May 2018 Guest speaker, Richard Tanter

Richard is an academic and a member of ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. His topic was “How do we get to abolition?“.

Richard opened his talk with an acknowledgement that we met on aboriginal land, and paid respects to Aboriginal custodians and elders past and present.

He acknowledged the work of Dr Sue Wareham and ICAN, which started ten years ago in Melbourne. Richard has been a member for 5 years and is currently a Board member. He was also the Director of the Nautilus Institute in Australia where he was involved in peace and security issues including work on abolishing nuclear weapons.

Richard outlined the history behind the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (which passed the UN vote on 7 July 2017) and lead to the ICAN Nobel Peace Prize. It was notably not signed by Australia and the USA among others. The world now has 15,000 nuclear weapons and these are being modernised at the moment at a cost of $1 trillion. Richard spoke about the outcome for the entire world if, for example, a local war between India and Pakistan resulted in a nuclear attack – apart for the “local” destruction, there would be decades of increased atmospheric carbon leading to widespread environmental destruction and famine. He argued that the idea of “deterrence” is dangerous as there is every likelihood of these weapons being used in some circumstances. There are now 9 countries with nuclear weapons.

ICAN’s “reason for being” is to work towards prohibition and the UN Treaty reflects this. The organisation’s success has been due to a clear focus on abolition; its governance structure; its discipline as a small organisation; and its success in going global with a network of partners from around the world. Richard noted that medical services have stated that the health services would not be able to cope with the health consequences of any nuclear war anywhere in the world.

Following the signing of the Treaty, ICAN has focused its work on promoting treaty ratification, and then to help develop “a body of law” which it hopes might stigmatise those countries with nuclear weapons. ICAN is also focusing on getting the Australian Government to sign and ratify the Treaty, through convincing the Labor Party of the importance of the issue. However, given how integrated Australia is with the USA defence system (e.g. Pine Gap) he believes “we are in for the long haul”.

Richard’s talk was followed by much discussion and questions, including how we might remove the US from Pine Gap, and the fact that there is so little media coverage about the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Sue Wareham spoke about the need to push the Labor Party, if and when it forms Government, to sign the Treaty.

For more information, click here for a series of PowerPoint slides: Tanter, ICAN talk, May 2018

Donations to ICAN can be made through their web site,

Jane thanked Richard for his very informative presentation and awarded him a VR mug.