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Bikini DayTim Right's Speech at International Forum
February 27, 2011 
2011 Bikini Day International Forum

Tim Wright
Australian Campaign Director, International Nuclear Weapons to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

Thank you for the opportunity to take part in this forum.

Gensuikyo and ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, share the same goal – a more peaceful world, free from the threat of nuclear weapons. It is a goal supported by the overwhelming majority of people everywhere.
Allow me to begin with a quote from nuclear physicist Albert Einstein, who played no small part in the creation of the A-bomb. He once observed: ‘The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.’ 

Today, there is a new air of support globally for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons – ushered in, to a considerable degree, by US President Barack Obama – but just how deep does that commitment go? Have our governments’‘modes of thinking’ on nuclear issues fundamentally changed?

More than three dozen nations – including Japan and my own country, Australia – continue to support uncritically the misguided doctrine of nuclear deterrence, posing a major impediment to negotiations for a global ban on nuclear weapons.

Both the Japanese and Australian governments maintain the view that US nuclear forces are vital to their security, which severely undermines their credibility as advocates of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. If they themselves can’t do without the supposed protection afforded by nuclear weapons, how can they reasonably expect others to give them up or swear never to acquire them?

Nuclear deterrence and the so-called ‘nuclear umbrella’ legitimise nuclear weapons by treating their use, in certain circumstances, as acceptable and necessary. This is wholly incompatible with our own view of nuclear weapons – as illegal, inhumane and immoral devices unworthy of civilisation.
It is unsurprising that those who oppose progress towards disarmament readily use Japan, Australia and other nuclear-allied nations as their scapegoats. In the recent debates about New START ratification in the US, Republicans argued that it would be irresponsible for America to disarm because to do so would leave its allies vulnerable to nuclear attack.

By placing their faith in the ‘nuclear umbrella’, Japan and Australia are a major part of the nuclear problem – but they could also be a major part of the solution. By adopting nuclear-free defence postures, just as New Zealand did in the 1980s, Australia and Japan could help to strengthen the global norm against nuclear weapons, and generate momentum for negotiations on a treaty banning them. 

Increasing nuclear dangers on the Korean Peninsula, in the Middle East, in South Asia and elsewhere mean there has never been a more important time for meaningful action towards disarmament. The status quo is simply unsustainable.

No one is under the illusion that outlawing and eliminating nuclear weapons will be easy. Powerful forces oppose abolition — not only in government, but also corporations and academic institutions with vested interests in maintaining these weapons. Nevertheless, the tide seems to be turning.

More than two-thirds of all nations have called for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention, and the publics in every nuclear-armed state support such a treaty: 77% of Americans, 69% of Russians, 88% of the French and 81% of Brits, according to recent polls.

Our challenge, as campaigners, is to give a voice to the millions of ordinary citizens who object to nuclear weapons on humanitarian grounds and want them eliminated as a matter of urgency. Our advocacy must emphasize the basic inhumanity of nuclear weapons, no matter who possesses them.

The most obvious path to a nuclear-weapon-free world is through a nuclear weapons convention – but opponents have derided the idea as a utopian dream, labelling it “impractical”, “unrealistic”, “naïve”, “idealistic” and “premature”.

Is an abolition treaty “impractical”, or is it impractical to rely on the same approach of arms control and incremental steps and expect that it will make the world a safer place, when it has failed to do so for the last 40 years?

Is a nuclear weapons convention “unrealistic”, or is it unrealistic to halt the spread of nuclear weapons while doing next to nothing to challenge those few nations that continue to attach great value to them?

Is a nuclear weapons convention “naïve”, or is it naïve to think that nuclear weapons can be retained for decades or centuries longer without their being used again? Is all this talk about a total ban on nuclear weapons “premature”, or is it premature for us to conclude that the world cannot change?

Either we accept the modest, incremental agenda set by a small number of powerful governments, or we take action and set the agenda ourselves. If we don’t challenge the status quo of government inaction on nuclear abolition, how many more generations will be burdened with the bomb?

Unless we succeed in persuading our political leaders to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention now, and not in several decades’ time, we cannot reasonably expect that nuclear weapons will never be used again.

Six-and-a-half decades have passed since the newly formed United Nations, in its very first resolution, called for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Forty years have passed since the entry into force of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which contains a binding commitment to disarm.

Two decades have passed since the end of the cold war, which promised to usher in a new era of peace and disarmament. One decade has passed since the nuclear-weapon states made an unequivocal undertaking to eliminate their arsenals.

Surely it is beyond time that governments negotiated a nuclear weapons convention – and consigned these ultimate instruments of terror into the dustbin of history.

Bikini Day is an occasion for remembering the untold suffering that nuclear weapons have inflicted – and continue to inflict – on the lives of many thousands of people, from the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the citizens of the Marshall Islands and the indigenous people of Australia, whose land the British government irradiated with nuclear bombs in the 1950s. It is also an opportunity for us, here today, to resolve afresh to achieve our goal of a world free of this ultimate menace.

Together, we must build a powerful groundswell of public support, across the globe, for a nuclear weapons convention. By bringing together humanitarian, human rights, anti-war, environment and development organizations, we can make such a treaty the next big negotiating objective of the international community.

This is not an impossible goal, as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams reminded us at the launch of ICAN in 2007. She spearheaded the campaign to ban landmines in the 1990s. She remarked: ‘Some governments tell us that a nuclear weapons convention is premature and unlikely. Don’t believe it. They told us the same thing about a mine ban treaty.’ Today the treaty has 156 parties.

ICAN ambassador Desmond Tutu made similar remarks in the Asahi Shimbun last May, during the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference. He said:

“Sceptics tell us, and have told us for many years, that we are wasting our time pursuing the dream of a world without nuclear weapons, as it can never be realised. But more than a few people said the same about ending entrenched racial segregation in South Africa and abolishing slavery in the United States.

“Often they had a perceived interest in maintaining the status quo. Systems and policies that devalue human life, and deprive us all of our right to live in peace with each other, are rarely able to withstand the pressure created by a highly organised public that is determined to see change.” I hope he is right. It is a challenge for us all to meet. Thank you.