Vol. 21, No. 2
90 seconds to midnight
Casey Thompson and Huw Phillips
Statement from People Impacted by Nuclear Testing
Lowering the nuclear temperature: Australia's role
The Hon Gareth Evans AC
Australia and the post-Ukraine nuclear disarmament agenda
Emeritus Professor Ramesh Thakur
Personal reflections on Australia's contribution to support the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
The Hon Robert Tickner AO
Reflections from Vienna
Susan Templeman MP
Sign the Nuclear-Ban Treaty: 'ordinary' Australians want this to happen
Associate Professor Marianne Hanson
AUKUS stinks, and that's an understatement
The Hon Peter Garrett AM
AUKUS and Australia
Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor Steven Starr
A National Security Strategy for Australia
Major-General Michael G. Smith AO (ret’d) and Professor John Langmore AM
Northern Territory - A US War Base, What Peaceful Role for Australia?
Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees
Risky Business: The human impacts of nuclear weapons
Dr Margaret Beavis
The Nuclear Legacy: Connecting Survivors in Australia and Japan
Tanaka Terumi and Peace Boat
The Red Cross Case for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
Yvette Zegenhagen and Pranamie Mandalawatta, Australian Red Cross
Nuclear Weapons are a Sin: Working for nuclear disarmament from a religious perspective
Dr Emily Welty, Jennifer Philpot-Nissen, Ann Skamp and Peter Prove, World Council of Churches
The Quest for Peace and Common Security
Sharan Burrow AC
Manufacturing Workers in Peace and War
Andrew Dettmer, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union
Cities and towns across Australia united against nuclear weapons
Councillor Linda Scott
Fear, Existential Threat and Nuclear-powered Submarines
Adjunct Professor Andrew Mack
It's time to defuse the ticking time bombs
The Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
Art poses poignant questions for humanity that help us to reflect upon fundamental issues confronting society. However, it is up to all of us — our political and civic leaders and an active citizenry — to articulate the answers and implement the solutions.
In January 2023, David Crosby, famed folk singer, passed away. His passing reminds us of the power of artistic endeavour in forcing us to consider existential questions. In this case, the post-apocalyptic story as told in the 1960s song Wooden Ships — set in the devastating aftermath of a nuclear war — relays how a nuclear bomb survivor desperately, even sardonically, asks, "Can you tell me please, who won?" Today, over five decades later, as the Doomsday Clock is 90 seconds to midnight, we find ourselves reflecting upon this question once again.
The risks of nuclear war — while perhaps understood broadly within society — are conventionally considered intractable for policymakers to respond to. As former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gareth Evans, notes in this Journal, we face "three great existential risks to life on this planet as we know it – climate change, pandemics and nuclear war" and "the one about which both policymakers and publics continue to be most complacent… is that flowing from nuclear war."
The threat to life posed by climate change is increasingly understood and appreciated, and policies are being formulated in response. Emerging from the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers now have an acute understanding of the challenges a global pandemic presents and the lessons are well-documented to inform future responses to pandemics when they arise. Yet prior to 2020 a pandemic seemed an unlikely possibility, not worthy to many of serious consideration or preparation. While acknowledging the significant loss of life caused by COVID-19, humanity as a whole survived. Yet the physics of nuclear weaponry suggests that we wouldn’t be as lucky in nuclear war. As Dr Margaret Beavis in this Journal puts it, "everything is fine — until it isn’t."
In addition to recognising and understanding the risks involved with nuclear weapons, what is Australia’s role in addressing the threat they pose? As the Australian Red Cross writes in these pages, "what we cannot prepare for, we must prevent". This Journal aims to progress discussion and understanding of the risks posed by nuclear weapons — whether they be nuclear bombs, weapons-grade nuclear-powered submarines or B52 planes equipped with nuclear missiles. The overwhelming theme that runs through each contribution in this Journal is that Australia can and must play a leading role both in our immediate region and internationally in advancing nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, peace and stability.
The past can serve as an instructive teacher. Australia has a painful, and often forgotten, history with nuclear weapons. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the British Government — with permission from the Menzies Government — undertook nuclear weapons testing in South Australia. Sites were left contaminated and the local Aboriginal people were shamefully considered an afterthought, left to suffer deaths, cancers and birth defects. Maralinga artists retell this painful story through their artwork. Alinta Smart’s piece, Death, covers this Journal and Mima Smart and Rita Bryant’s piece, Maralinga, appears inside. These pieces are powerful reminders that First Nations people have suffered the brunt of Australia’s historic decisions to both allow nuclear weapons testing in Australia and to not articulate a suitability independent foreign policy stature that places Australia’s interests above those of our allies. In 2022, members of the Yankunytjatjara, Kokoda, Adnyamathanha, Dieri, and Kuyani peoples issued a statement to the Prime Minister and Parliament of Australia, telling their story and calling for a world without nuclear weapons. We have reproduced this at the beginning of this Journal.
The Australian progressive movement has a proud history of championing peace and diplomacy, and opposing nuclear weapons. As former Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Robert Tickner, writes in this Journal, "Doc" Evatt not only played an instrumental role in the creation of the United Nations (UN) in the aftermath of the Second World War but on 25 June 1946 sent a cable from the UN to the Department of External Affairs decreeing: "the manufacturer of Atomic weapons, and the stock pile of material for military purposes, cease and that existing stocks of bombs be dismantled."
Sharan Burrow, former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), reminds us in this Journal that wars
disproportionately affect working people and discusses the ITUC’s longstanding commitment to peace and nuclear disarmament for the benefit of workers everywhere. Peace has always been, and will always be, union business. Australian Council of Trade Unions President, Michele O’Neil, recently restated the union movement’s "long-standing policy of opposition to nuclear power, nuclear waste and proliferation" and "long-standing policy position that supports a nuclear-free defence policy."
Continuing Evatt’s legacy, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has championed multilateral institutions, diplomacy and non-aggression in the pursuit of regional and international peace and stability. As Paul Keating commented at the National Press Club in March 2023, the ALP has presciently assessed the majority of foreign policy questions. The ALP has long stood on the right side of history: in opposing Hughes' attempt to force conscription; when Curtin withstood Churchill on the question of bringing Australia’s soldiers home to defend against the threat of the Japanese advance through the Pacific; when Calwell opposed the Vietnam War, a decision vindicated by history and followed by the final withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam by Whitlam; and when Crean opposed sending Australian troops to Iraq. And it was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who became the first serving Western leader to visit Hiroshima since the atomic bombing in the Second World War, preceding President Obama’s historic visit.
A key tenet of Labor foreign policy has been nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and Labor Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers have worked diligently in this pursuit. In this Journal, Gareth Evans chronicles much of this work, while Councillor Linda Scott reflects on the unwavering conviction of one of Labor’s most stalwart true-believers, Tom Uren, on the need for a world without nuclear weapons after he witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki while a prisoner of war. Former Labor Senator, peace advocate and former Evatt Foundation President, Bruce Childs, also strongly championed the peace movement and dedicated much of his political life to nuclear disarmament.
The arguments against nuclear weapons are clear. Writing in this Journal, Gareth Evans states that the goal must be nuclear disarmament, while prominent American scientist, Steven Starr, reminds us of President John F. Kennedy’s famous declaration: "The[se] weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."
The World Council of Churches warn that nuclear deterrence is an unacceptable strategy for ensuring peace and life on Earth, while Robert Tickner writes: "To put it in simple terms, it is just like the argument that allowing more high-powered guns in a country capable of mass slaughter somehow makes that country safer." Humanity is not safer through stockpiling nuclear weapons designed to destroy all life.
The geopolitical environment we find ourselves in is becoming increasingly complex and multi-polar in its nature, raising the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. Writing in this Journal, former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, Emeritus Professor Ramesh Thakur, reflects on how "the risks of nuclear war — by design, accident, rogue launch or system error — have grown with more countries with weaker command and control systems in more unstable regions possessing these deadly weapons, terrorists wanting them, and vulnerability to human error, system malfunction and cyber-attack." Thakur reminds us that Australia not only "has a direct and big stake in a rules-based global order", but that we are also "a consequential tier two power."
Beyond these systemic risks, in an increasingly contested geopolitical landscape, the Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt observes that the flaws in human nature are such that people often respond aggressively, rashly and through whatever means available, when they believe they are under extreme pressure and without many options. Reflecting on the heightened risk of modern day conflicts, such as that between Ukraine and Russia, Catt fears that it is not if nuclear weapons will be used again but when.
Steven Starr writes of the devastating effects of any future detonation of nuclear weapons and demonstrates that it is not hyperbolic to say that a third world war will be the last. Unfortunately, we do not have to imagine the impact of nuclear weapons on humanity. Tanaka Terumi, a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing (hibakusha), writes with Peace Boat in this Journal telling his harrowing story in the aftermath of the bombing: "I entered ground zero to find my relatives. Some had burned to death where their house used to be. Others survived but soon died with heavy burns or fever from radiation. Altogether, five of my family were killed. Everywhere, many victims with heavy injuries and hundreds of dead bodies were left unattended. It was literally hell." The Australian Red Cross recounts in this Journal similar experiences of their first responders on the ground in Nagasaki and Hiroshima and assert the international humanitarian law prerogative to wholly remove the threat of nuclear weapons.
To progress nuclear disarmament, international peace and stability, Australia must be steadfast in our commitment to preserving our sovereignty and self-determination. In opposing Australia entering the American War in Vietnam, and predicting it would end as it did, Calwell famously spoke on what it means to be an ally and the ways in which Australia possessed the sophistication to maintain an alliance without making the US’ military battles our own. Calwell spoke of Australia’s role in encouraging and facilitating international diplomacy. He argued that the "crucial test" of foreign policy was whether it advanced Australia’s "national security" and "national survival" and proclaimed: "We will be vindicated [and] generations to come will record with gratitude that when a reckless government wilfully endangered the security of this nation, the voice of the Australian Labor Party was heard, strong and clear, on the side of sanity and in the cause of humanity." This is a timeless reminder that Australia is a regional and international leader, as well as an ally and partner, through our ability to be articulately frank and constructive.
Reflecting on Calwell’s speech, on the 50th anniversary of Australia entering the Vietnam War, Professor Hugh White wrote: "the issues that were at stake for us in Vietnam remain remarkably relevant to us today. It was about how far we should trust Washington's judgement about when and where to fight in Asia." In this context, the creation of AUKUS for the purposes of enabling nuclear-propelled and nuclear missile-capable submarines in Australian waters, and nuclear-capable US B52s on Australian lands, raises significant questions for all Australians. The Hon Peter Garrett writes in this Journal that "...ratifying an undertaking of this magnitude should have been subject to thorough scrutiny and debate in the Parliament, through all levels of the ALP, and in the public realm" and that "...signing off on AUKUS represents a marked departure from at least half a century of foreign policy leadership in which the ALP has prioritised engagement with our neighbours".
In this Journal, Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees, Adjunct Professor Andrew Mack, Professor John Langmore and Major-General Michael G. Smith (ret'd) discuss whether China, Australia’s primary trading partner, poses a military threat to Australia and therefore, justifies such weaponry. They argue that China does not pose such a threat, joining Paul Keating and Bob Carr in concluding that there is not evidence that China has, or has had, expansionist desires that threaten Australia.
This Journal also explores the question: can the Australian people’s long-standing commitment to peace, regional stability, diplomacy, non-aggression and nuclear disarmament be reconciled with our nation entering into the AUKUS partnership, committing hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to nuclear-powered and capable weaponry? Here we see the value in revisiting the timeless remarks of Calwell when he stated that foreign policy should be judged as to whether it advances our national security and national survival and if it does not, Australia should instead engage with our allies as a sovereign partner. In this Journal Peter Garrett
similarly cautions that AUKUS brings "...wide ranging risks as Australia's national interest becomes hostage to the interests and capacities of others."
Major-General Michael G.Smith (ret'd) and Professor John Langmore argue in this Journal that "Australia desperately needs a broader national security conversation that seriously considers means of reducing tensions, recognises the security challenges of climate change, and seeks effective methods of peacebuilding, preventing violence and transforming conflict". They discuss the ways in which Australia can further reduce tensions with China and continue the ALP's tradition of advancing Australian sovereignty and national interests, while remaining a US ally.
Proponents of the AUKUS initiative argue that it brings job creation benefits but would this not be the case for any onshore defence manufacturing project? Were Australia to embark upon a manufacturing plan to upgrade our fleet of conventionally powered submarines for our defensive posture — submarines many argue are better suited to our strategic defensive needs — quality Australian manufacturing jobs would be created but without the added risks to the workers and people of Australia. The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), whose members build Australian-made submarines and ships, write in this Journal of their success in securing such a policy under former Prime Minister Turnbull when he agreed to build the conventionally powered Short-Fin Barracuda submarine in the Port Adelaide shipyards. The AMWU note their opposition to nuclear power and their concerns regarding the implications for non-proliferation posed by the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines.
Since its election the Albanese Labor Government has taken steps towards nuclear disarmament. In this Journal Susan Templeman MP reflects on representing Australia at the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in Vienna, noting that "with Australia’s long record of international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament advocacy, we are well placed to play a constructive role on these issues."
This foreword calls on the Australian Government to sign the TPNW without delay. We must continue former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s legacy when he stated in 1986: "the Government will continue to exert pressure on the super-powers to reach arms control agreements for deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals leading to their ultimate elimination."
Prime Minister Albanese has long been a vocal advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Associate Professor Marianne Hanson, co-chair of ICAN Australia, recounts the 2018 Australian Labor Party National Conference where Albanese proclaimed: "nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane, and indiscriminate weapons ever created."
After announcing his Ministry in June 2022, Albanese stated, "we won't waste a single day in Government." Any further delay to Australia's signature to the TPNW is time wasted. With the Doomsday Clock now closer to midnight than ever before, we cannot wait any longer. Australia must play a leadership role in contributing to regional and international peace, stability and nuclear disarmament.
We believe that there is cause for optimism in the struggle for nuclear disarmament and peace when we look at the successful campaigns to eliminate other similar weapons. Robert Tickner reminds us that public and international opinion can shift quickly, citing the speed at which Australia supported the ban on antipersonnel landmines, a stance "taken despite the strong opposition of the USA." We believe that similar progress is possible with nuclear disarmament. In 2018 Albanese said that it was "not true" that signing the TPNW would "interfere with" the US alliance and remarked that, "the fact is that we can disagree with our friends in the short term, while maintaining those relations" and referenced Australia’s ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty.
Reflecting on these achievements — possible despite initial US opposition — we are reminded of the importance of Australian sovereignty and leadership for a more peaceful world.
While much is rightly expected of the Australian Government in the campaign for nuclear disarmament and peace, active civic participation in this debate is crucial to affect change and progress. Let us not forget that opposition to the Vietnam War was shown most visibly when hundreds of thousands of Australians took to the streets demanding the withdrawal of Australian troops and that hundreds of thousands of Australians marched for peace and nuclear disarmament at the height of the Cold War. As Bob Hawke remarked, "issues of peace and disarmament are too important to be left to governments alone."
In preparing this Journal we remember and honour Bruce Childs - former Senator, former President of the Evatt Foundation, and lifelong champion of peace and nuclear disarmament. We hope that this Journal is a contribution to the struggle for a more peaceful world to which Bruce dedicated his life.
Casey Thompson and Huw Phillips