"The argument 'to ban the bomb' may be emotionally appealing, but the reality is that disarmament cannot be imposed this way.": Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The federal government led secret diplomatic efforts to frustrate a New Zealand-led push for nuclear disarmament, according to documents released under freedom of information laws.
Declassified ministerial submissions, cables and emails from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade show Australian diplomats worked energetically against nuclear disarmament efforts by other countries, because ''we rely on US nuclear forces to deter nuclear attack on Australia''.
In October last year, following the election of the Coalition government, Australia refused a New Zealand request to endorse a 125-nation joint statement at the United Nations highlighting the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. Australia objected to a sentence declaring that it is in the interest of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, ''under any circumstances''.
A group of 16 nations, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand have been working to highlight the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons. This diplomatic campaign is intended to lay the ground for negotiation of a convention that would prohibit nuclear weapons - putting them in the same category as chemical and biological weapons which are already prohibited under international law.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop argues this approach is simply counterproductive.
''[The] argument 'to ban the bomb' may be emotionally appealing, but the reality is that disarmament cannot be imposed this way,'' she said last month. ''Just pushing for a ban would divert attention from the sustained, practical steps needed for effective disarmament.''
However, declassified documents have revealed the government's primary concern is that a nuclear weapons ban would ''cut across'' Australia's reliance on US nuclear deterrence as part of its defence posture.
A Foreign Affairs and Trade department submission endorsed by Ms Bishop last October argued that a nuclear weapons ban ''conflicts with Australia's long-standing position that, as long as a nuclear weapons threat exists, we rely on US nuclear forces to deter nuclear attack on Australia''.
Foreign Affairs and Trade head Peter Varghese bluntly observed that the New Zealand-led humanitarian initiative ''runs against our security interests''.
Australia's diplomacy suffered a blow when Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida agreed that Japan would sign the New Zealand-led statement. Australian diplomats consulted closely with the US State Department. Email exchanges between Australian diplomats reveal Washington reprimanded Tokyo over its decision.
Anti-nuclear campaigners labelled Australia's intervention a ''weasel statement … a last-minute rival announcement … seemingly in an effort to undermine the efforts of pro-ban activists''.