Pacific Elders’ Voice urges Pacific Leaders to take a decisive stand on AUKUS

Pacific Elders’ Voice urges Pacific Leaders to take a decisive stand on AUKUS

By Rashika Kumar
Wednesday 12/04/2023
[Photo: File]

The Pacific Elders’ Voice is urging the Pacific Islands Leaders to take a decisive and ethical stand on the submarine deal between Australia, United Kingdom and the United States which signals greater militarisation by joining Australia to the networks of US military bases in the Northern Pacific and is triggering an arms race, bringing war much closer to home.

The Elders consist of the former President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hilde Heine, the former President of Palau, Thomas “Tommy” Remengesau, former President of the Republic of Kiribati, Anote Tong, former Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor, former Member of U.S. Congress & President of the University of Guam, Robert Underwood, Ambassador and former Fijian Government Minister, Kaliopate Tavola, and former Professor at the University of the South Pacific, Konai Helu Thaman.

In a statement signed by the Elders, they say this not only puts the region at greater risk of a nuclear war but the real environmental impacts arising out of any incident will be huge.

They say they are of the view that the Pacific Islands Forum demand Australia clarify what the benefits of AUKUS are to the region and what elements of this will impact on the Pacific Islands.

The Elders say the Pacific must also discourage countries like New Zealand, home to many Pacific Islanders, from resisting the lure to join this military alliance.

They say this not only goes against the spirit of the Blue Pacific narrative, agreed to by all the Forum member countries last year, it also demonstrates a complete lack of recognition of the climate change security threat that has been embodied in the Boe and other declarations by Pacific Island leaders.

The Elders say the staggering $368 billion allocated for the AUKUS deal also flies in the face of Pacific Island countries which have been crying out for support for climate change and the fact that not even a significant fraction of this figure is available for the region to deal with the greatest security threat, shows a complete lack of sensitivity to this key Pacific priority in Canberra, London, Paris and Washington.

They say when there is money available for such military expansionism, surely the region’s pressing existential threat from climate change also deserves this focus and substantive investment.

The Elders say while the Australian Government and its allies are emphasising 'no nuclear weapons' will be carried on these expensive submarines, this claim will never be verified because of the US Policy to not confirm or deny if nuclear weapons are on board any submarines that enter the Pacific and it does not talk about the disposal of nuclear wastes that will be generated by the operation of the nuclear-powered submarines.

They stress that they do not condone Australia’s deliberate exploitation of a loophole in the Treaty of Rarotonga which permits the transit of nuclear-powered craft such as submarines and they condemn DFAT’s recent arguments that the stationing of B-52 bombers in the Northern Territory does not constitute “stationing” in breach of the Treaty of Rarotonga.

They also condemn the United States’ failure as the only major nuclear weapons state to ratify the three protocols to the Treaty of Rarotonga.

The Elders say we only have to remind ourselves of the nuclear legacy in our region, including over 315 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands, Australia, Kiribati, Johnston Island and French (Occupied) Polynesia.

They say they have been assured of technology safety before, but as the cracks on the Runit nuclear dome in Marshall Islands demonstrate, there can be no guarantee on the long- term management and regulation and the impacts of the two recent major nuclear reactor accidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima, and many others before cannot be overlooked.

They further say the region is rightly, strongly opposed to Japan’s proposal to discharge waste water from the Fukushima reactor into the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Elders’ Voice say they are particularly keen to ensure the Pacific provides a united and forceful voice particularly to Australia, our largest development partner in the region and signatory of the Rarotonga Treaty.

They say Australia is also a signatory to all PIF Declarations and the ‘2050 Strategy of the Blue Pacific Continent’ adopted at the Forum meeting in Suva last year, and recognises that the most urgent security issue for the region is climate change.

The Elders are urging Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to follow through on his pre-election commitment to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and become more aligned with a region concerned with nuclear justice for all survivors and affected communities and embrace the goal of nuclear weapons-free world.

In response to AUKUS, the President of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau says our people were victims of nuclear testing, and we still have the trauma.

The Pacific Elders’ Voice add the Pacific must continue to emphasise that paramount amongst the broader geopolitical and security challenges in the region is the climate security issue.

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