Australia draws up draft U.N. statement on nuclear disarmament

With a New Zealand draft U.N. statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons gaining traction, Australia has begun a push to drum up support for its own submission, U.N. diplomats said Thursday.

The Australian draft, obtained by Kyodo News, similarly stresses the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons but is a more moderate attempt to articulate the humanitarian consequences of any nuclear-related incident than the New Zealand version, a U.N. diplomat said. A civic group official expressed concern that it might create a "division" between the two camps of sponsors.

Japan has not made public its position on the Australian-led effort yet but diplomats suggest it might be possible for Tokyo to back both statements.

The Australian draft says that "the devastating immediate and long term humanitarian impacts of a nuclear weapon detonation are of clear concern," and that there are "catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons."

It also points out that simply banning the world's most destructive weapons "will not guarantee their elimination" without constructively engaging the nuclear weapons states, and "recognizing both the security and humanitarian dimensions" of the nuclear weapons debate.

Given such references, countries under the nuclear umbrella may find it easy to join the Australian statement, a U.N. diplomat said, adding that it may find acceptance among NATO countries and South Korea.

The New Zealand-led effort -- which Japan decided to join last week, reversing its past position on staying away from similar statements -- highlights the inhumanity of weapons of mass destruction that "became evident from the moment of their first use."

Officials with non-governmental organizations, who are closely watching the debates taking place at the U.N. committee charged with disarmament and international security issues, estimate that the New Zealand-led efforts gained momentum over the last week with at least 50 countries backing it so far.

"Japan strongly supports the spirit of the statement (by New Zealand) and thus joins in it," Toshio Sano, the Geneva-based Japanese Ambassador for disarmament said in remarks to the U.N. disarmament committee, called the First Committee.

"We intend to continue our efforts to outline realistic and concrete steps for global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation," he added.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, Japan presented a draft resolution calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons to the First Committee for the 20th consecutive year, but with only 27 co-sponsor nations at the time of submission.

This is far below last year's total of 69 co-sponsoring countries, a record high.

A Japanese government source said the delegation had been busy working on the draft, leaving little time to line up co-sponsors, but it would focus on drawing more support.

The draft resolution will eventually be put to a vote at the U.N. General Assembly for adoption, unlike the New Zealand- or Australia-led statements on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons prepared to be issued at the First Committee.

The draft resolution seeks a world free of nuclear weapons and reaffirms the importance of complying with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It also denounces nuclear weapons development activities, including the third nuclear test by North Korea in February.