by Senator Lyn Allison
At the Manning Clark House Symposium "Science and Ethics: Can Homo sapiens Survive?"
Presented at Canberra, 17-18 May 2005
A one megaton nuclear bomb, of which Russia and the US have dozens, creates a crater 300 feet deep, 1,200 feet in diameter and within one second ignites a fireball more than half a mile in diameter. The surface of the fireball radiates nearly three times the light and heat of a comparable area of the surface of the sun, extinguishing in seconds all life below and radiating outward at the speed of light, causing instantaneous severe burns to people within one to three miles.
A blast wave of compressed air reaches a distance of three miles in about 12 seconds, flattening factories and commercial buildings. Debris carried by winds of 250 mph inflicts lethal injuries throughout the area and at least 50 percent of people in the area die immediately, prior to any injuries from radiation or the developing firestorm.
It is almost 60 years since the first atomic bomb — about one seventieth of the power - was dropped on Hiroshima. 80,000 people died immediately, 200,000 later.
At the International Court of Justice in 1995, the mayor of Nagasaki recalled his memory of the attack on Nagasaki a short time after Hiroshima:
Nagasaki became a city of death where not even the sound of insects could be heard. After a while, countless men, women and children began to gather for a drink of water at the banks of the nearby Urakami River, their hair and clothing scorched and their burnt skin hanging off in sheets like rags. Begging for help they died one after another in the water or in heaps on the banks…. Four months after the atomic bombing, 74,000 people were dead and 75,000 had suffered injuries, that is, two thirds of the city population had fallen victim to this calamity that came upon Nagasaki like a preview of the Apocalypse.
Robert McNamara, credited with averting a nuclear catastrophe in 1962 with wise counsel to the Kennedy Administration, told the story this month:
Among the costs of maintaining nuclear weapons is the risk — to me an unacceptable risk — of use of the weapons either by accident or as a result of misjudgement or miscalculation in times of crisis.
The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated that the US and the Soviet Union — and indeed the rest of the world — came within a hair’s breadth of nuclear disaster in October 1962. Indeed, according to the former Soviet military leaders, at the height of the crisis, Soviet forces in Cuba possessed 162 nuclear warheads, including at least 90 tactical warheads.
At about the same time, Cuban President Fidel Castro asked the Soviet ambassador to Cuba to send a cable to Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev stating that Castro urged him to counter the US attack with a nuclear response.
Clearly there was a high risk that in the face of the US attack, which many in the US government were prepared to recommend to President Kennedy, the Soviet forces in Cuba would have decided to use their nuclear weapons rather than lose them.
Only a few years ago did we learn that the four Soviet submarines trailing the US naval vessels near Cuba each carried torpedoes with nuclear warheads. Each of the sub commanders had the authority to launch his torpedoes.
The situation was even more frightening because, ….the subs were out of communication with their Soviet bases and they continued their patrols for four days after Khruschev announced the withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba.
The question is, are homo sapiens at greater risk of being wiped out (and large tracts of land made uninhabitable), now than they were in 1945 or in 1962 or in 1970 when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty came into force?
The NPT is a treaty in which the non-nuclear weapon states agree to not take up nuclear weapons and, in return the weapon states agree to disarm.
28,000 nuclear warheads still exist today — 96% of them in US and Russian arsenals. This is barely fewer than there were 35 years ago at the commencement of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty in 1970.
Since 1970 India, Pakistan and Israel have taken up nuclear weapons and are not signatories to the NPT and North Korea has withdrawn and claims to be nuclear armed.
The US says Iran also has a covert nuclear weapons program in place. And the UK, France and China are hanging onto theirs.
If the US continues its current nuclear stance, according to Robert McNamara, countries like Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Taiwan will very likely initiate nuclear weapons programs, increasing the risk of use of these weapons and the diversion of weapons and fissile materials into the hands of rogue states and terrorists.
The US has 8,000 or so active or operational warheads, 4,500 of them strategic and 2,000 on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched on a 15 minute say-so.
It has President Bush in the Whitehouse (the president who went to war against the elusive Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to avenge the 9/11 attack on its soil, and who took first strike action in Iraq against a largely unarmed dictator, killing 100,000 civilians).
Russia has slightly fewer strategic nuclear warheads at 3,800.
Both countries claim to have already dismantled thousands of warheads and promise to reduce their operationally deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500 to 2,200 over the next decade.
There is no timetable to do this, no offer that it be verified or made irreversible and, at least on the part of Mr Bush, an intention to develop a program of new nuclear weapons.
In the last few years Presidents Putin and Bush have both declared that nuclear weapons have a vital role in their security.
According to the US Nuclear Posture Review mandated by US Congress in January 2002, the warheads and many of the launch vehicles taken off deployment will be maintained in a "responsive" reserve from which they could be moved back to the operationally deployed force.
In any case, even under the most optimistic 2012 scenario of 3,000 warheads with a destructive power around 65,000 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb, it is doubtful that either country would have any survivors if they were all launched.
It is little wonder that Robert McNamara says American nukes are immoral, illegal, and dreadfully dangerous.
And a few weeks ago, Mr Bush asked Congress to agree to a 2006 budget that includes funding to enable a study to be done of nuclear technology that would allow nuclear warheads to penetrate deeper underground before exploding, known as Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators.
He has asked for $6.6 billion to fund the weapons activities of the Energy Department’s national nuclear security administration, nearly $US1 billion to power nuclear navy vessels, $25 million to ensure nuclear weapons testing could take place within 18 months of a decision to do so. (The Bush Administration refuses to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and it languishes for want of the signatures of 11 more countries.)
Mr Bush wants $7.7 million for a Modern Pit Facility to build new warhead cores, known as pits, to replace those whose plutonium has degraded over time. It will process 125 pits a year.
All of this was overlooked by Australia two weeks ago at the Review of the NPT in New York — due to conclude on 27 May.
Mr Downer in his opening speech echoed the US line on the Treaty. The focus for Australia would be on stopping others acquiring weapons and not on pressing those which already have them to eliminate theirs.
Minister Downer claimed the greatest threats to the NPT are Al Qaeda and North Korea and Iran's possible development of weapons grade material. In other words we want to focus on weapons that don’t yet exist or may exist rather than the 28,000 that do. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
We heard nothing about when Russia and the US will take disarmament seriously — the deep verified and irreversible cuts that are required to progress to total elimination - because it is easier to point the finger at those two countries.
We have a likely stalemate and if the NPT unravels, we could be facing a proliferation of nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear weapons again.
Australia continues to resist the efforts of other non-nuclear weapons states in keeping pressure on the nuclear weapons states to agree to timelines for disarmament.
The Australian Government refused to attend the Nuclear Weapons Free Zones conference at the request of the Mexican government ahead of the NY review conference, to discuss nuclear free zones.
The Govt boycotted that meeting, arguing that it would fail because the Nuclear Weapons States were not officially invited.
It has regularly spurned the efforts of the New Agenda Coalition and the Middle Powers Initiatives.
Australia voted ‘no’ to resolution L40 on missile defence and abstained on the New Agenda Coalition resolutions as a whole in the UN Disarmament Committee saying they would only support a resolution that was "practical and realistic, capable of winning wide support, especially from the nuclear weapons states".
Australia objected to the criticism of nuclear weapons states and says that terrorist developments have made the NAC outdated.
Australia with just 21 million people is a small player on the world stage but was once a strong voice for nuclear disarmament — we set up the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in 1996.
We are now only quietly strong on the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the indefinite extension of the NPT.
Mr Downer's contribution showed no sign of Australia pushing for the nuclear powers to live up to their commitments, no call for systematic, progressive and practical steps to achieve the total and irreversible destruction of these dangerous weapons, as agreed at the 2000 Review.
Speakers at the NPT conference stressed the need for peaceful uses of nuclear material — in other words nuclear energy — but North Korea and Iran show the risks involved in the ready availability of technology that makes clandestine development of weapons grade material possible.
Nuclear power plants and some research reactors can produce plutonium.
The IAEA has called for multilateral control over the sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle — enrichment, reprocessing and the management and disposal of spent fuel, however, I suggest it may be time to rethink that right of all states to enrich uranium for energy.
The non-nuclear weapons states are pushing for annual meetings of the states parties so they can respond more quickly to threats to the NPT such as the North Korea withdrawal and to measure progress on disarmament.
The operational status of nuclear weapons should be lowered.
The non-Australian non-nuclear weapons states at the Review called for good faith implementation of obligations under international law to get to total and unequivocal elimination of nuclear arsenals
We should have been pushing for the 13 steps of the final declaration of the 2000 NPT Review Conference. At least in the wranglings of the last week, it has been agreed to keep these on the NPT Review agenda.
We should place fissile material under international control and destroy the lot over the next 15 years
The nuclear weapons states need to acknowledge that nuclear deterrence is and always has been a myth. All the evidence contradicts this theory. These weapons did not prevent wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Falklands and Iraq and they certainly did not prevent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.
And the fact that the US has 8,000 nuclear weapons did not stop North Korea wanting to acquire its own or India, or Pakistan or Israel. Rather, the fact that the nuclear weapons states have not disarmed is a provocation, not a deterrent.
The Middle Power Initiative Chairman, Douglas Roche called on the Review to find balance in non-proliferation and disarmament, to bargain in good faith for the elimination of nuclear weapons and to build a bridge between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states that can agree on a pragmatic agenda for implementation of key priorities — disarmament and non-proliferation.
Proliferation by the US with Star Wars 2 is a realistic proposition with Australia signing on last year.
Australia appears disinterested in the implications of new US rhetoric that places new nuclear weapons technology alongside conventional weapons in a seamless continuum.
Missile defence gets little press and is not taken very seriously by the Australian public. Most would think of Ronald Reagan’s star wars as being as fictitious as his roles on the silver screen.
Few would realise that successive presidents have built on Reagan’s missile defence concept and each year, George W Bush has received $7 or $8 billion for the program and $9 billion in 2004 — the year the first deployment was anticipated but has failed to make the grade.
Australia again has a long history of supportive engagement in missile defence. In 1995 our government cooperated with the US on Project Dundee at Woomera — not far from Maralinga — a research project for tracking rockets and developing communications technology — a precursor to the National Missile Defence Scheme.
Australia contributes now to the US missile defence via the Pine Gap so-called Joint Defence Facility in the central desert. It is the largest CIA outfit outside the US.
Pine Gap collects intelligence via geostationary satellites that eavesdrop on a variety of radio, radar and microwave signals. It provides the US with vast amounts of intelligence data from the Middle East, Russia, China, south east Asia and the Pacific. It was crucial to the US in its attack on Iraq.
Australia hosts nine seismic stations, four Eschelon bases, Military Airlift Command at four RAAF bases and all airforce bases and many civilian airports and seaports elsewhere are available to the US when required.
We have already joined America in rehearsing interdiction of shipments of weapons grade material that might be sent from Pakistan to North Korea, despite the fact that this is likely to be provocative and at odds with international law..
At the sixth Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT, our foreign minister announced a six point ‘Anzac Plan’ of non-controversial options that the US supported.
He opposed the modest proposals of Pacific Island nations to monitor and control the increasing frequency of shipments of highly radioactive nuclear materials through their region.
He also tried unsuccessfully to remove a text which had consensus support in 1995 concerning the ‘serious environmental consequences resulting from uranium miming and associated nuclear fuel cycle activities in the production and testing of nuclear weapons.
Australia did join Japan in sponsoring A path to the total elimination of nuclear weapons but this is not as strong as the NAC resolutions.
The new environment in which terrorism is seen as the biggest threat to nation states should mean nuclear weapons are irrelevant. We need to turn out minds instead to the circumstances that give rise to terrorism and to solve them. As long as people are willing to give their lives in terrorism for a particular cause, traditional defence, nuclear or otherwise, is useless at best and provocative more likely.
International Court of Justice determined in 1996 that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was contrary to the rules of international law and that there was an obligation to pursue disarmament in good faith and under strict and effective international control.
It’s time for us to insist on upholding the law.
The NPT is the only legal safeguard against the global proliferation of nuclear weapons and the only hope of us being certain that a nuclear apocalypse can be prevented.