Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

A nuclear challenge to the world

By Sue Wareham - posted Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Barack Obama has issued a massive challenge to the world.

It is a challenge to rid the world of its worst weapons of terror. It is a challenge to banish one of humanity’s greatest fears - the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

President Obama’s chairing of the UN Security Council on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation served to focus the nuclear spotlight where it is most needed, on the Council’s five permanent members.


Between them Russia, USA, France, China and the UK are responsible for all but a fraction of the world’s 26,000 nuclear weapons. The President spoke of the need for “new strategies and new approaches” to reach the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, with every nation playing a part.

Notwithstanding the enormous responsibility of the nuclear weapon states to get rid of their own weapons, the barriers to disarmament go further than just these nations, and far beyond the usual suspects such as Iran and North Korea.

That challenge includes Australia, and our subservience to an out-dated and dangerous Cold War policy that lives on. The policy is “extended deterrence”.

Tucked away in the 2009 Defence White Paper is confirmation of our continuing reliance on it: “For so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are able to rely on the nuclear forces of the United States to deter nuclear attack on Australia.” In other words, Australia remains complicit with the global threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

Such complicity brings multiple political, strategic, legal and moral dilemmas. It is also brazen in the extreme. Australia went to war in 2003 with a sense of moral outrage that such threats, real or fabricated, were being made against Western nations.

The strategic problem is that as long as any nations, including Australia, give military legitimacy to nuclear weapons, other nations will seek to acquire them. Australia’s alleged need for a nuclear deterrent is even shakier when one considers which nations today are most threatened militarily.


The Defence White Paper confirmed that Australia is certainly not among them.  By the logic of deterrence it is in fact not Australia that needs these weapons, but several far more threatened nations whom we regard with deep suspicion, and whose nuclear programs we have strenuously opposed.

The truth about deterrence is that it works as long as things go to plan, and leaders are rational and care about their own people. That’s an ideal world. The real world is a very different place.

The Defence White Paper referred to “stable nuclear deterrence” as if such a thing exists. Robert McNamara, US Defense Secretary at the time of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, describes the knife-edge instability of those fateful 13 days.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

7 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Sue Wareham is a Canberra GP who joined the Medical Association for Prevention of War out of a "horror at the destructive capacity of a single nuclear weapon". She has many interests and fields of expertise, including the contribution of peace to global sustainability. Sue believes that her work with MAPW is fundamental to her commitment to the protection of human life and the improvement of human well-being. She is Vice-President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia); and on the Australian Management Committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Sue Wareham

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Sue Wareham
Article Tools
Comment 7 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy