At root, building more nuclear weapons and banning nuclear weapons are the two logical opposite responses to the fact that there are still thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. With sober-minded experts putting the chances of war in Korea at 50/50, any thought of war with 75 million Koreans living in an area the size of Victoria is horrific, even if, by sheer dumb luck, we avoid escalation to nuclear war.
The nuclear ban treaty is a rebellion by the majority of the world’s governments in the face of half a century of empty promises by the nuclear weapons states. The treaty strategy is clear and clear-headed. By passing a law to prohibit the use, using, testing, developing, producing, manufacturing or stationing nuclear weapons – or assisting any of these activities – these countries are saying to the nuclear weapons states that what they are doing in their ‘self-defence’ is utterly illegitimate and criminal.
It is hardly a surprise that all the nuclear weapons states boycotted the treaty negotiations. The US warned their nuclear-supporter allies like Australia, which had been playing an enthusiastic spoiler role in the run-up, to not take part.
Already the existence of a law, to which these nuclear states and nuclear-supporter states are not party, is having its key planned effect – to set a global norm of international legitimacy which stigmatizes those who hold the threat of nuclear war over the rest of the world. Critically, it forces the defenders of nuclear deterrence to justify themselves, to try to refute the scientific evidence that any use of nuclear weapons will be catastrophic, that a ‘limited nuclear exchange’ will cause abrupt climate change with decades-long global humanitarian consequences and famine, and that as the Red Cross says there is simply no conceivable effective medical response to even a single detonation of a nuclear weapon in a city.
ICAN Australia was determined that nuclear survivors from Japan, Australia, the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia would get to the treaty negotiations, to bring a sense of the lived experience of nuclear weapons to the diplomats, skilled and determined though they were, coming from very different worlds. Karina and Rosemary Lester, Sue Coleman-Haseldine and other Pacific nuclear survivors brought indigenous voices and the experience of nuclear colonialism to the heart of the talks, with great effect.
And now, a Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN, which started in Melbourne, and grew into a global coalition. Pretty amazing, and so wonderful for so many people well beyond ICAN.
Whether that demand would lead to genuine reform or a US decision to close the base will depend on whether an Australian government can develop a spine and comply with new international law – whatever the US thinks.
New Zealand was the first nuclear-supporter American ally to break from the mould. For all the US and Australian shouting at New Zealand after the passage of its New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act, the US and New Zealand have made up with non-nuclear business as usual.
A non-nuclear alliance is possible.