Media release: International lawyers urge Australia to reject nuclear weapons

10 March 2016
Open letter to defence minister on extended nuclear deterrence

Download the open letter →

See coverage in The Guardian →

Around 50 experts in international law have called on the Australian defence minister, Senator Marise Payne, to reassess Australia’s position on nuclear weapons. Their appeal follows the release of the much-anticipated defence white paper, which asserts that US nuclear weapons are necessary for Australia’s security.

“We write to encourage the Australian government to review its support for extended nuclear deterrence in light of the growing international movement to prohibit nuclear weapons on humanitarian grounds,” the open letter, signed by some of the nation’s most eminent law professors and coordinated by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said.

Over the past year, 126 nations have formally pledged to cooperate in efforts to prohibit nuclear weapons outright. “It is deeply regrettable that Australia is not among them,” the lawyers wrote. While Australia participated last month in UN talks in Geneva aimed at paving the way to a new legal instrument against nuclear weapons, it argued strongly against the proposal for a global ban.

The policy of extended nuclear deterrence “appears to be the primary reason for Australia’s opposition to the near-term prohibition of nuclear weapons”, the lawyers said. This doctrine could be “hampering” Australia’s implementation of the 1968 non-proliferation treaty. Despite the absence of a comprehensive and universal treaty-based prohibition on nuclear weapons, it is difficult to envisage how any use of nuclear weapons could ever comply with the general rules of international humanitarian law, the experts warned.

“We believe that Australia should cease its reliance on weapons whose use would almost certainly violate international law, given the uncontrollability of their blast, heat and radiological effects,” they wrote. The open letter urged the government to “join the overwhelming majority of states in pursuing a treaty that outlaws nuclear weapons”, which “are an affront to the entire framework of international law”.