Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 09:05 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 09:05 | SYDNEY

Nuclear dangers in Asia: What Australia can do


Rory Medcalf


9 September 2008 10:19

Australia needs to go beyond setting up a new disarmament commission if it wants to reduce nuclear dangers in the Asian century, I argue in two new Lowy Institute publications – a policy brief and a more detailed analysis. These draw upon ideas presented on The Interpreter earlier this year. (My thanks to readers who wrote to me following that post with criticisms that helped refine the proposals.)

The Rudd Government has made an intriguing start by working with Japan to establish a panel of the expert and eminent to craft ideas for action on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. There is considerable promise in this initiative, but much will depend on the depth of political and material backing the Australian and Japanese governments show themselves willing to provide.

One reason the Canberra Commission report fell far short of its potential impact on the global arms control debate in the mid-1990s was that the Howard Government did little to push its recommendations. Canberra and Tokyo need to be ready, for instance, to countenance and even promote recommendations coming out of that process that might question some of their longstanding policy positions and silences – such as on US nuclear posture.

Canberra should proceed with its new commission by all means, but there are other ways I would like to see Australia further invigorate its nuclear diplomacy. These include: rebuilding the nation’s arms control expertise and diplomatic capacity that eroded under the Howard Government; offering extensive assistance to British-Norwegian research on how to verify disarmament; and talking frankly with the next Administration about reducing US reliance on nuclear weapons.

One particular initiative that beckons is for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to take a lead by encouraging dialogue in Asia on nuclear security, including with his fellow leaders at the East Asia Summit. This Summit is, after all, intended for ‘open and spontaneous Leaders-led discussion on strategic issues of peace and stability in our region and in the world’. This would be a distinctive and potentially far-reaching way to combine the regional co-operation and nuclear disarmament elements of Mr Rudd’s foreign policy vision.

And working with Asia’s powers, including China and India, to identify and strengthen areas of common ground on matters of nuclear non-proliferation and restraint (such as no first use, negative security assurances, export controls, the criminalisation of WMD proliferation under domestic law, and the readiness to negotiate a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty) would be one way Australia could help offset any perceived ‘pro-proliferation’ effects of its recent support of the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation deal.

Photo by Flickr user SFAntti, used under a Creative Commons license.