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Tuesday, 11 February 1986
Page: 32

Senator SANDERS —I have a non-hyperbolic, that is, linear question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Firstly, does the Government agree that the strategy of the United States of America, as recently revealed by Admiral James Watkins in proceedings of the United States Naval Institute, of destroying Soviet nuclear missile submarines at the outset of a conventional war makes the escalation of such a conflict to a nuclear war more likely? Secondly, does the Australian Government have any knowledge which would repudiate this being United States strategy? Thirdly, by relaying orders to United States hunter killer submarines to initiate first strike action against Soviet submarines, does the Government acknowledge that North West Cape would be fundamental to this strategy? Fourthly, in light of Mr Hayden's 1984 statement that North West Cape would be closed if it were shown to support first strike plans, will the Government establish a public inquiry into the base's functions with a view to terminating the lease forthwith?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is the case that the United States Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Watkins, published an article in January saying that, if a major conventional conflict broke out between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United States Navy might seek to attack Soviet submarines that carry long range ballistic missiles. However, it appears that this is not a definite agreed policy but rather the canvassing of one among many possibilities open to the United States of America in the event of a conventional conflict with the USSR. Certainly, the Australian Government is well aware of these and other developments, actual and possible, in the United States strategic doctrine. To the extent that the proposal has been canvassed in the way that it has been by Admiral Watkins, it would be fair to say, from an Australian defence analysis point of view, that the wisdom of such a strategy appears to us to be questionable. To attack Soviet strategic nuclear submarines during a major conventional conflict would appear to increase further what would already be a high risk of escalation to nuclear war. This would run quite counter to President Reagan's repeated affirmations that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

As to the possible implications of this for the North West Cape, the Government does not acknowledge that the North West Cape would be fundamental to any use of the strategy canvassed by Admiral Watkins in his article. Were that strategy to be followed, the participation of North West Cape would depend entirely on where Soviet ballistic missile submarines were deployed. In view of what we know of Soviet submarine doctrine, such submarines would be unlikely to be in our region.

As to the last part of Senator Sanders's question, I do not believe it really requires an answer because it is premised on the assumption that what is involved in the Watkins article is a nuclear first strike proposal. Clearly nothing of that kind is involved in what is being proposed. It would not seem appropriate, as Senator Sanders has suggested, to erect the whole edifice on which Senator Sanders bases his call for an inquiry into the possible role of the North West Cape in such a nuclear first strike.

Senator SANDERS —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Does the Government still stand by Mr Hayden's 1984 statement that if North West Cape were to be used for first strike capability its operation would be terminated forthwith?

Senator GARETH EVANS —There is no resiling whatsoever from anything that Mr Hayden said in that 1984 statement. It still represents the most comprehensive and accurate account of our broad response. Might I say simply on the question of first strikes, since it has been raised again by Senator Sanders in his supplementary question, that acquiring a theoretical first strike capability would require a whole series of criteria to be satisfied which we simply do not believe can be or are likely to be satisfied by either super-power in the foreseeable future. I refer to the ability to attack simultaneously all targets, including hardened missile silos, with sufficient accuracy, survivability, penetrability and destructive power to provide nearly 100 per cent certainty that they would be destroyed; it would require confidence in achieving complete surprise; and it would require the ability to destroy the other side's means of retaliation including, in particular, the retaliation of bomber and more particularly in the present context submarine carried weapons and mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles. When we add all that together we simply do not believe it is appropriate to contemplate even the realistic possibility of a first strike capability being put together by either of the super-powers in the near future. So to that extent arguments about the possible utilisation of any of these facilities for such a first strike capacity are highly artificial, highly abstract and highly remote.