As the world pushes for a ban on nuclear weapons, Australia votes to stay on the wrong side of history
Tilman Ruff, University of Melbourne
In early December, the nations of the world are poised to take an historic step forward on nuclear weapons. Yet most Australians still haven’t heard about what’s happening, even though Australia is an important part of this story – which is set to get even bigger in the months ahead.
On this day 70 years ago, the world and the preconditions for its health and survival changed forever. A crude bomb containing 60 kilograms of highly enriched uranium exploded 580 metres above Hiroshima. Equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT, it was 2000 times more powerful than the British Grand Slam bomb, the largest produced until then.
The moral threshold of catastrophic attacks with indiscriminate weapons had already been crossed, with poison gas killing 90,000 and maiming or blinding one million men in the European killing fields of the first world war. This was followed by indiscriminate aerial bombing of cities during the second world war.
With the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the era of the Cold War seems more remote than ever. The Iron Lady was in her penultimate year of office when the Berlin Wall came down, and with it decades of the enveloping fear that at any moment a global nuclear exchange might end the world. That was nearly a quarter of a century ago. In that time, the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons has been almost entirely displaced by another. I speak, of course, of climate change, the great ‘inconvenient truth’ and ‘moral challenge’ of the times in which we find ourselves. Where once the emblematic colour of this fear was red, it is now green. An overarching sense of anxiety remains, with ecological catastrophe having replaced a hail of Soviet nuclear warheads as the principal nightmare.