position, Australia will not participate in the forthcoming UN conference to negotiate a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.”
Australia’s position was predictable, given its long-standing opposition to a nuclear weapons ban treaty. As a key plank of foreign policy, Australia has consistently maintained that as long as nuclear weapons exist, it must rely on the protection of the extended deterrent effect of the US’s nuclear arsenal, the second-largest in the world.
Australia was a key agitator in preliminary meetings in trying to get the resolution establishing the negotiations defeated. But the push for a treaty – which aims to create a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination” – won massive global support, with 123 nations voting in favour, 38 opposing and 16 abstaining.
Australia joined nuclear weapons states Russia, the US, Israel, France and the UK to vote against the resolution. China abstained.
Tim Wright, the Asia-Pacific director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said Australia was turning its back on the UN at a time when multilateral cooperation was more important than ever. He accused Australia of “taking orders from the Trump administration”.
“Every country in Southeast Asia and nearly all countries in the Pacific have declared their strong support for the upcoming UN negotiations. Australia will be sitting in self-imposed exile from one of the biggest and most important international treaty-making initiatives in recent history.
“This will be the first time that Australia has ever boycotted disarmament negotiations. We’re a party to treaties prohibiting chemical weapons, biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. It beggars belief that the government is now refusing to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons.”
The Labor senator Lisa Singh, who was on secondment to the UN when negotiations took place late last year, said she was shocked by Australia’s decision to boycott.
“Clearly negotiations for this treaty are going to go ahead. It is short-sighted for Australia to refuse to even have a seat at the table. This leaves Australia in a minority on the biggest humanitarian issue facing the world.”
The efficacy of a ban treaty is a matter of fierce debate.
Support has been growing steadily over months of negotiations, but it has no support from the nine known nuclear states – the US, China, France, Britain, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – which include the veto-wielding permanent five members of the security council.
Australia has been the most outspoken of the non-nuclear states.
During months of negotiations, Australia has lobbied other countries, pressing the case for what it describes as a “building blocks” approach of engaging with nuclear powers to reduce the global stockpile of 15,000 weapons.
Critics argue that a treaty cannot succeed without the participation of the states that possess nuclear weapons. But proponents say a nuclear weapons ban will create moral suasion – in the vein of the cluster and landmine conventions – for nuclear weapons states to disarm, and establish an international norm prohibiting the development, possession and use of nuclear weapons.
Non-nuclear states have expressed increasing frustration with the current nuclear regime and the sclerotic movement towards disarmament.
With nuclear weapons states modernising and in some cases increasing their arsenals, instead of discarding them, more states are becoming disenchanted with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and lending their support for an outright ban.