Monday, 9 November 2020
Private Members' Business
In 428 AD, St Augustine, the father of just war theory, wrote to Count Darius, who was a court official sent to Africa to negotiate with a rebellious general by the name of Boniface. He wrote in this letter:
But it is a higher glory still to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war. For those who fight, if they are good men, doubtless seek for peace; nevertheless it is through blood. Your mission, however, is to prevent the shedding of blood. Yours, therefore, is the privilege of averting that calamity which others are under the necessity of producing.
How true are these words for political leaders, especially in the nuclear age and especially today in a far more fraught strategic environment. Our mission should always be to avert war and to seek peace through peace.
I want to thank the honourable member for Fremantle for this motion, and I acknowledge that it comes from a spirit of goodwill. However, I don't think it's realistic, and that's my position today. I want to acknowledge the terrible suffering that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced in 1945 with the dropping of the atomic weapons on those two cities. I also want to acknowledge the many civilians who suffered during the Second World War. I think of the 410,000 German civilians who died through Allied air raids, particularly those in Dresden, where, over a two-day period, 25,000 perished through bombing. The single most deadly bombing raid in history, in fact, is the firebombing of Tokyo on 9 and 10 March 1945. One hundred thousand people died in that raid and one million people were left homeless. So, whilst nuclear weapons remind us of how bad war can be, we often forget the cost that comes from conventional military conflict.
The truth of the matter is that war is inherently escalatory, so it's no surprise that, in total war, World War II gave rise to nuclear weapons, and I don't think there's a chance of those nuclear weapons disappearing any time soon. Our task is to manage the nations with those nuclear weapons and avert war at all costs. We've seen how mankind has managed to find ways to kill more efficiently since the advent of gunpowder. So Australia's role will always be to broker peace, to act in a neighbourly way and to bring nations together rather than pull them apart, and we do a good job of that through the multilateral institutions of which we are part, including the United Nations.
I want to focus very quickly on the motion and where it asks the government to raise its concern to the United States over its abandonment of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was negotiated by the last General Secretary of the Communist Party in the USSR, Gorbachev, and President Reagan. It took a long time to get to there, and it was a good initiative, and of course we support it in its historical context, but the world has moved on. President Obama in 2014 wrote to President Putin about the testing of nuclear weapons on cruise missiles, and just recently the United States through President Trump has withdrawn from that. I can understand why. The development of militarised reefs and atolls in the South China Sea by the PRC has meant that the strategic environment has changed. Russia is in violation of the treaty itself.
Of course, our closest security partner is the United States, and we want the United States to be strong and be able to do its job in the Indo-Pacific, where it currently does an excellent job. The Indo-Pacific, though, is a very dangerous part of the world. We have India with nuclear weapons, we have China with nuclear weapons, we have North Korea with nuclear weapons, we have Pakistan with nuclear weapons and we have the US with nuclear weapons. We have France; there is a French submarine alongside in Western Australia today. We have the United Kingdom with nuclear weapons and, of course, we have Israel. Fundamentally, this government will always take a realistic approach to these problems, we'll always seek peace and we'll always seek to avert the great tragedy that will come with nuclear conflict.