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Banning Nuclear Weapons in Korea and Beyond: Just a Logical Extension to the LNP’s Rules Based Diplomacy?

Denis Bright invites discussion on the prospects for a UN sponsored nuclear weapons free world commencing with conflict resolution on the Korean Peninsula. Is this scenario the logical outcome of the federal LNP’s own rhetoric on rules based diplomacy? Could a bipartisan arrangement with Bill Shorten advance this peace agenda for our region?

Since the temporary Armistice Agreement in 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been a hot-bed of localized strategic tensions in the tedious saga of Cold War politics. More recently, North Korea perceived itself to be under threat from the US Nuclear umbrella across East Asia. Withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) followed in 2003. There were at least six underground nuclear tests after 2006. Testing of ballistic missiles and long-range rockets had been halted in 1998 but resumed a decade later.

New Possibilities for Rules Based Diplomacy?

In the currently tense strategic situation on the Korean Peninsula, the UN Security Council could do more to open negotiations for a permanent peace agreement that overcomes the current limitations of the divide at the 38th parallel from the Armistice in 1953.

Carefully thought out actions for peace might indeed achieve unanimous support from the five permanent members of the Security Council as war on the Korean Peninsula has no winners. A peace settlement in Korea after 64 years of sabre-rattling since 1953, can also become a prelude to wider support for the Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Australia is caught in a diplomatic bind by its currently unreserved public loyalty to the US despite private reservations on both sides of politics about the bombastic style of President Trump. This is a bipartisan problem. While both sides of Australian politics at an elite level have shown considerable empathy for President Trump in his handling of the Korean tensions, there are other possibilities which have real traction in the Australian electorate.

Roy Morgan Research Centre has summarized Australian public opinion on such issues:

Australians are split down the middle on whether North Korea – a country that Australia is still technically at war with given there was no formal peace treaty to end the Korean War of 1950-53 – will use nuclear weapons with 51% saying it is either ‘Fairly or Very unlikely’ and almost as many, 49%, saying it is either ‘Fairly or Very likely’ the rogue regime will use nuclear weapons.

However, despite the threat, a huge majority of Australians are as expected in favour of a peaceful solution to the stand-off that threatens the security of North-East Asia and the

wider region with 81% of Australians wanting a diplomatic solution: including 80% of Liberal voters and 83% of ALP voters compared to only 20% of Australians that believe a peaceful diplomatic solution isn’t possible and a military one is needed.

The consensus on these questions across political lines also extends across both genders, all age groups and around all of Australia’s States. However, this snap SMS Morgan Poll was taken before North Korea’s latest provocation this morning when the regime of Kim Jong-Un fired a ballistic missile nearly 4,000km eastward across the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. This is the second time North Korea has engaged in such a provocative action against its neighbour across the East Sea.

Public opinion across the political spectrum is opposed to military-first strategies as shown in the Roy Morgan Research:

North Korea – Peaceful diplomatic solution or Military solution

Internal tensions within the federal LNP between conservative and progressive blocs could be resolved through greater co-operation with federal Labor on such big issues. This would take politics back to precedents from the federation era when federal Labor gave tacit support to Prime Minister Deakin to maintain a minority government (1905-08). Both sides of politics then chose to break-up these pragmatic arrangements. The return to adversarial politics was intensified by the ideological divide over the conscription referendum during the Great War.

If Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are both seeking a positive place in future history books, they have a collective challenge to eclipse the rise of the far-right in Australian politics under the tacit tutelage of One Nation and other variants of Deep South conservatism.

Australia’s own International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) wants to talk-up a comprehensive approach to the current Korean problems in the context of the wider challenges posed by all global nuclear arsenals. ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 7 October 2017 for its promotion of the links between specific strategic problems and the wider challenges posed by nuclear weapons.

In stark contrast, President Trump is seeking a modernization of nuclear stockpiles both within the US Global Alliance System. There is even consideration of nuclear proliferation to willing countries such as Japan, India, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The return to rules based diplomacy based on the Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons for all mainstream political parties. This task will be derailed if it is attempted by just one side of Australian politics.

Exemplars of commitment to disarmament and peace are available from the international community of nations.

Advancing the Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Since the Treaty was opened for signatures on 20 September 2017, 53 nations have made their commitment. Regional signatories include New Zealand, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

European states supporting the Treaty such as Ireland, Austria and the Holy See (Vatican) are all outside the NATO military network. This Austrian commitment might be compromised by the recent advances towards a far-right coalition government in maintaining its support for the current Global Treaty.

Even though the federal LNP has ignored the new Global Treaty, the gate is always still open for progressive representatives with leadership roles on parliamentary committees to check out any local blind spots in Australia’s compliance with the existing NPT arrangements.

Progressive members of the federal LNP should use the resources of their departments to advance the peace agendas which would distance Australia a little from its US Allies.

This might include inquiries about military transits headed for US bases such as Diego Garcia in the Mid-Indian Ocean and the Reagan Missile Test Site at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. As these are US territories en route from the Californian Coast and Hawaii, they are probably legal blind spots in the existing NPT arrangements for the storage of nuclear weapons’ supplies.

Are these transits occurring in sacrosanct US vessels and aircrafts which require no Australian surveillance on a don’t ask, won’t tell geopolitical game which has continued since the inception of the NPT?

If such blind spots exist in the NPT protocols, a case is well established for Australian leaders to consider support for a real commitment to the Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as favored by out New Zealand neighbours.

Moving Beyond Potential NPT Blind Spots

The ICAN agenda to promote the Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is now being activated with international goodwill at the UN. Focusing on the current challenge from North Korea should be just part of a new global peace agenda.

The world’s first legally-binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons opened for signature at United Nations Headquarters in New York (UN Media Centre Online 20 September 2017).

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the product of increasing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, including the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of their use,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the ceremony, held on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level debate.

“The Treaty is an important step towards the universally-held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. It is my hope that it will reinvigorate global efforts to achieve it,” he added, acknowledging the contributions made by civil society and the hibakusha – the atomic bomb survivors.

At the same time, Mr. Guterres, highlighted the difficult road ahead by recalling that there remain some 15,000 nuclear weapons in existence. “We cannot allow these doomsday weapons to endanger our world and our children’s future,” he said.

Rules Based Diplomacy Versus US Unilateralism

As Australian foreign minister (1988-96), Gareth Evans achieved diplomatic success in overcoming the impasse in Cambodia. While human rights abuses still occur in Cambodia, the excesses of the Killing Fields of the Pol Pot Era (1975-79) have not been repeated after the Cambodian Peace Settlement

The current federal LNP government could assist with the imposition of rules based diplomacy in the Korean Peninsula but our capacity is mesmerized by misguided loyalty to President Trump.

Speaking at the UN after President Trump’s fire and brimstone speech to the General Assembly, the Hon Julie Bishop saw nothing amiss with the current style of US Diplomacy at her door-stop interview in New York. This doorstop interview from a persistent unnamed journalist is a Classic Yes Minister response to an outrageous speech from President Trump (See Doorstop New York 19 September 2017 on the Minister’s Site).

Journalist: Did you have any concerns about the speech and did you raise those with the President when you spoke to him?

Julie Bishop: I certainly didn’t raise any concerns with the President. We spoke more generally about the challenges with North Korea. We discussed a range of topics, but we most certainly focused on the challenges facing North Korea and the international …. (Comment Interrupted by the persistent journalist)

Journalist: Can you give us a bit more detail into exactly what was said?

Julie Bishop: Well it was a private conversation but we discussed specifically the issue with North Korea, and again, the illegal behaviour of Kim Jong-Un’s regime in its continual defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. There have been six illegal nuclear weapons tests, there have been about 88 or more ballistic missile tests, all in direct defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. And the Permanent Members of the Security Council, indeed the entire international community, cannot allow continued defiance of UN Security Council resolutions to go on. That’s why we’re part of the sanctions regime, why we’re part of the collective strategy to impose sufficient pressure on North Korea that it changes its behaviour.

The Australian Government’s silence about the current style of President Trump’s diplomacy contrasts with the warnings communicated by Hillary Clinton (Four Corners Online 16 October 2017). Federal LNP leaders cannot be completely aloof from this criticism as diplomatic amateurism threatens Australia’s strong and profitable economic relationships with China in the event of armed conflicts in East Asia.

Surely the move to ban all nuclear weapons as proposed in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the ultimate projection of rules based diplomacy.

Overlooked too, by the federal LNP rhetoric about rules based diplomacy, is the peculiar status of the military installations leased by the US from the UK at Diego Garcia during the 1960s (Images from New Eastern Outlook 1 December 2016).

Behind an expanded maritime protection zone around the Chagos Archipelago, the US military installations are fully protected from NPT protocols.

Australia excuses the displacement of the Chagossians to settlements established in Mauritius and the Seychelles as an essential consolidation of US Global Alliance Systems in the Indian Ocean Basin. The UN General Assembly has requested the International Court of Justice to arbitrate on this issue which involved the compulsory resettlement of indigenous people from this mid-ocean location (UN News Online 22 June 2017).

Activists in ICAN and the leaders of adjacent regional countries who have already signed the Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons are putting the welfare of humanity over the modernization of nuclear weapon arsenals.

ICAN’s current campaigns invite participation in public forums, the lobbying of national leaders and Australia’s UN Ambassador Her Excellency Gillian Bird PSM (gillian.bird@dfat.gov.au).

The diplomatic service of the Holy See (Vatican) is to be commended for its advocacy of the Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This commitment would be a surprise to members of the Catholic Church in countries like the USA and Poland where the faithful have gravitated towards centre-right politics.

Emails of support for the Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and peace negotiations in Korea might also be forwarded to the Holy See’s Apostolic Nuncio at the UN (His Excellency Archbishop Bernardito Aula: office@holyseemission.org), to the Apostolic Nuncio in Canberra (His Excellency Archbishop Adolfo Tito Allana: nuntius@nunciature.com.au) and to the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, His Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre (nuntiususa@nuntisusa.org).

The challenges posed by the current situation on the Korean Peninsula are a real challenge to local and global politics so that the slow shuffle towards conflict does not get out of hand. Pope Pius X tried in 1914 but could only assist with the first Christmas truce and a couple of unsuccessful peace initiatives as the youth of the world butchered each other for over four years.

Lest We Forget will have a new meaning if humanity survives until the US mid-term elections in November 2018.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to evaluate pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.

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11 comments

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  1. jim

    Good to see an article bring peace.
    A radio caller ; Russia has 700 Nuclear warheads, US has 500″,blah blah
    WTF is going on that we have people like this radio caller allowed on Australian air waves shame shame shame.
    is it this?.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLKwLvYMcDE&t=1573s
    I wonder if MT is an expert in nuclear bombs?.

  2. Mia

    There are so many nuclear weapons out there that it appears to be an impossible effort to stop more but at least it is a start by countries signing the non proliferation treaty.
    I feel ashamed that Australia has not signed the treaty nor congratulated our very own winners of the Nobel Peace Prize

  3. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Historical Correction: Pope Pius X tried to prevent the European Conflict in 1914. His successor Pope Benedict XV offered the partially successful Christmas Truce of 1914 and the unsuccessful diplomatic efforts of Cardinal Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) to end the German offensives on the Western Front in 1917.

  4. Paul

    We must have a unitied approach to peace in the federal parliament! Peace is an option and the only option. The alternative is unthinkable. Our leaders across the world have a duty to humanity and future children to make this work!

    Let’s look after this planet and the people in it!

    Thanks for the great article Denis!

  5. jimhaz

    Personally, I blame the weaknesses of the left for this situation. There is no such thing as diplomacy with dictators and this has forever been obvious.. Although perhaps it is the Republicans fault in making the US war weary since Afghanistan, which was when Nth Korea should have been tackled.

  6. Lalnama

    Great article Denis, could not agree more especially with your last paragraph.
    Let us all hope commonsense &’peace prevail

  7. Tessa

    War in Korea is a Lose Lose Scenario for our entire region: Why does the Turnbull Government ignore the UN Treaty to Abolish Nuclear Weapons?

  8. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Interesting articles about near impossible diplomatic challenges: Why give up when Australia has considerable goodwill in China especially in relation to current Korean Problems. Our interests are not served if Australian leaders are too afraid to mention the state of public opinion as expressed in the Roy Morgan Research:

    :https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/08/03/pope-benedict-xv-and-forgotten-campaign-end-world-war-i

    https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/broken-world

    https://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7333-north-korean-nuclear-stand-off-september-2017-201709151821

  9. Jim

    Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull have a common agenda to work for peace in Korea.

  10. Stella

    Denis, an excellent informed article about Australia’s position on North Korea. Hopefully, the Australian government will sign the treaty and look at peaceful diplomatic solutions which are in the best interest of our region. US mid-term seems like a long way off.

  11. Theresa

    Unfortunately, the Catholic Church in Australia as perceived by the public through its official media outlets does not promote the great diplomatic initiatives of Pope Francis for peace and social justice. The Vatican’s Caritas operates in parts of Syria controlled by President Assad and has good relations with Cuba. The Catholic Right in the LNP and federal Labor has become an embarrassment and is out of touch with the Holy See.

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