Media release: Australia’s conflicted position on nuclear weapons

25 February 2016
ICAN’s response to Australia’s Defence White Paper 2016

MELBOURNE – The 2016 Defence White Paper reaffirms the Australian government’s belief in the utility and necessity of US nuclear weapons for Australia’s security. The controversial policy of “extended nuclear deterrence” undermines the government’s ability to enhance security through nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, and encourages neighbouring countries to consider the attractiveness of nuclear weapons.

“We are disappointed that Australia has maintained the Cold War policy of reliance on US nuclear weapons. It denies the government any credibility in diplomatic efforts to advance a nuclear-weapon-free world,” said Tim Wright, Asia-Pacific director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). “We cannot credibly demand that North Korea disarm while asserting that nuclear weapons are essential for our own security.”

The White Paper underscores the continuing need for mutual dialogue and restraint between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and notes that tensions between the neighbouring foes “could have a wider regional and possibly global impact that would affect Australia’s security”.

“Australia’s agreement last year to sell uranium to India risks facilitating the build-up of Indian nuclear forces,” said Wright. “Even if Australian uranium is not used in the manufacture of Indian nuclear weapons, it will free up India’s domestic reserves of uranium for that purpose.”

The White Paper states that “[o]nly the nuclear and conventional military capabilities of the United States can offer effective deterrence against the possibility of nuclear threats against Australia”. “This minimal reformulation of the doctrine of extended nuclear deterrence acknowledges that conventional military forces can be used to deter against nuclear threats,” said Professor Richard Tanter, an Australian board member of ICAN.

The paper also notes the role of the US military and intelligence facility Pine Gap in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and verifying arms control agreements. “Pine Gap also provides intelligence that is crucial for the targeting of US nuclear weapons. It would play a central role in any nuclear conflict involving the United States,” said Tanter.

ICAN is a global coalition of non-governmental organisations in close to 100 countries working for the negotiation of a treaty that outlaws and eliminates nuclear weapons. The Australian government has in recent years strenuously resisted diplomatic efforts to achieve a global ban on nuclear weapons.


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