HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 23 JUNE 2021
That this House:
(1) acknowledges that July 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of South Africa's dismantling of its nuclear arsenal in early July 1991;
(2) notes that:
(a) this represents the only instance in history when a nuclear power has voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons; and
(b) the decision to create nuclear weapons was made in the early 1980s, and the decision to terminate the program (which then included six weapons) was made by President FW de Klerk in 1989, and implemented over the following years;
(3) commends South Africa on this momentous decision, which stands as a proud example to other nuclear weapon states; and
(4) calls on:
(a) all states that possess nuclear weapons to take measures that will lower the chance of nuclear war, including reducing the size of their stockpiles, taking weapons off hair-trigger alert, installing kill switches in all missiles, and committing to a no-first-use policy; and
(b) the Government to work in international forums to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.
Watching the awesome power of the first nuclear tests, scientist Robert Oppenheimer was reminded of a line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita: 'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.'
At the height of the Cold War there were 70,000 nuclear weapons. There are still some 14,000. Those that currently exist are, in many cases, based on fusion reactions, in which the fission reaction is just the percussion cap that sets off the big explosion. The B83, the United States' most powerful nuclear weapon, is 70 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that killed 100,000 Hiroshima residents. There are scientists now looking at creating weapons that are 100 times more powerful than the B83. Nuclear war would, of course, kill hundreds of thousands, potentially millions of people, through the direct impact of weapons and their fallout, but the flow-on could be worse still: a so-called nuclear winter, which might reduce temperatures by some 20 or 30 degrees Celsius, wiping out crops and causing millions to die of starvation.
Across the world, there are nine nuclear powers. The United States and Russia hold the vast bulk of the 14,000 nuclear weapons—around 13,000 between them—and then, among the remaining powers, Britain, France, China, India and Pakistan have a few hundred each. North Korea and Israel probably have fewer than 100. But it only takes one nuclear weapon to devastate a city. It is appropriate, then, that we acknowledge the 30th anniversary of a time which is unique in human history: the decision by South Africa to voluntarily renounce its nuclear program. South Africa acquired nuclear weapons in the mid-1980s, but under FW de Klerk, who would go on to share the Nobel Peace Prize, voluntarily made the decision to renounce them in 1989 and, over the next two years, went about dismantling its stockpile. You might say that's not entirely unique. It is true that, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus transferred nuclear weapons to Russia. But, in terms of a single state, the decision made by South Africa is an extraordinary one, and we should celebrate them for doing that. If the world's nine nuclear-weapons-owning countries were to become eight or seven or six, it would be a safer world.
Listening to this speech in the Chamber today are two work experience students in my office, Emily Rowe and Kasia Pownall. I want them to live in an Australia which is safer for having reduced the scourge and the risk of nuclear weapons. Former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg has proposed a Manhattan Project II, in which states go about taking steps that would reduce the risk. Part of that is in reducing stockpiles, because every missile is a potential point of failure; the potential for an accidental launch or theft by a terrorist goes up with the number of weapons. But it is also important to think about the fact that in three of the nuclear-weapons-owning countries—the United States, France and North Korea—launch authority resides solely with the head of state.
It would be useful for other countries to adopt the approach of not using nuclear weapons unless attacked by nuclear weapons.
China has had this approach since 1964 and India since 1998. The United States is wrong to have canvassed the possibility of nuclear weapons being used to respond to a cyberattack. A declaration of 'no first use' isn't an admission of weakness; it's a reflection of strength and confidence in your non-nuclear forces. The motion also speaks about the importance of a self-destruct feature in missiles to allow them to be recalled.
Denuclearisation is no radical peacenik view. Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn have written about the importance of a world free of nuclear weapons. It is a goal to which we should aspire.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.