- Comment: The five stages of reacting to a North Korea nuclear test
- North Korea nuclear bomb test a threat to peace and security: Julie Bishop
- Kirby calls on UN to act on North Korea
- Kim Jong-un, funny until he's not
- Was North Korea's hydrogen bomb test a deliberate distraction?
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wasted no time in joining the chorus of international condemnation of North Korea's latest nuclear weapon test.
UN slams North Korea nuke test
Charlotte police release fatal shooting video
Princess Charlotte makes royal tour debut
Pippa Middleton's iCloud hacked
US police hunt mall gunman
Warplanes attack rebel-held eastern Aleppo
Fallon ruffles more than Trump's hair
Police respond to US mall shooting
UN slams North Korea nuke test
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemns North Korea's fourth nuclear test as 'profoundly destabilizing for regional security.'
"North Korea's actions fly in the face of international non-proliferation norms, and challenge the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Bishop said.
Certainly, whether or not the weapon really was a hydrogen bomb, the test is a disturbing development that threatens international peace and security. Despite the comically strident claims of the North Korean regime, nobody is made safer by North Korea's acquisition of a nuclear arsenal.
But behind Bishop's ready condemnation lies an awkward contradiction. Like North Korea, Australia believes that nuclear weapons really do make it safer. Of course, Australia claims that it supports nuclear disarmament and is working for a world free of nuclear weapons. But our actions say something different: Australia relies on extended nuclear deterrence for its security, has no plans to change that, and has been actively opposing and resisting international steps to stigmatise and prohibit nuclear weapons on humanitarian grounds.
Criticising moves towards a new treaty banning nuclear weapons, Bishop stated that "the stark reality today remains that as long as nuclear weapons exist, many countries, including Australia, will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence to help prevent nuclear attack or coercion".
Bishop's remarks echo similar statements by Western allies on the legitimacy and importance of nuclear weapons for stability, defence and security. Britain said in 2014 that it did not share "the view that nuclear weapons are inherently unacceptable", and asserted that nuclear weapons "have helped to guarantee our security, and that of our allies, for decades". French President Francois Hollande said in 2015 that nuclear weapons "protect our country from any aggression by a state against our vital interests, wherever it comes from and in whatever form", adding that "nuclear deterrence also contributes to maintaining our freedom of action and decision, under any circumstances. It enables me to prevent any threat of blackmail by another state."
Compare these explanations to that given by North Korea for its latest test. "This test is a measure for self-defence," the official statement said, "to firmly protect the sovereignty of the country and the vital right of the nation from the ever-growing nuclear threat and blackmail," and "to reliably safeguard the peace on the Korean Peninsula and regional security". Acquiring a nuclear weapon "is the legitimate right of a sovereign state for self-defence".
Double standards and hypocrisy make a poor basis for effective foreign policy. Every time Australia defends the legitimate role of nuclear weapons for itself and its allies, it defends them for everyone. By clinging to nuclear deterrence as a key element of national defence, and resisting steps to reduce the role and legitimacy of nuclear weapons, Australia and its allies are inciting proliferation and giving moral and legal cover to the likes of North Korea. Australians should be appalled that we are in fact pursuing the same irresponsible and dangerous defence strategy that our Foreign Minister has rightly condemned North Korea for adopting.
Reacting to the test, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: "I call on North Korea to fully respect its international obligations and commitments. North Korea should abandon nuclear weapons." Who could disagree? Yes, North Korea should fully respect its international obligations and abandon nuclear weapons. But so should NATO members, and so should Australia. Australia's continued reliance on nuclear deterrence for security, and its insistence that nuclear weapons are not inherently illegitimate, only encourages other countries to acquire them and challenges the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
The Australian government should drop its opposition to international efforts to prohibit nuclear weapons on humanitarian grounds, take practical steps to begin reducing the role of nuclear weapons in its defence strategy, and encourage its allies to do the same. North Korea's test is a grave concern, but nuclear disarmament begins at home.
Richard Lennane is a former United Nations disarmament official and Australian diplomat. He now runs Wildfire>_, an NGO exposing doublethink and hypocrisy in nuclear policies, and promoting a treaty banning nuclear weapons.