Jody Broun, John Carlson, Stephan Frühling, Humphrey McQueen, JD Mittman, Richard Tanter, Ramesh Thakur, Bernhard Zimburg, 17 October 2018
JD MITTMANN: Good afternoon, everyone. Ambassador, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you to this forum, Global Security Through Nuclear Weapons. Before we commence, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the country on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to elders past and present and future, and would also acknowledge all other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are amongst us.
I would also acknowledge the distinguished speakers who kindly agreed to participate in this event. His Excellency, the Austrian Ambassador to Australia, Dr Bernhard Zimburg. Professor Ramesh Thakur, Professor Richard Tanter, Dr Stephan Fruhling, John Carlson, Jody Broun and Humphrey McQueen. I will leave it to Humphrey to introduce our speakers, but before I hand the microphone to Humphrey, I should introduce myself.
My name is JD Mittmann. I’m the exhibition curator at Burrinja Cultural Centre in Melbourne, and I’m also the curator of Black Mist Burnt Country, a national touring exhibition which is currently on display here at the Museum in the First Australian gallery. If you have not seen it, I would like to encourage you to do so. It is on display until 18 November. I would like to thank the Museum for hosting the exhibition and, of course, for hosting this event here today.
The exhibition titled Black Mist Burnt Country: Testing the Bomb, Maralinga and Australian Art, focuses on the history of the British atomic tests in the 1950s and 1960s through the artworks of 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. The exhibition has toured through public galleries and museums in four states and territories since September 2016. For more info on the exhibition itself, its schedule, background information and the like, I would encourage you to go onto the website blackmistburntcountry.com.au or get hold of the exhibition catalogue, which you can find at the Museum shop.
This Monday, 65 years ago, the British tested their first atomic device at Emu Field in South Australia, codenamed ‘Totem 1’. It was, of course, not the first atomic test in Australia, and certainly not the last. A total of 12 atomic devices were exploded, and over 500 so-called minor tests, minor experiments, conducted that enabled the British to join the nuclear club just before the Partial Test Ban Treaty came into effect in 1967 .
Australia, by its generous willingness to provide the land and support the test program logistically, became complicit in the nuclear arms race. As historians have shown us, successive prime ministers and governments, from Menzies onwards, kept the nuclear door open. There was the assumption that Australia could benefit scientifically and militarily.
The exhibition, which focuses on the British tests, and their impact on land and people, also makes references to contemporary issues. The existing stockpile of nuclear weapons, the unsolved issue of nuclear wastes, and test site remediation. It could have not come at a better time. Nuclear weapons are making headlines again, and in the context of increased nuclear proliferation and changing international security situations, it seems prudent to address some of these issues and hear from the experts.
Again, my thanks to all the speakers for making themselves available. At this point, I might also add that representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, when she was still a minister, were invited to be present and represent the government’s position on the matters. But, as you can see, they were neither able nor willing to do so.
Now, let me introduce our moderator for this afternoon. When Humphrey McQueen is asked, ‘How would you like to be introduced?’ He replies, ‘As a geographer.’ Or so he tells us in the introduction to his 1984 book, Gallipoli to Petrov: Arguing with Australian History. Without question, Humphrey is much more. For many decades he has been a freelance historian and cultural commentator. Humphrey is also the author of none less than 19 books that cover Australian history, the media, politics and visual arts, including two classic books of Australian history, A New Britannia and Social Sketches of Australia.
He completed a Bachelor of Arts with honours at the University of Queensland in 1965. Perhaps more significantly, he was an active participant in the anti-Vietnam war movement in Australia. From 1966 to 1969 he was employed as a teacher at Glen Waverley High in Victoria ... That’s not far from where I live ... and this sets him up superbly for the job as moderator and timekeeper at today’s event. In the 1970s, he moved to Canberra where he taught Australian history as a senior tutor at the Australian National University from 1970 to 1974, and to my knowledge, has lived here ever since.
On this note, and without further ado, I would like to hand over to Humphrey to lead us through the program. Thanks very much for coming.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: I think being introduced as a geographer would have been less embarrassing than all of that.
The notion that you could call it Totem 1 is stomach churning when you think what they were doing. We don’t have a Welcome to Country today, but neither did they in the 1950s. In fact, I have to go back to my childhood now, at a Catholic boys school, we were taught to write JMJ in the top right-hand corner of our exercise books. If we remembered, it stood for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who were supposedly going to help us in our studies. However, we were told not to use it in public examinations in case the marker was a member of the Masonic Lodge, and we suffered as a result.
I make this point because of the rituals that we engage in, and one of them is the acknowledgment of country. I have been welcomed to country in ways that I find very exciting. One, in Darwin, at a meeting, a rally organised by the Maritime Union. A group of women from Muckaty invited everyone down to their lands to lie on the road and stop the trucks bringing in the nuclear fuel waste. That’s the kind of welcome to country that I think we can all respond to.
The questions that we face today are wide-ranging and much more connected to the current state of the world. I’m not going to say any more, that’s not my job. What I will do is to invite each of the speakers to the platform. I think it’s important that all the time available be given to what they have to say and to your questions and the discussion that will flow from them. The speakers have been asked to talk for about 10 minutes. I have a bit of paper there that says two minutes on it, and I’ll hold that up when we get close to that point. Then there’ll be questions and discussion afterwards, and I’ll explain a little more about that. The order in which we will proceed, I hope, is the order in which the sheet was handed out to you on the way through.
The first of our speakers will be John Carlson. He’s going to talk about getting off the tiger’s back; the need for urgency, common purpose, and a common sense in eliminating all the nuclear weapons. So, I’ll just begin by asking John to come up. Thank you.
JOHN CARLSON: Thank you, Humphrey, and good afternoon, everybody.
I’d like to start with a quote from a conservative US president. ‘A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure that they will never be used, but then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?’
This was Ronald Reagan in 1984, and, unfortunately, the politicians we have today are rather of a different ilk to that. Nuclear weapons may have helped to maintain strategic stability between the superpowers during the Cold War, may, through nuclear deterrents, through establishing a balance of terror or what was aptly named MAD (mutually assured destruction). But this so-called stability is achieved at enormous risk. There were several false alarms or close calls, where catastrophe was averted only by cool heads and a good deal of luck. Good luck cannot hold forever.
Most people today think that the risk of nuclear war ended with the end of the Cold War, but the risks remain because the same dangerous practices are continued, particularly keeping nuclear weapons on high alert — what is called ‘launch-on-warning’ status. The rationale is that an enemy might attempt to eliminate your nuclear missiles by a pre-emptive strike, and, therefore, if it appears that you are under attack, you will launch your muscles before they’re hit. This is obviously an inherently dangerous situation, vulnerable to mistakes, and there have been several, both during and after the Cold War.
US or Russian presidents have only 20 minutes at most to decide whether to launch in retaliation if they think there is an attack in progress. This is too much pressure even for a rational person. I’ll leave you to think about the present resident of the White House. US presidential launch authority is dangerous in any case, quite apart from the risk of a mistake. The launch authority is largely unchecked. This is to avoid vulnerabilities, such as the confusion of a sudden attack. So, the president can launch without consultation, effectively. If a president decided to launch a nuclear attack, there are no checks to stop him. The US Congress now recognises the dangers in this, and they’re considering limits. It’s not clear what the limits may be in Russia and in the other nuclear-armed countries.
These dangers are exacerbated by the number of nuclear weapons — 15,000 globally. The number of countries with nuclear weapons — this number has grown slowly but surely, and is currently nine. And, within the nine, there are regional tensions, particularly between India and Pakistan, an area that is rather neglected in people’s thinking about nuclear weapons. The other danger here is changing attitudes towards the use of nuclear weapons. The taboo on the use of nuclear weapons has held since 1945, but now under so-called modernisation programs, new designs and new missions are being considered which would have the effect of reducing the threshold for use of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are well in excess of any rational requirement for deterrence. Something that made a big impression on me when I first started working in this area was a US study in 1979, which showed that a so-called limited exchange between the US and the Soviet Union of only 80 warheads each, would inflict unacceptable damage on both countries. The conclusion was that 80 is more than enough for deterrence, so there’s no justification for any of the nuclear-armed countries having hundreds, let alone thousands.
This study also played the catastrophic environmental consequences of any nuclear war, or what has become known as nuclear winter. Dust and soot from even a limited regional war, for instance, between India and Pakistan, could cause widespread crop failures around the world, leading to a nuclear famine with hundreds of millions of deaths.
Any use of nuclear weapons would be morally reprehensible and would almost certainly violate international humanitarian law. The basic principles of international law of war require distinction; the parties must be able to distinguish between combatants and civilians. Military necessity; an action must be aimed at a military objective. Proportionality; the harm caused to civilians must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.
These issues apply not only to nuclear attack but also to nuclear deterrence. Deterrence, to be effective, requires a willingness to retaliate. As a lawyer, I would say there is no difference between retaliation and reprisal. Which, of course, is a war crime. The International Court of Justice, in its 1996 advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons, concluded that any use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to international law.
So, what to do about all of this? It’s essential to get governments off the mindset that nuclear weapons are indispensable to security, or that disarmament is unrealistic and unattainable. We must, as my talk was titled, get off the tiger’s back. Doing nothing, staying where we are, can only end badly. The attitude of political leaders should be, ‘How can we work together to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons and find safe pathways to eliminate them?’
The ban treaty is one effort to break the current impasse on disarmament. The ban treaty has great merit that it has revived public and political attention for the need for disarmament. But without engagement of the nuclear-armed states, I fear the treaty will have only limited effect. A ban cannot be imposed on the possessor states if they’re not willing. Constructive engagement is a more effective approach than confrontation. The treaty also, unfortunately, has some drafting problems which I won’t go into now, but we could, in the Q and A, talk about them if anyone’s interested.
Instead, I’d urge the need to start practical steps on what is known as the step by step approach. Practical steps to eliminate nuclear weapons require sustained effort. There’s no magic bullet, but it should be possible, if we approach the subject in the right way, to convince the nuclear-armed states that there is some risk reductions that they should undertake urgently, and which are very much in their interest to do. De-alerting, taking weapons off launch on warning status, for instance, and dealing with this problem of presidential or political leader launch authority, require urgent attention, and is something that it should be possible to agree solutions on fairly quickly.
A particular favourite topic of mine is a policy of no first use, that nuclear weapons would only be used to deter nuclear attack. Obama tried to do this and found there is too much resistance, and unfortunately he didn’t pursue it. But no first use would be a game changer in changing attitudes towards the use of nuclear weapons and would be a very simple way of dealing with the presidential launch authority aspect. If it was illegal to initiate a nuclear attack, then that gets around most of the problem that we have in that area. And, of course, we need a commitment to progressive reductions in weapon numbers, getting down from thousands to hundreds, and eventually tens.
An agenda, a very detailed agenda, for pursuing those various steps is in the 2009 report of the International Commission for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, the so-called Evans–Kawaguchi Commission. I’d recommend that people google for that. The points that were made in that are still very pertinent today, and I see Penny Wong announced on Monday, that Labor would look to reviving the thinking that was in that report.
That brings me to my last point. Australia used to be very proactive on those issues, and it’s time that we became so and showed some leadership again. Thank you.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: Thank you very much, John, for bringing all that wisdom that you’d acquired in those years in the office in Australia of nuclear proliferation. I wonder though, how many members of parliament know that such an office even exists and what its functions are? There are good reasons to thinking that perhaps very, very few.
Our next speaker will be Stephan Frühling, who was at the Australian National University in the area of strategic and defence studies, and I recommend — I meant also to thank John for being perfectly in time. Yes, marvellous. Thank you.
STEPHAN FRÜHLING: Thank you for the invitation to speak here and for putting together such a great exhibition which pulls together a lot of the individual history, the Indigenous history, national history, which shouldn’t be forgotten. It also demonstrates, this exhibition, that Australia did not remain unaffected by the direct impact of the nuclear age, even though we never acquired reactors for power production, or operated or hosted nuclear weapons for our defence. But that doesn’t mean that Australia was remote from the nuclear age and its strategic impact, even if that impact was always a product of our strategic and geographic circumstances that changed over time and continues to do so.
At the beginning of the atomic age, Australia very much saw nuclear weapons as the rightful preserve of the great powers. We were a bit late to realise their strategic importance in the 50s, but even before that Menzies was very supportive of Britain’s and the US nuclear programs as the foundations of the Western deterrence that might help prevent the next great conflict of the kind that just had devastated the Northern Hemisphere. This exhibition here reminds us of the direct impact that his support had on Australia and Australians.
From the mid-1950s, Australian defence planners then were very much engaged in nuclear strike planning to defend South-East Asia against a possible communist invasion in the now almost forgotten Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation. By the 1960s, Australia’s view on nuclear weapons changed again as our views assumed a more nationalistic tone like in Europe and amongst other allies, where Australia was looking somewhat askance at the new Kennedy administration’s seeming reluctance to commit to the use of nuclear weapons to defend our allies, and China’s nuclear weapon also seemed to bring the threat of nuclear weapons closer to Australia’s shores.
But, ultimately, the calls then for a sovereign nuclear capability never really pushed through. Largely because, again, geostrategic circumstances changed. It’s important to remember that Australia, from probably the time that Nixon went to China, to the Taiwan Straits crisis of the 1990s, was in a most unusual international situation, in that we didn’t have to worry about any great power conflict impacting on the country itself other than in the context of global nuclear war. We could focus on regional conflict in which the use of nuclear weapons had almost no relevance to our own security.
Australia’s policy on nuclear weapons in the 70s and 80s was very much ahead of its time for that reason. We could place ourselves at the forefront of a wider non-proliferation and disarmament movement and, if you like, foreshadow a lot of the agenda that then came to the international fore in the 90s and 2000s. Whether that was the ultimate aim of nuclear disarmament, the reduction in the geographic deployment of nuclear weapons, the focus on the environmental consequences of nuclear testing, the importance of preventing non-proliferation in the Third World, proliferation that was unrelated to the Cold War, or to give real teeth and inbuilt incentives into the non-proliferation regime.
All of those were the focus on Australia because we didn’t have to worry about the defence use of nuclear weapons in the 70s and 80s. Then, also, became the focus of the international community in the 1990s and 2000s. Because what was remarkable about those two decades is that the same situation that Australia was in the 70s and 80s seemed to extend across the globe, that nuclear weapons seemed to have lost all their practical relevance with the end of the Cold War and were largely just an inheritance that we had to manage and dispose of.
Nuclear arsenals were radically cut. The attention of governments and militaries in almost all Western countries moved away from the operation of nuclear forces. The US almost completely lost its ability to produce nuclear weapons in quantities that are meaningful for great power confrontation. So, during the 1990s and 2000s, preventing accidents through complete elimination became a dominating narrative around nuclear weapons in Australia and also large parts of the northern hemisphere. Where even the problem of further proliferation to North Korea or Iran sometimes seemed to take second stage, because it posed somewhat awkward problems to the proposition that nuclear weapons have no use or must not have no use.
But I think that even that time is coming somewhat behind us, including the time with the Evans–Kawaguchi Commission because the world hasn’t stood still. Certainly, since 2014, we are in a different era again, where the spectre of great power conflict has very much returned to the centre of international security concerns. Russia and China today make no qualms about the fact that they seek the conventional ability to dominate US allies in their immediate neighbourhood at will, and they have, over recent years, made steady progress in building the conventional forces to the point where that’s no mere bluster anymore.
But, if their conventional superiority is regional, it is not global. Ultimately, Western security still depends on the ability of the US and its allies to mobilise forces, bring them into the theatre, and roll back any initial gains that adversaries may make, to restore the security and freedom of allied territory. Both Russia and China need something to disrupt that mobilisation. This is where nuclear weapons come back into the picture. If you look at where Russia and China put their money these days in nuclear modernisation, it’s into nuclear capabilities for exactly this kind of limited use that might disrupt Western mobilisation.
In Russia’s case, it’s short-range Iskander ballistic missiles, for example, and a variety of modern naval weapons — nuclear depth charges, nuclear torpedoes, nuclear cruise missiles, that could be used against Western naval forces with limited or no civilian casualties, and in a geographically constrained manner.
Likewise, China has modernised its intercontinental forces, but priority in its nuclear modernisation seems to lie on shorter range DF-21 and DF-26, which have no other use than to target US bases in the West and forces in the Western Pacific.
So far we’ve not really found a way to answer to this new threat. It does risk leaving us in a situation where either Russia or China might cross the nuclear threshold in a great power conflict. The US today, and its allies, have little credible answers on what to do against a limited nuclear use that might come early in the conflict, that might just sink a ship, or might just flatten some trees in Poland, but nonetheless creates the spectre of one side, having demonstrated that they are willing to cross the nuclear threshold, and the other side just with a choice between accepting defeat or suicidal response.
The more that we have convinced ourselves and built an arsenal of that is indeed unusable, the more, ironically, nuclear weapons have become more useful again for potential adversaries. I think this is starting to change. In the recent Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon has now taken initial steps to recognise and address this problem. We’ve seen a commitment to the modernization of the tactical B61 nuclear weapon and to the development of sea-based, lower-yield warheads as a means to start rebuilding those capabilities.
In general, since 2014, NATO has rediscovered the old adage that if conventional defeat of the alliance is unacceptable, it does need credible options to use and react to the use of nuclear weapons; even if those are of the limited time that I’ve just described. In this context, I think we shouldn’t underestimate, for example, the importance that the alliance, at the recent summit in Brussels, has finally come together to call out Russia on its violation of the INF Treaty, which opens now the political space to begin discussions about possible adoptions to NATO’s nuclear posture in response.
So, what does it all mean to Australia, this changing world? First, I think, insofar as we continue to rely for our security on the role of allied great powers in shaping global order we need to recognise that that ability continues to rest to a large extent on their nuclear arsenals, just as it did in the 1950s at the beginning of the atomic age. We’re not at the frontlines of any of these confrontations, unlike US allies in the Northern Hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean that other countries won’t or shouldn’t have expectations that Australia also carries some of the political and strategic cost and burden of nuclear deterrence at the global level.
Luckily nobody has any use of Australia to test nuclear weapons anymore. But I think we do have an important role to play even in operational base, whether you’re thinking about the joint facilities or Australia’s increasing importance as a rear area for US operations in Asia. I think Australia also — because of its long history of support for an arms control and disarmament — has the credibility and the ability to shape the international debate. What does it mean to be an irresponsible nuclear power? What are the real obstacles to nuclear disarmament? And how do we manage nuclear threats in the world as it is, rather than as we’d like it to be? But if nuclear weapons are really not to be used they must not have any use for anybody. At the moment that’s simply not yet the case.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: So much of what has been nuclear debate has been based on falsehoods and lies. And one of them began, of course, with the bombing in Japan in 1945 when the Americans assured people that if you weren’t there at the time, there would be no ill effects on you. This was very promptly disproved when doctors from other parts of Japan arrived to treat those who had been affected and became sick themselves and died with radiation sickness. The Australian journalist Wilford Burchett was there, and wrote this for the British press and exposed that this was not the case.
The role of the Red Cross in the world has been, well, in my imagination at least, to help people who are injured, that sense of it. And there would be an enormous amount of work to do in a place like Hiroshima today. But there is a larger issue that they have engaged themselves with and that is always what is acceptable as the way in which you can wage a war. And we’re very fortunate today to have the director of the Red Cross for New South Wales and the ACT, Jody Broun, here to speak to us about how this organisation has developed a whole new way of thinking about citizen involvement in these terrifying issues. Thank you, Jody.
JODY BROUN: Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for the invitation to speak on this really important topic. Can I firstly say, it’s fantastic to be amongst a group of such auspicious speakers and experts, that I’m not. So I will talk about the Red Cross and our role, but I also want to touch on the impact on Aboriginal people.
Firstly, if I can acknowledge that we’re meeting on Ngunnawal country and that this land has been cared for by Ngunnawal people for generations. Australian Red Cross honours the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the cultural wealth of our nation. And can I say that as an Aboriginal person myself, as an Indjibandji from the northwest of WA I’m always grateful to be welcomed to country in the very genuine way I often am, whether it’s in Ngunnawal, whether it’s [inaudible], whether it’s [inaudible], wherever I am it’s fantastic to have that as part of our protocol in this country now.
Australian Red Cross is one of 190 national Red Cross societies that, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross, form the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. The movement plays an active role in promoting international humanitarian law, otherwise known as the laws of war. We champion the rules that civilians should be spared during conflict, the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblem should be recognised as neutral and protected, delivery of medical and humanitarian aid must be allowed safe access during war, war criminals should be prosecuted, and that there are methods and means of warfare, including certain weapons such as nuclear weapons, whose use should be made illegal under international law.
Ideally, nuclear weapons would have been banned before they were ever in use. And this was actually achieved with the blinding laser weapons in 1995 when irreversible blindness was considered too great an injury to inflict in the course of war and inconsistent with the rules of war. Instead, the victims of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, as well as of nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific, have provided us with visible proof of the weapons’ tragic effects. And I think this exhibition, Black Mist Burnt Country is well overdue, and tells us about the Australian experience of nuclear testing.
I haven’t had the chance to see it in person, but looking at some of the pictures in the catalogue I think it is uncomfortable and it’s shocking. I think for a lot of people, not only is that history forgotten, it’s actually completely unknown. So I think it is something that we do need to highlight, and we need to recognise it as part of our history. And I think for myself some of the impact, particularly on the Aboriginal people, the Anangu in South Australia who not only were dislocated and removed from their country but also felt huge effects and ongoing effects of illness. A couple of years ago I went to a series of — they were doing a tour around Australia and one of them was at the Redfern Town Hall and I was honoured to be on the platform with a number of the families and descendants of the families who were affected.
This has gone on two twofold. One is the effect of the illness, but also the effect of being removed from your country. And when you get back to your country it’s so badly damaged that it’s almost unrecognisable. So I would like to tell you about the work that Red Cross has done to ban the use of nuclear weapons, which obviously started with the use of the first nuclear bombs. As everyone knows on 6 August 1945 a white flash appeared over Hiroshima and seconds later that centre city was flattened. Survivors described the experience of the instant incineration to the Red Cross. In a few seconds thousands of human beings in the streets and gardens in the town centre struck by a wave of intense heat died like flies. Others lay writhing like worms, atrociously burned. All private houses, warehouses disappeared as if swept away by a supernatural power. Trams were picked up and hurled yards away as if they were weightless, trains were flung off the rails.
In the midst of this devastation one hospital remained standing, the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. Over the next days it struggled to treat thousands upon thousands who sought medical assistance. The delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr Marcel Junod, arrived three weeks later and reported what he saw from the plane as he landed. Sorry. ‘A sight totally unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The centre of the city was a sort of white patch, flattened and smooth, like the palm of a hand. Nothing remained. The slightest trace of houses seem to have disappeared. The white patch was about two kilometres in diameter. Around its edge was a red belt marking the area where houses had burned, extending quite a long way further, covering almost all the rest of the city.’
Junod’s research revealed the consequences of the bomb for Hiroshima’s medical core. Out of 300 doctors 270 died or were injured. Out of 1780 nurses 1654 perished or were injured. Today the Japanese Red Cross still runs the hospitals that tends to the ongoing medical needs of the hibakusha — I’m probably getting my pronunciation completely wrong — and their descendants, in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If you visit Hiroshima you can find tributes to Dr Junod and to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
For the Red Cross the experience of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki revealed that nuclear weapons should be conclusively recognised as violating the general principles of International Humanitarian Law. IHL, as I said, it’s known as the laws of war and its general principles govern the use of all weapons during times of conflict, including nuclear weapons. These five principles prohibit attacks directed at civilians or civilian objects, mandate that damage caused must be proportionate to the military objective, prohibit attacks that cannot distinguish between civilian and military people or objects, prohibit weapons that cause unnecessary or superfluous injury, an,d with respect to the natural environment, prohibit damage to the environment which is widespread, long-term and severe. This protection includes a prohibition of weapons that are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby prejudice the health or survival of the population.
Once the effects of nuclear weapons are considered, no one can argue that they are compatible with those rules. The movement also sees an unacceptable humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons within the context of our ability to adequately mount an emergency humanitarian response should these weapons be used. Our commitment to banning nuclear weapons is also based on our experience in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and our observation on the impact of testing on Indigenous people here and in the Pacific, and in our global expertise in humanitarian and emergency responses.
In the case of nuclear war and not even being able to access those affected, it is clear that even for the global movement a humanitarian response would be impossible. The humanitarian consequences of a blast — the heat, electromagnetic pulse and radiation associated with nuclear explosions — would be insurmountable for medical and humanitarian responders that are not reasonably comparable to experiences with natural disasters. Also, we recognise that the yield of modern nuclear weapons are thousands of times more potent than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The total destruction not just of the impact site but extensive areas surrounding the impacts site are foregone conclusions with modern nuclear weapons making the ability of those left to respond almost non-existent.
As experienced first responders to emergencies and catastrophes, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement worldwide is calling on all states to sign the treaty and to take steps to de-escalate tensions and work towards nuclear disarmament. I do think it’s up to all the nations, and all the organisations who are behind this movement, to actually get behind this. It does need a global movement, and it needs a people movement to take this forward. I think highlighting the effects and highlighting the history, as done by this exhibition, really goes a long way to reminding people of the danger of having these weapons and the impact it would have on humanity. Thank you.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: Being reminded, as Jody has done, of the ways in which a humanitarian organisation, even one as extensive and as long standing as Red Cross, would be absolutely hopeless and hapless in the face of a nuclear strike brings me back to thinking of when I was in Japan for a few years and I visited both Hiroshima — you’ve been there, there’s a vast museum — but in Nagasaki it’s a very different presentation. It’s a tiny area and the main feature of it is a small fountain. And the reason the fountain is there is to commemorate all those people who had been afflicted with radiation who were crying out for something to drink.
I was there in August when the humidity runs impossibly high. All I had to do was to get 100 EMPs and go to one of the many soft drink machines around this site and put it in and I can immediately get a cold drink. It’s these connections, or the failure of those connections, that I think events and activities like the Red Cross in that particular way in which they can make them relate to personal experiences and bring the story home to people to make it something that, as Jody says, has to be a movement of large numbers of people.
Now in introducing His Excellency, the Ambassador for Austria, I have to confess to being envious of Austria in one very important way. In 1955, when the troops withdrew — the Soviet troops and the Allied troops — they had something bequeathed to them from which we could really benefit. And that is they were non-aligned. Here any discussion about the questions we raised today immediately run into the cliché — the alliance, the alliance. You don’t have to think. There’s no solution to this. The problem is somewhere else. It’s in the alliance. So in inviting His Excellency Bernhard Zimburg to speak to us I’m sure we will get the benefit of somebody in the centre of Europe who had been at the firing line, in the firing range, even though they are not necessarily part of the people with a finger on a trigger. Thank you very much.
BERNHARD ZIMBURG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for this very kind introduction and thank you also very much JD Mittmann for having organised not only this event but a series of events that I had the pleasure and the honour to be part of since November 2016, shortly after my arrival here in Canberra. This first event took place in Melbourne, and since then I’ve been part of this very interesting community. Thank you very much to have me. We have heard a lot now about the current state of play of the nuclear situation in the world. So let me look back and let me underscore and sort of draw a red line of a development which ended up with the conclusion of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty.
If you look at the disarmament at the end of the Cold War and shortly afterwards there was a lot of enthusiasm and a lot has been achieved and made the world believe now non-proliferation really could make a major leap forward and, at least, would lead to a major depletion of nuclear stocks. But very shortly after the end of the Cold War and a few interesting developments and steps, the lack of political will to move and stagnation prevailed. And that situation was somewhat re-energised when President Obama in 2009 had his famous speech in Prague where he sort of presented his vision of a world without nuclear arms. And that had a lot of impact, and later on it showed it had the least impact on the United States, but others were sort of carried away with this dynamism, with his new re-energising.
A very important international event was the Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2010. During that conference the so called humanitarian initiative was commenced and created. What was it all about? It was not only about the good idea and about new findings but it was also the creation of a new mechanism, which helped a lot to bring things forward. The humanitarian initiative was based on new findings, what it would mean that a nuclear strike would provoke a counterstrike. The humanitarian consequences of that would be so devastating that no country, no government in the world would have the capacity to deal with it in a way it would be obliged, and also far reaching consequences on the climate, on the atmosphere, on food security, and many others.
And these new findings simply lead also to a new school of thinking that the theory of deterrence would be observed because of the inescapable consequences, which also leads to inescapable conclusions of that concept of humanitarian aspects and the humanitarian findings of that exchange of nuclear arms strikes. This humanitarian initiative was important because it found it was an open initiative. Because if you look at the existing structures, like the conference on disarmament or the United Nations Disarmament Commission, they all depend on consensus.
Needless to say that CD and UNDC have not produced any relevant results for the last 20 to 30 years. And the humanitarian initiative came up with a new structure by saying everybody who agrees to it can join, and that was a new way to attract a visible and overwhelming majority of people without giving others the instrument to veto this initiative. And the follow-up was three conferences in Norway, in Mexico, and then in Austria, which elaborated this humanitarian initiative. The conference in Austria was in 2014 and was the last of those conferences. It ended up with a so-called humanitarian pledge. This humanitarian pledge led to the UN resolution taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, and that eventually led to the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty.
The PT was a great achievement — I’m a bit reluctant to call it a success, and I will shortly explain you why — if you look at all the series of initiatives which followed the so called Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2010, the joint statements, cross-regional and statements, a prep conferences, then eventually the humanitarian initiative and the humanitarian pledge. But what I think one should really underscore is at the end of the day it is all about making the Non-proliferation Treaty effective and getting the international community to implement it, because the critics of the Prohibition Treaty always argued that the prohibition treaty will impede the NPT. And this is not the case. It is designed to implement the NPT. The NPT will remain important, and equally important will also remain an organism called to the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.
So these instruments will all remain important, and the achievement of the prohibition treaty is there to support that. That is the reason why I don’t call it a success because the implementation of the Non-proliferation Treaty still lags behind and is still to be expected. And therefore I call it an achievement. But the success only can be measured of all those initiatives whether it leads eventually to the implementation of the Non-proliferation Treaty. Thank you very much.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: Not too far away from Austria is the island of Sardinia, and at the Italian film festival this year there was a documentary by an Australian–Italian woman called The Brave Ones. It’s about those Sardinians, a village, who resisted the government’s insistence that they be moved, as Aboriginal people were here, so that it could become a target range for the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In a more recent times, that target range has used depleted uranium and polluted the land there too. It’s a wonderful documentary, terrifying of course, but something that I could recommend to you to chase up. Because of the Australian connection it might actually get a small commercial release. But I’m sure in this days it’s possible always to find these things somewhere online. In English it’s called The Brave Ones.
Our next speaker is Ramesh Thakur from the Australian National University who is primarily concerned as we learn here with questions of nuclear policy, non-proliferation, and the banning of these weapons altogether. I want to say very quickly, to go back into history, I first came to Canberra in 1963 in a peace cavalcade designed to achieve some of this, and also in that year the leader of the ALP, Arthur Calwell, called for a nuclear-free South Pacific. These are parts of the history of Australia and our nuclear policies that are largely forgotten. And one might say that Calwell at that time led the way for what New Zealand was to do, in part, about 15 years later, or 25 years later — 20 or so years later. So to hear more of these details and the possibilities of how we could get out of this terrible space, I call upon our next speaker. Thank you.
RAMESH THAKUR: Thanks Humphrey. Good afternoon everyone. We’ve already heard a lot about the alliance, the United States, President Trump. Humphrey, you’re a geographer. There’s a saying attributed to Mark Twain that God created war so Americans could learn geography. It’s worth remembering that. Let me begin with a fact and, resulting from that, the challenge confronting us. Fact is something that has been referred to already, not surprisingly, by several people, and that is that on 6 August 1945, Hiroshima was the target, or the first use, of the atomic bomb in war.
Humphrey mentioned Nagasaki. The challenge is how we ensure that Nagasaki remains the last time ever that atomic or nuclear weaponry is used in warfare. The ambassador walked away from claiming success for the ban treaty. I will claim it as a success for reasons that I shall outline in turn in a few moments, but initially I want to emphasise why it was in fact a historic treaty, whether you call it merely an achievement or claim it as a success. It’s historic for three broad sets of reasons. There are more nuances, but let me stick to three sets of reasons.
It is in fact the first treaty to ban the bomb. No ifs, no buts, no temporary exemptions, no division of the world into haves and have-nots. It therefore completes the legal prohibition on the trilogy of weapons of mass destruction following the biological weapons convention from the 1970s and the chemical weapons convention from the 1990s. It is historic, secondly, for an interesting reason. It is the first major humanitarian treaty in history to be adopted by the periphery in order to control the behaviour of the central powers. Think about all the major treaties of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law. Not surprisingly major powers tend to take the lead. And either they’re universal and regulate everyone’s behaviour or they exempt major powers and regulate others’ behaviour.
This is the first occasion on which the others, and not just from the global south, but including countries like Austria and New Zealand, our neighbours across the ditch, have done this. And third, related but just as importantly for someone who’s an ex-United Nations official, this is the first time in which the United Nations General Assembly asserted itself on a major issue and that, too, dealing with national security, against the combined united opposition of the five permanent members, to adopt the treaty. I think that is significant because it eludes to a little remarked storyline in the trajectory of human history, and that is the gradual displacement of purely power relations governing world affairs, and the gradual creeping in of normative elements. Because in the UN system the security council — dominated by the five permanent members — is the geopolitical centre of gravity, but the normative centre of gravity is the General Assembly.
The unique legitimacy of the United Nations comes not from the geopolitical corporate, but from the universal membership of the General Assembly. When we say the ‘international community’, only the United Nations General Assembly can represent the international community. So it’s historic in that sense as well.
But let me go back, what is the problem? We’ve heard mentions of Reagan’s statement and others, and we’ve heard Obama’s Prague speech. He also visited Hiroshima and while there he said, ‘On bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.’
That picks up very nicely on another now forgotten quote from President Kennedy in his State of the Union speech in January 1962. Many use the metaphor that nuclear weapons seem to offer us present security, but threaten the future survival of the human race. ‘The bomb,’ he said, ‘has turned the world into a prison in which humanity awaits its execution.’ That was then, now we deal with Trump. The normative anchor of the global nuclear order is — remains, and I join the ambassador — the vitally important Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty of 1968. Article 6 of that I quote exactly verbatim: ‘Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.’
That’s the wording of the NPT. The United States is a state party. The United States under the then Soviet Union negotiated the treaty. This year the Nuclear Posture Review of the United States has only one brief paragraph referencing last year’s ban treaty and it says, ‘The ban treaty seeks to inject disarmament issues into non-proliferation for potentially damaging the non-proliferation regime.’ In other words, they’re completely denying the existence of article 6, let alone its relevance to guiding their nuclear posture. That is the reality we face today. Humphrey mentioned the New Zealand connection. Well, I lived in New Zealand for 15, 16 years, through the great 1980s.
Let me update a campaign poster from that movement which at that time featured in a cinema-style poster, Ronald Reagan, because of course he was a former actor, and Margaret Thatcher. An update to what is happening today even this week, the extent to which we blindly align ourselves with some of the, shall we say, crazier US policies, and that is, our government promises to follow President Trump to the end of the world and he in turn promises faithfully to do his very best to bring it about.
Why do we need the ban treaty? Previously because I’ve done it. Firstly, of course because of the non-implementation of article 6 and the rising anger and exasperation of the failure to do so. Secondly, because of the totally stalled nuclear arms control talks, regimes falling by the wayside. INF crumbling, as Stephan said. ABM abandoned a long time ago. Americans are resisting a [inaudible] which is to extend the new treaty by five years. It’s a collapse or the fraying of the arms control regime. The end of arms control history, Alex [inaudible] of Russia said. Meantime growing consciousness of elevated nuclear risks and threats, including as a result of the spiking geopolitical tensions in Central Europe, in the Balkans, in the Middle East, in the subcontinent. A tense military standoff even between India and China on the border last year, and of course in the Pacific as well.
I think greater awareness that ultimately deterrents rests on a number of myths, a belief in magical realism. It is not supported historically. We know of no single case where a country with a bomb was engaged in an effort at nuclear blackmail and succeeded. Nor do we know of any case where a country was poised to attack another country but was deterred by the existence of nuclear weapons on the other side. We’ve had plenty of accidents and near misses. The world has been saved from nuclear war as a result of deliberate disobedience by the officers concerned of orders to launch nuclear weapons because they were not convinced the orders were genuine, even though they had been authenticated. In one case it was genuine but he wasn’t prepared to take the risk. These have happened with a 30-minute flight time for missiles in the central dynamic Britain, Washington and Moscow. That 30 minutes reduces to four minutes when you’re dealing with India and Pakistan, and yet even that exchange would be sufficient to destroy us all. There’s all those things.
But of course the opposite you can see as well. Just accept for the moment that, yes, deterrents are wonderful. It’s the best invention by mankind ever for preserving nuclear peace and general peace. That being the case, why do we not encourage proliferation? Why don’t we lend our technical expertise and our massive reserves of uranium to Iran and to North Korea if we really believe deterrents work?
Well, the answer is obvious. We know it doesn’t, we know it’s a high risk, we know it multiplies the risks. There is that fundamental contradiction which comes up even in the denial by the Americans, as in the Nuclear Posture Review, and not just Americans but all the nuclear weapons states. That there is this legal obligation in the NPT. On the one hand they will insist there is no legal obligation, on the other hand they say, ‘We don’t need another treaty that embeds a legal prohibition.’ Well, you can’t have it both ways. If there is the gap, that is what earth has been filled and that is what the treaty does. What the humanitarian movement did that the ambassador referred to, was update the [inaudible] of commission conclusions which was still framed within the security paradigm.
As long as any country has nuclear weapons, others will want them. As long as they exist, they will be used against somebody, if not by design then by mistake, accident, rogue launch, system error. Any use of nuclear weapons could be catastrophic for the whole world. Entirely within the security paradigm. That is now updated by the Humanitarian Consequences Movement. The CRC and the National Red Crosses, including Australia in particular, have been major contributors to that and champions of that. There’s no country individually, nor the international system collectively, that has the capacity to cope with the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.
Secondly, it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity therefore that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances. Third, only complete abolition can guarantee permanent non-use of nuclear weapons and that’s what the treaty does. The reason it is a success is, there’re different components of the nuclear disarmament agenda. I’ll break them down into five. The ban treaty addresses the first two. Stigmatise and de-legitimise through a legal prohibition. It will come into force when 50 states have ratified. As of very recently, maybe it’s still the case, 60 had signed, 19 had ratified. The normative force I think will really kick in once you have 100 states that have ratified.
That becomes very powerful then and much more difficult to ignore. What are the remaining three things that still have to be done? Which can only be done by those who have the bomb — cap additional production of fissile materials and bombs. Asia by the way is the only continent where nuclear bombs are actually increasing and they’re increasing in all countries that have them in Asia. But cap also the, as I said, fissile material production, which is a major issue in some countries and we don’t have the FMCT ban in place yet. Stop the testing, also cap that. The North Koreans can cap whatever they’ve got to begin with.
Then move to reducing numbers, roll off doctrines, change of postures, reduce reliance on launch on alert systems — there’re about 2000 weapons on high alert, reduce various other things. Finally, eliminate through a nuclear weapons convention that is universal, that is verifiable, that will take time because it is a technically complex and legally complex issue. The actual dismantlement will also take time. The Chemical Weapons Convention has been in operation for a long time. We still haven’t completed that agenda. So, it’s not going to be an overnight success, but it sure won’t happen without the normative pressure from the rest of the world on those who have the weapon.
That is why this is a success, and had it been all that inconsequential, we wouldn’t have had the enormous pressure on allies not to give in, not to sign. Let me close with a statement that if you go back to article 6 of the NPT, of which we are a state party, it says ‘each of the parties to the treaty’. It doesn’t just say ‘those with the bomb’. We’re all legally obligated to pursue disarmament with the best will in the world. I cannot for the life of me see how our non-participation in the conference was compatible with this article 6 obligation. I’m not saying we should have signed, that’s a different issue, but not even taking part in a UN-mandated, multilateral conference where no other negotiations were underway, when the last NPT review conference was a failure. I find it very difficult to see that that was in compliance with our obligation under the NPT.
Finally, back to my New Zealand days, if you still believe in nuclear deterrents, let me remind you of the man who jumps from the 40th floor and as he passes the 30th floor, he’s heard to say, ‘So far so good.’ Thank you.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: I put one of my favourite remarks, I used to use about all sorts of situations but it is certainly deadly accurate for that terrible prospect. Several of our speakers have in their different ways been connected with the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. We know that Nobel Peace Prizes have been handed out to war criminals when they promised to stop being war criminals for a short period of time. But on this occasion, as Jody pointed out, and other speakers have pointed to as well, this was a movement of people and, as the professor has just said, of people on the periphery. So it’s a different kind of activity. Now, Australia does get Nobel Prizes from time to time, and in literature or in physics people never seem to want to stop talking about them.
It’s very difficult to find much reference to this Nobel Peace Prize, that didn’t come to Australia specifically, but in which the Australians played a very important and significant role, with a Melbourne doctor as the chairing of one of the major organisations that had got it underway. So, I think for all of us who have been involved in these struggles for a long time, I can embarrass our next speaker Richard Tanter, who had been chair of this organisation for some time as well, by saying that he is a participant in the winning of a Nobel Peace Prize, as are some of the other people and the organisations that they represent as well. It’s that sense of understanding and urgency that he is going to speak to now. Thank you Richard.
RICHARD TANTER: Humphrey, thank you for those kind words and before I go on to talk about the main things I want to address, I just want to say what an honour it actually is to be here with ambassador Zimburg and with Jody Broun from Red Cross because it was the coalition of civil society organisations, most notably ICAN but others such as Reaching Critical Will in the United States and others in different parts of the world, together with a set of remarkably — what’s the word I want — I was going to say resilient, that’s boring. Governments which were kept and determined to keep going and under really very considerable pressure, and I’m thinking of the governments at certain stages of Norway, but subsequently Mexico, Austria, Nigeria, Ireland, South Africa.
The proponents of the movement at the United Nations in particular, which was important, but I also want to mention the international committee for the Red Cross which really started much of this off. I think that’s a new model in global politics that we need to pay attention to. I thank Humphrey for his kind words about that. Let me go back and pay my respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal people and the continuing, ongoing never-ceded Aboriginal possession of this land. Humphrey mentioned that’s become a matter of convention and I actually think that’s a good thing after 200 years of exact opposite.
Perhaps more importantly it points us towards something which is quite fundamental in some of the issues we’re talking about today. In particular, I’m thinking of the way in which, if you like in international relations speak, how you conceive your national strategic interests and who you think you are — your national identity — are actually quite closely related. Geography may be permanent but how you read the map probably depends on what you think is important because of who you are. So, the issues of that long war against Indigenous people and our inability to win our souls off empire that Humphrey alluded to earlier, I think are extremely important there.
I’ve had an involvement in nuclear weapons for a long time as an activist, as a writer, an analyst, policy writer, if you like. I think ICAN was a remarkable organisation and I look forward to seeing it do much more now. I think that one of the reasons why I was a late comer to ICAN — I knew the people who were starting it and I wished them well — but I was involved in what might be called reform work on nuclear weapons with my colleagues in the Nautilus Institute, particularly concentrating on working to get the idea of a North-east Asia nuclear weapon-free zone on the agendas of the governments of that region and, to some extent, we succeeded. But I was also doing work at the same time on climate change and particularly climate change and security, which is a topic which is often pretty rubbishy, frankly, in the way it’s conceived.
What was very clear to me was that every serious writer on climate change and security that I developed some respect for, assumed that in the next 20 or 30 years we were still going to have nuclear weapons. It became very clear that if one starts to think about the kind of world where climate change — climate disruption more properly — becomes socially visible in the countries that Ramesh referred to so accurately as the countries that think they matter most, then we are in diabolical trouble. It did in fact induce me to move more energy towards abolition efforts at that point.
I think there are two acceptable positions on this matter. One is the kind of position which John Carlson optimises which is a deep and ongoing serious commitment to reform all of the nuclear estate and the nuclear establishment and the long haul gradual grinding that that involves. I think the other position is abolition and I think it’s absolutely urgent now to do that. Whether constructive engagement is the only way to proceed I think that’s actually a matter of tactics. There are times and there are places when —and certainly I always think evidence-based work, and based on research, is extremely important — but there are times when simply hard opposition is important. Frankly, I think that’s what the proponent governments decided to do, as Ramesh alluded to.
There was a rebellion from the outsiders of the nuclear establishment and it has not been appreciated by the five permanent members of the security council. I think there are now two competing trends and they are both moving quite quickly and somewhat unpredictably. The first is about abolition, and I think all of the speakers have referred to the possibilities, but also the limitations in some way, of what the nuclear prohibition treaty promises. Ramesh, in particular, has laid out a pathway beyond that. The other, of course, is the possibility of incipient nuclear cascade. Forget about Trump. It’s actually a nuclear normality that worries me much more, to be perfectly honest.
If we look at the situation in Germany, we now see much more serious discussion of the need for Germany to consider indigenous nuclear weapons, clearly related to the geopolitical events to both the East and the West, if you like, there. In Japan, a country where there was for a very long time a situation where even to suggest we might think about nuclear weapons was unspeakable, literally if you wanted to be a mainstream politician. That time has long since passed. Across the water in the republic of South Korea, which has undergone a remarkable democratisation since its dictatorship days, what is striking there is at least 55 to 60 per cent of people in public opinion polls say, South Korea ought to consider getting nuclear weapons.
Then there’s Saudi Arabia and countries like that, and there’s also Australia, where three former deputy secretaries of defence have in the last year advocated reconsidering the question of whether Australia should consider to adjure the bomb. And I’ll come back to that in a little while.
The treaty has already been outlined quite clearly to you and it’s fundamentally, as Ramesh said, the first time there has been an attempt simply to ban the bomb, no ifs or buts. The negative prohibitions are on use, possession, manufacture and transport and so forth and they’re fairly clear to understand. With the addition of one extra negative prohibition, which is very important for our country, which is a prohibition on assistance, inducement and encouragement to use or acquire or develop nuclear weapons.
Also two positive requirements in the treaty, which I feel some pride for, in particular for ICAN’s role. In particular, to authorise rehabilitation of lands of nuclear-sacrifice zones — the places where we’ve used and tested nuclear weapons. But also an injunction to support the efforts, or the requirements and the needs, of nuclear-survivor peoples.
One of the small things that ICAN in Australia did was make it possible for a number of nuclear survivors from this country, but also from the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia, to attend the treaty negotiations. One of the things we heard back consistently from diplomats was how important those messages were from nuclear survivors. Diplomats, with great affection, don’t often get out a lot in society, and in particular to hear the really extraordinary tales of Hibakusha from Australia and those other parts of the world, particularly the colonies of French Polynesia.
There are flaws in the treaty, without a doubt, nothing’s perfect. It was a compromise like any other collective activity there. John’s alluded to some of them and I just want to make a couple of very quick comments about this.
Firstly, there’s been a suggestion that there’s been supporters’ remorse because only 19 countries, as Ramesh pointed out, have ratified the treaty in the 13 months since it became open for ratification, and more than 60 have signed it. What’s interesting to note is that if you look at the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we are well ahead of the game there in terms of the number of countries which have ratified it, and certainly going back to the comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty we are far ahead.
My feeling is that ratification will take about two years, or something like that. It will be a struggle. Some countries are reporting a lot of pressure against them, but I think that it will proceed. So I’m not concerned about that. It’s not going to make nuclear weapons disappear when it comes into force, which it will after 50 signatories have ratified it, but it will, I think, begin the process that Ramesh has alluded to, and Ambassador Zimburg has referred to, of beginning to delegitimate and to stigmatise the idea that some countries can arrogate to themselves the right to threaten not just their own or other countries’ survival, but indeed quite possibly many, many more countries on a global scale.
It’s been said that it amounts to a regression in nuclear safeguards. I think nuclear safeguards and verification are absolutely central to what abolitionists need to talk about. I don’t accept the argument that there isn’t any significant undermining of existing safeguards. On the contrary, I think by the pathways outlined for accession to the treaty for nuclear position states demanding verifiable, complete and irreversible abolition or eradication of nuclear weapons, there is a new pathway there. But even looking at the fairly weak requirements of the IEA’s comprehensive safeguards agreement and the additional protocol, it’s clear that when we get to the point of verifying whether countries have actually given up their nuclear weapons, we are going to need much, much more than the IEA has even dreamed of.
One of the problems now that I find in discussion about safeguards in relation to the treaty, is that it’s still stuck on the kind of nuclear materials accounting that the IEA is currently concerned with. We need to see a wider package of verification measures which take some of the issues, that for example the nuclear suppliers group or the missile trade control regime add in, to get a real sense of what is required and what we need to monitor, and then verify in relation to the whole of the nuclear weapons apparatus, and not simply the nuclear fuel cycle. It’s been said that there is no hope of nuclear weapon states joining. Clearly, we can think of Mr Trump very quickly.
Of course that is going to be a huge effort, we’re going to be talking about decades there. But I would point you towards one development which was noted back in 2012 by William Walker, one of the most interesting and, I think, insightful analysts of both the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear weapons, when he dubbed United Kingdom as perhaps a threshold nuclear disarmament country. He was thinking there of the break-up of the United Kingdom, the loss of Scotland and therefore the loss of the fast lane nuclear bases for the Royal Navy, but of course since then there has been a great turnaround in British politics and a great deal more chaos. I’d just like to invite you to think about what might have happened had the election in which Mr Corbyn did so well for the Labor party on a disarmament platform come a little bit earlier.
In particular I’m thinking there of the way which Mrs May when she first arrived at Downing Street, in one of her first acts, renewed the Trident nuclear missile submarine program. I’m not saying that Britain is about to fall over, but there was a debate in Britain about that nuclear Trident renewal program which was much more thorough than anywhere else in the world, as far as I know. Where you had significant conservatives and military people saying, Well, if you want us to go to Iraq and Afghanistan to save the world, why are you spending all this money on nuclear weapons? And, by the way, isn’t this simply something which is redundant and a subset of the American nuclear weapon system, and wouldn’t we be better off admitting that Great Britain is not so great anymore and we should look somewhere else?
There is the possibility of a nuclear disarmament country. It’s a long way off but it’s not to be ignored. The other targets of the Nuclear Ban Treaty very clearly are nucleus-supporting countries, such as Australia, such as Japan, South Korea, and the NATO countries that say they benefit from the American nuclear umbrella. I think, in fact, in Australia this is really going to be extraordinarily important. It’s going to take a very long time. For Australia to be compliant with the treaty, particularly the clause about prohibiting assistance, encouragement and inducement to use nuclear weapons, there are two huge two problems. One fairly big and one huge. The fairly big one is the commitment in every government defence white paper since 1994, that Australia relies on assurances of American extended nuclear deterrence, nuclear protection in the face of nuclear threats to this country.
Now, you might wonder what nuclear threats there are to this country, other than those that we attract by hosting the joint facilities, but that’s another matter for the moment. I think that it is possible, and I’m happy to expand this in questions. Actually, I think that nuclear protection doctrine is in fact politically a little bit vulnerable, not easily so. It’s absurd, of course, because the Americans have given us no such assurance — they do freely give it in NATO and in the East Asian allies. That’s for the simple reason, they see us facing no important nuclear threat.
It’s also pretty obscene what we call our nuclear deterrent when other people have got weapons of mass destruction. And going to a point that Stephan, an old friend who — and probably the most, I think, seriously interesting person on the possibilities of assessing nuclear weapons used by Australia. Stephan’s reliance on the ways in which both Russia and the United States are moving towards smaller nuclear weapons with lower yields, or yields that can be dialled down. I’m not so optimistic about that.
That’s precisely what I’m worried about because it opens the door to usable nuclear weapons, and the possibilities of escalation follow on from that. I take the position that, the use of nuclear weapons in all but a number of fairly unreal isolated cases — like a small ship at sea a long way from anywhere else — is inherently genocidal, in the broader sense of the term. And I think we need to call that one out.
So, I think going back to extended nuclear deterrence in Australia, we can think about the possibility, and we will see campaigns about that. The second thing, of course, a much larger problem, is the fact that one of the joint facilities, and possibly one other very intimately involved with the United States nuclear command and control, requirements for conducting nuclear weapons, and I’m talking about Pine Gap.
The question that really — that’s a complicated question, but clearly Pine Gap puts us in the category of assisting with the use of nuclear weapons. Can Pine Gap be reformed? Is it possible if we had a government that had the political will to say to the United States, We accept some parts of the operations of Pine Gap, but not these, and will you kindly comply? Otherwise we’re happy to continue in our normal alliance relationships.
Is that conceivable? Is that possible? Is it technically possible? That’s really hard to answer at the moment. Politically, I think it’s extremely difficult to foresee that coming in the very near future. But it’s what we need to see in this country. I want to finish just on one thing, and it’s been mentioned several times already, and that’s to do with the new information we have from climate scientists about the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.
This goes back to the 1980s and the debate associated with people like Carl Sagan and his colleagues in both North America and Europe, under what was called the nuclear winter hypothesis, which was roughly, say, that if there is a substantial nuclear exchange and destinations in a number of countries and cities being a city is burning, very large amounts of smoke and ash will be lofted into the atmosphere. This will spread around the world, it will diminish the sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface, both reducing photosynthesis and reducing temperatures quite dramatically.
There were a number of important criticisms of that, including some by my research colleague here, the late Des Ball, about that. There are a number of variables involved in that. For example, will the rain wash out some of that soot that the reaches the atmosphere? Will it all be so black that it absorbs heat, or will some of it be reflected back out again? Some cities are more liable to be burning vast amounts than others. Some are more densely populated than others, and so forth.
That was an important debate in the 1980s. Today, with the vastly more capable climate change models that we have as a result of climate disruption and scientific concern about it, we now know much more about this. There is now a firm body of peer-reviewed scientific study based on open transparent scenarios about the possibilities of nuclear winter.
The most important studies have been done by a group of scientists in the United States who use as their baseline a war between India and Pakistan. As you know, they have about 100 nuclear weapons each. In this modelling, they presumed that each country will use 15-kiloton nuclear weapons against each other, principally on large towns and cities. Fifteen kilotons was the science of the yield of the bomb on Hiroshima. And of course today that’s a very unusually small amount. But there are some indeed, some weapons like that. In other words, 100 small nuclear explosions.
The modelling is now very clear and has been tested very carefully. This will result in vast amounts of smoke and other carboniferous material going not just into the lower atmosphere, the troposphere where the weather is, but reaching into the upper atmosphere, stratosphere and beyond, past where the rain is, past where rain will bring that material out. The modelling shows very clearly it spreads around the Northern Hemisphere first, very quickly, and then around the Southern Hemisphere, covering much of the world, apart from the polar areas.
The effects on agriculture have been modelled very carefully under a number of different scenarios. They result in drops of temperature, drops of growing, shorten your growing season, and diminished growth patterns because of photosynthesis, which mean there is a likelihood on these scenarios of economic collapse and agricultural collapse in particular, resulting in famines leading to the deaths of possibly two billion people.
Now, there are arguments to be had here, but no, there are no substantial scientific criticisms that have been, that have survived scrutiny here. I say all this not to say, well, isn’t nuclear war terrible in itself? That is so obvious, but rather to say to my colleagues in my own trade in international relations, security studies, defence studies, I think what we’re seeing is the intellectual bankruptcy of parts of those disciplines, particularly those who maintain that nuclear deterrence is a viable pathway to security.
As numerous speakers today have said, if you have nuclear weapons, sooner or later they’re going to be used. India and Pakistan, as Stephan pointed out, are very dangerous parts of the world at the moment, but they are big players in the global nuclear scene.
It seems to me now very clear that there is no intellectually credible account of deterrence in realistic frameworks that go beyond very small signalling uses of nuclear deterrence, such as Stephan alluded to there, but when you look at the ones which are actually planned, which are part of not just the nuclear posture review, but the daily planning in Moscow and Washington to rehearse and to refine the planning, it seems to me it is not possible with any intellectual credibility to maintain that nuclear deterrence is a pathway to security — national security, human security or indeed global security.
The Nuclear Ban Treaty is not perfect. It’s not about going to bring heaven tomorrow, but as Ambassador Zimberg and Ramesh Thakur have outlined so clearly, it is a promising start to making those countries which have nuclear weapons, and those countries like ours which freely support with not much consideration of the consequences. It will begin to make them feel very uncomfortable and have to justify their reliance on nuclear defence in some other language than the, I think, completely discredited doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Thanks very much.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: Thank you again, Richard. We are running a bit later than I’d hoped, but the speakers will now move to these chairs here. I presume the green one is for me and the speakers get the red ones. And as they do so, I want to say something that other people have mentioned. I want to stress it again, is to formally thank JD Mittman for organising the exhibition over three or four years, organising this event in itself, organising the catalogue and all of the things that go around it.
If any of you have ever been involved in organising — even trying to get six people to the one conference for a couple of hours on an afternoon — then you’ll know it’s not the easiest job in the world. And so I’d now like to formally have us all thank JD Mittman for this tremendous effort over a number of years.
All right, now I’ll take my seat.
What I’m hoping we can do is to move through two kinds of questions very quickly. If anybody has what I would call a genuine question about information, like a question would be, which countries have never signed up to the Non-proliferation Treaty? That’s a question asking for information. I know how easy it is for people to ask questions of that kind and then they become questions where ways of making long statements. But we’ll do these in two bits. So anybody wants to begin by asking a short, sharp information flowing question, please do so. This gentleman here. Yes. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. With the increase in sophistication of cyber technology and its potential for total dislocation by hacking, does this make the use of nuclear less or more likely, bearing in mind that subsequent to the cyber, the capital structures will be left intact, and also the data reports and atrocities coming out of Syria and Yemen questioned the relevance of the rules of war.
STEPHAN FRÜHLING: Thank you. That’s a good question, and I think it’s one of the big unknowns about the influence on cyber or nuclear operations. I think there’s arguments. Some people make the argument that nuclear forces are very vulnerable. Certainly modern nuclear forces were very vulnerable to cyber attack. On the other hand, cyber attacks are also not as easy to pull off as sometimes presumed.
And I think that the certainty that you’d seek in using cyber weapons against nuclear forces is very difficult to achieve. So, I think, if a country — if the idea is that a country might seek to disarm and destroy another country’s nuclear forces using cyber means, I think you are running very great risks in that failing and not happening, that are ultimately uncontrollable given the nature of cyber operations.
So I think that it is something that will complicate nuclear operations, but I don’t think it’s a game stopper, and there are also technical ways around that this can be mitigated. So, I think it’s an area where more research needs to be done. I think it’s an area where research is being done, but I don’t think that cyber is a means that will displace other ways of traditional weapons categories. It will complement them but not displace.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: That didn’t work very well in terms of what I hoped we were going to do. Can I just ask now for a show of hands, how many other people want to ask questions of anyone.
The reason I wanted to know that was to see other whether people respond to it straight away or whether we go on with it. Richard, I know you signalled that you wanted to say something.
RICHARD TANTER: Firstly, on the question of cyber. I mean, I agree with much of what Stephan said. One of the things that worries me most is on the United States side. The United States has indicated that it would regard a cyber attack on the United States in the same way that it would regard any other attack. In other words, there is a new set of risks and there’s a variant on that. There is now this phrase of cross domain deterrence, and you try and work out how do you do that.
The work that my colleague Peter Hayes has done in the Nautilus Institute might be worth looking at for your question in particular, the ways in which cyber, or the ways in which nuclear command and control structures are founded now on computing and communication, and are themselves highly vulnerable to cyber attack. The provisos that Stephan gave, I think, are perfectly sensible, but there is a whole new area — you’re quite right — of difficulty.
I’m want to say something very quickly on the issue of Yammer, which is not to do with this. I think good on you for saying something about it. Australia is in fact quite closely involved in that and I’ve seen something lately on Late Night Live about it.
STEPHAN FRÜHLING: I want to come back to the second question as well and link it. And they’re linked in the following way. I think what we have seen in recent times in the nuclear field, is a blurring of long-established boundaries, and that’s where the low-yield weapons becoming usable comes in as well, because — and that’s one of the benefits of the ban treaty —it once again hardens the normative boundary between nuclear weapons and other types of weapons.
We’ve also seen a blurring between the nuclear, cyber and space domains. We’ve seen a blurring between tactical regional strategic, global nuclear weapons, and all these are getting there. And the simple dyadic relationships in IR speakers, which had said of the Cold War days have been now displaced by interlinked nuclear chains. So there is all that, but in any normative architecture, there will be violations and breaches, as long as the breaches do not become a general or generalised phenomenon.
You cope with them by trying to identify the perpetrators and violators and take them to some judicial accountable or criminal accountability mechanisms, which will let the International Criminal Court also come in. So the fact that some are being breached, it doesn’t matter, that’s always the case. There will always be crime in any society. There will always be poverty in any society. That doesn’t mean we give up on the goals as policy goals of poverty elimination and reduction and elimination of crime. And that’s where we stand with that.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: I know that Chris had his hand up.
STEPHAN FRÜHLING: He did.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: The other thing [inaudible]. We will go one, two.
QUESTION: Excuse my ignorance, but how many countries do have nuclear armaments and, if it’s possible, which are they? And the second part is, what is the rationale? What’s the excuse for big powers who have nuclear weapons to badger, or to use the popular word, bully other powers who might, or do, have powers to get rid of them? How can they argue that that’s reasonable?
RICHARD TANTER: The countries with nuclear weapons, there are nine in total. First of all, the five that are recognised in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and they happened by coincidence to also to be the five permanent members of the security council, namely, US, Russia, China, France and UK. And then you have four countries that are outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty — India, Pakistan and Israel, that never joined the treaty, and North Korea that was a member of the treaty and claimed to have withdrawn from it.
I mentioned in my talk, there are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. Fourteen thousand are held by US and Russia, and the other countries add up to about 1200 or so collectively. And how they justify bullying, well, I’m not sure I can answer that. Because they can, because they can bully. But obviously that’s not leading to any sensible outcome.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: [inaudible]
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’m very interested in speaking with the Ambassador, although Austria and Australia are very different countries. I remember one time in Pakistan I met two Austrian trekkers and they had T-shirts saying, we have no kangaroos in Austria. And I also know that I have some Turkish friends who came here, originally as guest workers, thinking that they were coming to Austria.
So, it’s kind of just to add that aside. So we can’t compare them really, but I’m very impressed by the obvious, involvement of the Austrian government in such an important issue, and of course it’s very, very different in Australia. And what, if anything, do you have any ideas — since you’ve been here for some time — what we can do in terms of public opinion, mobilisation, trying to somehow influence our government regarding answers, regarding Pine Gap, and of course the abolition of nuclear weapons? Thank you.
BERNHARD ZIMBERG: Yes, thank you. Just a short remark to the kangaroos. Recently a few kangaroos in Austria escaped from a zoo, and then all the pictures went around wrong that there are kangaroos in Austria.
No, but if you ask what could really influence the public opinion on that, I think it is a thorough study of the humanity of the findings which led to the humanitarian initiative, because all the scientific conclusions and new perceptions really give a devastating picture of what it would mean if there’s an exchange of nuclear strikes.
It goes far beyond what was commonly known so far. It would jeopardise the existence of mankind. And I think these details should be more elaborate, and should also enter the curriculum of the educational system, in one way or the other. I think that would be a very inclusive and widespread approach in order to make sure that at least when they — it takes place in a change of generation that a new school of thinking comes into the public opinion. That is what I could think of.
RICHARD TANTER: You mentioned Austria’s particular contribution here, and I think there is a connection that’s important, and that is the neutrality that Austria adopted, perhaps not wholly willingly, but certainly productively, for a long time during the Cold War. And I think Humphrey alluded to that.
I’ve had conversations with Ambassador Zimberg and with his predecessor about this, and I’m interested because I think one of the most important books ever written on Australian defence policy, was of course not written by an academic — sorry, Stephen, I think that other people have done better — and that’s the work by David Martin, the poet and novelist and critic, in 1984 in his book, Armed Neutrality for Australia, and that was at the height of the second Cold War. David was exploring what we would now look at in terms of our unthinking commitment to alliance, or whatever else we’ve got to do to stay in the alliance. And he was exploring some of the reasons for it, but particularly in a slow systematic way, looking at, as a defence policy, what might be involved in his foreign policy.
Now, my own position is I’m not sure that’s the answer, but I think that it’s a very good starting point for us to think about. But just with one proviso. David Martin was very firmly opposed to Australian nuclear weapons there, and he laid out the argument quite simply, beginning from the argument that nuclear weapons usually arrive in pairs — one country gets them, another country gets them.
And very clearly what we will be most concerned about would be Indonesia acquiring nuclear weapons. And I promise you, when you talk to military people in Indonesia, they remember the fact that the RAAF got F1-11 fighters, with nuclear triggers. They have not forgotten that history, and I think John alluded to that. The other point is, though, of course there is a version of armed neutrality from Australia with nuclear weapons.
And several of the people — I think Stephan has mentioned some of these in his writing on this subject — several of the people who are talking about the possibility of Australia rethinking its subduing of nuclear weapons are thinking in kind of arm neutrality terms there. As said, there are two trends happening — one towards abolition, one towards nuclear cascade.
QUESTION: I was going to raise for the panel the question of armed neutrality and if we get a minute we might go to that as well because it opens up political questions for the population, which I think are very important in trying to get any support for it. But if I could just — before asking Kathy to put her question, you’ve mentioned about why we think we’ve got a nuclear umbrella from the United States and they don’t seem to know about it. And perhaps, as you said, it’s because they think that there’s no threat to us.
I think there’s another possibility, and it’s that, that was put down by Marshall Green in 1988 when he was asked why the Americans used Pine Gap to engage in some military activity in the Middle East, and didn’t bother to tell us, as they were supposed to do. And Green said, Well, that’s because you’ll put up with whatever we do. If you were Nigeria, we wouldn’t be game to do it.
QUESTION: Thank you all for a very interesting talk. I have a couple of questions. I mean, one follows on from Richard’s discussion then about neutrality, which I have a strong interest in too. And you said you weren’t sure it’s the answer — I’m just interested in your reservations about it.
But the other question is about any nuclear countries saying that they wouldn’t be the first ones to use nuclear weapons. Now, I understand that China used to have that policy that it said it wouldn’t be the first one to use nuclear weapons. I wonder if that’s still the case? And I also wonder if that is the starting point for disarmament, to try and encourage others to take that stance as well.
RICHARD TANTER: I’m happy to start on that one. As I said in my talk, I’m a great fan of ‘no first use’. It’s something I’ve been writing about for a while. You’re absolutely right, that if no first use was a generally adopted policy, it changes entirely the mindset about nuclear weapons because the military planners and political leaders would no longer be thinking in terms of, how can we use these weapons for our advantage? But rather they’d be starting to think of, well, how can we avoid the dangers of someone else using them? Maybe we should sit down and start to talk seriously with our adversaries about the common danger that these things present to us. And how do we, as I say, get off the tiger’s back?
So I think it would be an enormous change in perception, and it’s something that is very important to promote. China still has it as a state of policy. India has stated that its policy is no first use, so I believe that there is some ambivalence towards that in New Delhi today. They’re having second thoughts about it, which is ...
STEPHAN FRÜHLING: Qualifications [inaudible].
RICHARD TANTER: Yes. I think it should be an aim of any sensible government, starting with the future Australian government, to promote very hard the idea of no first use to be adopted by allies and others. And to see that as an important step towards elimination.
STEPHAN FRÜHLING: I’m a bit more sceptical on this than John probably is, largely because, first of all, we know that countries in the past who’ve proclaimed a no first use policy, particularly the Soviet Union, didn’t actually necessarily plan on that basis. And the question is, how reliable in the situation where a country would genuinely consider actually using a nuclear weapon, how much force would a statement that was made in a very different time actually have on that decision.
The second issue is that I think that there is — which is one of my problems with the proposition of the treaty moving towards disarmament — is that there is an assumption that it is nuclear weapons that lead other countries to acquire nuclear weapons, and we just know that that’s not necessarily true.
That most of the countries that have acquired nuclear weapons have acquired them not because other countries have them, but to address conventional imbalances. I mean, looking at probably the only two nuclear powers that really acquired nuclear weapons to address nuclear threats from other countries, are probably China and India.
If you look at all the other ones there’s a very strong argument that it was actually not primarily nuclear threats from other countries that led them to acquire these. That they’re not actually necessarily trying to deter other nuclear use, but trying to influence conventional force imbalances or trying to influence, as I said, in case of Russia or China, to disrupt conventional mobilisation and so on. And you’re not going to address that by changing your nuclear posture.
RICHARD TANTER: Just to respond to Stephan, and of course he’s right on that point. And so for that reason the drafters of the NPT showed a great deal of wisdom in making it the obligation of all parties to negotiate for nuclear disarmament and for a general treaty on disarmament. That there is a clear linkage between nuclear weapons and conventional force imbalances. And it’s clear that what’s required is a process for nonviolent resolution of disputes essentially, what the UN Charter stands for, and a need to get governments to take seriously peaceful resolution of disputes.
Nuclear elimination has to be part of a much larger process. A process that would be built on trust and, I think, some of that trust can be derived from the process of nuclear disarmament, in fact. Nuclear disarmament will require very close collaboration, very high levels of transparency, introduce new ways of thinking, which will hopefully lead towards collective approaches to issues. So it’s a very complicated long-term project, but we don’t have any sensible choice but to try to go down that path.
RAMESH THAKUR: Yes. In between the two. There are times when I get a little bit uneasy at the extent to which in the West we are hung up on technical and legal issues, whether they’re for or against nuclear arms control and disarmament. At the end of the day the main drivers of proliferation are political politics, not technical not legal. I know of no country where the leader will say, I’d like to get nuclear weapons — does a lawyer say that it is okay for us to do so?
It doesn’t quite work like that, and so once you bring it down to that, let me put it very bluntly. Do we believe that in the Middle East, Israel can forever permanently keep nuclear weapons and no one else in the region will ever get them? Because ultimately the choice is, either Israel will also give it up or someone else will get it, and then there will be a cascade and yet more will get it, and it will then be used. It is the same argument globally.
Why people think that five countries could keep a permanent monopoly on the most destructive weapons invented and no one else would ever get them and they would never again be used. You can take that as your starting point and work backwards that we can’t afford another use, and in the real world, those are the choices. We don’t have a choice of the status quo.
Either they will be more proliferation and someday again use, or we actually take some steps. They don’t have to be big steps right away. There are different things that can be done, but forever to find excuses and alibis for not doing anything is to give in to despair and accept that someday again, somewhere by someone they will be used. And what we have seen since 2014 — I forget, I think it was Stephan who mentioned 2014 actually in his initial presentation — what we have seen is a normalisation of the nuclear weapons discourse for the first time since the end of the Cold War, and the moves towards Germany, towards the Euro deterrent as an independent nuclear deterrence, Australia, Japan, South Korea.
This comes about because of two factors. It goes back to the politics as well. One is the fear that with a person like the present incumbent to the White House, the barriers to use, have been shaken to their foundations. Sixty per cent of Americans don’t trust their president to act responsibly in the decision to launch nuclear weapons. I hate to think what the figure will be globally. That’s one side of it, and the other side of it is that the countries that are the umbrella countries have lost faith in the reliability of the nuclear umbrella under Trump, and it’s these two that are driving this renewed interest in independent nuclear weapons.
That fulfils the warnings that those of us on the nuclear disarmament side have been giving. That if you don’t get rid of them, they will actually proliferate. Disarmament is a necessary condition of non-proliferation. Non-proliferation or continued nuclear armament is sufficient condition, or sufficient guarantee, of proliferation to others. That’s the choice in the real world based on the politics of how countries behave. Do we want to confront that choice and come up with an answer, or do we just want to deny that that is what’s happening.
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: We can have one more question now. Anybody else? Oh okay. As we’re getting close to the time, can you ask the next one?
RAMESH THAKUR: No. I wasn’t being facetious because one of the arguments against that is, it will increase the pressure and temptation for independent nuclear deterrent ...
HUMPHREY MCQUEEN: [inaudible]
QUESTION: I wasn’t going to ask a question, but the comments there about the Middle East are two simplistic questions. Is it possible for a country to have developed nuclear weapons without the rest of the world knowing about it? And secondly, is it possible for individual terrorist groups, as distinct from individual countries, to develop a nuclear weapon?
SPEAKER: On the first question, can a country develop nuclear weapons in secret, that certainly has been done historically. Today there are much more effective mechanisms for detecting that kind of activity, and I think we’d be fairly confident that a country would be found out. I wouldn’t guarantee it, but it is something that gets a lot of attention.
I guess the thing that shook people up a bit was that North Korea was building a plutonium production reactor in Syria, and that actually got to the point where the Syrians were about to start operating it, before it was detected. Once they did start operating it, it would’ve given off various signals that would have revealed its existence, but even so it was a bit close for comfort.
On the question, could terrorists produce a nuclear explosive device? The conventional answer is probably not, because of the kind of skills involved. I’m a lot more concerned about it because we have a number of failed nuclear weapons programs, where there are individuals who are both very well experienced in producing nuclear weapons and who are politically or religiously motivated and are willing to offer their services.
So, I think it’s conceivable that a group like Al Qaeda, for instance, could recruit a genuine expert. There was such an individual who showed up in Iran in fact. A Ukrainian from the Soviet weapons program who was working with the Iranians. That could happen. The biggest barrier at the moment to terrorists would be getting the fissile material that they need to produce a weapon, but it’s possible and a number of governments are quite worried about it.
QUESTION: Thank you. A contrast has been drawn between trust and political reality. I want to pose a couple of situations. How can a country like Iran have trust when the United States walks away from agreements and Iran feels threatened by both the United States and by Israel. How can Israel have trust and agreements when it’s been invaded many times by Arab states, and it is constantly threatened by Iran. I’m not trying to express a view for or against either of those states, but doesn’t that indicate the difficulty of disarmament, and how do you see the prospects for nuclear disarmament when you have situations like that?
STEPHAN FRÜHLING: I think that’s a very good question. I think to some extent this goes to the heart of one of the problems in the proposition of that. All nuclear powers have their equal responsibility, which is that that’s essentially establishing a moral equivalence between any kind of nuclear power, no matter what their behaviour and the uses to which they actually put these weapons. And I think that that’s a proposition that needs to be argued against and refuted, because I think that there are responsible ways of maintaining nuclear arsenals and there are irresponsible ways. I think you see that playing out already in Europe. The way that President Putin and the Russians are using their nuclear arsenal to actively coerce regional countries, I mean, threatening Denmark with nuclear strikes for participating in NATO integration.
Those kinds of behaviours need to be called out as quite irresponsible in driving, I think, actively that Western re-engagement with the practicalities of deterrent. I think that you can make the same argument about Iran or Israel, and unless you can have a discussion about what is a responsible way of maintaining stewardship of a nuclear arsenal, and what are irresponsible ways of doing so, you will never get to the actual problems that might cause a nuclear conflict in the first place.
SPEAKER: It’s the water pipes. [crosstalk]
JD Mittman Yes. Certainly don’t want to have the last word, and I think we’ve still got time. I just want to come back to the campaign thing. I think it was President Eisenhower who warned of the military industrial complex, if I’m not mistaken. There’s been a bit of talk on, certainly in other areas of environmentalism and that sort of thing, the investing, and I do wonder how much that has a real impact considering our costs that — and here’s part one that you might want to comment on — how much the military industrial complex is a driver of the modernisation of nuclear arsenals that we see around the world. And of course, how much the idea that investment could be turned away from major drug companies, banks and the like, super funds that might not in the future invest anymore in those technologies.
RICHARD TANTER: I’ll just comment briefly. ICAN has been involved in an investment program. Don’t Bank on the Bomb, but we’re following the experience of other organisations. One of the things we note is that the push back against it is quite significant, which suggests that some financial organisations are very sensitive on this matter. Certainly the Norwegian government and the Norwegian Future Fund has really shaken European finance in this way in terms of slowly moving out of any involvement in this.
The second thing is that speaking of the nuclear weapons on the American side — ignoring the French and the British, for the moment, on the Western side — it’s very clear that nuclear weapons are a commodity and nuclear management is a commodity. This is companies like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and similar companies, who not only make lots of money but invest hugely in lobbying. Somebody put the figure about Lockheed Martin contracts with the Defence Department in a given year, at something like a tax of $200 or more on every household in the United States.
So, this is not a small matter and it’s not a small political matter. Everyone’s aware there are many other problems in the American political system, but this is very distinctly one of them. It is — you talk to some serious military people who will say, This deforms the process of thinking about security and defence very seriously.
HUMPHREY McQUEEN: We’re getting very close to the end, and before we do that I just want to run across the panel for 60 seconds each. If there’s one thing that they felt they haven’t been able to say, that they feel everybody has to have before we go: then this is your 60 seconds.
RICHARD TANTER: I’d like to return to the question of trust. To the question, how do you instil trust in the Middle East, for instance. And the answer is to get the different sides to start talking to one another, and for them to carefully understand their differences, and to develop systems that can address the trust deficit. There’s been a lot of discussion about a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, for instance, and even the process of sitting down and talking about, well how would that work? How would verification work? Could we have Iranian inspectors in Israel and vice versa. That in itself starts to — people start to say, Well, yes, we could do it. If we could do X, Y and Z, then we can see that this could actually work for us. The Iranians — I’ve discussed this with Iranians and Israelis many times — the Iranians understand that if they pursue nuclear weapons, then so will the Saudis and so will the Egyptians and so will the Turks. Interestingly, the Iranians are worried about Turkey.
The Iranians, I believe, are receptive to a strategic discussion which can address these things and design something for the future. On your other point about Trump walking away from the Iranian nuclear deal — clearly agreements must be honoured. That’s the fundamental basis of international relations, and of all the stupid things that Trump has done and will do, I think that one is pretty much at the top of the pile. Thank you.
BERNHARD ZIMBERG: Thank you. Let me also add something on trust because I think that is the fundamental concept of all international relations and agreements. One of the major arguments against getting engaged with Iran was always, can you trust Iran? But then you have to also ask, could you, during the Cold War, trust the Soviet Union?
And if you look at the great number of agreements, both political agreements, but also financial agreements, which concluded with the whole of the Soviet Bloc, and in the long run, there was never total default anywhere. They paid their debts, even if there were delays, and even if you look at the disarmament or the limitation of armament contracts, basically they were respected. The one thing they tried not to respect, and in the end turned out deadly were the [inaudible] Acts. They did not respect human rights, and then the Charter 77 took them by their words and in the long run, this Charter 77 signatories had a great authority and a great impact. At the end it made it impossible to run a closed society, which led to the end of the Soviet Union.
I think when we look back to Iran, you can trust the interests of Iran. That, I think, John is exactly what you said. They have an interest. It is not that you could simply trust them in the sense of faith, but you can trust in their fundamental interests. And when we come to Trump, that is something which sticks out and is the unusual and the unexpected, because what he does we would define as being against his own interests. We can only hope that — exceptions always happen, and it will be a one-time sort of deviation from the long-term sort of habits. Thank you.
RAMESH THAKUR: To add to that, despite all the decades of mistrust and the complexity of the issues involved, the fact is we did get a deal with Iran and it was a very good deal and it’s been working, and for one country to walk away is a disaster. I agree with that, but we got a deal because the countries involved sat down and talked to each other, understood each other’s bottom lines and found creative ways around it. So that in the end all sides got more from the deal than conceded to the other side, and that is what we need to do with the two parallel treaties now we have globally between the ban treaty and the NPT. We again need both sides to sit down, find common elements, because we actually agree on the most important issues.
We agree on nuclear non-proliferation, we agree on nuclear disarmament, we agree on nuclear safety, we agree on nuclear security, we agree on eliminating environmental damages to that. Let’s talk about those, and identify where we differ, and see if we can go forward. Refusing to meet and calling names of each other. That’s not the way forward.
HUMPHREY McQUEEN: Now, before we do close. Thanking everybody — Oh, sorry.
Question: No. I want to say a couple of quick things. First on trust. One of the great events was the agreement between two military dictatorships, frankly fascist ones, Brazil and Argentina, to come to an agreement that allowed them to enter these South American or Latin American nuclear weapon-free zone with an agreement which gave the other countries quite intrusive rights of inspection of the facilities of the other countries. They were both very serious about nuclear weapons. There are problems still about that. There are some suspicions about what Brazil is really up to today. But that has persisted for a long time, that trust between them has astonishingly persisted and been very productive.
The second thing I wanted just to say is that a number of people have referred to the glory days of Australian disarmament diplomacy, particularly in the 1980s. Well, that didn’t come about because somebody had a good idea in Cabinet. It came about because of a huge amount of pressure from very large peace movements in this country. I remember asking Gareth Evans one day when he was speaking to my nuclear weapons class, Gareth, did we have any effect? And he said, Yes. It was really awful, really being attacked all the time and our electorate officers being rung up and letters going to it. But he said, There was another matter. I said, Oh yes, what was that? He said, You had a champion in Cabinet. And I said, Was that you Gareth? And he said, No, it was not.
And it was Bill Hayden, and Hayden had really shifted his position on this. The point I want to make is partly supporting the point about trust that’s being made several times, but also urging people to become involved in this. That really politics doesn’t usually move except without pressure. Constructive engagement, rational argument, producing the research that backs up the possibility is immensely important.
ICAN is not a mass organisation and it didn’t work that way this time. To get any further, we are going to have to find ways of addressing issues we’ve be talking about today, including why Australian governments rely on deterrents despite all the difficulties that Ramesh has alluded to, and why we are so absolutely terrified of the idea of independence. We simply don’t seem to be able to think about it.
SPEAKER: I might just pick up that point on deterrence, and I think that it’s true. Australia has never really relied on extended deterrence. I think as we use the term ‘extended deterrence’ as a synonym for alliance. If it means to receive extended deterrence just by virtue of being an alliance then it almost means nothing.
So, I think that we can think about Australia as the equivalent of Canada and NATO, in a sense of a country that doesn’t rely on extended deterrence to address a direct threat, but nonetheless has decided to play a supporting role to US extended deterrence, extended to other countries, because we think that that ultimately helps international order and therefore indirect security. I think that that’s an important distinction.
I think that if you look at Australia’s defence foreign policy debate. It’s that angle of extended deterrence that in coming years will increasingly preoccupy us as there’s more interest in the US in operating forces from Australia, as, for example, US long-range bomber operations in the Asia–Pacific will be drawn to Australia.
I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that you could invite US air operations here and that that does not have a nuclear connotation to it, whether we like it or not, but that’s not the same as extended deterrents for Japan or South Korea. I think greater engagement with how this works in practice, and the risks and opportunities that smaller allies run in supporting US extended deterrence, is something that will get onto our agenda long before we actually feel under threat.
HUMPHREY McQUEEN: Before we thank the panel, I want to take us back to the Black Mist exhibition, to Maralinga. And if you think of the tests that were conducted there, and the ongoing damage, and extrapolate that to a nuclear war, that’s one way of thinking about why it’s unthinkable. Some of you may have noticed somewhere a red flower. It is not a [inaudible] poppy. It is a desert pea. And it is the floral symbol of the frontier war, and we now know that they are all those poppies outside the Australian War Memorial, but for some reason or other a silent vigil of 11 November is not to be allowed. The other thing that is not to be allowed is the recognition inside the War Memorial that the frontier wars ever took place. So that when we think about things like acknowledging country, and phrases like that, my fear is that with any convention, it becomes a way of stopping people thinking beyond that.
I want to end with this thought. It is not a decision we can make. It’s a decision of the people whose land it actually is. What they would have called sacred, given what the tests did to it, is that a word that they would want to use for soil that had been poisoned? So that when we say, always was and always will be, where does the ‘will be’ come in given the terrible things that was done to that soil.
To end, I wish to ask you to join and thanking our five members of the panel up here, and of course again the organiser, JD Mittmann. Thank you all.
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Date published: 01 January 2018