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Why we should learn to love the bomb
article in The Australian 22 September 2009

WHAT has happened to the resurrection by Prime Minister Rudd of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament?

Not surprisingly, fundamental differences, notably with Japan, have arisen in the new commission. Can US President Barak Obama save the situation when he presides at the specially convened meeting of the Security Council on September 24 to discuss this issue?

Politicians set themselves two often irreconcilable tasks: to do good by their country; and to do good for themselves. Their country needs sensible policies. Politicians need, or anyway want, to be re-elected. Doing both is difficult.

Rudd is an inveterate player of the game of announcing or supporting apparently desirable international objectives, believing voters are unable to recognise any flummery or grandiosity. Examples include saying he wants Australia to lead the world on climate change and presenting Australia as a possible bridge to bring China and the US together. As the leader of a country without any nuclear weapons, his views on nuclear disarmament carry no weight. Indeed his disarmament commission is another empty grandiosity. True, non-proliferation, and a reduction in existing nuclear weapon numbers, are desirable aims. But Rudd's stated intention of bringing about a world completely and permanently without nuclear weapons is no more than flummery.

Yes, other politicians, such as President Obama himself, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown - entirely independently of Rudd - have expressed the same unrealisable ambition of permanent abolition. And have the same addiction to presenting themselves as doing good works internationally.

The ambition sounds caring, sagacious, visionary. But even Obama cannot save what is actually a very bad idea and - luckily - impossible.

Impossible, because who will believe that they can be certain that every country had in fact destroyed all its nuclear weapons, and given their destructive power, it truly would have to be all. Many countries believed, and had good reason to believe, that Saddam Hussein was aiming to develop nuclear weapons and that was a factor in the US's decision to invade Iraq. Has Iran a nuclear weapon? If not, how close is it to making one? Who knows? Did North Korea have a nuclear weapon when it was saying it had none? Verification, to the cast-iron certainty required, of claims by a country to have destroyed all its nuclear weapons is impossible. What transgressing country, or country trying clandestinely to become a nuclear weapon power, would truly allow complete and unhindered access to outside experts?

Impossible also because ever more countries are realising the importance of nuclear weapons in preventing regime change. North Korea, for example, rightly fears that others would like to see a new and more amenable government in Pyongyang. That could only be done from the outside by a conventional invasion. But who would mount such an operation now that North Korea has nuclear weapons?

A bad idea also, total nuclear weapon abolition. Australia in the disarmament commission is badly mistaken in suggesting the role of nuclear weapons is confined to deterring other nuclear weapons. For nuclear weapons clearly also deter conventional war (including in that term chemical weapons).

Those of us who might one day be faced, as the West was during the Cold War, and as North Korea fears today, by a country with an overwhelming conventional superiority, can deter that adversary only with nuclear weapons of our own or of an ally's.

Of course, the doctrine of No First Strike - prohibiting beginning a war with an overwhelming nuclear strike - is acceptable to all. But the doctrine of No First Use, which prohibits the use of nuclear weapons even if one is being overrun by conventional forces, is acceptable only to the conventionally superior. By trying to force this on others in the disarmament commission, including Japan, even though not in their or indeed Australia's best interests, Rudd is further damaging his attempts to establish credibility as an internationalist.

The final impossibility is the permanent abolition of nuclear weapons. Why? Because knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons is ineradicable and even if all nuclear weapons were believably and genuinely destroyed, at the first sign of a possible major war both sides would leap into urgent action to produce nuclear weapons, just as Germany, Britain and the US did in World War II. Self-preservation would demand no less. So the irreversible abolition of nuclear weapons is just a pipe dream. In short, this nuclear weapons grandiosity of Rudd's, in its various manifestations, is mad, bad, and dangerous to know. He is not a statesman who understands reality, but a shaman who peddles utopia.

Des Moore is director of the Institute for Private Enterprise
and a life member of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

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