A UN meeting on disarmament, recommended negotiations begin in 2017 to ban nuclear weapons, was passed by 68 votes to 22, and 13 abstaining.
Moves towards a ban have been pursued because many saw little progress under the existing non-proliferation treaty, which obliges the five declared nuclear states to “pursue negotiations in good faith” towards “cessation of the nuclear arms race … and nuclear disarmament”. The proposal recommended a conference be held next year to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. “This is a significant moment in the seven-decade-long global struggle to rid the world of the worst weapons of mass destruction,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director Ican. “The UN working group achieved a breakthrough today.” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. The UN working group achieved a breakthrough today. There can be no doubt that a majority of UN members intend to pursue negotiations next year on a treaty banning nuclear weapons,” said Fihn. “We expect that, based on the recommendations of the working group, the UN general assembly will adopt a resolution this autumn to establish the mandate for negotiations on a ban on nuclear weapons in 2017.”
Australia surprised observers by objecting and forcing a vote with Australian diplomat Ian McConville telling the meeting: “A simple Ban Treaty would not facilitate the reduction in one nuclear weapon. It might even harden the resolve of those possessing nuclear weapons not to reduce their arsenals.”
Its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that it opposed a ban on nuclear weapons because although it “might seem to be a straightforward and emotionally appealing way to de-legitimise and eradicate nuclear weapons,” it would actually “divert attention from the sustained, practical steps needed for effective disarmament”.
But in 2015, documents obtained under Freedom of Information revealed Australia opposed the ban on nuclear weapons, since it believed it relied on US nuclear weapons as a deterrent. “As long as the threat of nuclear attack or coercion exists, and countries like the DPRK [North Korea] seek these weapons and threaten others, Australia and many other countries will continue to rely on US extended nuclear deterrence,” said one of the briefing notes. Tim Wright, Asia-Pacific director of the Ican, said it was thought that Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, instructed her diplomats to disrupt the international gathering by forcing a vote. While others then joined Australia to vote against the report, Australia was alone in forcing the vote to happen. “Australia is resisting the tide of history. A majority of nations believe that nuclear weapons are unacceptable and must be prohibited. And now they are ready to negotiate a ban,” Wright said. “Australia’s attempt to derail these important disarmament talks was shameful and outrageous. It provoked strong criticism from some of our nearest neighbours in Asia and the Pacific, who believe that the world should be rid of all weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Australia and the US were worried about the momentum gathering behind the Austrian-led push for a ban nuclear weapons, which diplomats said was “fast becoming a galvanising focus for those pushing the ban treaty option”. Japan’s ambassador to the UN conference on disarmament expressed disappointment that a vote was required. “We are deeply concerned that the adoption by voting will further divide the international disarmament community and undermine the momentum of nuclear disarmament for the international community as a whole,” he said.
For the Socialist Party our position is that supposing nuclear weapons could be banned. If two nations, possessing the necessary technical knowledge, should quarrel seriously enough over the things wars are really fought for— markets, sources of raw materials, strategic bases, etc—and even supposing they commenced fighting with conventional and deemed “moral” weapons, would not the losing side set its scientists to producing nuclear weapons in order to stave off defeat? If history is anything to go by, the side which was winning would use the Bomb and justify this by claiming it had brought hostilities to a speedier conclusion. We do not deny the sincerity of the campaign and the energy and ingenuity it displays in tackling a job they considered important as it provides further proof that once working men and women get on the right track we can organise globally. Capitalism’s days are indeed numbered.