Steps towards a nuclear-weapons-free world

Much progress has been made since the end of the Cold War in reducing nuclear arsenals, strengthening the global nuclear security architecture, and strengthening non-proliferation mechanisms. All five Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear weapon States remain committed to a world free of nuclear weapons through the Treaty’s “grand bargain”: disarmament in exchange for non-proliferation. Without the NPT it is likely there would have been many more countries with nuclear weapons today. However, to prepare the conditions for eliminating nuclear weapons altogether, much more needs to be done, including addressing the nuclear weapon possessor states outside the NPT. Australia has actively been promoting and supporting some key initiatives.

Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI)

The 2010 NPT Review Conference agreed on a 64-point action plan which includes most of the steps required to advance the disarmament and non-proliferation objectives encapsulated in the NPT. In July 2010, Australia and Japan jointly established the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NDPI) with the key objective of promoting the implementation of this action plan. The NPDI is a cross-regional group of 12 countries: Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The NPDI is a prominent and pragmatic voice in the international community and has been active in promoting practical actions and maintaining pressure on the nuclear weapon States and nuclear weapon possessor states to meet their commitments.

The NPDI's current thematic priorities include:

  • encouraging greater transparency surrounding nuclear disarmament efforts;
  • increasing support for and conclusion of key legal instruments that safeguard and govern nuclear activities; and
  • strengthening the NPT regime.

There have been eight Ministerial meetings of the NPDI.

The Dutch Foreign Minister delivered an opening statement on behalf of the NPDI at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

Australia was instrumental in pushing for a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests. As a result, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996. Australia signed the CTBT on 24 September 1996 and ratified the Treaty on 9 July 1998.

The CTBT bans all nuclear test explosions: a practical step toward nuclear disarmament and an effective non-proliferation measure which limits the technological development of nuclear weapons. For more than twenty years, the CTBT has underpinned the global norm against nuclear testing and developed a world-class verification system which allows real-time monitoring for nuclear tests across the globe.

The Treaty contains a specific list of countries that must ratify in order for the CTBT to enter into force. Of these 44 countries, listed in Annex II to the Treaty, three (DPRK, India and Pakistan) are yet to sign and five (China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and United States) have signed but are yet to ratify the treaty.

Australia continues to be a leading supporter of the Treaty. Australia and Japan co-chair the ‘Friends of the CTBT’ Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. The Friends group also includes Canada, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands. For over a decade, Australia, Mexico and New Zealand have alternated as lead sponsor of the UN General Assembly resolution on the CTBT. Germany delivered a statement on behalf of the NPDI on Strengthening the Norm against Nuclear Testing at the 2016 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Preparatory Commission meeting in Vienna commemorating the 20th anniversary since the Treaty was opened for signature.

The CTBT’s International Monitoring System (IMS) comprises more than 300 facilities around the globe. The IMS has already demonstrated its effectiveness by promptly detecting all of North Korea’s nuclear test explosions. Australia hosts 21 IMS facilities – the third largest number of any country. Australia also makes a leading contribution to the development of on-site inspection procedures which could be used to investigate concerns about a possible nuclear test. The Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) is Australia's National Authority for implementation of the CTBT and coordinates Australia's contribution to the development of its verification system. Reliable and real-time monitoring data from the CTBT’s IMS offers additional civil and scientific benefits. Data from IMS stations makes a valuable contribution to tsunami warning systems including, the Australian Tsunami Warning System covering both the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT)

Australia has been a prominent advocate of the practical “building blocks” approach to nuclear disarmament. A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) is a priority next step in advancing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts and a key element of this approach.

With the Conference on Disarmament not yet able to agree to negotiate an FMCT, a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) established under a UN mandate undertook a detailed assessment in 2014 and 2015 of possible aspects of a future treaty and identified useful signposts that could guide future negotiations toward agreement that could contribute to a treaty. Australia participated in the GGE. The GGE produced a robust consensus report reflecting the most in-depth discussions on the topic to date.

In 2016, the UN mandated in a resolution “Treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” to establish a 25-member High-Level FMCT Expert Preparatory Group. Australia is playing a constructive role in participating in this group. The group will build on the 2015 GGE report and consider relevant factors in greater detail.

Fissile material (highly enriched uranium and plutonium) is the central component to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. We believe an FMCT would be an indispensable step on the way towards a nuclear-free world.

Verification for nuclear disarmament

Much international debate on nuclear disarmament focuses on building the necessary political will for progress toward a world without nuclear weapons, and on fostering a security environment for that political will to succeed. To make headway, we also need to understand better how practical steps toward disarmament could actually work, and how the international community can have appropriate confidence in them. The negotiation of future nuclear disarmament arrangements could be greatly aided if verification tools are available.

The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) is an informal partnership of more than 25 countries, working jointly since 2015 to develop technical solutions for monitoring and verification challenges across the nuclear weapons lifecycle. Research into verifying nuclear disarmament has been pursued since the 1990s by a few countries, including through bilateral cooperation. However, IPNDV is the first international dialogue in this field among a substantial number of states, including those with and without nuclear weapons.

Australia (DG ASNO) co-chairs IPNDV’s Working Group 2 whose focus is the development of processes and procedures under which international inspectors could gain some assurance that an item presented for verification is a nuclear explosive device and then reliably track the device and its components through the disassembly process.

Australia is very supportive of the Norwegian led First Committee Resolution titled “Nuclear disarmament verification” and views this initiative as a practical and important step forward in increasing knowledge and understanding of verification.

Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZ)

A number of regions around the world have set up NWFZs. These ban the development, deployment and use of nuclear weapons. Australia is party to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ) Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga or SPNFZT) which entered into force on 11 December 1986, becoming the second treaty in the world to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in a populated region (the first being the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, or the Treaty of Tlatelolco). Australia strongly supports the creation of NWFZs and believes their establishment, freely arrived at among the States in the region concerned, contribute to the implementation of the NPT. They also serve as a security-enhancing interim step pending the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Australia implements its obligations under the SPNFZT through the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Act 1986, which, inter alia, prohibits the manufacture, production or acquisition of nuclear explosive devices; prohibits research and development relating to their manufacture or production; prohibits the possession or control over such devices; prohibits the stationing of nuclear explosive devices in Australia; and prohibits the testing of nuclear explosive devices.

Last Updated: 3 May 2017