14
Okt
2005

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: Practical action against proliferation

by ALEXANDER DOWNER

The spread of weapons of mass destruction is one of the main threats to international and regional security. As irresponsible states and terrorists seek to gain access to devastating weapons, no country is immune to this menace. Thankfully, our immediate region is free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. But if we allow some countries to get away with acquiring such weapons, we risk weakening restraints preventing others _ potentially closer to home _ from doing the same.

This applies equally to terrorists who have shown they will stop at nothing to enhance their ability to kill. The horrific bombings in Bali only strengthen our resolve to keep WMDs beyond their reach.

Inaction is simply not an option for any nation that values its security and prosperity.

Australia is firmly committed to practical action to stop proliferation. A new paper, ''Weapons of Mass Destruction: Australia's Role in Fighting Proliferation'', outlines contemporary proliferation threats and the Australian government's multi-dimensional strategy for addressing them.

Since the end of the Cold War, the proliferation threat has diversified. While the risk of nuclear conflagration has receded, checks on proliferation have failed to keep pace with new global security realities.

And globalisation has increased the availability of materials and technologies required to make WMDs.

A handful of countries have flouted international norms by developing WMDs and missiles for delivering them. Earlier this year, North Korea claimed that it possessed nuclear weapons. Iran is on notice to dispel ambiguity over its nuclear programme. Some countries, or rogue elements within them, have even exported their deadly expertise. The Abdul Qadeer Khan (of Pakistan) nuclear network is a case in point.

The rise of global terrorism has further raised the proliferation stakes. Al-Qaeda has made no secret of its ambitions to acquire and use WMDs. Terrorist groups in our own region have similar ambitions.

WMD proliferation is an actual threat, not just a potential one. It needs to be urgently addressed in comprehensive and pro-active ways.

In the face of the UN summit's lamentable failure to deliver outcomes on non-proliferation, Australia remains committed to strengthening multilateral treaties.

Put simply, countries that ignore their non-proliferation obligations must be held to account by the international community. Australia has led the way by calling on the UN Security Council to assume greater responsibility in this area and by promoting more stringent safeguards that would provide early warning of covert nuclear activities.

Recent undertakings by Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia to conclude Additional Protocols with the International Atomic Energy Agency are especially welcome in this regard. They send a clear signal of strong regional support for strengthened safeguards and their role in enhancing transparency in relation to nuclear activities.

At the same time, the Australian government recognises the need for innovation and flexibility by embracing new thinking to stop proliferation as it occurs.

Australia has been a pioneer in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). With no overarching treaty or secretariat, PSI demonstrates what can be achieved within international and national law to disrupt WMD-related trade, drawing on the support of more than 60 countries.

The Australian government has been assiduous in ensuring that Australian exports do not contribute to WMD programmes. And we continue to work with like-minded countries to harmonise export controls, especially through chairmanship of the Australia Group, which sets benchmarks in preventing chemical and biological weapons proliferation.

We have also moved to strengthen domestic measures to prevent proliferators and terrorists from gaining access to sensitive materials, such as radioactive sources, and expanded our efforts to encourage regional countries to do likewise, including through provision of technical training.

Importantly, we have done so through a cooperative approach, integrating a growing role for many of the arms of government _ defence, intelligence and border protection.

Australia's commitment to fighting proliferation will not be deterred by the complexity of present-day threats. Through the Australian government's wide-ranging policies and measures and close cooperation with like-minded partners in the region and beyond, we will continue to address them in comprehensive, innovative and practical ways.

Alexander Downer is Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs. ''Weapons of Mass Destruction: Australia's Role in Fighting Proliferation".


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