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Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Greatest Threat to International Security
A speech at the Proliferation Security Initiative, Brisbane


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Brisbane.

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It is a pleasure and an honour to host the second meeting of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which was launched by President Bush in Poland on 31 May. Your presence here tonight underlines the seriousness with which our respective nations view the threat of WMD proliferation.

Last month, at the first PSI meeting, our Governments made a bold commitment to work together to strengthen efforts to interdict and disrupt the proliferation of WMD materials. I am confident that at this second meeting we will begin to turn our shared commitment toward developing new and practical ideas to counter this most serious threat.

Tonight, I want to give you an Australian perspective on weapons of mass destruction, the states that are most responsible for their spread, and the efforts of non-state actors - terrorists - to acquire them. I also want to share with you some thoughts about what is being done - and what can further be done - to counter WMD proliferation and the role of the Proliferation Security Initiative.

WMD proliferation

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is one of the greatest security challenges facing the international community. These weapons and ballistic missiles are increasingly sought after by maverick states - those that have little regard for norms of international behaviour, let alone the consensus against the spread of such weapons established since World War II.

The ambitions of these states threaten international security. Their actions are unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of nations. Of even greater concern is the very real possibility that weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorist groups.

There can be no doubt about the desire of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda to wreak mass destruction. Osama bin Laden has declared openly that he would use such weapons if he had them. And we now know from laboratories and documents seized in Afghanistan that he was considering developing chemical and biological weapons. Reports also suggest that groups linked to al-Qaeda may have been looking to construct a radiological dispersal device - a so called "dirty bomb".

So how hard is it for these groups to get their hands on WMD materials and knowledge? The reality is that WMD-related materials, technologies and expertise are more accessible today than ever. The free movement of goods, which we have encouraged as a spur to economic growth, provides unwelcome opportunities for proliferators to seek WMD materials.

We know, for instance, that they use transhipment to disguise end-users or suppliers. The problem extends beyond materials and technology. Proliferators also seek to advance their WMD programs in intangible ways, including through advanced studies abroad in fields applicable to weapons development purposes. We have known of these problems for years, and have put in place multilateral systems to constrain the threat of wholesale WMD proliferation. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of nations behave responsibly - they have joined and adhered to the various multilateral regimes.

But the handful of maverick states seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the missiles needed to deliver them are a real and growing menace. There are also deeply troubling indications of cooperation between states unwilling or unable to implement effective export controls or domestic laws against WMD development. Such states defy the non-proliferation disciplines most countries accept. Their behaviour undermines international security and causes deep concern to the broader international community. I don't have to tell anybody here that there is no room for complacency. The consequences of a single WMD event such as a nuclear explosion in a city would be the ultimate nightmare.

Countering the WMD threat

Clearly, we should be under no illusions about the threats posed by the proliferation of WMD. Failure to act decisively to curtail the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missiles could cost the international community dearly. We need to ensure that we make full use of the existing tools at our disposal. The international community must work together to reinforce adherence to non-proliferation norms - and take firm action to counter proliferation whenever and wherever it occurs.

We need to send an unambiguous message to proliferators: acquiring and pursuing weapons of mass destruction violates basic standards of responsible international behaviour and will not be tolerated. We have a shared responsibility to hold cheats to account.

Regrettably, the United Nations Security Council's record on defending non-proliferation standards is patchy at best.
The Security Council's inability over many years to deal resolutely with the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was a great disappointment to the many nations who look to the Security Council to help maintain international peace and security. The Security Council must step up to the mark. The Council should leave no doubt that its actions will live up to the statement by its President on 31 January 1992 that the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction constitutes a threat to international peace and security.

The mainstay for stopping the spread of WMD remains the system of treaties, export control regimes and other instruments built up over several decades. Aside from significant security benefits, they provide legitimacy for the international community's non-proliferation efforts. Treaty regimes must have the strongest possible kit of legal and practical tools for verifying compliance. And parties to those multilateral treaties must be resolute in dealing with cases of non-compliance. Stronger disincentives are needed for those tempted to cheat on their treaty obligations and clearer incentives for those who comply in a genuinely transparent manner.We must isolate those cheats and expose them to the criticism of the international community. All states must also be vigilant in ensuring they do not supply or assist in the delivery of items that could advance proliferators' WMD and missile programs - suppliers of sensitive items have a particular responsibility.

In the nuclear field, Australia considers that application of the International Atomic Energy Agency's strengthened safeguards system - the Additional Protocol - in recipient states should quickly come to be required by suppliers as an essential pre-requisite for nuclear supply. Governments must ensure that domestic regulatory frameworks are effective. Customs, law enforcement and intelligence are particularly important in detecting and responding to proliferators. For instance, we need adequate screening arrangements to limit the risk of contributing to WMD and missile proliferation through business and education exchanges.

The Proliferation Security Initiative

Making better use of these tools will help. But the fact is that some states continue to cheat on their obligations or resist joining international regimes.History has shown that there are few barriers - other than technical and financial - to those states determined to develop weapons of mass destruction.There has to be room in our non-proliferation agenda for a greater variety of measures and fresh thinking. For this reason, Australia, while continuing to support and engage in non-proliferation forums, has wholeheartedly joined the Proliferation Security Initiative as an important opportunity to advance the non-proliferation agenda. We are willing to work quickly toward developing new and practical ways to impede the trafficking of WMD-related items and their delivery systems.

We will need to consider how best we can use existing domestic and international laws to confront this threat. But we should also look at how domestic and international laws could be strengthened to support our efforts to safeguard international security. In a time of high demand and limited resources, a results-oriented approach is what is needed to address this urgent security challenge. We are a small core group of countries for now, but this will work in our favour.

It will give us the confidence to exchange sensitive information, and intervene quickly and effectively to deal with the continuing WMD threat. As a focused group, we will be better positioned to build a broad and effective partnership with other countries prepared to play a part in impeding traffic in WMD and missiles. Australia is confident that the many countries committed to non-proliferation will want to lend their support to this important initiative.


Ladies and gentlemen

The spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and their possible use by maverick states or by international terrorist groups threatens the security of all states. We should deal effectively and decisively with this threat. We should be open to new methods and new thinking. The non- proliferation agenda is too important to be bound by rigid dogma. Over the next decade, the battle to prevent the spread of WMD will be about sharing information and disrupting and impeding supplies, as well as applying the international non-proliferation framework. Together, during this meeting, we must chart a path to make the trafficking of the world's most dangerous weapons as near to impossible as we can. We must send a clear message to proliferators that they can no longer compromise global security.

Thank you