Anti-nuclear weapons activist: ‘Reject the deadly logic of nuclear deterrence’

August 21, 2022
Gem Romuld speaks at the Sydney Hiroshima Day protest on August 8. Photo: Peter Boyle

Gem Romuld, Australian Director at International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, delivered this speech to the Sydney Hiroshima Day rally on August 8.

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I want to acknowledge that First Nations people suffer the worst of nuclear technologies, not just nuclear weapons’ testing but all aspects of the nuclear chain, including uranium mining and radioactive waste dumping.

These struggles are ongoing today with threats of uranium mining at Mulga Rock in Western Australia, a radioactive waste dump planned for Barngarla land at Kimba, South Australia, and the ongoing un-remedied impacts of 12 major nuclear explosions at Monte Bello in WA, Emu Field and Maralinga in SA, followed by hundreds of radioactive experiments — “the minor trials” — at Maralinga.

Today is a really important marker in time, one that we are keeping alive by gathering here.

What happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is why the vast majority of sensible people totally abhor nuclear weapons and want to see every last one decommissioned and dismantled.

Five years ago, the treaty banning nuclear weapons was created and last year it entered into force. It is something that experts, governments, diplomats and even some activists, said could and would not happen.

But with strategy and persistence it did. Now, it has permanently altered the international legal architecture on nuclear weapons: it has raised the bar and all nations are measured against this powerful new standard.

Right now, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has 86 signatories and 66 states parties, with those numbers going out of date regularly as more nations sign on.

Every new signature and ratification is a rejection of the deadly logic of nuclear deterrence and a bold expression of the alternative — human security without nuclear weapons.

The first meeting of states parties in Vienna in June was a big success that culminated in a Declaration and Action Plan, including 50 Points outlining practical ways members of the TPNW can “facilitate effective and timely implementation” of the Treaty articles and the Vienna Declaration commitments.

The second meeting of states parties will be in November–December 2023 at the United Nations in New York City. It will come around quickly. We need Australia to be at that meeting at least as a signatory, if not a state party.

Why is this treaty important?

It’s the first treaty to make illegal everything to do with nuclear weapons.

It completes the triad of bans on the three weapons of mass destruction: nuclear weapons, biological weapons and chemical weapons.

It is a powerful instrument of international law, as well as humanitarian law: it not only prohibits, but it also compels states’ parties to seek nuclear justice by assisting victims and remediating environments impacted by nuclear weapons.

In force as of January last year, it is the ultimate test for all nations, including Australia. You are either against nuclear weapons or complicit with them.

Any nations that profess commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation but haven’t yet joined this treaty are exposed for their double-speak.

Under the previous federal government, prospects for this treaty were dire.

But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party have committed to sign and ratify the TPNW since 2018. Further, three quarters of all Labor MPs have personally pledged their commitment.

We all know that MPs make and break promises. But this is one we won’t let them break, will we?

Our efforts right now are critically important. We cannot for a minute drop the expectation that the government will do what it has promised. We have to be involved and keep up the pressure with MPs, councils, superannuation funds, unions and civil society organisations.

Like most meaningful change, it will take time and be hard won, but we are well and truly on the way.

So, who is on board? More than 100 federal MPs and another 150 in state and territory parliaments, the Australian Greens, Labor and most other cross-benchers, including most of the new independents.

Two dozen unions, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, more than 60 faith-based organisations, including the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Australian Medical Association, dozens of civil society organisations and three quarters of the general public [support the TPNW].

Fifty five former Australian Ambassadors and High Commissioners signed an open letter urging Albanese to fulfill Labor’s commitment.

We have all the right ingredients: the moment is ripe. We can get Australia to join the nuclear weapon ban treaty in this term of government.

Doing that will help other nuclear endorsing states resist the pressure of the nuclear-armed bullies. Slowly, they will be isolated and, eventually, one of them will begin the process of disarming.

[For more information visit International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).] 

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