Sheer dumb luck is the only reason the world has so far avoided a nuclear weapons catastrophe, a former Australian foreign minister says.
Gareth Evans, who served under the Hawke and Keating governments, believes it’s a “cop out” for Australia to boycott United Nations negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
He said nuclear armed states, and those sheltering under their umbrella like Australia, were failing to recognise the scale of risk associated with nuclear weapons.
“We will see, sooner or later, human error, system error, accidental miscalculation producing a catastrophic nuclear event,” Professor Evans told a European Union-Australia leadership forum in Sydney on Monday.
“That we have survived seven decades without any catastrophe is not a matter of any inherent system stability or great statesmanship, it really is a matter of sheer dumb luck.”
Professor Evans said there was no reason that luck would continue indefinitely, especially with the large numbers of nuclear weapons in the world – 15,400 half operationally deployed and 2000-odd on hair trigger alert.
“The other great existential risk is of course climate change but… nuclear weapons can kill us a hell of a lot faster than CO2,” Professor Evans said.
Australia should unequivocally be participating in the UN negotiations, he said.
“I think it’s very important to get the normative momentum going, just as was the case with cluster bombs and land mines,” Professor Evans said.
“We have to create an environment in which the nuclear weapons are delegitimised.”
Professor Evans acknowledged negotiations weren’t going to be able to deliver enforceable results any time soon. But he said nuclear armed states and their allies needed to argue their reservations, not just stand aside.
“I think this is a complete cop out by Australia,” the Australian National Univeristy chancellor said.
Last week Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials told a Senate estimates hearing that Australian diplomats would be watching a webcast of UN talks later this month, rather than participating with the 130 other countries.
EU countries are also divided on the issue of a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Sweden supported kicking off negotiations, while the Netherlands and Finland abstained from voting.
Other EU countries were against.