Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Chemical weapons - Australia's position

NEIL BOWES: Australia's Defence Minister, Kim Beazley, has acknowledged that our cities have absolutely no defence against an attack by ballistic missiles carrying chemical weapons. Mr Beazley's comments confirm what was said on AM yesterday by Andrew Mack, the head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra. He claimed the Australian Government was concerned about the possibility of Asian countries producing and delivering chemical weapons, using cheap mass-produced missiles. In Perth, John McNamara, asked the Defence Minister how many South East Asian countries possess chemical weapons.

KIM BEAZLEY: I don't believe that any large number of countries in our region actually have them, but virtually everybody in our region, ourselves included, has the capability to produce chemical weapons. So we're probably at one of those windows in international relationships where you have the possibility of stopping something, and if you fail to do so it will get dramatically out of hand.

JOHN McNAMARA: Well, how concerned are you that it could get dramatically out of hand?

KIM BEAZLEY: Very concerned. The Iran-Iraq war's lessons are all wrong. A number of countries saw a cheap means of securing at least a battlefield stalemate. They saw how difficult those weapons were to defend against. They've been identified, not inaccurately but unhelpfully, as the poor man's nuclear weapon. As a result of that minds are going to tick over as to what are the implications for them. Good-hearted people as well as malevolent people may well take the view that possession is necessary, at least for deterrent purposes. But in that sort of environment things can get out of control very quickly.

JOHN McNAMARA: Has Australia any policy on the production of chemical weapons?

KIM BEAZLEY: Oh, absolutely. Our position is very clear cut. We oppose the production and possession of chemical weapons and we seek means by which a universal covenant can prevent their development. And we don't just do it in terms of general principle. We're taking a very detailed interest in the practical means of verification. We're taking a substantial interest in the talks in Geneva. We are one of two South East Asian countries that are involved actively in those talks, and we have just had a mission, through South East Asia, pointing up the difficulties that are entailed with the production and use of chemical weapons and the processes by which the nations of the region may come to accord to sign up to a universal declaration.

JOHN McNAMARA: Now, on the subject of delivery systems, I guess that's a crucial as almost the weapons themselves. Andrew Mack yesterday pointed out that Australian cities don't really have a defence against that sort of attack.

KIM BEAZLEY: No cities have a defence against that sort of attack. I must say I don't think that that is as immediate a problem as the likelihood of the development of chemical weapons in our region in a battlefield context. But because of its horrendous possible implications, it's a problem that also has to be picked up.

JOHN McNAMARA: So, overall, are you optimistic that headway can be made, both in Paris and Geneva?

KIM BEAZLEY: A country can develop a chemical weapon tomorrow. It has to be said that there is no problem for his neighbour to develop it the day after. So it's a stupid path for a country to go down, and this can be utilised, I think, in making the argument. So we'd be cautiously optimistic.

NEIL BOWES: Defence Minister, Kim Beazley.