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Nuclear issues

Treaties and initiatives

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

In February 1970, Australia decided to forego the possible pursuit of nuclear weapons by signing the NPT. Since then, Australia has been one of the treaty's strongest supporters. In 1995, we collectively succeeded in ensuring the Treaty was extended indefinitely.

The NPT has three main pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The treaty provides ongoing security benefits to all States through curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other states and commits nuclear weapon states to work towards disarmament through Article VI obligations. The NPT enables the international community to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology, supporting human health, agriculture, food security, water and the environment.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is central to the implementation of NPT commitments on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy through its system of international nuclear safeguards and as a multilateral forum for supporting the peaceful applications of nuclear technology.

Article VIII of the NPT provides that the Treaty be reviewed at five-yearly intervals. The primary objectives of these five-yearly Review Conferences are to assess developments since the previous conference, to address current challenges, and to identify areas for further progress. Australia has been an active and constructive participant in all NPT Review Conferences.

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, States Parties agreed to a final document that included conclusions and recommendations for follow-on actions in the areas of nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the Middle East (see the 64-point 'Action Plan' drawn from the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Final Document).

Despite the absence of an agreed outcome from the 2015 NPT Review Conference, we still have an important and consensus-based roadmap forward in the 2010 NPT Action Plan.

Australia will work consistently to preserve and strengthen the NPT and the norms it enshrines as the cornerstone of multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Through focusing on areas of convergence and common ground, building dialogue and progressing effective measures towards nuclear disarmament, we can make real progress towards our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

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Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI)

The NPDI, established by Australia and Japan in 2010, 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's mandate is to implement the 2010 NPT 64-point Action Plan which includes the key steps to advance the disarmament and non-proliferation objectives encapsulated in the NPT.

The NPDI has been active in promoting practical actions and maintaining pressure on the nuclear weapon States to meet their commitments under the NPT. Australia is a recent coordinator of the NPDI (from 2018-2020).

The NPDI's current thematic priorities include:

  • Encouraging greater transparency surrounding nuclear disarmament efforts;
  • Addressing the lack of substantive work in the Conference on Disarmament across the four core issue on its agenda;
  • Increasing support for and conclusion of key legal instruments that safeguard and govern nuclear activities; and
  • Strengthening the NPT regime.

The 10th Ministerial Meeting of the NPDI, Co-Chaired by Australia and Japan, was held in Nagoya City, Japan on 23 November 2019. For further information, see the NPDI Joint Ministerial Statement.

On 27 April 2020, the NPDI issued a message on the postponement of the NPT Review Conference due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

Australia was instrumental in pushing for a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests and was a key force behind the drafting of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT) which 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. While the CTBT has yet to enter into force, many of its elements are provisionally applied through the work of the CTBT Preparatory Commission (PrepCom). This includes the International Monitoring System (IMS). Australia hosts the third largest number of IMS stations, totalling 21.

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 it 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.

In May 2021 Australia's candidate, Dr Robert Floyd, was elected Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).  As the first Executive Secretary to be elected from the Indo-Pacific, Dr Floyd's election demonstrates Australia's active commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and our practical contribution to multilateral co-operation.

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Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT)

Fissile material (highly enriched uranium, plutonium and potentially other materials) is the central component to the composition of nuclear weapons. An FMCT would constitute a central element to the "progressive" approach to nuclear disarmament and would reduce the amount of fissile material available for nuclear weapons.

While the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has been unable to agree on a program of work to negotiate an FMCT, Australia has participated in both a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on an FMCT established under a UN mandate in 2014 as well as a 25-member High-Level FMCT Expert Preparatory Group established under UN auspices in 2016. Both processes have furthered understanding of the composite elements required in a future FMCT.

South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga)

A number of regions around the world have established nuclear weapons free zones (NWFZs). These ban the deployment or use of nuclear weapons within those regions. Australia strongly supports the creation of NWFZs and believes their establishment, freely arrived at among the States in the region concerned, contributes to the more effective implementation of the NPT. They also serve as a security-enhancing interim step pending the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Australia is party to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga) and implements its obligations under this treaty through the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Act 1986. The treaty prohibits States Parties from the manufacture, production or acquisition of nuclear explosive devices; research and development relating to their manufacture or production; the possession or control over such devices; the stationing of nuclear explosive devices in their territories; and the testing of nuclear explosive devices in the region.

The Treaty of Rarotonga 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 (also known as Treaty of Tlatelolco).

Verification of Nuclear Disarmament (IPNDV, GGE)

The negotiation of future nuclear disarmament arrangements will rely on effective verification mechanisms being developed. To this end, Australia has been an active contributor to the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), an informal partnership established by the US consisting of more than 25 countries working jointly since 2015 to develop technical solutions for monitoring and verification challenges across the nuclear weapons lifecycle. Australia participates actively in all of IPNDV's working groups, including co-chairing Working Group 5 since 2018.

Another key verification initiative is the UN-established Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on nuclear disarmament verification. While not a member of the GGE, Australia is supportive of this Norwegian-led process and views the initiative as a practical and important step forward in increasing knowledge and understanding of the technical and other challenges of effective verification of agreed arms reduction measures.

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force on 22 January 2021.  Australia does not support the TPNW which we believe would not eliminate a single nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons possessor states were not engaged in its negotiations, and none have signed or ratified. We consider the treaty creates parallel obligations to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and ignores the realities of the global security environment. In addition, it has weaker safeguards provisions than called for by the existing NPT framework and fails to set out how disarmament would be verified or enforced in practice.  Joining the Treaty would also be inconsistent with our US alliance obligations. As a non-signatory, the treaty's entry into force on 22 January 2021 does not create legal obligations for Australia.

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