Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 03:09 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 03:09 | SYDNEY

The White Paper and nuclear deterrence


Raoul Heinrichs

5 May 2009 15:14

Like Hugh, I was surprised by the Government’s frank acknowledgement in the latest defence White Paper that nuclear weapons, as well as being a source of insecurity, are in other ways beneficial to Australia’s national security, and continue to play an important stabilising role in the international system.

Indeed, despite a declared abhorrence for nuclear weapons, and a determination — through the ICNND — to work towards their abolition, there are at least four related areas where the government nevertheless ascribes a high value to nuclear weapons, particularly in relation to nuclear deterrence.

First, the White Paper (in paragraph 4.16) arrives at the judgment — correctly, in my view — that nuclear weapons are a central element of US global primacy. A potent nuclear arsenal enables the US to extend nuclear deterrence to its allies and provide relatively credible security assurances that maintain the cohesion of its alliance systems. These, in turn, contribute in various ways to regional and global security.

Second, the White Paper identifies extended nuclear deterrence as one of the most critical inhibitors of WMD proliferation, a problem, it seems to conclude (at the beginning of paragraph 4.58), that is unlikely to moderate in the face of ‘counter-proliferation and export control regimes’. Paradoxically, nuclear weapons in this case are both the problem and the answer.

Third, by opposing the development of national missile defence on the grounds that it would undermine global nuclear deterrence (paragraph 9.103), the government implicitly accepts, and endorses, the preservation of a durable nuclear balance of terror.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the White Paper acknowledges (in paragraph 6.34) Australia’s direct reliance on America’s nuclear forces ‘to deter nuclear attack on Australia’. This last consideration highlights the peculiar tension in Australian strategic policy between self-reliance and nuclear dependence, an issue that I’ve explored in some detail elsewhere.

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