It will not be easy to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. It will require sustained, practical and incremental steps. Ultimately it is only the states with nuclear weapons that can make the decision to disarm. However, countries like Australia can still make a difference through active engagement; pushing for progress in bodies such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Implementing the 64-point action plan, agreed by consensus at the 2010 NPT review conference, remains central to moving forward on the issues of disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the three pillars of the NPT.
All five NPT nuclear weapon states – the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China – have committed to disarmament. We need to keep the pressure on these states to make progress on their commitments, including the necessary steps to facilitate future disarmament, such as improved transparency about their nuclear arsenals and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in national defence doctrines.
There are also ongoing proliferation challenges to the NPT regime, which the international community is trying to address. These include the DPRK and Iran.
Challenges: North Korea (DPRK) and Iran
The DPRK's announcements in 1993 and in 2003 that it had withdrawn from the NPT have led to ongoing uncertainty about its status. Following DPRK ballistic missile tests on 5 July 2006 and a DPRK nuclear test on 9 October 2006, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolutions 1695 and 1718, which condemned the DPRK's actions and demanded it halt its missile programs. In response to DPRK's second nuclear test on 25 May 2009, the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 1874 which sent a clear and united signal from the international community that DPRK's actions were unacceptable. The UNSC and the international community also condemned DPRK's failed attempt on 13 April 2012 to launch a satellite using long-range missile technology. Following DPRK’s long-range rocket launch on 12 December 2012 and third and largest nuclear test on 12 February 2013, the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolutions 2087 and 2094 respectively. Like Resolution 2087, Resolution 2094 demanded the DPRK cease provocations, but also imposed new financial sanctions on the DPRK.
The Australian Government has implemented the UNSC's trade and financial sanctions against DPRK into Australian law. All persons either having or considering business dealings in connection with DPRK should make themselves aware of the restrictions that apply to such dealings and seek independent legal advice, if required, before making commercial decisions.
For more information on DPRK, including the Six-Party Talks, see the DPRK country pages.
For more information on Australia's sanctions applying to DPRK, please see the Sanctions page.
Iran presents another challenge to the NPT regime: in 2003 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found Iran in breach of its safeguard obligations and has repeatedly confirmed since that it is unable to verify whether Iran's nuclear activities are exclusively peaceful. The UNSC has passed six resolutions against Iran: 1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835 and 1929, of which four have imposed sanctions.
Relevant Australian legislation incorporates the UNSC's trade and financial sanctions against Iran. Australia has also imposed autonomous sanctions targeting Iran's proliferation sensitive nuclear and missile programs and Iran's efforts to contravene UNSC sanctions. All persons having business dealings in connection with Iran should make themselves aware of the restrictions that apply to such dealings.
Australia supports efforts by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany (the “P5+1” or “E3+3”) to engage Iran in a sustained process of dialogue with a view to ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. Australia has welcomed the P5+1 Joint Plan of Action, the P5+1-Iran parameters for a comprehensive nuclear agreement and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Framework Agreement with Iran. These agreements are important steps towards a peaceful settlement of the Iran nuclear issue.
For more information on Iran, please see the Iran country pages.
For more information on Australia's sanctions applying to Iran, please see the Sanctions page.
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 treaty ban.
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 and which Australia currently chairs.
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.
Much progress had been made since the end of the Cold War but there is still a long way to go and we must keep up the pressure, most crucially on those states that will need to take the necessary action to disarm.
While a near-term ban treaty on nuclear weapons might seem to be a straight forward and emotionally appealing way to de-legitimise and eradicate nuclear weapons, the Australian Government does not believe disarmament can be imposed in this way. Just pushing for a ban would divert attention from the sustained, practical steps needed for effective disarmament, in a process that engages the nuclear-armed states and addresses the security drivers behind these states’ decisions to have nuclear weapons. Eradication of nuclear weapons will also require the building of high-level political will and trust between the nuclear-armed states. At an appropriate time, it would also likely require some form of underpinning multilateral legal framework. We need to create an environment where all countries, including the nuclear-armed states and those who rely on their nuclear umbrellas, believe themselves to be more secure without nuclear weapons. There can be no short cuts.
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.