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National statements

Nuclear Weapons: State of Play

Thematic issues

  • Energy


Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War and there's an increasing avalanche of books published about how that disaster came about. One of the sharpest and most compelling is Christopher Clark's brilliant "The Sleepwalkers; How Europe Went to War in 1914" – he describes the key players as "sleepwalkers – watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world".

What we have to ensure is we don't sleepwalk into nuclear disaster.

The warning of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons back in 1996 remains incontrovertible: … "so long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them; so long as any such weapons remain, it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident or miscalculation or design; and any such use will be catastrophic for our world as we know it".

The end of the Cold War saw an initial spurt of energy on arms control. The Canberra Commission in 1996 sought to present fresh thinking on how to achieve nuclear disarmament. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Australia was instrumental in bringing to the General Assembly in 1996, was a milestone – but it has still not entered into force. The Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2005 failed.

The so-called Gang of Four, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry and Sam Nunn, famously argued in their January 2007 article that nuclear weapons had outlived their utility. But not enough policy makers have listened. President Obama kicked off disarmament initiatives in 2009 with Russia, but basically they have now stalled.

The Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2010 had some success but implementation of its Action Plan remains slow, episodic, undone. We can't allow that to continue. In September 2010 Australia established the "Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative", the NPDI, with Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the UAE, to advocate and progress implementing the Action Plan, but this is nowhere near enough. The Conference on Disarmament is a farce and this year's NPT PrepCom, which has just concluded in Geneva, was an unhappy affair. Reporting on implementation of the Action Plan is certainly something we need to keep pressing the nuclear weapons states for – but reporting is not solely for those states. Only four states submitted reports last year. And only three this year. Nuclear disarmament is the responsibility of all countries, not just the nuclear weapons states – otherwise it will never happen.

The publication "Nuclear Weapons – The State of Play", co-edited by Ramesh Thakur and Gareth Evans through the Australian National University, is a direct follow-up to the 2009 report of Australia's initiative in establishing the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament co-chaired by Gareth Evans and former Japanese Foreign Minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi.

And to the Action Plan adopted by the NPT Review Conference in 2010. It's an independent report and not a formal statement of Australian government policy. But that makes it all the more valuable. We need to seriously keep refreshing our thinking and keep nuclear weapons at the forefront of serious policy-making. And to keep all governments – that includes my own – honest about implementing our disarmament commitments.

That is what this Report is about.

Last Updated: 5 June 2015
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