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Nuclear arms: warning by United Nations Secretary-General\n

Nuclear Arms: Warning By United Nations Secretary-General

 

Laurie Brereton - Shadow Minister For Foreign Affairs

 

Media Statement - 4 February 2000

 

The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, today renewed Labor's call on the Howard Government to review its approach to nuclear disarmament issues in the lead-up to the April-May Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

 

"United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's warning earlier this week that a dangerous new nuclear arms race 'looms on the horizon' is a much needed wake-up call for the Howard Government on nuclear disarmament", Mr Brereton said.

 

"Hopes that the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference would be followed by substantial progress in nuclear disarmament have not been fulfilled. There appears to be little political will to overcome the current impasse, let alone carry through on the nuclear weapon states clear obligation to pursue in good faith negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament."

 

"Progress has stalled with potentially serious consequences for strategic stability and nuclear non-proliferation.

 

In an address to the UN Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters on Tuesday, the UN Secretary General warned that the international disarmament and non-proliferation agenda was in a state of 'deplorable stagnation' and that it was difficult to approach the forthcoming NPT Review Conference with much optimism 'given the discouraging list of nuclear disarmament measures in suspense, negotiations not initiated and opportunities not taken'.

 

Mr Annan noted that the United States has rejected the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Russia has still not ratified the START II Treaty. Negotiations for a START III Treaty have not begun. Moreover 'Deployment of ballistic missile defences seems increasingly likely, posing a serious threat to the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty and the strategic stability it embodies'.

 

The Secretary-General pointed out that nuclear weapons in several countries remained on alert; that more countries than ever before had acquired a nuclear weapons capability; and negotiations on a ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons have not begun. 'It is even more disheartening to hear nuclear weapon states reiterate their nuclear doctrines, postures and plans which envisage reliance on nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future', he said.

 

"Kofi Annan has rightly highlighted the parlous state of nuclear disarmament efforts", Mr Brereton said. "The failure to make progress on disarmament increases the risks of nuclear proliferation with adverse consequences for Australia's national security."

 

"Leadership from non-nuclear middle powers, especially Australia, is vital to help rebuild momentum towards nuclear disarmament. Regrettably, however, the Howard Government has effectively abandoned Australia's previous leading role on nuclear disarmament issues and risks becoming little more than a public relations agent for the nuclear weapons states."

 

"The Howard Government made no real effort to promote the work of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and has walked away from any advocacy of efforts to

 

achieve a nuclear weapons free world. Most recently Australia conspicuously declined to support the New Agenda Coalition of small and middle powers working at the United Nations to encourage the nuclear weapon states to take positive steps to fulfil their obligation to move towards nuclear disarmament."

 

"Speaking on nuclear issues in October last year, Foreign Minister Downer bluntly rejected suggestions that the nuclear weapons states were failing to live up to their nuclear disarmament obligations, saying "This is the message of the New Agenda Coalition. … The Australian Government does not accept this proposition.' The Howard Government 'simply does not accept' the contention that new momentum needs to be injected into the nuclear disarmament process."

 

"This view is clearly at odds with the UN Secretary-General. The Howard Government's approach could not be a more short-sighted."

 

"This year will be critical for progress towards nuclear disarmament and strengthening international prohibitions on weapons of mass destruction. The NPT Review Conference is likely to be very difficult. The continuing impasse over entry into force of the START II Treaty and prospective decisions regarding the deployment of National Missile Defence systems by the United States raise serious concerns about the prospects of further strategic nuclear arms reductions. Entry into force of the CTBT appears far away and the negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty remain stalled in the Conference on Disarmament."

 

"In these circumstances, an urgent review of Australia's nuclear disarmanment policies is essential. Australia should be giving leadership, not sitting on the sidelines apologising for the nuclear weapon states. Australia's national security deserves much better."

 

Authorised by Gary Gray, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.