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A nuclear weapons free world is now possible

By Bill Williams - posted Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Nuclear weapons abolition is back on the radar.

Not such a crazy proposition really. The detonation of a small, “primitive” uranium fission weapon, concealed in a shipping container in one of Australia’s harbour cities, for instance, would obliterate the CBD, causing up to a quarter of a million fatalities and an enormous radiotoxic legacy. Meanwhile, the explosion of even a small portion of the currently available 26,500 nuclear weapons would mean global catastrophe.

New evidence from climate and vulcanology specialists suggest a “nuclear winter” could result from the detonation of less than 100 smallish nukes (i.e. Hiroshima-size) on large urban centres. Think Krakatoa meets Hiroshima and multiply accordingly. All this is well within the arsenal capacities of Russia, America, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, France and the UK.


How could such scenarios fade from the public consciousness? And what could an informed, concerned public do about it? There is an urgent need to call for a credible, universal treaty to abolish nuclear weapons.

A draft for such a treaty already exists: the “Model Nuclear Weapons Convention” (NWC) was prepared by an international consortium of legal and technical specialists, and was released and circulated by the United Nations (UN) in 1997. It was revised and published in 2007 as a key project of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN). The document, Securing our Survival, lauded by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and available at - sets out in detail the essential steps to abolition.

Complex and intricate as the project must inevitably be, there is an attractive and achievable simplicity about the NWC. First we take all weapons off high-alert status, then we extract them from their launch vehicles; dismantle the warheads; disable the plutonium trigger devices; and place all the fissile material - the bomb fuel - under international control. Six steps to abolition.

There is already widespread support for the negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention: in the UN General Assembly in recent years a total of 135 states have supported commencement of negotiations for a NWC. Australia lingers among the minority of non-supporters, but during the last election campaign, the ALP promised to promote a NWC if they came to power.

In a speech to the National Press Club on November 15, 2007, then Shadow Foreign Affairs minister Robert McClelland said that an ALP government would be “committed to driving the international agenda for a nuclear weapons convention” [emphasis added].

Mr Rudd, to his credit, has created an international commission to promote nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and there have been modest improvements in Australia’s relevant voting in the UN General Assembly, but there is little evidence so far of real commitment to a NWC.


Early signs are of a “steady as she goes” approach, preferring time-honoured “incremental steps in multilateral fora”. Sure, there are many steps ahead of us: so let a convention be our roadmap. It will incorporate and reinforce other agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty, as well as existing disarmament treaties, while providing the framework for the actual completion of this urgent life-saving task.

I’ve spent the last two years helping build the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN). Initiated by a team of Australian medicos, ICAN after only two years is a thriving network of civil society organisations and individuals, with supporters including the Dalai Lama, Malcolm Fraser and Hans Blix. Our goal is the implementation of a global abolition treaty.

I have quizzed scores of dedicated and knowledgeable experts from five continents - diplomats, politicians, legal and technical experts: what is needed to break the logjam in nuclear disarmament? Almost to a soul, they told me: “a groundswell of public opinion” … to force them to walk the talk.

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About the Author

Dr Bill Williams is a GP in rural Victoria. He is the President of the Medical Association of the Prevention of War, a Board Member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and International Councilor of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

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