Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nuclear Issues: ICAN Australia Shows The Way To Abolish Nukes

By Neena Bhandari | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

SYDNEY (IDN) - Even as the nuclear-armed countries continue to amass new warheads and build and modernise ballistic missiles, bombers and submarines to launch them, the campaign for nuclear abolition is growing from strength to strength.

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ (ICAN) Paper Cranes Project – symbolizing support for nuclear disarmament – is urging governments to begin negotiations on a global treaty banning nuclear weapons this year. More than 190,000 paper cranes have already been delivered to world leaders, and messages of support have been received from the Secretary-General of the United Nations and amongst others national leaders of Australia, Afghanistan, Greece, Kazakhstan, the Marshall Islands, Mozambique, Slovenia and Switzerland.

“Our focus now is on getting responses from the presidents and prime ministers of other countries. This month around 70,000 paper cranes will be delivered to ambassadors in Tokyo, asking them to pass on the cranes to their leader. We will use the letters to demonstrate the strength and breadth of support globally for a ban on nuclear weapons,” ICAN Australia Director, Tim Wright, told IDN.

Students across the world are participating in the campaign. Earlier this year, students from Gisborne Secondary College in Victoria (Australia) made 1000 paper cranes and delivered them to the parliamentary secretary to Australian prime minister, calling for ban on nuclear weapons.

The school’s Japanese language teacher, Noriko Ikaga, has been taking Years 10 and 11 students to Japan every alternate year. “It has become a tradition to make 1000 paper cranes when we visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This year, the students also folded another 6000 paper cranes for the kids affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” Ikaga told IDN.

With Australia going to polls on September 7, these students are hoping that future leaders will take Australia’s nuclear obligations seriously. ICAN’s Global Parliamentary Appeal is calling on all national governments to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons and building political will for stringent action to bring global nuclear weapons stockpiles down from about 17,000 to zero.

“In Australia we are virtually ignorant to the risks that we, as a population, are under every day, due to the enormous amounts of nuclear weapons that still exist in the world. Our trip to Hiroshima made us determined to do something about it. We sought to show the Australian Prime Minister how much we cared, and that Disarmament was an issue that could not be ignored,” Holly Dwyer (17), a Year 11 student, told IDN.

Holly’s classmate, Joel Mackinnon (17), was surprised how little most students in her class knew about the nuclear weapons industry. “It genuinely scares me that we hold the fate of the world and humanity in the hands of such governments which appear to be almost willing to go to war. Participating in the Paper Cranes project is a start to saving the world from the unacceptable global threat posed by nuclear weapons,” Mackinnon told IDN.

An ICAN Australia’s Disarm Your Degree report, which examined Australian public university investments in nuclear arms makers, confirmed that four universities did invest in nuclear weapons producers and 12 did not. The information available for the remaining 17 universities was insufficient.

“Many university students have shown a strong interest in this campaign, and are working with us to raise awareness. The University of Sydney has indicated that it is in the process of adopting an ethical investment policy. None of the other universities have indicated that they intend to change their investment practices, but we will maintain the pressure,” Wright told IDN.

The Future Fund

ICAN is calling on universities to develop ethical investment policies that exclude nuclear weapons companies both from their direct investments and their investments through fund managers. An Australian Government investment fund, The Future Fund, currently invests A$227 million in nuclear weapons companies.

A petition with 14,000 signatures was delivered in August 2013 to the Fund’s board members and ICAN members visited the Fund’s head office in Melbourne on Hiroshima Day (August 6) and Nagasaki Day (August 9), demanding that it divests from nuclear weapons companies.

Wright said, “The Fund has divested from companies involved in the production of other inhumane weapons such as cluster munitions and landmines. They recently excluded tobacco companies from their investments in response to public pressure, so we are optimistic that we can also convince them to exclude nuclear weapons companies.”

Earlier, the Fund had disclosed to the Senate (one of the two houses of Australian Parliament) that it invests taxpayers’ money in 14 companies involved in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons or associated technology.

“I think a lot of Australians would be shocked to learn that the Future Fund has more than A$130 million invested in companies that manufacture nuclear arms. Our members regularly express concern about the investment choices made by those overseeing the Future Fund,” said Rohan Wenn, Communications Manager at GetUp Australia, an independent, grassroots community advocacy organisation.

As many as 76 per cent of Australians believe that nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament should be a top foreign policy objective of the Australian Government, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent think tank.

Australian governments have been strong proponents of nuclear non-proliferation. Australia is a party to all major international conventions relating to nuclear weapons including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty commonly known as The Treaty of Rarotonga as it was signed by the South Pacific nations on the island of Rarotonga (Cook Islands).

“It's easy to imagine that Australia is not involved in the global nuclear weapons trade, but with the Future Fund's investments in nuclear weapons companies and the Federal Governments intentions to export uranium to India and other nuclear weapons states, it most certainly is,” ICAN Australia’s Outreach Coordinator, Gem Romuld, told IDN.

The Treaty of Rarotonga prohibits Australia from facilitating the manufacture of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. According to ICAN, the Future Fund might be contravening Australian legislation that outlaws assistance to anyone involved in the ''manufacture, production, acquisition or testing'' of nuclear devices inside and outside Australia.

Doctrine of extended nuclear deterrence

While Australia doesn’t have any nuclear weapons, it subscribes to the doctrine of extended nuclear deterrence under the United States alliance. The supposed protection afforded by the US nuclear weapons is seen as key to Australia's national security. It also has almost 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves and supplies 19 per cent of the world market.

All of Australia’s uranium is exported, including to countries who continue to produce nuclear weapons. The Australian Conservation Fund has consistently opposed uranium mining and worked to highlight the threats it poses to the environment, sensitive ecosystems, Indigenous cultures and local communities.

In May this year, ICAN Australia launched a booklet entitled Disarmament Double-Speak assessing Australia’s record on nuclear weapons, its continuing support for the United States extended nuclear deterrence, its resistance to a global ban on nuclear weapons, the inadequacy of safeguards on uranium exports and investments in nuclear arms companies.

Today, there are at least 20,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, around 3,000 of them on launch-ready alert. The potential power of these would roughly equate to 150,000 Hiroshima bombs. Sixty- eight years on since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the need to develop a legally binding tool to prohibit and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons is more than ever before. [IDN-InDepthNews – August 27, 2013]

Photo: ICAN director Tim Wright and Hiroshima students launch thousand paper cranes project | Credit: MAPWcommunications