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
Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 731

Mr LANGMORE(5.30) —The Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill 1987 puts into statutory form obligations which all Australian governments have accepted since 1973. It is very good to see that the Opposition parties are supporting this Bill now. One wishes that there were more such consensus in this chamber. In January 1973 Australia became a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty involves a commitment by those signatory countries without nuclear weapons not to acquire them and to accept safeguards on their use of nuclear material while nuclear weapons states agree to work towards nuclear disarmament.

It is the failure of all the nuclear powers to make any progress at all towards nuclear disarmament that I want to discuss this afternoon. Not only have all five of the nations which possess nuclear weapons failed to work seriously towards disarmament and fulfilment of their obligations under the Treaty but also they have rapidly accelerated the arms race. Since 1983 the United States of America has been working towards a new round of the arms race, weapons in space. Star wars, or the strategic defence initiative, SDI, is a concept that is claimed to provide a perfect or near perfect defence against attack by nuclear armed missiles. In the words of President Reagan in his famous speech of 23 March 1983 when he announced the SDI program:

Up until now we have increasingly based our strategy of deterrence upon the threat of retaliation. But what if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant United States retaliation to deter Soviet attack; that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil of that of our allies?

So the goal of the SDI program is to destroy all nuclear armed missiles or their re-entry vehicles, their warheads, before they reach their targets. On the fact of it, President Reagan's vision of a world free from the threat of global nuclear holocaust is very attractive. Certainly the ethical basis of the system of mutual assured destruction, code named MAD, which is aptly named balance of terror, is highly suspect. A strategy which promises the replacement of deterrence based on terror with deterrence based on defence seems preferable. Nevertheless, in fact the SDI concept does not promise deterrence based on defence; the strategic defence initiative involves the creation of seriously destabilising conditions which threaten the peace of the world.

Let me make a simple analogy. Let us assume that two neighbours in a street each possesses a powerful shotgun while all other residents of the street have only .22 rifles. These two neighbours are bitterly hostile to each other and have kept peace between themselves only because each fears the other's shotgun. Occasionally one or other of them will terrorise a weaker resident into subservience, but neither wants to provoke the other into using the shotgun. One day one of the two people with shotguns announces that he has discovered a means of completely protecting himself and his friends from shotgun blasts. The other shotgun owner is interested in the idea as well, but does not have the technology to implement it. Clearly, the person with the shield can, if he wishes, attack anyone in the street, even the other shotgun owner, with complete impunity; there is no come-back at all.

This is one of the main problems with SDI. While President Reagan says that it will render nuclear weapons `obsolete and impotent', in fact it will render only Soviet nuclear weapons obsolete unless the Soviets too can deploy defence as good as that provided by SDI. In the absence of a Soviet SDI system as good as that of the Americans, the US would find itself in a position where it could launch a first strike on the Soviets with no fear of Soviet retaliation. The whole basis of a mutual deterrence would thus be destroyed. It should be clear to all that no responsible and patriotic leadership in the Soviet Union could ever permit such a circumstance to arise because, if it did, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would be at the mercy of the United States. The Soviets could find themselves forced to choose between submitting to overwhelming US power and acting to prevent the deployment of an effective SDI system ever taking place.

This is destabilisation with a vengeance. Indeed, it can be cogently argued that SDI-type systems are destabilising and therefore dangerous precisely to the extent that they are effective. Those who dispute this analysis and say that it is purely theoretical or academic should ask themselves why the US and the Soviet Union agreed to sign the treaty against anti-ballistic missile systems, of which SDI is merely the most recent and grandiose expression, in 1972. They signed out of mutual self-interest. They saw that deploying nationwide ABM systems would call into question the ability of the other side to retaliate effectively against a first strike. They acted to preserve the linchpin of global peace-the concept of mutually assured destruction. Unethical it may be, a balance of terror it certainly is, but there is no doubt that this has strongly discouraged military conflict between the super-powers and that the only viable alternative is multilateral disarmament.

Supporters of the US SDI program retort that this is all very well but that the Soviets have long been working on an SDI of their own. Therefore, they say, the US program will do no more than equalise the situation. Both super-powers, they say, will have SDI-type defences and so stability will be preserved, and on a defensive rather than offensive basis. There is no doubt that the Soviets have indeed been working within the limits of the ABM treaty for the most part on anti-ballistic missiles and anti-satellite systems. The US has published claims, difficult to substantiate or refute because of the chronic Russian mania for secrecy, that the Soviet Union has been working on such programs for the last decade or so.

Even accepting these claims at face value, we need to look more closely at the goals of the US and Soviet programs. It turns out that they are rather different. For the US, a more open society, there is little problem. President Reagan has spelt out the goals of SDI very plainly-to provide a perfect or almost perfect defence against attack by nuclear missiles. Official US sources give the example of 10,000 warheads launched in the US with only 10 getting through the envisaged SDI shield. It is admitted that this level of performance will stretch even Yankie ingenuity and technological capabilities to the utmost, but this is the goal set by the President.

In looking at the Soviet effort one thing becomes clear from the outset. The effort is apparently large and long term but, even according to US official sources, seems to be concentrating more on anti-satellite than anti-ballistic missile applications at present. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that the Soviets are seeking the kind of perfect or near perfect defence which President Reagan wants with SDI. It is easy enough to show that even if they wanted such a defence-a real equivalent to SDI-they would stand far less chance of achieving it than the United States. A perusal of the literature shows that the US too is highly unlikely to be able to achieve the levels of perfection set by President Reagan. It is well known that the Soviet technology base is inferior to that of the West generally and the US in particular. Soviet efforts to beg, borrow or steal technology from the West confirm this assessment. It is also agreed that the critical technology for a successful SDI is not the lasers, the electromagnetic gun or the particle beam weapons, difficult as they are, but the computer software. Even so keen a supporter of SDI as Clarence A. Robinson, who represented the US and helped sell SDI to Mrs Thatcher, has written that when it comes to the software `the critics' arguments have some validity.

It is precisely in the field of computer technology-hardware and software both-that the US officially claims to have a lead, and a growing lead, over the Soviets. This is according to testimony of the US Under Secretary for Defense, Donald Hicks, to the research and development panel of the House Armed Services Committee. How then can it credibly be claimed that Soviet anti-satellite and ABM programs, however large, can ever do what it is extremely doubtful the United States can do from a leading position? Thus, it is apparent that the Soviets are not trying to develop an SDI-type near perfect defence. Their goal is much more limited. They want to take out as many United States missiles as possible but have no delusions about reducing a United States attack of 10,000 warheads to a mere 10 actually reaching their targets in Russia.

Mr Tim Fischer —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. My point of order is that, whilst a good deal of latitude is allowed in a debate of this nature, on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill, the honourable member has, for some length of time, been straying way outside the ambit of the Bill. He has also been very inaccurate in his assessment of Russia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mildren) —Order! That is irrelevant.

Mr Tim Fischer —I put it to you that he should now be brought back to the thrust of the Bill before the House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I ask the honourable member to attempt to be relevant to the main point of the Bill.

Mr LANGMORE —Mr Deputy Speaker, what I am saying is absolutely central to the Bill. The Bill is about putting into a statutory form the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is what the Bill we are debating is about. I am talking about the failure of the nuclear powers to fulfil their obligations under the Treaty. Therefore, what I am saying is entirely germane to the Bill we are debating. The Soviet goal is damage limitation, not a perfect defence. The Soviets know all too well that a perfect defence is beyond their capabilities.

Mr Downer —I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point at issue in terms of relevance is the relationship between the strategic defence initiative and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which this Bill is supposed to relate. The SDI has nothing whatsoever to do with the NPT. It may be relevant to other treaties but it is entirely irrelevant to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Australia's nuclear safeguards policies.

Mr Barry Jones —Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that is an absurdly narrow reading. Debate would be artificially constrained to an absurd degree if that were the case. I think the honourable member is entitled to draw a reference to the broad context--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will resume his seat. I think there is room for some latitude in debate on a Bill of this kind and the Chair will determine just what that latitude is.

Mr LANGMORE —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member who took the point of order clearly has never read the Treaty. If he had, he would know that Article 6 provides that the nuclear powers commit themselves to working towards nuclear disarmament. What I am talking about is their complete failure to do that. Before I was interrupted I was saying that the Soviet goal is damage limitation, not a perfect defence. The Soviets know all too well that a perfect defence is beyond their capabilities. What must worry them is that despite the critics, it may not after all be beyond the United States. Should this be so, we are back to the people with the shotguns, one of whom is immune to shotgun blasts while the other is not.

The point about the Soviet effort, then, is that it has much less ambitious goals than the American SDI program. One cannot equate one with the other. Until quite recently it was thought that the 1972 ABM Treaty-the anti-ballistic missile Treaty-between the United States and the Soviet Union would prevent much testing of SDI systems. Part one of Article 5 of the Treaty states:

Each party undertakes not to develop, test or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based or mobile land-based.

So only fixed-site land-based systems-such as the Soviet laser and particle beam systems-are permitted under the Treaty. But recently, some elements of the Reagan Administration, relying on legalistic jiggery-pokery, have begun to argue that the treaty really does not mean what it says and that it is all right to test ABM systems for SDI in space, for instance. This remarkable conclusion is achieved by arguing that the ABM Treaty restricts only those types of ABM system which existed when it was signed, not ones based on new physical principles like X-ray lasers and beam weapons. This is asserted in the face of the unequivocal wording of the Treaty itself.

At present the ABM Treaty is the only arms control agreement in full legal force between the super-powers. SALT I has long since expired through effluxion of time. SALT II was never ratified by the United States but was observed, nevertheless, by both super-powers until President Reagan decided to scrap it last year. It now seems that there is a strong push under way in Washington to try and reinterpret the ABM Treaty out of existence. It would be more honest simply to withdraw from the Treaty under the provisions of Article XV. It is true that Washington's official position at present is that the Treaty stands as written, without novel interpretations. Quite apart from the ingenious interpretations being peddled to justify SDI testing, it is universally agreed that SDI deployment would violate the ABM Treaty and that either renegotiation or withdrawal would be necessary if the United States ever deploys SDI.

However one looks at it, SDI deployment means the end of the ABM Treaty. Yet, despite this, President Reagan apparently decided about three weeks ago to bring forward deployment of SDI weapons to 1994-seven years from now. This was despite the fact that he had offered at Reykjavik not to deploy them for 10 years. Three days after Reagan's decision, Defense Secretary Weinberger announced that there would be no deployment for 10 years. This reversal is welcome but such vacillation offers no confidence that the Reagan Administration will not continue towards the ultimate folly of SDI deployment. There was even a report in the Australian yesterday that a senior arms control adviser to President Reagan is to visit Australia for talks about `revision' of the ABM Treaty. `Revision' would mean abandonment of the Treaty. Australia must forthrightly reject these blandishments for the folly they are. Even Mrs Thatcher has publicly denounced breaking away from the anti-ballistic missile Treaty.

Supporters of SDI research and deployment have argued that stability is not threatened because President Reagan has offered to share the technology with the Soviets so that they, too, would have a system of equal capability to that deployed by the United States. Moscow has shown a predictable scepticism towards this offer. The reservations of the Soviets are readily understandable. Is it really credible that the United States would hand over to the Soviets the results of years of research, gained at enormous expense?

The Australian Government has very properly opposed SDI. Recognising the dangers implicit in the concept, it has declined to endorse SDI or to participate in research. It has stated that if our railgun research were used in SDI research, we would suspend our railgun co-operation with the Americans. Subsequently, the Government announced that our railgun research would end this year. The Government has made clear that it endorses neither the United States SDI program nor the Soviet ABM projects, principally because it sees them as obstacles to effective arms control measures. This is a responsible and even-handed approach. Moreover, the Government has communicated to the United States Government its belief that the traditional `strict' interpretation of the ABM Treaty should be adhered to.

A primary justification put forward for our continued participation in the American alliance is that it gives us more influence in Washington than we would have as a small neutral or non-aligned power. If this is so, we have an opportunity to use our influence with the Administration to help restrain pressures for the United States to break out of, or just break, the ABM Treaty. It is not simple that the ABM Treaty is the last significant strategic arms agreement in force between the super-powers, but that its demise would open the door to the unrestricted deployment of SDI-type systems to the detriment of the strategic balance. In particular, as the Government has recognised, the damage SDI can do to arms control is very significant. Already the Soviets are threatening to deploy hundreds of new missiles with thousands of real and dummy warheads to saturate the SDI defences. The United States would doubtless respond with new missiles of its own, above and beyond MX and Trident II. And so SDI would stimulate a new escalatory spiral of nuclear weaponry. Far from rendering such weapons obsolete, it would make them the growth industry of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The fact that a promising arms reduction agreement was scuttled at Reykjavik last year because of SDI further highlights the damage the concept has already done to arms reduction and arms control prospects. It is important then that Australia continue to exercise her influence with our ally to restrain those extremist elements in the Administration who see SDI as the road to the millennium or, more likely, as the road to strategic superiority of the United States over the Soviets. In a world bristling with nuclear weapons--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.