Australia is one of three nations outside NATO that purport to rely on nuclear weapons for their security. This position is manifestly incompatible with the Australian Government’s stated commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. In May 2009 the Department of Defence published a white paper affirming the role of US “extended nuclear deterrence” in our security, stating that it provides a key defence against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
In reality, the failure of nuclear-armed states to disarm is the major driver of proliferation and cause of the daily universal threat of nuclear annihilation. The white paper confirms “the value to Australia of the protection afforded by extended nuclear deterrence under the US alliance”, which “provides a stable and reliable sense of assurance”. What does this mean? It means a willingness to countenance and contribute to the use of the world’s worst weapons of terror. A willingness, ultimately, to threaten and incinerate millions of people, and devastate and radioactively contaminate vast areas of land, placing all of us in jeopardy.
It means we are part of the problem more than the solution. Nuclear deterrence, at its core, is a pledge to inflict catastrophic nuclear retaliation. We now know that to use even a tiny fraction of the world’s current nuclear arsenal would produce a global climatic catastrophe that would make any such use not only a crime against humanity, but suicidal. A country like Australia that relies upon a proxy nuclear arsenal is making a Faustian bargain.
For nothing more than an unenforceable promise that our “protector state” may retaliate upon millions of innocent people on our behalf, we make ourselves a target for nuclear weapons, put our fate in the hands of others, and forfeit our moral stature as a state free of nuclear weapons. This position increases the ways and places in which a nuclear war might start. It also makes our security hostage to nuclear security and restraint in Russia, China, and North Korea; and adds to the risk of nuclear war through technical failure, human error, madness, malice, inadvertence, terrorist infiltration or cyber attack.
A further critical deficiency of the white paper is that it makes no distinction between the nuclear and non-nuclear aspects of Australia’s alliance with the US. Deterrence does not have to be nuclear. As found by repeated parliamentary assessments in recent decades, there is no conceivable military threat Australia faces that could not be met by the combined conventional military capacity of Australia and its allies.
An element in the white paper which demands comment is the assertion that the extended nuclear deterrence provided by the US “has over the years removed the need for Australia to consider more significant and expensive defence options”. This could reasonably be interpreted as a veiled threat that without the US nuclear umbrella, Australia may need to acquire its own nuclear weapons. This is strongly counter-productive, potentially stimulating military build-up and nuclear proliferation in other countries, further undermining the security of Australians.
An alternative approach
Australian security can best be promoted by resolving regional tensions and working with others to address the urgent shared human security challenges we face — the continued existence of nuclear weapons, climate change, resource depletion, poverty and inequity, disease, disasters and human rights abuses. These should be the prime purpose of Australian foreign and defence policy.
Countries like Australia that are allied with nuclear- armed states should make clear their support for the abolition of nuclear weapons and remove reliance on nuclear weapons by planning for security arrangements in which nuclear weapons have no place. Australia should ensure that Australian facilities and personnel could not knowingly or unknowingly participate in or contribute to the use of nuclear weapons.
- Vision 2030: An Alternative Approach to Australian Security
A publication of the Medication Association for Prevention of War
- Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030
The Department of Defence white paper release on 2 May 2009
- Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers
Report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament
- Report 106: Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament
JSCT Inquiry into Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament