It was a real privilege to speak on behalf of Australia at the United Nations First Committee – Disarmament and International Security hearing this week.
This Committee deals with disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace that affect the international community and seeks out solutions to the challenges in the international security regime.
Speaking on the important issue of nuclear disarmament, I told UN committee delegates: “If the world is to realise its collective ambition of enhancing global security and stability, we must re-commit ourselves to the painstaking work of practical nuclear disarmament and confidence-building measures that engage all states concerned….the hard practical work to bring us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons must still be done. There are no short cuts.”
Australia’s position on nuclear disarmament has been clear and consistent for decades.
We advocate a zero tolerance approach to nuclear (as well as chemical and biological) weapons.
Despite this, I cannot help but suspect that humankind will struggle to be ever free of the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
In fact, as technology advances, I suspect we will see smaller, “better” and more mobile forms of this type of capability.
Certainly this risk is ever present and increasing as some of the bigger powers populate space with both strike and response capabilities.
The United States’ contribution to the UN commended the fact that it now only has some 4,500 nuclear warheads, down from about 30,000 at the height of the Cold War in the mid-1960/s.
Despite the adoption of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, countries now have by capacity and by volume much more nuclear capability then at any time before.
It is estimated that the world has some 16,000 nuclear warheads (of which about 10% or 1,600 are “war” ready).
These missiles have a greater capacity than those used against Nagasaki and Hiroshima and can be delivered much more efficiently and remotely.
Even the conventional methods of response will incur the detonation of the primary missile in the event that one is launched.
Consider that the use of 100 of these alone would wipe out total civilization as we know it and you will start to see a part of the problem.
So, where does Australia fit?
There are the haves and the have nots with this question.
All the have nots want the haves to dispose totally of this arsenal. That will never happen.
Ninety percent of the collective capacity rests with the USA and Russia whilst many of the balance of holdings are with Nations whose geopolitical environment is unstable.
Australia has no nuclear capabilities but we have close relationships with nuclear carrying allies – US and UK in particular.
There is very little Australia can do in a meaningful way in this space except of course continue to make diplomatic contributions regarding the issue.
Take India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea as examples.
It goes without saying that Australia (like every country on Earth) would be seriously affected by a nuclear event.
When and if it began it would never end as each threatened Nation would want to use their first strike capability as a defensive mechanism.
It can be thoroughly depressing to consider the global outlook.
But, despite this, it is with a sense of pride that I was able to give voice to Australia’s policy to the UN.
A small voice in this great debate – but a voice nonetheless.