Diplomats force a vote on a report to begin negotiations on a ban in 2017 that had been expected to pass unanimously.
The proposal recommended a conference be held next year to negotiate ‘a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons – leading towards their total elimination’.
The text was carefully negotiated and compromise was attempted on contentious paragraphs.
Anti-nuclear campaigners involved in the process expected the report would pass without objection.
But Australia surprised observers by objecting and forcing a vote.
The vote was accepted by an overwhelming majority with 68 voting in favour – 22 against and 13 abstaining.
The next step will be for the proposal for negotiations to begin in 2017 will be tabled at the United Nations general assembly after which it is likely formal negotiations will begin.
In an opening statement the Australian diplomat Ian McConville told the meeting: ‘A simple Ban Treaty would not facilitate the reduction in one nuclear weapon. It might even harden the resolve of those possessing nuclear weapons not to reduce their arsenals’.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on its website that it opposed a ban on nuclear weapons because although it ‘might seem to be a straightforward and emotionally appealing way to de-legitimise and eradicate nuclear weapons’ it would actually ‘divert attention from the sustained practical steps needed for effective disarmament’.
But in 2015 documents obtained under Freedom of Information revealed Australia opposed the ban on nuclear weapons – since it believed it relied on US nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
The documents revealed however that Australia and the US were worried about the momentum gathering behind the Austrian-led push for a ban nuclear weapons – which diplomats said was ‘fast becoming a galvanising focus for those pushing the ban treaty option’.