Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

12 August 2009

Tange Lecture

Building Momentum: Australia, Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Her Excellency, Martha Ortiz de Rosas, Ambassador of Mexico; other Members of the Diplomatic Corps; my Parliamentary Colleagues; Members of the family of the late Sir Arthur Tange; Distinguished guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is my pleasure to deliver the third Sir Arthur Tange Lecture in Australian Diplomacy.

Previous Tange Lectures have concentrated on Australia's bilateral relationships. This evening I will speak on a major foreign policy and security challenge that has a strong multilateral dimension, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

A focus on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament issues is particularly appropriate on the occasion of the Tange lecture.

In the early 1970s Sir Arthur played an instrumental role in Australia's decision to ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT, the backbone of the international non-proliferation regime.

Sir Arthur was born in Sydney and went to school in Gosford. As a young man he had a strong connection with my own home state of Western Australia. He completed a first-class economics degree at the University of Western Australia by studying at night while working as a bank clerk at the then Bank of New South Wales during the day.

Between the demands of work and study, he found the time to play representative rugby union for Western Australia - and to win the heart of a young Perth woman, Marjorie Shann, who later became his wife.

Early on in his public service career, Sir Arthur gained valuable first-hand experience in multilateral negotiations. In 1944 he was a member of the small Australian delegation to the International Conference at Bretton Woods, which established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Two years later, he was posted to the Australian Mission at the newly founded United Nations.

After a series of very rapid promotions, he was appointed Secretary of the Department of External Affairs in 1954.

Over an eleven year period in that role he modernised the Department's operations, broadening its overseas representation, including in Asia. He later served with distinction as Australia's High Commissioner to India and as Secretary of the Department of Defence from 1970 to 1979.

Sir Arthur Tange was an outstanding leader and strategic thinker, clear-eyed, principled and effective in both defining and advancing Australian national interests.

These qualities continue to inform Australia's approach to foreign policy in general, and to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament policy in particular.

Labor Governments have a long and proud history of activism on nuclear and disarmament issues.

With developments in Iran, North Korea and in the face of international terrorism, this Government sees new threats.

But with recent commitments by the new United States administration, the Russian Federation and other Nuclear Weapon States, there is an historic opportunity to make progress.

This is why the Rudd Government has placed these issues at the top of its foreign policy agenda, and why the topic itself so very appropriate for a Tange Lecture.

Australia and the Threat Posed by Nuclear Weapons

Australia does not possess nuclear weapons.

Australia is not under imminent threat of attack, nuclear or conventional.

No country is currently seeking to coerce us with its military power, nuclear or conventional.

Moreover, successive Australian Governments, including this one, have explicitly acknowledged, most recently in the 2009 Defence White Paper, that so long as nuclear weapons exist in significant numbers there is value in the "protection afforded by extended nuclear deterrence under the US Alliance" - an alliance integral to Australia's defence, security and strategic arrangements.

In light of these realities, why then as Tange would ask in his clear thinking way, is the Australian Government committed to achieving further progress towards nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons?

The answer lies in the Government's approach to Australia's role in the world, how seriously we take the threats posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation, and how strong our ambition is for the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons continue to pose a threat to humanity.

The use of just one would cause unconscionable casualties as it has in the past. The use of many would threaten human civilisation. In that context, it is sobering to note there are, by some counts, about 26,000 nuclear weapons in existence.

Today, the world faces multiple threats. While nuclear weapons exist, there are risks of misuse, miscalculation and accident. There is the potential for acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear weapon states, and the ever present risk of a new nuclear arms race in some regions of the world.

The threat no longer stems from just states alone but from non state actors.

Terrorists now aspire to obtain weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. With their determination to cause as much devastation and harm as possible, something which has characterised terrorist attacks since 9/11, we cannot doubt that terrorists will use them if they acquire them.

This is a global challenge and the Government recognises that the only effective way to address this issue and other global challenges - whether it is climate change, the global financial crisis or nuclear weapons - is through nations working together.

The pursuit of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation has long been a key Labor foreign policy objective. Labor Governments have a proud history of being at the forefront of efforts to reduce the prospect of armed conflicts and to lower the risks posed by conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

During a stormy public policy debate in the 1950s, Labor strongly argued against Australia acquiring nuclear weapons. Australia ultimately, and sensibly, rejected the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state and signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970. It was ratified under the Whitlam Government in 1973.

In response to the use of Chemical Weapons during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Hawke Government was responsible for the establishment of the Australia Group. This group, which has grown to over 40 members, has made a significant contribution to halting the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons through enhanced export controls.

The Keating Government convened the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in 1995 and made a significant contribution to the negotiation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Canberra Commission produced a series of practical recommendations for both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states. Unfortunately, the Howard Government ignored the Commission's recommendations and reoriented its priorities away from this vital issue.

The current Government has made two significant policy decisions since taking office which are in keeping with the Labor tradition of activism on disarmament and non-proliferation.

The first was to establish the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

The second was to commit Australia to the Cluster Munitions Convention, which bans cluster munitions that cause devastating harm to civilians. I was personally very happy to sign this humanitarian disarmament treaty in December last year in Oslo on behalf of Australia.

These moves reflect the strong commitment of the Government to put disarmament and non-proliferation back on the foreign policy agenda.

Building Momentum

In our view, the world is at a critical turning point in efforts to stem the spread of nuclear weapons. As these threats grow, so does the need for action.

Some prominent American commentators have gone as far as describing the times we live in as a "nuclear tipping point." Over the years ahead, the number of States with nuclear weapons, or with a break-out capability to produce nuclear weapons rapidly, could well increase - unless effective action is taken now.

Currently two Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty states - North Korea and Iran - are testing the international community with their nuclear programs, in defiance of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. These developments are unacceptable to Australia as they are unacceptable to the international community.

The actions of North Korea and Iran are highly destabilising for regional and global security and represent significant challenges for the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. But just as significantly and partly in response to these trends, after a decade of little progress, we do believe momentum is building internationally to reinvigorate prospects for substantive progress in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.

In April, United States President Barack Obama made a defining speech in Prague in which he articulated an ultimate goal of achieving a nuclear weapons free world, a goal Australia shares.

President Obama acknowledged that achieving this objective would require patience and persistence, and indeed might not be realised in his lifetime. But importantly, he committed the United States to a series of practical measures, including pursuing American ratification of the treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In July President Obama announced that the United States would host in March 2010 a Global Nuclear Security Summit to lead multilateral efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials, combat nuclear smuggling and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism. Australia welcomes this initiative and looks forward to contributing to the Summit.

The United States is also working with other Nuclear Weapons States.

Last month President Obama and Russian Federation President Medvedev issued a Joint Statement in which they confirmed their joint commitment to reduce the numbers of US and Russian nuclear weapons, to enhance the security of nuclear materials and facilities, to improve the international safeguards system and to strengthen non-proliferation measures.

The United States and Russia are not the only nuclear weapon states showing leadership on this issue.

Last month British Prime Minister Brown tabled in the House of Commons a phased approach to progress on non-proliferation and multilateral disarmament priorities.

Last year French President Sarkozy also announced a unilateral reduction in the number of his country's nuclear weapons. China's Foreign Minister Yang will address the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on these issues today. I look forward to seeing his own contribution.

All of this indicates that a new consensus can develop in favour of concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation as achievable goals. Australia sees this emerging consensus as an historic opportunity to achieve practical, verifiable outcomes that will enhance security, stability and peace.

Australia wants very much to capitalise on and contribute to this developing momentum.

Australia's role as a uranium supplier

Australian activism on non-proliferation and disarmament is also a result of the fact that Australia is the home of the world's largest uranium reserves and we are one of the world's major uranium exporting countries.

This gives Australia both the responsibility and the standing to help ensure that international nuclear cooperation serves exclusively peaceful purposes and does not contribute to nuclear weapons programs.

Australia has developed the world's strictest practices for safeguards for uranium supply as a consequence.

This policy becomes increasing relevant as countries take up nuclear energy as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and secure future energy supplies.

While civil nuclear power does not, of itself, present a proliferation problem, there are of course proliferation risks inherent in the spread of uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies and there is an urgent need to make sure that these risks are minimised.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Architecture

Australia considers that non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament are inextricably linked.

Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons creates an environment in which nuclear disarmament can proceed. Equally, progress towards disarmament sends the right message to countries that have chosen not to acquire nuclear arms.

Australia takes a multi-dimensional approach to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, working within the United Nations and in other multilateral bodies to strengthen the existing architecture and negotiate the new arrangements that are needed for the future.

Tonight, I will highlight key elements of our approach.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remains the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regimes. Australia has been one of the NPT's staunchest supporters, and has worked to strengthen all three NPT pillars - disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The NPT has been remarkably successful in preventing the emergence of a large number of nuclear weapon states and remains important in this regard.

But it faces risks posed by non-compliance and treaty violations, including Iran's non-compliance with its obligations under the NPT as well as Iran's defiance of International Atomic Energy Agency and UN Security Council resolutions.

Responsibility does falls on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Security Council to ensure that nuclear technology is not used for nuclear weapons purposes.

Verification by the IAEA is important for reinforcing confidence in the existing treaties and in deterring treaty violations.

Verification also underpins efforts to counter the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately to eliminate them.

The benefits of non-proliferation are not always recognised. Some countries attack the NPT on the grounds that, as they see it, nuclear-weapons states are not fulfilling their disarmament obligations and that efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime are restricting access by developing countries to nuclear energy purposes.

This approach overlooks the point that all states obtain real and significant security benefits from NPT membership and the commitment not to use nuclear energy for nuclear weapons.

Although the NPT has near universal membership, a small number of states have yet to accede to the Treaty.

Australia has long been a strong advocate of the NPT's universality.

We have consistently called on the remaining states not party to the Treaty - India, Israel and Pakistan - to accede without preconditions. We have called on those countries to assume the responsibilities of states parties, to accept the global norms and to adhere to non-proliferation and disarmament disciplines.

In the meantime, Australia welcomes very much India's commitment to a moratorium on nuclear testing, to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines, and to work towards the conclusion of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, in the context of its bilateral agreement with the United States and the exemption to the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines.

Australia, as a founding member of the IAEA and a member of its Board of Governors, is prominent in virtually all areas of the IAEA's work.

A major step to strengthen safeguards was the negotiation of the IAEA's model Additional Protocol.

The Additional Protocol strengthens the IAEA's rights to information and access by inspectors. Australia played a major role in negotiating the model Additional Protocol in the 1990s, and we were the first state to sign and ratify an Additional Protocol. The authority given to the Agency's by the Additional Protocol is essential to increasing the Agency's ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities and address concerns such as those recently reported about Burma.

States that have not already done so should conclude an Additional Protocol without delay.

Australia of course has made the Additional Protocol a condition for supply of its uranium.

This condition reinforces the non-proliferation regime, providing an additional level of assurance that uranium originating in Australia is exclusively put to peaceful use.

By setting conditions for nuclear supply that build on the NPT and the IAEA safeguards, including the Additional Protocol, Australian agreements are a model for international best practice.

A nuclear weapons program requires highly enriched uranium or plutonium - the fissile materials used in such programs. That is why Australia is encouraged by the agreement reached in the Conference on Disarmament to proceed with the negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT).

This Treaty will end production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and thereby constrain the capability to produce greater numbers of nuclear weapons. The FMCT will form a central part of the new non-proliferation and disarmament architecture.

Australia has been a leading advocate of this new Treaty and as one of the Presidents of the Conference on Disarmament in 2009, we continue to press hard to have these negotiations proceed.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is another treaty in which Australia has played a strongly supportive role over a long period of time.

Australia has long advocated a ban on nuclear testing. Australia was one of the first non-nuclear-weapon states to ratify the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, and played an active role in negotiating the CTBT in the Conference on Disarmament.

Australia has both the expertise and capacity to detect nuclear tests. Australia hosts the third largest number of facilities in the CTBT's International Monitoring System. Australian stations helped demonstrate the effectiveness of this system by detecting North Korea's nuclear test on 25 May.

Disappointingly, the CTBT has yet to enter into force, over a decade after it was negotiated. Australia is working to push it over the line, including through "Friends of the CTBT" Foreign Ministers meetings. I chaired the most recent Ministerial meeting in New York in the margins of the General Assembly in September last year. Australia currently chairs the CTBT Organisation's Preparatory Commission.

This is another reason why President Obama's CTBT commitment is so significant. Only nine of the 44 states that have significant nuclear activities have not yet ratified the Treaty. The United States is one of these nine. United States' ratification of the CTBT would add significant pressure to the other eight of these states whose ratification is also necessary for the Treaty's entry into force.

It will contribute to international efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals, and the longer-term goal of a nuclear weapons free world.

With Japan, Australia has established the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), to which I referred earlier.

The Commission is an independent body co-chaired by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. Its secretariat is located here in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Commission's 15 members include former heads of state and government, former ministers, and senior nuclear strategists from all the NPT nuclear-weapon states, from states outside the NPT, and from every geopolitical region of the world. Their experience will ensure that the Commission's findings combine vision with realism. The aim of the Commission is to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons and secure further progress towards nuclear disarmament. It will further encourage the current international momentum. The Commission's immediate goal is to strengthen the NPT by shaping a global consensus in support of the May 2010 NPT Review Conference.

The Commission has held three plenary meetings to date - in Sydney, Washington and Moscow, and regional meetings in Latin America and North-East Asia. The Government looks forward to the Commission's first major report early next year. I have no doubt it will be important to the NPT Review Conference.

There are other areas where Australia is playing an effective and practical role in non-proliferation and disarmament.

We are an active participant in the Proliferation Security Initiative, which seeks to prevent illicit trafficking in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems and related materials. 

Australia is also Chair this year and leading the work in the Missile Technology Control Regime, a group that restricts the export of WMD missile delivery systems.

Concluding remarks

This year we have seen momentum building for a new approach that will chart a possible way forward toward deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals and towards the long-term goal of nuclear disarmament.

That three of the five nuclear weapon states have recently stated that they have an ultimate objective of a nuclear weapons free world is a measure of that new momentum.

It is vital that the international community seize this historic opportunity.

This will require trust, confidence and commitment, from every country.

Nuclear-armed states will need to show leadership in minimising their arsenals. Movement is already afoot with the current arms-control negotiations between the United States and the Russian Federation, which between them hold about 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons arsenals. Only the coordinated and verified involvement in this progress of all nuclear-armed states will create the mutual confidence that will make a world free of nuclear weapons conceivable.

Non-nuclear-weapon states must also contribute, through providing confidence that no new nuclear-armed states will emerge. This requires full cooperation with IAEA safeguards and Security Council resolutions, universalising the Additional Protocol, and effective action against the spread of proliferation-sensitive nuclear technologies.

In meeting the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament challenge, Australia is taking a clear-eyed, committed and pragmatic approach, one which is firmly grounded in Australia's security interests and in our more intensive multilateral engagement.

It is an approach that meets the challenge of our times, as Sir Arthur Tange did in helping to meet the challenges of his own time.

Above all, it is an approach, as Sir Arthur's was, committed to enhancing security and maximising for future generations the prospects for peace and progress.

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