Australia spills some water
Tim Wright of ICAN Australia has obtained a revealing new set of documents from the Australian government as the result of a Freedom of Information request. The declassified cables and e-mails show the degree to which the three conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (HINW), the Humanitarian Pledge launched by Austria at the end of the Vienna conference, and the possibility that the Pledge will lead to negotiations on a ban treaty have rattled the Australian government and its US management team. They provide a window not only onto the hypocrisy of Australia’s nuclear policies but also onto the strenuous efforts by the US and other nuclear-armed and nuclear-dependent States to derail the humanitarian initiative and to prevent ban treaty proponents from gaining political momentum.
I won’t repeat Tim’s excellent summary and analysis here, other than to restate his most important conclusions. The Australian government is caught in a bind, because it is a prominent member of a nuclear-weapons-free zone and is also in an extended deterrence relationship with the US. Australia can’t support the HINW initiative, the Pledge, or the ban treaty because that would mean it could no longer expect the US to use nuclear weapons on its behalf. (Never mind the fact that if Australia did not have a “made in America” bull’s eye hovering over it, the country would not be a target of anyone else’s nuclear weapons and would, therefore, not need to rely on US nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack.)
And whatever anyone else believes (or says they believe in order to mask what they really believe), the folks in Canberra and their counterparts in the US State Department believe that the Pledge is the political basis for a ban treaty, and that the failure of the 2015 NPT Review has made a ban treaty more attractive to a growing number of States. As one wag in the Geneva mission put it, “the pursuit of a Ban Treaty becomes the next cab off the rank.”
Moreover, those opposed to the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons see the ban treaty itself as a significant threat to their wish to retain nuclear weapons indefinitely and to use them if it comes down to that. So they are determined to stop the ban movement, and the final thing these documents expose is their lumbering efforts to find arguments and strategies that will do that.
As Tim observes, “Australia’s true objection to a treaty banning nuclear weapons is not that it would be ineffective once negotiated: on the contrary, it understands well that its impact would be profound, compelling many nations, including Australia, to remove any role for nuclear weapons from their military doctrines and to refrain from facilitating nuclear war preparations.”
I’ve said repeatedly that the case for a ban treaty is sufficiently strong on its own merits, but that the most persuasive argument of all might be the fear and loathing it has generated among the nuclear-armed States and their entourages of co-dependents. The level of anxiety on display in these documents speaks for itself.