Whatever happened to disarmament?

I wrote in this posting that, although I supported the latest deployment of Australian troops to Afghanistan, I believe the Parliament should be required to approve such momentous choices. I and other democrats have unsuccessfully been pushing legislation that would achieve this end for decades. This report in the Guardian shows that similar legislation in the UK, being put forward by former Minister Clare Short, is attracting strong backing from MPs. Apart from anything else, the debate in the UK once again shows the harmful straightjacket which Australia’s excessive ‘party discipline’ places on diverse expressions of opinion.

With all the talk of war and weapons of mass destruction over recent years, I have been amazed and distressed at how words like ‘peace’ and ‘disarmament’ seem to have fallen out of fashion at the same time. The failure by nations to make any further progress in multilateral nuclear disarmament – indeed the apparent lack of interest in even trying – is appalling.

As evidenced by my willingness to express support for troops into Afghanistan, I’m not a pacifist, although I believe war should be a last resort. But peaceful engagement and disarmament are bigger and more effective weapons in the long-term than buying another fighter plane. Surely one of the best ways to deal with the risk of weapons of mass destruction is to make sure that fewer of them are made? Not to mention reducing the general arms trade, which many western nations still seem happy to make billions out of?

Robert McNamara was US Secretary of Defence for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the 1960s and was certainly not a pacifist either. This BBC interview labels him “the architect of America’s policy of nuclear deterrence, which became known as M.A.D. – Mutually Assured Destruction. Yet today he is a passionate advocate of nuclear disarmament.”

In his own words in this article, McNamara says

“It is time – well past time, in my view – for the United States to cease its
Cold War-style reliance on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. At the risk
of appearing simplistic and provocative, I would characterize current US nuclear
weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully
dangerous.”

Frankly, even if you just accept his verdict of ‘dreadfully dangerous’, that’s enough to convince me we’re failing badly in not putting more emphasis on this aspect of our current battle to create a more peaceful and secure future. This is an area the Australian Government has failed dismally in. Our

Prime Minister may well be an international player with some clout, but he is not using that influence to generate any positive movement in that most crucial of areas. (I haven’t heard much from Labor either, but their mainstream media opportunities are much more limited)

Readers who share these concerns may be interested in a conference being held by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War in Melbourne on the weekend of August 6th and 7th. It will be 60 years since the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagsaki and after some genuine hope for progress a few years ago, there is a real need to rebuild the global momentum for disarmament.

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3 Comments

  1. I think the idea of legislating parliamentary approval of troop deployments abroad is a sensible one. Unfortunately it’s probably fair to say that in recent times, the major parties have been a bit pre-occupied with being seen to be tougher or more gung-ho in the ‘war on terror’ than the other.

  2. Purely from a financial perspective, the US’s nuclear policy makes little sense. Nuclear weapons are essentially useless in war (despite what the Dick Cheneys of the world think) – their only purpose is deterrence. Therefore, once you have enough for a credible deterrent the rest are just wasted money.
    The estimates in the public domain suggest that China has maybe 10 to 20 ICBMs, with one warhead each, capable of hitting the continental United States. But those 10-20 warheads are more than enough to make suicidal any attack by the US on China, and enormously complicate the idea of getting involved in a dispute over Taiwan.
    If the US and Russia agreed to cut back their arsenals to something around the level of the UK (200 warheads) they’d save a pile of money and would make bugger-all difference to the effectiveness of the deterrent.
    Not to ignore the moral dimensions either, but even conservatives can be reached by appeals to their hip pocket sometimes…

  3. Andrew, not sure if you’ve seen Fog of War. It’s basically McNamara explaining the lessons he learnt over the years working for various US administrations. If you’re interested in McNamara it’s a must see.
    It’s also nice to hear someone say they are not a pacifist (but not a war munger either). I entirely agree that war should be the very last resort and hasten to add that when it is used it should be highly localised. But as Howard Zinn says, pacificism is a dangerous absolute and can be an extremism in it’s own right.

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