By Neena Bhandari
Australia and New Zealand have entered into a scientific and technical cooperation agreement to strengthen detection of nuclear explosions under the framework of the international Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and work together to promote a permanent and effective ban on nuclear weapon tests.
Welcoming the new framework to support the CTBT, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said: “International cooperation enhances the ability of scientific experts to provide advice to their governments on whether a nuclear test has occurred. Cooperation between Australia and New Zealand can serve as a model for others around the world and will strengthen the CTBT.”
The framework for bilateral cooperation is set out in a memorandum of understanding between the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It describes its key aims as aiding sound scientific and technical analysis by Australian and New Zealand agencies of data and information related to verification of the CTBT; promoting the development of similar capacity in regional countries; and promoting development of effective verification tools and methodologies for the CTBT.
The move would see Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and Geoscience Australia working more closely with New Zealand’s Environmental Science and Research (ESR) to enhance their capabilities to detect nuclear explosions.
Carr said in a statement: “Australia strongly advocates the earliest possible entry into force of the CTBT, so we are taking technical steps to prepare for that time.” Australia and New Zealand signed the scientific and technical cooperation agreement on September 28, 2012.
But Chairman of the Mayors for Peace Foundation and former expert advisor to the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, Steve Leeper, feels countries like Australia that have signed and ratified the CTBT should be doing far more than talking about a new framework.
“It makes it look like the two countries are doing something about nuclear weapons when what they are really doing is refusing to support the nuclear weapons convention. They should be applying serious diplomatic and even economic pressure on the United States to force it to ratify the Treaty,” Leeper told IDN.
He suggests that one way to do this would be to launch an initiative to deny the U.S. and other non-signatories the extremely valuable information about seismic activity and radiation releases and tests now being gathered by the remarkable network of monitoring stations created by the CTBT Organisation.
The Treaty calls for cooperation among its parties to strengthen their ability to use the monitoring system to verify whether a nuclear explosion has taken place.
The CTBT Organisation has completed work on a global network of over 300 facilities to monitor the environment for acoustic waves and radionuclide particulates and gases from a possible nuclear explosion. Data collected by these facilities is made available to CTBT parties, who have the final responsibility in determining which events – about 30,000 per year – could be a nuclear explosion.
Leeper said: “The CTBT is part of the so-called step-by-step approach, which is nothing more than an effort to trick the non-nuclear weapon states into continuing to abide by the non-proliferation treaty while the nuclear-weapon states continue to maintain their nuclear advantage forever. Japan and Australia are two countries devoted to the step-by-step approach because they don’t want to irritate the nuclear weapon states. We need to move quickly beyond the CTBT to a Nuclear Weapons Convention and we need Australia and New Zealand solidly behind the comprehensive approach.”
CTBT opened for signature on September 24, 1996 and since 183 countries have signed it, but it is still awaiting ratification by specified states before it can enter into force. With Indonesia’s ratification of the Treaty earlier this year (2012), 36 Annex 2 states have now ratified the CTBT. Currently, eight remaining Annex 2 states (China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States of America) must ratify in order for the Treaty to be legally binding.
Annex 2 states are the 44 countries designated “nuclear-capable states” that participated in the negotiations of the CTBT from 1994-1996 and that possessed nuclear power reactors or research reactors at that time. In the past 16 years, progress has been made to develop a verification system and analysis techniques to detect and investigate a possible nuclear explosion anywhere around the globe.
According to a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “A permanent and verifiable ban on nuclear testing through the CTBT is a vital building block for non-proliferation and disarmament. Australia continues to press for its earliest entry into force”.
However, a growing number of nations, organisations and prominent individuals around the world are now calling for negotiations to start on a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons completely, not just nuclear testing. In recent years, many governments have voiced support for a nuclear-weapon-free world, but precious little has been done to reach that goal.
As International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Australia’s Director, Tim Wright said: “Although the CTBT has certainly helped to restrain some nuclear developments, it has not provided – and was never intended to provide – the necessary legal framework to halt the modernisation of nuclear forces or prevent nuclear proliferation, let alone achieve the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.”
“This is where governments should focus their diplomatic efforts. Negotiations need not, and must not, await the entry into force of the CTBT. We need nuclear-free countries to play a leading role, rather than simply waiting for the nuclear-armed countries to act. This is an urgent humanitarian necessity,” Wright told IDN.
Australian Red Cross in conjunction with Flinders University and the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at University of South Australia are co-hosting a conference in Adelaide in the first week of November 2012 to advance the debate on the urgent need to develop a legally binding tool to prohibit and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have been at the centre of the nuclear weapons debate from the very outset. From 1945 to 2011, the Movement has consistently voiced its deep concerns about these weapons of mass destruction and the need for the prohibition of their use.
In November 2011, the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement had come together to pass a resolution, which appealed to all states to “pursue in good faith and conclude with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement”. The resolution has since attracted worldwide attention, including garnering support from the Australian parliament.
Today there are at least 20,000 nuclear weapons world-wide, around 3,000 of them on launch-ready alert. The potential power of these would roughly equate to 150,000 Hiroshima bombs.
As ICAN Australia Advisory Board Member, Catriona Standfield said, “It is the civil society, which first ignited the movement for a nuclear weapons ban, and it has continued to be the most vocal supporter of disarmament and non-proliferation in the face of inaction by nuclear weapon states”.
“Civil society continues to be the primary arena in which young people like me become involved in the push for a nuclear weapons ban. I believe that the rapid changes in communication and technology will see my generation build a truly global coalition of young civil society advocates for a nuclear weapon-free world,” Standfield told IDN.
This augurs well for a complete elimination of nuclear weapons.