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Australia, the UN, and nuclear weapons

By Moritz Kütt and John Langmore - posted Monday, 14 January 2008

The 2007 session of the United Nations General Assembly saw several significant new resolutions introduced alongside resolutions repeated from previous years. A resolution dealing with the health risks of depleted uranium gained unexpected success and de-alerting of nuclear weapons was a significant discussion point, as were the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran. Nuclear resolutions stimulated a total of 315 statements and 52 draft texts. Every resolution was adopted either by consensus or by large majorities of countries.

The USA isolated itself from the global framework for disarmament by opposing nearly every resolution dealing with nuclear issues. Other countries often supporting the US “no” votes were Israel and Australia - which has significant implications for our standing in the world.

The operational status of nuclear weapons

Two resolutions dealt with the operational status of the approximately 4,000 nuclear weapons on high alert. These weapons can be launched in minutes, risking unintentional and accidental launches. Therefore a decrease in the readiness of weapons would immediately increase global security.


One resolution sponsored by India (L.21, Reducing nuclear danger), identical to their 2006 resolution, was adopted, but 52 states voted against and 12 abstained. The resistance to this resolution centred on the term “hair-trigger alert”. The US Ambassador said: “US forces are not, and never have been, on hair-trigger alert. In order to comply with this request we would have to first put our forces on hair-trigger alert so that we could then de-alert them.” This is a semantic dispute because the US has a large number of nuclear weapons ready to launch in minutes.

The second resolution by Chile, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sweden and Switzerland received support from more member states. As in India's resolution, it called for deflating the readiness of weapons. Additionally it invited states to negotiate bilateral agreements and advocated de-alerting as a means for confidence building between Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and Non-Nuclear Weapon States. The resolution was supported by 139 states, with only three against (France, UK and US) and 36 abstentions. While Australia, as a state without nuclear weapons abstained, the resolution was supported by Italy and Germany, both of which host US nuclear weapons.

Southern hemisphere nuclear weapons free zones

There are a number of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones (NWFZs) covering parts of the southern hemisphere.

The Treaty of Tlatelolco sets up a NWFZ in Latin America. The resolution L.10 “Consolidation of the regime established by the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco)” calls again upon the states in Latin America to ratify this treaty and was adopted by consensus. However a vote was taken on Resolution L.19 “Treaty on the South-East Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (Bangkok Treaty)” with 174 states favouring the resolution, one voting against (USA) and five abstaining.

With the resolution L.27 “Nuclear-weapon-free southern hemisphere and adjacent areas” Brazil and New Zealand called the states in the southern hemisphere to connect the NWFZs to make the whole hemisphere a NWFZ. Besides the NWFZs mentioned above, the NWFZ of South Pacific (Treaty of Rarotonga) and the Antarctic Treaty are referred to in the resolution. It also welcomes other approaches like the negotiation of a NWFZ in the Middle East, and the NWFZ in central Asia (Semipalatinsk Treaty). A vote was called, with 169 in favour, three against (UK, US and France) and eight abstentions. Australia voted in favour of this resolution.

Nuclear disarmament

On the issue of nuclear disarmament, four resolutions were tabled. In similar forms, all resolutions had been discussed in earlier years, so they didn’t signal any new proposals for global disarmament.


Resolutions L.9 “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments” (tabled by the New Agenda coalition) and L.30 “Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons” (by Japan) were comprehensive resolutions to continue non-proliferation and disarmament activities previously negotiated. Resolution L.9 called for acceleration in disarmament and was adopted with 156 votes in favour, five against (DPRK, France, UK, US and India) and 14 abstentions (including Australia).

Resolution L.30 called upon all states to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and start negotiations about a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT). Unsurprisingly, the United States opposed this resolution as last year, but they referred to the draft as the “most balanced and realistic” of the nuclear disarmament texts. The complete result of the vote showed 170 states supporting this draft (including Australia), three opposing it (US, DPRK, India) and nine abstentions.

Resolution L.40 “General and complete disarmament: nuclear disarmament” related to continuing the work on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), with additional initiatives. It urges nuclear weapons states to start negotiations amongst themselves to reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons. One hundred and seventeen states agreed with this resolution, 47 opposed and 17 abstained.

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About the Authors

Moritz Kütt is an intern working with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

John Langmore, a former MP and Director at the UN, is now a Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne and National President of the UN Association of Australia.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Moritz Kütt
All articles by John Langmore

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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