The nuclear threat


The nuclear threat

The latest move, led by the French government, to consolidate and strengthen the world's nuclear weapons capability makes a mockery of the so-called New World Order. If this is indeed an era of diplomacy and negotiated peace, why do we need nuclear weapons at all? Who exactly is the enemy? What are the world's greatest powers afraid of?

France's decision has done much to reveal the real nature of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as one which protects the current nuclear powers' monopoly on the ownership and development of nuclear weapons. While those countries which do not yet have nuclear weapons technology are barred from obtaining it, no ban is imposed on the possession or further development of weapons by those states that already possess them. The treaty thereby perpetuates massive military inequality between the main imperialist powers and the rest of the world.

The nuclear powers' successful push, led by the US and supported by Australia and NZ, to have the NPT extended indefinitely and unconditionally last month set the framework for the French government to resume weapons testing.

Only the complete disarmament of all countries will eliminate the persistent threat of nuclear war or accidents. The NPT, while the existing nuclear powers retain nuclear weapons, is a sham. This is made all the more obvious by the US proposals to change the goal of negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty so that it bans only "high threshold" tests rather than all tests.

Even if the French government is forced to reverse its decision on the tests, France is only one of a number of nuclear powers posing a threat to humanity. China's decision to conduct tests less than a month after the signing of the NPT, and last week's announcement by the US Defence Department that it too is considering resuming testing, underline the need for a far more global approach to the problem.

The federal ALP government's response to the French decision — a token diplomatic condemnation accompanied by a limited freeze on military cooperation and tacit approval of the consumer boycott called by the trade union leaderships — is entirely consistent with the imperialist world's goals.

The consumer boycott appears to have broad support among Australians, who see it as a means to express their justifiable anger at the French decision. Nevertheless, a response which depends on uncoordinated individual action cannot achieve the desired results. While many ordinary French people might be adversely affected by such a boycott and come to realise the extent of anti-nuclear sentiment in this country, it is not likely that this pressure will make any difference whatsoever to their government. According to opinion polls, the majority of French people oppose the nuclear tests, but this has not stopped the Chirac government from proceeding.

A much more powerful response would be the imposition of a comprehensive trade ban on France, like that imposed by the Australian and other governments on apartheid South Africa.

Furthermore, a genuine commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, let alone complete disarmament, would mean halting all uranium mining and exports from Australia, something the ALP has been resisting since 1982.

It would also require withdrawal from the international nuclear weapons network — in particular the closing of the US bases in Australia, withdrawal from ANZUS and a ban on all nuclear ships in Australian waters.

In the end, the right of the people living under French (and other) colonial rule in the Pacific to independence and self-determination is a fundamental prerequisite to halting nuclear madness in the region.

Rather than making purely rhetorical calls for individual consumers to boycott French products, the ACTU should mobilise the collective power of the union movement to insist that the federal government act on all these demands.