ICAN's Nobel Prize an opportunity to revisit disarmament and the US alliance

ICAN's Nobel Prize an opportunity to revisit disarmament and the US alliance

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an organisation founded in Melbourne in 2007, has given the Australian Government an unanticipated opportunity to revisit its positions on nuclear disarmament, ANZUS and the way forward over North Korea.

It did this by being named the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.


Modelled on the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, ICAN was established with the sole goal of banning nuclear weapons.

In addition to sending delegates to the UN and parliaments across the world, it shared the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the victims of nuclear testing with a global audience.


ICAN's award highlights the mixed messages Australia has sent on nuclear disarmament in recent times.

The Turnbull Government is, on the one hand, adamant Kim Jong-un should relinquish his nuclear ambitions in the interests of world peace.

It has, on the other, refused to have anything to do with the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons facilitated by ICAN.

This prohibits the development, manufacture or acquisition of nuclear weapons and bans any threat to use such devices.

The treaty has been signed by 122 separate countries since it was adopted in New York on July 7. Neither Australia or any of the world's nuclear armed states took part in the talks.

Australia's refusal to participate was widely attributed to a reluctance to do anything that might embarrass America, the major ANZUS partner.

ICAN's Nobel Prize comes when tensions on the Korean peninsula have rarely been higher.

The Doomsday Clock has been reset to an unprecedented two-and-a-half minutes to midnight and there are fears the Turnbull Government could blindly follow the Trump administration down the road to Armageddon.

This prompted a group of eminent Australians, including former Defence Department secretary, Paul Barratt, Professor Gillian Triggs and former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, John Menadue, to appeal for sanity on the weekend.

In an open letter published in Fairfax newspapers they called on the Government to break away from a "joined at the hip" policy towards the US over North Korea and to affirm any action would be determined by the whole parliament.

Given Julie Bishop has already distanced Australia from Donald Trump's claims negotiations with North Korea are a waste of time there are grounds for hope.

Australia has, as the open letter points out, no automatic obligation to go to war alongside the US in the event of hostilities breaking out with North Korea.

The ANZUS treaty also binds its members to "settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means".

Given the latitude this offers it would make sense for Australia, which also has good relations with China and other countries in South East Asia, to push for the urgent negotiations that represent the best hope of resolving this crisis.

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