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An obscene global suicide pact

Media Release
Scott Ludlam 20 Jun 2017

The question is one of fundamental importance. I am not surprised that the Minister for Defence has been so slow to respond, because the answer would have required facing up to some appalling truths. 72 years after more than two hundred thousand people were killed in the twin attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is still official Australian Government policy to endorse the threat, and the use, of nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

Its in the defence white paper, and it has been for years. It goes by the bloodless term ‘extended nuclear deterrence.’  It means, in practice, that if you commit indiscriminate mass murder on our population, collapse our economies, irradiate our food and fresh water and unleash a cancer epidemic that will overwhelm our health system; if you do that to us, we will do it to you. And we will do it with weapons a thousand times the destructive yield of the ones that turned those wartime Japanese cities to ash.  

All of us in here have lived under this obscene global suicide pact our whole lives, so long that it has come to be seen as normal. It was a visceral truth in the global mass consciousness during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Everyone knew that in a very real sense a miscalculation or aggressive move by one side or both, could kill tens of millions of people over the course of a few hours and leave the survivors to try and make it through the nuclear winter.   

The nuclear armed states want all of us to believe that this agreement will hold, forever, until some imaginary time when the weapons will be stood down. In the mean time we are meant to believe that command and control structures will never fail. That these weapons will remain in the hands of rational state actors forever. That the leaders with executive control over this suicide pact will be sensible, caring people. That on no single day will a false alarm, slip up, breakdown or act of malice loose one of these weapons and provoke an escalation.

This is the definition of insanity. These weapons must be banned before they are used. Nobody is pretending this will be easy, but nobody should imagine that this is impossible. The alternative, that one of these weapons is actually used, has been treated as unthinkable. Right now, I invite the Senate to consider. To think. As our parents and grandparents used to think. About what happens if one of these weapons is ever used. 

What happens on the day a 100kt bomb, roughly eight times the explosive yield of the bomb that flattened Hiroshima, is detonated over central Sydney. Everything and everyone between Balmain to Double Bay disappears under a radioactive fireball hotter than the sun. Out to a radius of five kilometres, say between Petersham and Mosman, the blast wave kills nearly everyone, most structures are torn apart and anything flammable ignites. Out to ten kilometres, say between Rockdale and Manly Beach, half the population dies of blast trauma or burns, and the remainder will be at the highest risk of radiation sickness from the neutron flash or fission products that will soon begin to fall out. Out to at least 80 km – so, the distance to Wollongong - depending on wind direction and the height of the blast, people begin to fall sick from acute radiation sickness, children and the elderly being, as always, the hardest hit. Law enforcement, the health system and emergency services cease to exist. I have described one detonation over one city. Hydrogen bombs a hundred times more powerful are deployed right now, at this moment, in the arsenals of the nine nuclear weapons state who hold this threat over everyone else. 

Colleagues, maybe not Sydney. Maybe Karachi. Or St Petersburg. Or Seoul, or New York City.  In a full scale nuclear exchange in which the hideous agreement of mutually assured destruction is realised, a hundred million people die in the first half hour of our species final war. 

This is how the World Health Organisation describes the aftermath:

It is obvious that no health service in any area of the world would be capable of dealing adequately with the hundreds of thousands of people seriously injured by blast, heat or radiation from even a single one-megaton bomb .... Whatever remained of the medical services in the world could not alleviate the disaster in any significant way .... To the immediate catastrophe must be added the long-term effects on the environment. Famine and diseases would be widespread, and social and economic systems would be totally disrupted .... Therefore the only approach to the treatment of the health effects of nuclear explosions is primary prevention of such explosions.”

With this horror front of mind the global disarmament community spent decades organising mass mobilisations and building the political will to support diplomatic efforts around test bans, a fissile material cutoff treaty, and demobilising certain categories of weapons. I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge three generations of those organisers from all over the world; leaders and mentors like former Senator Jo Vallentine, as well as countless others who played their part, organising a global disarmament movement that reached from street demonstrations all the way to negotiating tables in Geneva and New York.

Most recently, at the urging of organisations like the International Red Cross, fed up with forty years of sandbagging and delay, began the process of negotiating a formal ban on nuclear weapons. Australian diplomats under PM Abbott and then Turnbull spent three years trying to sabotage this process, or as a DFAT spokesperson put to me in Estimates, bringing balance to the agreement. Balance. Having pulled a disastrous vote in the UN OEWG late last year that simply polarised opinion against Australia, 130 governments resolved to draft such a treaty. And it shames me as an Australian to know that having failed to disrupt the process, we are now boycotting. 

These negotiations are under way right now. This is happening, at long last. In a few days, in the absence of an Australian delegation, I intend to join them to see first hand what the global community can do when we work together in common cause.  Australians have played a major part in this process – the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, was conceived in suburban Melbourne and is now a global network that has breathed new life into this movement, now in its third generation, to stand down these genocidal weapons and redeploy the hundreds of billions of dollars into human security, healthcare, education and economic development.

Think about a familiar place—think about your home town. Think about how you will feel on the day that one of these weapons is used before this ban is sealed and think about what you can do to make that ban happen with foresight and with wisdom rather than with regret.

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