With the invasion of Ukraine and now Putin suspending the New Start Treaty, the risk of both nuclear proliferation and nuclear war is increasing. But we can play a role in preventing this.
For more than seven decades we have been told that nuclear weapons are an essential political tool that make us safer, but in reality, each day we wake up without nuclear conflict is indeed a lucky day.
Myths come into being through the telling and re-telling of stories. Myths exist to help us make meaning of our world and our lives, however, not all myths are true.
There are three big myths about nuclear weapons.
The first myth is that a nuclear war is "winnable". The research, however, is both clear-cut and horrifying. Even a "small" regional nuclear exchange - say between Pakistan and India - using less than 1 per cent of the global nuclear arsenal, would kill around 100 million people.
Massive fires would loft millions of tons of smoke into the stratosphere. Decade-long global cooling will follow. Crop yields of rice, wheat and corn would fall 15 to 30 per cent.
Conservatively estimated, around 2 billion people would starve.
If the US and Russia used their 1800 deployed weapons, food production would cease in most parts of the world. Most, if not all, of the human race would starve.
The second myth is an outdated, dogmatic belief that nuclear weapons make us safer. Nuclear deterrence assumes the threat of mutually assured destruction will prevent the use of nuclear weapons.
However, risk analysis demonstrates the reverse is true. Given increasing conflict, brinkmanship, and unpredictable world leaders, plus the risks posed by cyberattacks and extremists, it's hard to rely on a mutually assured destruction strategy.
But the biggest risk, looking at history, is inadvertent use. We have - at least seven times - come within a hair's breadth of global conflagration, due to human, computer or radar error, unusual weather patterns and even a faulty computer chip.
The US and Russia have come close on five occasions since 1979. It is inevitable that eventually our luck will run out.
The third myth is that nuclear disarmament is irresponsible. But it is hopelessly unrealistic to assume these weapons will never be used.
We are at a turning point.
By signing the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Australia would join 122 countries who supported the treaty at the United Nations. Although the US will very actively discourage such action, Thailand, New Zealand and the Philippines are all signatories and remain US allies.
The treaty stigmatises nuclear weapons and increases pressure to disarm. In order to have negotiated, verifiable, balanced and phased reductions in stockpiles, extensive diplomatic work over the next couple of decades is required.
AUKUS is also no impediment. Indeed, while Australia's high-risk nuclear-propelled submarine proposal clearly creates global proliferation concerns, signing the treaty demonstrates genuine action on non-proliferation.
At the 2018 ALP National Conference, where a policy platform committing to signing the treaty was adopted unopposed, Anthony Albanese said: "I don't argue that this is easy. I don't argue that it's simple. But I do argue that it's just ... Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane, and indiscriminate weapons ever created."
Australia has signed every other international convention dealing with weapons of mass destruction, even when allies like the US have not. It is time for Australia to again take action to help prevent this human catastrophe. We have to change the ending.
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