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Support for the UN Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or more comprehensive US nuclear weapons umbrellas?

By Denis Bright

Where are the cheers across Australia for the new Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as finalized by the recent UN Conference on 7th July 2017?

In the past, Australia developed a bipartisan balance between continued membership of the Australia-US Alliance, support for the Charter of the United Nations and commitment to its own national sovereignty.

Article 1 of the ANZUS Treaty of 1951 indeed rejected the need for sabre-rattling in the settlement of international disputes.

New Zealand officially left the Alliance in 1986 after continued participation compromised its national sovereignty (Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, US Department of State Online).

In 1984, the ANZUS Treaty began to unravel when New Zealand declared its country a nuclear-free zone and refused to allow U.S. nuclear-powered submarines to visit its ports. Two years later, U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Australian Foreign Minister Bill Hayden concluded a series of bilateral talks by confirming that their countries would continue to honor their obligations to one another under the ANZUS Treaty, in spite of the fact that the trilateral aspects of the Treaty had been halted. On September 17, 1986, the United States suspended its treaty obligations toward New Zealand.

In Australia, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction towards greater solidarity with the US Alliance and away from a diversity of foreign policies which required the US to adjust to policy diversity over issues like the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the War in Vietnam and even the presence of nuclear-powered ships carrying nuclear weapons into New Zealand during the 1980s.

Perusal of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) provides scope for historical research on just how federal governments on both sides of politics responded to issues like the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the arrival of nuclear-powered US naval vessels carrying nuclear weapons or military aircrafts in transit to bases like Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or US bases in the Middle East.

There are 876 documents alone covering aspects of Australia’s responses to the challenges posed by nuclear weapons. A few of these documents are available online. Others can be requested. Still others are partially or completely restricted under the Archives Act 1983.

A spokesperson for NAA advised that some sensitive strategic historical files prior generated before late 1993 (the current limit for public access) are still not listed or partially closed to the Australian public. Many sensitive historical files have not been assessed for clearance. Specialized staff are called in to peruse these files when applications are made for photocopying or digitalization. The reproduction costs are passed onto the applicants.

In time, research students will have accessed all available documents to examine the extent to which participation in the US Alliance has eroded our capacity for independent public analysis of international security issues affecting Australia prior to late 1993.

Many of these documents were also released by the US to other countries where archives have differing time limits and retrieval policies from Britain to Jamaica, Zimbabwe, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada or the US itself through the Department of State and private archival networks.

The current generation of students can be kept busy for years to test embedded assumptions about national sovereignty within states that are linked to US Global Alliance Systems.

At a time when recent US administrations have become more proactive about the need for solidarity within US Global Alliance Systems, there is a pressing need for elected leaders of both government and opposition parties to be more concerned about protection of our national sovereignty.

The case for Australian support for the Draft Treaty was eloquently presented by Professor Ramesh Thakur of the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU in a public lecture at Griffith University’s Southbank Campus in Brisbane on 13 July 2017.

Professor Thakur emphasized that the threat of nuclear proliferation is not confined to current media emphasis on nuclear proliferation in North Korea (DPRK). The nuclear stand-off between India and Pakistan has been simmering for decades. It is now complicated by the acquisition of new nuclear weapons technology by India in a dangerous balance of power strategic game with China.

All nine nuclear weapons states are clinging to their nuclear weapons despite commitments make in Articles VI and VII of NPT’68.



After fifty years, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT’68) failed to eliminate the vast nuclear arsenals. Pax Christi Victoria has communicated the grim statistics from the US Arms Control Association.

Australian Catholics should be encouraged by the Vatican’s support on the UN Committee for the new Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

It is the pace of nuclear proliferation which motivated 122 states in the General Assembly to support the UN Committee to negotiate a new Draft Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This was concluded on 7 July 2017. The Netherlands opposed the Draft and Singapore abstained.

Sixty-nine UN member states including Australia were absent from the UN Committee deliberations.

The Treaty will be open for signature to all States at UN Headquarters in New York on 20 September 2017, and enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries. The momentum for ratification is not encouraging. Excessive loyalty to the US Nuclear Weapons Umbrella is a greater challenge to national sovereignty than the current controversy over dual citizenship for members of parliament.

The problem of loyalty to the US Nuclear Umbrella did not arise with the election of Donald Trump.



In the last days of the Obama Administration on 17 October 2016, the US Mission to NATO urged NATO member states to cling to their nuclear umbrella by boycotting the UN Committee to negotiate a new Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. All NATO countries responded positively to this appeal from the US Government and disassociated themselves from the 122 countries supporting the Draft Treaty on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.

Should humanity survive the current volatility in US strategic policies, future generations will be aghast at the capacity of the US Government to influence both government and opposition parties within the NATO network of countries. Even centre- left governments in NATO countries towed the directive from Washington.

With nuclear proliferation on the rise within NPT’68, the need for renewal of controls on nuclear weapons is more important than ever. Barry McGuire’s classic protest song (Eve of Destruction) has assumed a new relevance as the quest for a new Age of Aquarius through the Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons becomes ever more important international agenda.

The Conference of The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) in Melbourne between 8-10 September 2017 will provide peace activists with a chance to interact with an array of local and overseas speakers:

Stella Speakers at the IPAN Conference

Australia is offered fresh wisdom from across the Tasman through the web sites of the NZ Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Department (Minister for Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee).

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee has welcomed the successful conclusion of negotiations for a new international treaty to ban nuclear weapons at the United Nations in New York.

New Zealand joined more than 120 other states in voting in favour of the final text of a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Some countries like New Zealand have already enacted a national ban on nuclear weapons. This treaty now provides the first legal prohibition on nuclear weapons at a global level.

“Since none of the states which currently possess nuclear weapons took part in the negotiations, we need to be realistic about the prospects of this treaty leading to a reduction in nuclear weapons in the short term.

“However, the treaty is an important step towards a world free of nuclear weapons, which has been a long-held goal for New Zealand,” Mr Brownlee says.

The treaty will be open for signature by states from 20 September 2017 and will enter into force after 50 states have ratified it.

There is a problem for our national sovereignty if Australia’s official voice on the terrifying issue of nuclear proliferation is not being expressed to support the representatives of Ireland, Austria, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico as co-sponsors of the Draft Treaty on new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Perhaps the National Government of Prime Minister Bill English in New Zealand can assist Australian leaders with their sovereignty blind-spots as the tabloid press focuses on more trivial problem of members of parliament who happen to hold dual citizenship through their family connections.

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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  1. Pearl

    We all need to do our bit for a more peaceful world . Australia should be signing up to the treaty and doing our bit to show our independence from the US in this and other matters just as our friend and neighbour , New Zealand, has .

  2. Penelope

    Excellent article Denis, could not agree more.
    This situation has been building up for years, we can only hope common sense prevails & egos settle

  3. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks Penelope.

    Despite some restrictions with retrieval of sensitive articles at the National Archives of Australia (NAA), so much material is still available.

    NAA tells me that 90% of the files available have not been requested for clearance.

    Australia is a significant player in international relations and is already the 12th or 13th largest global economy with the resources to make its foreign policy more proactive.

    This research can revisit old crises to find out how governments on both sides of the aisle responded to challenges to our national sovereignty.

    Britain seeking support from Australia for naval patrols in the South China Sea whilst half the children of Papua-New Guinea are malnourished and DFAT resources are being diverted to support the Pacific Solution.

    Back home Theresa May runs a minority government which cannot maintain good public housing and other essential services.

    Gough Whitlam, it seems, is still our stand-bearer in best practice.

    Even as an Alumni card-holder at University of Queensland, I am unable to access e.books and this library holds no hard copies of this exciting publication: Critical Theory in International Relations and Security Studies as Edited by Shannon Brincat, Laura Lima and Joao Nunes.

    The local Council Library is obtaining this for me on an inter-library loan from the National Library of this Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group publication.

    Current students should cherish the resources which are at their disposal.

    The ideas generated will take Australia out of the remnants of its colonial cringe, particularly since 1996.

    Leaders who had not done a day of military service have redefined patriotism to create political legends of themselves as so-called Strong Leaders in a Strong Economy. Do they want to be Emperors of a New Rome?

  4. diannaart

    Problem is Australia has vast supplies of uranium and the current emperors see dollars signs, much as they do when they think of coal.

    Also, listening to various emperors opine upon the Trump administration, I notice their attempts to paint said administration as “not that bad, really” – in spite of evidence to the contrary. Not even the indictment of Republican, John McCain on the ineffectual POTUS is registering with our emperors.

    Money “trumps” all. So it goes.

  5. Paul

    Thanks for the article Denis!

    There is certainly some strong merit in NZ’s approach to this topic.

    Let’s hope this gets some attention in the mainstream media and some discussion at the federal political level.

  6. Maria Heenan

    A great article Denis.

  7. Rubio@Coast

    Thanks Denis: Be assured the surfers of Killcare are defending Aussie sovereignty even if Robertson is an LNP seat on a 1 per cent margin thanks to preferences from the Christian Democrat Party which scored 2.7 per cent of the vote and directed its preferences to Malcolm Turnbull

  8. Glenn Barry

    David Lange remains an absolute hero in my memory for his stance against US Nuclear weapons – it’s a shame there was no Australian counterpart at the time

  9. wam

    same with me glenn and weren’t the septics petty in their dummy spit?
    wonder if the pynenut is really going to pay $50 billion for scaled down converted to diesel nuclear subs or just take the fullsize?

  10. wam

    I can remember ringing my kiwi friends congratulating them on banning septic warships because they wouldn’t declare their ships free from nuclear arms. It was so obvious that the septics spat the dummy and we just followed their lead instead of backing our ANZAC mates. The old cynics have no worries in reasoning that the god botherers will start god’s second coming with fission.

  11. Tessa

    Australia will go down with the USA if it fails to adjust to changing times in the Indo-Pacific Hemisphere. Shame on us for turning a blind eye to the excesses of India’s re-armement with enriched uranium from Australia, missile parts from Britain and drones from Israel.

  12. Borris

    Thanks Denis for strring up younger Australians to have more say over their sovereignty. Should I start my activism by reading the Daily Telegraph more thoroughly?

  13. brisbanej

    Thanks Denis. A timely article, it’s good to have a better understanding of Australia’s policy and position on this issue.

  14. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks Denis,

    for drawing this important development to our attention. I would be interested in attending the IPAN Conference in Melbourne in September. In these volatile times, it is important to demand pushback on all fronts to make the world safer and sustainable.

    In Australia’s interests, we need to withdraw our sycophancy to US power. What better time than now with Trump in power showing the world what a madman US President can do to destroy everybody’s peace and security?

    It is also the time to put extra pressure on a failing, flailing LNP Government in its death throes and to deny them oxygen to maintain AUS-US Alliance.

    The MOST important imperative is to promote a non-Nuclear world, especially regarding weapons but also with reference to power and storage.

  15. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks Jennifer. I cannot attend the IPAN Conference myself as I have run out of spare cash for long distance Australian travel.

    However, I intend to write more articles on security matters.Left wing opinion is in the front-line of defending Australia’s sovereignty and forging a peaceful hemisphere.

    The Murdoch Press fosters a totally different line.

    With the right critical diplomacy, the Indo-Pacific Region can enjoy a new century of peace through more non-alignment and the creation of nuclear free zones. All ten ASEAN countries are non-aligned with varying degrees of commitment and Timor-Leste is about to become the 11th member.

    Australia should avoid becoming involved in the maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Sovereignty demands that we resist pressure from Britain and the US for destroyer escorts to the two British Aircraft Carriers.

    Hopefully the USS Ronald Reagan en route from Brisbane to Yokosuka will not be involved in dangerous strategic games with our best and most profitable trading partner, China. (http://www.reagan.navy.mil/family.html).

  16. diannaart


    Time is right (and ripe) for Australia to back away very carefully, reach the exit and run – no one would blame us, well, no one in the reasonable part of the universe.

  17. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    For sure, diannaart.

  18. bjornvidarj

    What a great article!

  19. Patrick

    Our elected federal leaders are supposed to take up our concerns. Despite the UN Charter, preparation for war is now a mainstream agenda. Why is this so? Where is all the courage that so-called strong leaders are supposed to possess?

  20. Tessa

    Boycotting nuclear weapons bans: is this leadership or senility?

  21. brisbanej

    Let’s hope Australia takes a more independent approach to the US policies.

  22. adriko555

    I was really enjoying this article while many questions slowly started to pop up in my head. Before addressing our legit concerns toward US foreign policies I think we should take into consideration the other UN veto member countries which are already developing nuclear programs for military purposes. What is Russia and China doing about stopping their nuke programs? By the way, is Australia into any talks with these countries regarding their nuke programs? US is a democratic country so it makes it easier for us to go aftrer their foreign policies since US and Australia share the same democratic values. I would love to hear Denis’s opinion about what Australia should be doing with US, Russia, and China about their nuclear programs for military purpuses since they are veto members and they make important decisions for the rest of the UN club so to say. Who will reinforce the new treaty agreement if we want only US to come into new terms and regulations about nuclear program? After all, Trump is busy firing his team members and he really doesn’t know much about nuke buttons… 🙂

  23. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Good to hear from Adriko in far-off Toronto, Canada.

    The Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a uniting for peace resolution from the General Assembly with the support of 122 members plus one abstention (Singapore) and just one opponent (The Netherlands). It is not a Security Council initiative.

    The reduction of nuclear arsenals was once supported by President Obama in his historic Prague address in May 2009, with goodwill from Russia.

    The peace train has since been derailed.

    One bright spot from the Obama Era is the normalization of relations between Taiwan and China with growing travel and commercial ties across once troubled waters.

    More similar initiatives are needed on the Indian Subcontinent and the Korean Peninsula. India and Pakistan have made some attempt at peaceful co-existence.

    Extending NATO influence to Eastern Europe, the Ukraine, Georgia and Centre Asia has not been a plus for easing international tensions.

    The Bishkek Base in remote Kyrgystan right next to China became a supply base for the US war effort in Afghanistan under George W. Bush for the movement of troops and equipment. Russia has negotiated with the local government to halt such operations.

    Canada under the defeated Stephen Harper and Australia still under the federal Conservative LNP played the role of robot states in not speaking out against the spending of $2 trillion on global military budgets.

    Nuclear weapons upgrades by Israel and India were part of the New Global Militarization which the Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons wants to stop.

    Most of the global military budget is consumed by the US and its Nuclear Umbrella States like ours in Britain, Canada and Australia. British arms sales to Saudi Arabia have grown so much that they cancel out the cost of oil imports.

    Hopefully regime change in Canada is going well and will be followed by similar changes in Australia and Britain where Opposition parties are just heart-beats away from government.

  24. diannaart


    Love your work

    British arms sales to Saudi Arabia have grown so much that they cancel out the cost of oil imports.

    Another reason to free ourselves from addiction to oil (I realise we will always have uses). I can also imagine how the justification for selling arms to Arabia went down, “Hey, we break even on our oil dependency”. Moral justification? MIA.

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