The Guardian interviewed Gareth Evans, former APLN Chair and former Foreign Minister of Australia, and featured an open letter from Australian members of APLN to Prime Minister Albanese. Read the original post here.
Labor luminary and former foreign minister, Gareth Evans has urged Australia to lobby the US to promise “no first use” of nuclear weapons, warning that global arms control agreements “are now either dead or on life support”.
Evans says that in the wake of sealing the Aukus nuclear-powered submarine deal, the Albanese government should give “some comfort to ALP members and voters that we are really serious about nuclear arms control”.
Evans told Guardian Australia it was “sheer dumb luck” that the world had avoided a nuclear attack in the 78 years since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and “it is utterly wishful thinking to believe that this luck can continue in perpetuity”.
Evans joined arms control experts and former senior diplomats in urging the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to take “a leadership role in addressing the rising nuclear threats in our region”.
Australia should appoint “a high-level envoy to engage our regional partners on an agenda of nuclear confidence building and preventive diplomacy measures”, according to a letter from the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN).
While the group’s letter to Albanese is not specific about policy measures, Evans offered his own view that Australia’s status as a close US ally “gives us a particularly significant potential role” in pushing to reduce nuclear risks.
“The most immediately useful step we could take would be to support the growing international movement for the universal adoption of No First Use doctrine by the nuclear-armed states,” Evans told Guardian Australia.
By making a public commitment not to use nuclear weapons first, a country can send a political signal that its arsenal is for deterrence, according to advocates.
Evans said the US president, Joe Biden, and the former president Barack Obama were “both personally attracted to going down this path” or making a “sole purpose” declaration that may have a similar effort.
But he said both presidents “were dissuaded from doing so by their nervous East European and Asia-Pacific allies, Australia included”.
Evans said the fact the Biden administration walked away from such a position in its October 2022 nuclear posture review “should be seen not as the end of the argument, but the beginning – an advocacy challenge for us”.
China has publicly committed to a “no first use” policy but is on track to field more than 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030 as part of its rapid military modernisation, according to a recent Pentagon report.
The US is said to have 3,750 active nuclear warheads and has not made such a declaration, instead pledging to use them only in “extreme circumstances”.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, last year called for an “exponential increase” in the regime’s nuclear arsenal.
In a stark warning about the security environment, Evans said the risk of nuclear weapons being used through human error, miscalculation or system error was “greater than ever, not least given new developments in AI and cyber-offence capability”.
“Nearly 13,000 nuclear warheads are still in existence, with a combined destructive capability of close to 100,000 Hiroshima- or Nagasaki-sized bombs, and stockpiles, especially in our own Indo-Pacific region … are now growing again,” he said.
“The taboo against their deliberate use is weakening, with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, talking up this prospect in language not heard since the height of the cold war.”
In addition to seeking universal support for “no first use”, Evans said other potential risk-reduction measures include cutting the number of weapons ready for immediate use.
“The case for the Albanese government getting back on the front foot in this space, and articulating a principled but realistic agenda that is capable of having a positive international impact, and giving some comfort to ALP members and voters that we are really serious about nuclear arms control, seems overwhelming.”
Evans was foreign minister from 1988 to 1996 under the Keating and Hawke governments and his intervention is likely to carry some weight within the government.
The foreign minister, Penny Wong, has previously lauded Evans for his “very proud” record on disarmament and non-proliferation.
In the joint letter to Albanese before his trip to China later this week, Evans and 14 other arms control advocates and political figures said the Indo-Pacific was now “the epicentre of global nuclear threats”.
“Potential nuclear flashpoints form an arc ranging from north-east Asia through East Asia to the South China Sea and on to south Asia,” said the letter, also backed by the former Liberal defence minister Robert Hill.
“However, in contrast to the many structures that evolved to manage cold war nuclear relations, our region has yet to develop such mechanisms. Urgent action is required to address this situation.”
The APLN letter gained support from high-powered experts including John Carlson, the former head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, and Ramesh Thakur, a former UN assistant secretary general.
Other signatories included John Tilemann, a former diplomat and international civil servant with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Gary Quinlan, a former Australian ambassador to the UN.
The leader of the Greens in the Senate, Larissa Waters, backed the letter with the former Australian Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja and the former Labor minister for international development Melissa Parke.
Image: A US nuclear-capable B-52 bomber at Cheongju airport in South Korea. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images