Australia’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Policy

For more than 45 years, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has provided important security benefits to all States. Our collective commitment to the Treaty has prevented a global nuclear arms race, contained the proliferation of nuclear weapons and facilitated the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology. It has strengthened the “taboo” against nuclear weapons use in conflict and has established nuclear non-proliferation as a powerful norm.  Upholding this norm is a crucial component of ensuring global stability and security.

Australia strongly supports nuclear disarmament and action towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. As a non-nuclear-weapon state, Australia can make a difference through active engagement with like-minded countries to advocate for a practical "building blocks" approach to disarmament which includes as priorities the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), work by nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states on nuclear disarmament verification, transparency and confidence-building. This is not a quick or an easy task –  it will require sustained, practical and incremental steps. Ultimately, however, nuclear disarmament will only be effective with the involvement of all states with nuclear weapons.

Australia has played a creative and dynamic role in promoting the three pillars of the NPT. We have been instrumental in establishing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) consisting of 12 cross-regional states with a focus on pillar one (disarmament) and pillar two (non-proliferation) issue, as well as playing a prominent role in shaping pillar three (peaceful uses) issues through our leadersehip role within the Vienna Group of Ten.

Australia is also a strong supporter of international efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including through our participation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Zangger Committee export control regimes, and role as a member of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Why don’t we just “ban the bomb”?

There has been growing international focus on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and as a result a number of countries and civil society groups have argued that the only response to the existence of nuclear weapons is a near-term nuclear weapons ban treaty.

There is no doubt about the horrific consequences to humanity from a nuclear war. Countless studies since the advent of nuclear weapons have made this clear, including those undertaken by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation since it was established in 1955.  Australia has always taken the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons very seriously. This is the reason why, over the past decades, Australia has been a prominent and active advocate of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and why we have participated constructively in the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (HINW) Conferences in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna.

In late 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution titled “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations”. This resolution contains a decision to convene a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.

The Australian Government does not share the view that simply banning nuclear weapons will lead to their elimination or will change the current, real, security concerns of states with nuclear weapons or those states, like Australia, that rely on extended nuclear deterrence as part of their security doctrine. To be effective, disarmament efforts must engage all the nuclear-armed states and must focus on practical measures that recognise both the humanitarian and security dimensions of this issue. The NPT already contains hard-won commitments to eliminate nuclear weapons, and the Action Plan from the 2010 NPT Review Conference provides a roadmap to this goal. Creating the conditions and confidence necessary for nuclear-armed states to negotiate down and ultimately eliminate their arsenals is complex and difficult but there are no shortcuts. 

The Australian Government is not participating in the abovementioned UN Conference to negotiate a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. This approach is consistent with our clear and longstanding position on the proposed treaty to ban nuclear weapons which recognises that such a treaty does not offer a practical path to effective disarmament or enhanced security. A ban treaty which does not include key states which possess nuclear weapons and is disconnected from the international security environment would be counter-productive and would not rid us of a single nuclear weapon.

In fact, a ban treaty risks undermining the NPT which Australia rightly regards as the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation and disarmament architecture. A ban treaty could create parallel obligations and thus ambiguity and confusion and would deepen divisions between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states. With a simple prohibition treaty, there would also be no effective verification measures to ensure compliance.

Australia will continue to push hard to build that political will, and to promote the practical steps that will be necessary to bring about the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

The conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement in July 2015 by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany (the “P5+1” or “E3+3”) and Iran has enabled the IAEA to conduct more intrusive inspections and provide verifiable assurances to the international community that Iran’s nuclear activities will be exclusively peaceful. Australia welcomed the IAEA announcement on 16 January 2016 that Iran had implemented key nuclear-related measures of the JCPOA; triggering ‘Implementation Day’ under the agreement and the lifting of a number of UN sanctions on Iran and many of the sanctions imposed by the United States and the EU. Australia’s autonomous sanctions were also eased (see ‘Australia’s sanctions applying to Iran’ below).

Challenges: North Korea (DPRK)

There are ongoing proliferation challenges to the NPT regime, particularly the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. . Disturbing recent developments by the DPRK, including the two nuclear tests and over 20 ballistic missile launches undertaken in 2016, pose a grave threat to regional security and a serious challenge to international non-proliferation efforts. The DPRK’s nuclear tests violate unanimously agreed UN Security Council Resolutions, as well as the de facto global moratorium on nuclear tests which all nuclear-armed States have maintained pending the entry into force of the Comprehensive-Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Australia, as a co-sponsor, welcomes the UN Security Council's unanimous adoption of UNSCR 2321 in response to North Korea's fifth nuclear test. The new resolution brings to bear the toughest set of sanctions imposed on North Korea to-date. Australia implements UN Security Council sanctions against the DPRK , and supplements these through its autonomous sanctions legislation. Australia continues to work closely with the United Nations, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the United States, Japan, China and other countries in support of international efforts to bring about an end to the DPRK's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Last Updated: 3 May 2017