By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY (IDN) â€“ As the threat of nuclear annihilation becomes more real than ever before, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Australia has launched a ‘Million Pleas’ campaign, emphasising the urgency to rid the world of these weapons.
“The Million Pleas campaign gives a face and a voice to the issue of Nuclear weapons and the urgency for total disarmament and abolition of these weapons. People do want to see a complete abolition of N-weapons, but they donâ€™t necessarily have a way of getting the message across to world leaders. Through this initiative, they can,” says ICAN Australiaâ€™s Campaign Director and Executive Officer, Dimity Hawkins.
A 45-second film clip, featuring Japanese school children and an 80-year-old survivor of the atomic blast, Nakanishi Iwao, calling on each of the nine nuclear states to free the world of N-weapons, has triggered the worldâ€™s longest video chain letter appeal to world leaders to abolish nuclear weapons, setting a new global milestone in online interactive campaigning.
Developed by ICAN Australia in partnership with Melbourne-based advertising agency Whybin TBWA, it gives people around the world a chance to voice their support for nuclear disarmament by uploading their image and personal plea via popular social networking tools — youtube, facebook or twitter.
The campaign, with Ambassadors including Nobel Peace laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines Jody Williams and former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, was launched in Hiroshima on August 6, 2010 to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and three days later of Nagasaki, which killed over hundreds of thousands of people, mostly within minutes.
In a message of hope and peace at the launch, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the first UN chief to attend the Peace Memorial ceremony in Hiroshima said: “Together, we are on a journey from ground zero to Global Zero — a world free of weapons of mass destruction. That is the only sane path to a safer worldâ€¦We must teach an elemental truth: that status and prestige belong not to those who possess nuclear weapons, but to those who reject them.”
Ban Ki-moon is convening a high-level meeting at the UN on September 24 to push for a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and disarmament education in schools — including translating the testimonies of the survivors in the world’s major languages.
Despite 153 countries having ratified the CTBT, it has yet to come into force due to the failure of nine ‘nuclear capable’nations, the U.S., China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan, to join the treaty.
ICAN Australia Board member, Tim Wright, who was in Hiroshima for the launch told IDN, “The children and NGOs were very keen to get this message across of ‘Never Again’. People have found the humanitarian-based Million Pleas campaign incredibly compelling and moving. A lot of material against nuclear weapons we see today is based on a fear kind of campaigning about nuclear terrorism whereas we have always focused on these being immoral weapons and no country can be trusted with them.”
“I think one of the things that Ban Ki-moon has brought to the debate is the sense of urgency. He said in Hiroshima that he wanted CTBT entered into force by 2012 and he described the vision of abolition by 2020 as perfect vision. So this is significantly different from what the nuclear weapons states are saying,” says Wright.
Since the 1945 bombing of the two Japanese cities, thousands of nuclear tests have been conducted around the world. Seven nations, the U.S., Russia (and former USSR), France, UK, China, India and Pakistan, have acknowledged to testing weapons between 1945 and 1998, and North Korea tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009. On August 29, the first UN Day against Nuclear Tests was held to mark the closure of the former Soviet Unionâ€™s main nuclear test site, Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan in 1991.
There are currently an estimated 22,600 N-weapons around the world. “It is an extraordinary number when you think how few it would take really to create utter devastation of the entire environments, to kill millions of people and displace many more, to create a famine and radical climate change. People do understand that nuclear weapons do not add to their security,” Hawkins told IDN.
At the 19th world congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in Basel (Switzerland) August 25-30, ICAN encouraged European and the over 50 participating countries to translate and adapt the Million Pleas campaign to their domestic issues. The film clip, currently in English and English-Japanese, has been on community service announcements on a range of commercial and mainstream radio and television channels in Australia.
ICAN, a global grassroots movement, is calling for disarmament through a legally binding, verifiable and time-bound Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) to prohibit the development, testing, production, use and threat of use of N-weapons.
Recently, there have been some positive moves demonstrating that disarmament is possible if there is political will and cooperation. The U.S. President Barack Obama has spoken strongly about the need to get to zero N-weapons and signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010. The treaty includes a 30 percent reduction in the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the two countries, which together hold more than 90 percent of the worldâ€™s N-weapons.
Earlier in June 2008, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was the first sitting prime minister to visit Hiroshima, where Australia along with Japan formed the Independent Commission for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND). The ICNND report makes a case for specific reductions in numbers to be achieved by certain times, including the â€˜minimisation point’ of a global maximum of 2000 N-weapons by 2025.
But as ICAN Australia Board member, Tim Wright told IDN, “Setting up a commission is one thing, but taking the hard decisions that would advance disarmament is quite another. The Labor Government hasnâ€™t been willing to take any serious steps, for example, banning uranium sales to nuclear weapons states, advocating for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, and rejecting the U.S. Nuclear Umbrella.”
“We are very much part of the problem so I think the perception of Australia as the ‘good guy’ on these issues needs to be set straight. Australia is one of those countries who rely on the U.S. nuclear weapons for security and by doing so we give legitimacy to nuclear weapons, we send a message to other countries that they are useful weapons for providing security and that is an impediment to disarmament. Last yearâ€™s defence white paper even affirmed the importance of nuclear deterrents in Australiaâ€™s defence.” says Wright.
Australia is definitely vital in the discussion around disarmament because it is a major exporter of uranium and exports uranium to nuclear states, who have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In April 2010 the Government approved uranium exports to Russia, which not been visited by the International Atomic Energy Agency since 2001.
A survey by a Sydney-based independent think-tank, the Lowy Institute for International policy, found 84 percent of Australians were against Australia developing N-weapons, but if some of Australiaâ€™s near neighbours began to develop them, opposition fell to 57 percent and 42 percent in favour of Australia doing the same.
As Hawkins says, “It requires efforts from all nations, who have the weapons and all those who do not, to get rid of them and make the world free of nukes a reality. One nuclear weapon in any country is one too many. There is always a risk of accident, of use whether intentional or by accident, there is also the risk of terrorism associated with these weapons wherever they are. That is why Million Pleas is exciting as it gives voice to people and organisations that for 65 years have been making calls to put these weapons to bed and delegitimise their use.”
One of the major difficulties has been one set of rules for countries that already have N-weapons and another set of rules for those that donâ€™t. It is also noticeable that some countries, for example the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, keep N-weapons but are also most vocal about calling for other nations not to acquire them.
While NPT remains the only legally binding multilateral instrument recognising the importance of nuclear disarmament through Article 6, a NWC will help enhance Article 6 obligations by putting together a road map to get to zero N-weapons, currently missing in the NPT. Also, there is the risk of proliferation of nuclear technology, even if it is ostensibly for civilian nuclear power use as they call it in the NPT that will lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons capability.
As Hawkins says, “It is widely recognised that the technology needed for nuclear power is not dissimilar to that needed for nuclear weapons production.”
Traditionally, Australia has taken a leading role in the negotiation of major international arms control instruments, most recently, the Cluster Munitions Convention. But Hawkins says, “Lately, I have been very disappointed, especially by the lacklustre approach from the Australian government at the UN Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference in May 2010 when Australia was conspicuously absent from the discussion on a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
“However, the election of the Australian Greens in a sweeping balance of power in the Senate in the August 2010 elections is good news for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation as they have a strong history and a solid visionary platform on the issues around nuclear weapons.”
The proponents of nuclear abolition are questioning the astronomical expenditure on developing, keeping and updating N-weapons when millions of people are dying of hunger, lack of fresh water and preventable diseases.
“If we abolish nuclear weapons there will be freeing of technology, of resources, of scientific head space and potential to deal with real security issues in this world,” says Hawkins. In 2008, the United States spent some 52.4 billion U.S. dollars for the maintenance of its nuclear arsenal while more than 37 million Americans live in poverty and nearly 50 million live without health insurance.
Total elimination of Nuclear Weapons is humanityâ€™s only hope for survival and the Million Pleas campaign is a step towards moving the world to a safer, secure future by compelling governments to act now. (IDN-InDepthNews/31.08.2010)