Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 | 12:53 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 | 12:53 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Why disarm?


Sam Roggeveen


7 September 2009 13:28

Robyn Lim responds to Martine Letts' post on nuclear disarmament (a comment from me follows):

The answer to the question of whether we (and the Japanese) continue to 'need' nuclear protection is that nuclear weapons 'work' all the time, deterring would-be aggressors and reassuring allies. True, no alliance is a guarantee of support in all circumstances. But for us, the main value of ANZUS is that any potentially hostile power has to calculate what the US reaction might be.  

That makes it harder, for example, for China — a regime run by a bunch of thugs — to blackmail us. And looking the behaviour of the Chinese now, while they are relatively weak, we need to think about what they might be like if  they become much stronger.

Perhaps what we and the Japanese need to worry about most is whether the ageing US nuclear weapons arsenal remains both safe and effective, since Congress has refused to fund much-needed modernization.

Australia (and Japan) have been having their cake and eating it on this issue for a long time. After our outraged reaction to India's 1998 nuclear test, the Indians pointed to our hypocrisy. No doubt, others will too. (Note that India has never signed the NPT.)

The idea of a 'nuclear-free world' is a pipedream. A potentially dangerous one too. Ask when was a nuclear weapon last used. Ask when was the last great power war.

One quibble: the US alliance certainly makes it harder for hostile governments to blackmail Australia, but given America's substantial non-nuclear military capabilities, wouldn't that still be the case in a nuclear-free world?

That's purely an academic objection, really, since Robyn is probably right that a nuclear-free world is a pipedream. But we've seen major reductions in stockpiles since the end of the Cold War (and even before then; the US stockpile hit its peak in the 1960s), so clearly reductions are possible. And since the existence of so many nuclear weapons poses a unique threat to human life, it seems like a pretty sensible bit of risk management to reduce stockpiles to at least the point at which human civilization could survive a full-scale nuclear war.