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Australia's nuclear option

Will the world ever muster the momentum to ban nuclear weapons? Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has decided to have a jolly good stab at it.

He's announced his intention to revive the flagging (to say the least) disarmament process by launching an 'International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament'. He hopes this will 'forge a global consensus' on how to reinvigorate the 40-year-old Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) which has suffered blow after blow over the last couple of decades.

The main problem with the NPT is that part of the original 1968 deal was that the nuclear-weapons-toting states (US, USSR/Russia, France, China, Britain) would disarm. But they haven't.

There are still a chilling 27,000 nukes in the world and both Britain and the US are busily developing a new generation of warheads for battlefield use (not just as a 'deterrent'). Which doesn't exactly send a message to other countries that they shouldn't develop their own too.

Another problem is that four countries haven't signed the NPT. They are Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea - the Johnny-come-latelies to the nuclear club. Now they've got the bomb, why should they be expected to disarm if the major nuclear powers won't?

A third snag in the NPT is that it actively encourages all countries to get access to 'peaceful' nuclear technology so that they can generate nuclear power. But that's a contradiction in terms.

Nuclear energy is far from benign. It's filthy and dangerous, of course, and won't stop climate change. But what the nuclear industry is most keen to gloss over is that once a country can generate nuclear power, it then also has developed the technical know-how and capacity to produce weapons-grade plutonium, which is the tricky part of making your own WMDs.

So the NPT needs reviving, sure, but it also has some pretty fundamental flaws. What we really need is a Nuclear Weapons Convention that will ban the development, possession, use and threat of use of any kind of nuke, and provide a routemap towards a nuclear-free world. Such an agreement exists in draft form, and the international campaign to get it adopted (ICAN) has been most active so far in Australia. They've clearly already got Rudd's attention.

But is he prepared to go beyond the NPT? And can he get the big boys round the table and persuade them to part with their beloved ballistics?


The June issue of the NI magazine focuses on nuclear weapons. See my article 'The Bomb Stops Here: the world is nuking up again, to new and alarming levels. So why are disarmament campaigners so optimistic?'

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