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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2191

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It refers to the current negotiations between the two super-powers concerning the possible elimination of medium range nuclear missiles and possibly short range missiles from Europe. I ask: First, has the Australian Government been consulted or has it had any input at all into this vital issue? Secondly, what is the Government's attitude to the proposals? Thirdly, is the Government aware of the great fear of Western European countries that the withdrawal of all nuclear missiles will leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces at substantially inferior strength in conventional forces, compared with the Warsaw Pact? Does the Government support that concern? Fourthly, in view of this concern, has the Government advocated an immediate resumption of the mutual and beneficial forces reduction talks-the MBFR-with a view to achieving a substantial reduction and parity of conventional forces between NATO and the Warsaw forces? If the Government has not done so already, will it now do so?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I know that the Australian Government has been kept very closely in touch with successive stages of the developments in Soviet-United States arms control talks over the last year. That has taken the form not only of consultations throughout our Embassy in Washington but also of the dispatch of high level envoys to Australia in the aftermath of each major stage in the developments to brief closely and personally in particular the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Minister for Defence on what has been going on.

As to Australia's perception of what is currently happening in Geneva, we take the view that the prospects for conclusion of an agreement eliminating longer range and intermediate range nuclear weapons, the intermediate-range nuclear force category, from Europe and reducing their levels in Asia do remain good. The United States of America tabled a draft INF treaty during the seventh round of the Geneva talks and, according to Press reports, the Soviet Union has now responded with its draft. It was anticipated that one obstacle to the conclusion of a long range INF agreement would be the prospect of leaving Europe vulnerable to a Soviet predominance in shorter range INF systems.

The Soviet Union has apparently since indicated its willingness to reach an agreement eliminating shorter-range INF systems on a global basis and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries are evaluating this proposal. Outstanding issues, particularly relating to verification, are to be discussed during the current eighth round of the Geneva negotiations. Australia would like to see an agreement concluded which would eliminate long-range INF weapons systems on a global basis. We see an agreement which allows the Soviet Union to retain intermediate-range nuclear weapons in the Asian region as an interim arrangement only. I note the points made by Senator Sir John Carrick with respect to some of the concerns expressed by the European countries about the vulnerability which they might experience in the absence of INF systems on their shores. That is obviously the most sensitive single issue in this current round of negotiations and it is one on which the Australian Government is keeping a close eye as, of course, are the major parties to the negotiations.

Basically, we take the position that we believe that the reduction and ultimately the complete removal of all nuclear weapon systems is something wholly to the good and we are not especially impressed, except in the shorter range tactical sense I suppose, with arguments that are concerned about the absence of nuclear weapons entirely as leaving open strategic vulnerability. I will see whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs wishes to add further to what I have said and I will see whether he has any specific comment in particular on the last part of Senator Sir John Carrick's question about the balanced force reduction talks which he specifically adverted to.