Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 3664

Mr CONNOLLY(5.28) —by leave-The Opposition's spokesman in this debate, the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock), has unfortunately had to leave the chamber, and I thought it was only appropriate, because of the comments made by the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous), that some response to this report should be made. Firstly, I would like to note that this is an excellent report on a very complex and extremely vital area relating to the future of humanity on this planet. It is therefore a matter of some concern to me, and no doubt to other members of the Opposition, that it was not possible for all members of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence to agree on the terms of the recommendations put forward in the report. It concerns me particularly to notice that at least three members of this House, including the honourable member for Calwell, have in fact found it necessary to disagree on virtually every point in the report, as shown in the summary of dissents on the final page. It is worth noting that he has, for example, found objections to the introduction to the report; its comments in relation to the spread of nuclear weapons; Australia's role in disarmament and arms control; the strategic defence initiative; the United States-Australia joint defence facilities; the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone; uranium mining and Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle; peace education and peace research in Australia; and recommended strategies and policies. In fact, as I said, the honourable member and two of his colleagues seem to find difficulties with just about everything in this report. I would like to quote the point emphasised in chapter 22 of the report. There is a major difficulty in doing a report of this type when one is dealing with an open democracy on one side, namely the Unites States, and a closed, totalitarian state on the other. The Committee's report makes this clear when it states:

As a result, there tends to be more detail on, and scrutiny of the United States and its policies than of the Soviet Union. The Committee would prefer otherwise but has been constrained by the closed nature of Soviet society and its penchant for secrecy. Democracies are relatively open societies and especially in the US the Executive has to justify to Congress and the public all military expenditure. In the closed society of the Soviet Union no such public scrutiny or discussion takes place.

In my discussions at the Pentagon last July I noted a very real degree of frustration at the difficulty that the United States felt in trying to negotiate bilateral nuclear arms limitation-type agreements with the Soviet Union, which, time after time, tends to use the public fora of the negotiating process as a means of spreading its propaganda to appear to the world as the only party which is really interested in peace and disarmament when, in fact, it is obvious that, if agreement is ever to be achieved between the two great nuclear powers as a first step towards a systematic scaling down of both the quality and quantity of nuclear weapons around the world, clearly they have to be able to reach agreement on the basis of negotiation. The honourable member for Calwell made certain observations in relation to the Reykjavik negotiations. We all hoped-no doubt the entire world hoped-that agreement would be reached but, as has been so often the case in the past, that was not to be so. Fortunately, the door is not closed and efforts are still being made to reach the basis for an agreement.

Let us not look at the last 40 years entirely from the point of view of failure and missed opportunities. While this report emphasises the fact that the continuing development and increase in nuclear weapons are serving to decrease rather than enhance international security, nevertheless the fact is that since 1945 there has been no incident of nuclear weapons being used by any nation as a means of furthering its international policy objectives. I would be the first to agree that it does not necessarily follow that the non-use of weapons in the past means that they will not be used in the future. The observation in this report, which mirrors the comments made by learned people throughout the world, is that there can be no winners and there can only be losers if our world is to be allowed to be constantly put in the position in which nuclear war may become a reality.

I believe that members of this Government are naive if they think that one can talk about nuclear weapons completely independently of the totality of the strategic arms balance. I refer specifically to conventional arms as well as nuclear arms. The history of the last 40 years in relation to Western Europe in particular-the presence of the Warsaw Pact on the one side and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on the other-demonstrates quite clearly one thing: The Soviet Union and its Eastern satellites have maintained consistently since the 1940s a high degree of conventional arms superiority over Western Europe and the United States. It would be fair to say that if it were not for the presence of about a million United States soldiers, naval personnel and airmen in the confines of Western Europe and Great Britain the history of Western Europe today might well have been very different from what it is. The existence of those democracies undoubtedly has been based upon the fact that throughout those 40 years the United States has been prepared to risk its treasure and its blood to safeguard those nations and the freedom of their peoples.

I get a little tired of members of the Socialist Left or anybody else who may think he means well on this subject-I will give them the benefit of the doubt on that-ignoring the realities of the past. One cannot draw a distinction between nuclear weapons on the one hand and conventional weaponry superiority on the other. There is no doubt that for most of that period the United States has maintained a degree of nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union, but there are those in the Pentagon today and others who are meant to know what they are talking about who now question that. They believe the technology of the Soviet Union, in the last decade in particular, has advanced by leaps and bounds. For those who complain about the strategic defence initiative, the SDI, which is consistently attacked and argued about in this House by members of the Government as being somehow or other a destabilising weapon system of the West, in particular of the United States, which is changing the balance, I point out that a balance was not there in the first place. If one takes account of nuclear weapons and conventional weapons as a total arsenal, the Soviet Union is ahead. The sooner this Government and members of its socialist Left faction realise that the better.

Let me make some observations about the SDI. Members of the Government call it pie in the sky. The Soviet Union regards it as a threat. I ask honourable members opposite whether they have read any of the material put out by the Soviet Union in its scientific journals during the late 1970s. If they had they would have discovered that the concept of SDI was not unique to the United States; it was also being developed in the Soviet Union. What worries the Soviet Union is that the United States, because of the stronger economic base, is more likely than not to be able to achieve a breakthrough in this extremely complex area of space technology well ahead of the USSR. For the first time since 1945 there would be the prospect that nuclear war, as we understand it, using multi-targeted intercontinental ballistic missiles, would simply not be a viable strategy of a nation bent on nuclear war.

If that is the objective that members of this Government find so horrendous, I would like them to explain to me and to other people who are genuinely concerned about the future of this world, and of this nation, how better they will be able to lower the threshold of risk, to which they are directly contributing by their inability and unwillingness to face the facts. While we cannot get the United States into an environment in which it can negotiate openly with the Soviet Union without wondering when the Soviet Union will change the balance, as it did with its SS20s, let there be no doubt that the SALT II treaties which were directed a few years ago-in the 1970s-at lowering the threshold of risk in Western Europe, particularly in relation to the SS20s and the removal of the United States weaponry of the same or a similar scale, failed for one fundamental reason: The Soviet Union moved its missiles over the Ural Mountains and thus brought all of Western Europe within range of potential disaster. They are the facts of history. They are the facts that members of this Government consistently want to ignore.

On page 15 of this excellent report is a table which shows the bilateral arms control agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union and the growth in the total number of nuclear warheads. It is a regrettable fact that the growth of the number of nuclear warheads has been consistent, despite the fact that in the period from 1950 to the present no fewer than 10 international agreements have been signed by the Soviet Union with the United States. I think we must be more sanguine about this and take my observation for what it is worth. If those agreements had not been signed possibly the risks facing humanity would be even greater today than they have been in the past.

As I said in my opening remarks, thank God this world has been spared nuclear war since 1945. I have not the slightest doubt that people of good will around the world are determined to achieve peace, but let it not be peace based on weakness, because that will achieve nothing for us. Australia is a member, and a proud member, of the Western alliance, something which members of the Socialist Left of this Government again find difficult to accept. While we go down that road, Opposition members believe that the joint United States facilities in Australia present us with two opportunities. First, we are directly involved in maintaining international peace; and, secondly, the presence of those bases enables Australia to have additional leverage, which apparently members of the Socialist Left would prefer us not to have. If they see the future of this nation as being just a cork bobbing around in the southern Pacific, so be it. That is not the Opposition's view, and is certainly not the view of the vast majority of the Australian people. We want a government with a responsible foreign policy, a government that is determined to do what is possible to achieve peace and to encourage the participants who have the nuclear fuel cycle and make nuclear weapons to do their best to reduce that threat over time, because it will take time. Most important of all, it is nations such as Australia, through our capacity to mine, mill and sell uranium oxide, which are able to control by no other means possible the utilisation of our resources.

If some members opposite want us to lose our voice internationally, they should proceed as they are. If they prefer Australia to be respected internationally, as a nation that has something to say and to which people want to listen, a nation with the capacity to have some influence over the trend of events, they have no alternative but to live in the world as it is. They must work for a better world rather than try to exist in a mirage on the premises outlined by the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous). Let us concentrate, he said, on peace studies in the schools. If the honourable member had studied the history of the last 2,000 years, he would have found one salient fact which has been repeated time and time again. It is that nations which believed that they could maintain peace by refusing to have appropriate armaments for their own protection, whether they were the Athenians, Trojans or Romans or any of the civilisations of the old world, one thing was common to them all: They failed to defend their interests and were destroyed.

No nation, and certainly not Australia, will ever be able to live in the environment of assuming that the world owes us a living or owes us our security. We were lucky in 1942 because the United States came to our aid when we desperately needed it. They spent their treasure and their blood to maintain our freedom. It is now up to us to be prepared to do the same thing for ourselves. We will gain no respect from the international community, and certainly not from the Soviet Union, a nation which has for so long demonstrated that strength is its ultimate weapon of foreign policy, if we do not follow such a course. Though the history of the Soviet Union, going back even earlier than the Napoleonic wars and certainly the Second World War, is based on its incredible fear of foreign attacks upon its national entity, the Soviet Union's policy response today is to be as expansionist as ever. Those who doubt that merely have to go to Pakistan and talk to the refugees from Afghanistan in the camps. Would they then have the audacity to come into this House and say that the Soviet Union is a nation that lives for peace and is composed of peace loving people? The people of the Soviet Union undoubtedly want peace in common with the people of the United States, Australia and most other countries, but while the USSR has a myopic government that believes it is under constant threat from the rest of the world, it is extremely difficult for the United States to continue successful negotiations and be able to introduce effective long term disarmament measures. This cannot be done unilaterally. Bilateral disarmament is the objective that we all seek. All I ask is that members of the Socialist Left in this Government, which has such power over the future of this nation, at least at the present time, should be more practical in their response to international realities rather than imagine that the Australian people expect from them anything less than the best that can be done for this nation.

Motion (by Mr Peter Morris)-by leave-proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.

Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.