20 Statement by Walker1 in the Disarmament Commission

New York, 10 July 1956


The Disarmament Commission is clearly at a crucial stage in its work. In putting forward the views of my Government I am impressed by the responsibility that rests upon each one of us. Some of the outstanding political problems that undermine international confidence at the present time would themselves appear in a new and less difficult light if the world could make some progress towards agreed disarmament, under effective international control. What the world expects of us at the present time is not fine phrases and propagandist declarations, but a realistic discussion looking to the solution of the practical difficulties that stand in our way.

I am sometimes asked by my colleagues and by members of the public outside Australia why the Australian Government takes such a vigorous and sustained interest in the work of the United Nations on disarmament. After all, people say, Australia is not one of the great powers. She is situated far distant from the traditional points of outbreak of world wars, she is separated from other land masses and centres of population by considerable stretches of ocean, she has never maintained large forces in time of peace. Why then should Australia take such an interest in disarmament? Why should Australia be so anxious to express views concerning forces and weapons which Australia herself does not have? And why should Australia be so concerned with the threat of the ultimate (or is it now merely the penultimate?) weapon-the hydrogen bomb-the secret of which and the means of manufacture of which are so far possessed by only three countries2 situated at great distance from Australia?

The answers to these questions seem clear enough to the people of my own country, but perhaps I should say a word about them before putting forward Australia's views on the present stage of the Disarmament Commission's work.

Basically the Australian outlook on disarmament springs from our relations with our kinsmen of the British Commonwealth and with friendly countries, such as the Western members of the Disarmament Sub-Committee. The members of my delegation and, indeed, our fathers before us, have grown up and lived with the simple fact that, if our kinsmen of the United Kingdom or Canada were attacked, Australia would be immediately involved in war. As the world situation has developed over recent years, and particularly as a result of the second World War, this acceptance of Australian involvement in the world security situation has broadened and deepened. For example, I should not imagine that there are today many Americans or indeed Frenchmen, who would seriously believe that in the event of aggression against the United States or France, Australia would be a disinterested spectator on the sidelines.

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In Australia we live on the edge of Asia, where teeming millions are awakening to the possibilities of a better life, through the application of scientific knowledge to the tasks of production, and the principles of social justice to the problems of distribution. Within our limited means, we are giving what assistance we can to neighbouring countries which are laying the foundations for unprecedented economic and social progress. But we see clearly (sometimes, it seems to us, more clearly than some of our neighbours) the extent of the dangers that political insecurity, subversion, and international conflict hold for human progress in this region. Of all areas in the world perhaps the under-developed countries of Asia can least afford to divert manpower and capital into armaments; but what real assurance have they that they can safely ignore the menace to their independence and their freedom, and concentrate all their efforts upon economic and social development? At the present time, Australia with Iran is the only representative in this Commission of an enormous area stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. We cannot fail to be impressed by the need of this area for a major relaxation in world tension and for rapid progress towards world-wide disarmament.

With considerations such as these in mind, the Australian people earnestly desire the adoption of a world-wide system of agreed and controlled disarmament, as an evidence of reduced world tension, as a contribution to world security, and as a relief from the burdens which modern armaments impose. Our people desire this so earnestly that they would undoubtedly be prepared to accept such inconveniences and hazards as controlled multilateral disarmament would impose upon us, and our people recognise that the prime need at present is for the Great Powers to reach agreement upon practicable and acceptable measures to make such a system possible. However, when we are confronted, as we are today, by the prospect of long-drawn-out negotiations, and at best a gradual approach towards world disarmament through successive stages, Australia is obliged to consider not only the end objective, but also her own security situation at various stages along the way. This is what I had in mind when in January I reminded the Commission that all countries have the right and responsibility to make their voices heard in consultations leading to the reduction of armaments, to ensure that particular problems which may seem insignificant from the point of view of a great power, but may affect the destiny of small nations, are taken fully into account. Moreover we, and our friends in Asia, have special security problems in our own region, which inevitably influence our attitude towards the details of such partial disarmament plans as may be developed by the Great Powers.

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In short, Australia regards the problem of control and verification as crucial, and our attitude towards particular measures of disarmament that have been proposed, or are proposed in the future, will be greatly influenced by the progress made towards the institution of an effective control. Whilst the negotiation of substantial measures of disarmament must proceed concurrently with the elaboration of the control system, since the nature of the necessary controls must depend upon the nature and extent of actual disarmament that is envisaged, the establishment of the control system, or appropriate parts of it, must in our view, precede the actual implementation of the agreed measures of disarmament. Hence, I repeat, we should make an early start to learn something of the practical problems that will arise in the setting up and operation of such a control system.

Having, I trust, made our position clear on that point, I should like to offer some comment, from an Australian point of view, on certain of the issues that have arisen regarding particular measures of disarmament. In accord with the spirit of realism and frankness which has animated the Commission's debate so far, let me say plainly that Australia's own geographical situation, and our own regional security problems have an important influence upon our assessment of such problems as those relating to the levels of forces and those arising from the development of nuclear weapons.

An Australian cannot fail to be struck by the fact that disarmament programmes of the Great Powers place tremendous emphasis on what might be called the European and North Atlantic areas. We do not of course quarrel with this approach since it is probably true, at least for the present, that the European and North Atlantic area remains the determinant area in terms of world strategy and military and economic power. But even assuming (and it is a dubious assumption) that this state of affairs will continue indefinitely, there are considerations affecting other parts of the world which are particularly important in relation to the various stages of a general disarmament plan, or to any partial programme. For instance, any disarmament formula fixing the size of forces must take account of essential strategic considerations, in addition to political, economic and demographic facts. The preoccupation of the Great Powers with such considerations from their own points of view, was of course apparent in the discussions that took place in the Sub-Committee. These considerations are particularly important to Australia, and assume a special form for Australia, because of her size, her location, her limited population, and her dependence upon sea and air communications. We recognise that the question of force levels in any agreed disarmament plan must obviously be the subject first of negotiation between the Great Powers. Until some progress is made in actual reductions it will be difficult to determine what the ultimate levels should be; and in our view those levels would need to take account of the responsibilities of the Great Powers in relation to collective security problems in Asia as well as in other areas. It is common knowledge that present Communist military manpower in Asia (particularly if Soviet Asia is included) enormously outweighs the military strength maintained by the non-Communist countries in Asia and the Pacific area. Very considerable political consequences might flow from sanctifying such military predominance through levels of forces arrived at in purely global terms.

The negotiation of force levels must therefore take account of the effect of any such agreement upon the security of smaller countries in various parts of the world, and upon the forces which those smaller countries will need to maintain themselves. The levels of forces that would be appropriate for a country such as Australia in an international system of disarmament would obviously depend upon considerations such as I have mentioned; and the fact that we have never maintained large forces in peace time makes such considerations all the more important for us.

Similarly the situation of Australia in relation to the enormous and rapidly expanding populations of Asian countries under Communist domination lends special weight, in our thoughts, to the consideration that the prohibition of nuclear weapons should be preceded and accompanied by major reductions in conventional weapons and forces to agreed levels, carried out to an agreed time-table, and subject to effective international control of a kind that inspires the confidence of all nations. Our ultimate, and I trust not too distant objective, must of course be a disarmament programme that will also remove forever the fear of nuclear attack. But it seems clear that in the present stage of scientific knowledge our main hope must be in the development of measures to prevent the possibility of surprise attacks, and such measures should be integrated with the controls that will be needed to verify agreed reductions in conventional armaments and forces.

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[NAA: A1838, 80/5/2 part 1]