The ALP government’s decision to abstain from a United Nations vote banning the proliferation of nuclear weapons has been met with strong approval from the anti-nuclear lobby. It puts an end to the LNP’s years of opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an international agreement banning the development, testing and stockpiling of nuclear bombs. This is a step in the right direction, moving Australian security policy out of line with the US and Britain. Australia unfortunately remains, however, only one of 14 nations that have abstained, while 124 others voted in favour (the opposition being the nuclear powers themselves and their puppet states).
In practice, signing the treaty would mean ending the role of Pine Gap, a satellite surveillance base operated jointly by the US and Australia, in coordinating the activities of the US nuclear submarine fleet in the region. More importantly, section 1(e) of the treaty expressly states that all states party to the treaty will undertake “never under any circumstances to … Assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty”.
This would actively endanger the AUKUS treaty, which the LNP signed in conjunction with the US and Britain and that we noted in October 2021 represents an escalation in military activity directed against China. AUKUS further involves the transferral of highly-enriched uranium from the US to Australia to power a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, which even the liberal Australia Institute acknowledges stretches “the limits of Australia’s non-proliferation credentials”.
It is unlikely, however, that the ALP is interested in peace, remaining convinced that Australia can only gain its strategic objectives within the AUKUS agreement, placing it firmly under the American ‘nuclear umbrella' that liberal warmongers argue serves as a deterrence against nuclear threats from the Chinese, Russian and North Korean states. In late October, ABC’s Four Corners exposed Canberra and Washington's intention to station American B-52 long-range strategic bombers at RAAF Tindal base in Darwin. B-52s are capable of deploying 150-kiloton thermonuclear warheads and it is likely that these aircraft would be launched as second strike assets shortly before Darwin’s obliteration in the event of nuclear war. Whatever the case may be, Albanese has been heavily criticised for his failure to explain the risks associated with this project to the public.
Another component of AUKUS is the preparation of nuclear-powered submarines at the cost of $100bn to be staffed by the Australian Navy, a decision that Albanese reaffirmed before the election. He went on to say that his government would decide where these submarines would be based. While no decision has been made at this point, Brisbane is a strong contender. Wherever the base is finally located, it will likely become a target for destruction in the event of a nuclear war along with Darwin.
The question of nuclear disarmament is urgent. Since the end of the Cold War, the planet has been threatened with nuclear arms several times, the most significant being George W. Bush’s threat to nuke Iraq and, most recently, Putin’s thinly veiled threats to destroy Ukrainian cities. At least nine countries possess nuclear arms, all of which are either actively engaged in a conflict or are threatening to become involved in one. The consequences of an atomic conflict do not need to be reiterated – popular culture is saturated with films and games depicting the horrors that such conflicts bring. An important task for the left globally is to rebuild working-class opposition to nuclear arms.
Such opposition cannot be led by states: after all, it is states and their wars that have gotten us into this mess in the first place. Even when a state attempts to stand up to the nuclear powers it’s simply swept aside. It’s difficult to forget, for example, how terrorists of the French intelligence service blew up the anti-nuclear ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour, killing a Portuguese photographer. Nor can we trust middle-class NGOs to lead the charge. Their solution is to petition governments for change – the very bastards who cause the problem.Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters have been arrested, beaten, and imprisoned in Russia. In one case, a protester was raped on camera by police, and his girlfriend was forced to watch the video. Is Putin really going to listen to their voices?
The solution is to actively deprive governments of their ability to wage war on one another and murder millions by proxy. In Russia or France, this may take the form of physically removing governments and tearing down the institutions of the state. In Australia, labour (not Labor) must take action and refuse to build military bases and machines of war. The public can confront sites such as Pine Gap and organise mass rallies against war, as it did during the Moratorium and against French nuclear testing in the Pacific, but it cannot put its faith in these methods alone.
Change can only be affected by a strong and militant working class. The message must be clear: abstaining from a vote is not good enough. The Australian people must put their foot down on nuclear weapons forever.