A top Australian nuclear disarmament diplomat has welcomed the new United States doctrine limiting the potential use of its nuclear weapons, but says it could have gone further.
The US says it will only use atomic weapons in “extreme circumstances”, will not attack non-nuclear states and has pledged that no new nuclear weapons will be developed.
The former Australian foreign minister and co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, Gareth Evans, says the new US doctrine takes a step in the right direction by ending a long-standing policy of ambiguity and states clear limits to US nuclear weapons use.
But Professor Evans says the doctrine would have been better if it declared that US nuclear weapons existed only to deter their use by others.
“The US stopped short of that unhappily in this agreement, whereas it would have been a big step forward if it had gone the extra mile,” he said.
“But that said, we do have in president (Barack) Obama, and in the shape and the flavour and most of the content of this latest statement, a quite different approach to these issues than we’ve seen in the past.”
Professor Evans says the new US policy is one of several important steps aimed at eventually eliminating the world’s 23,000 nuclear weapons.
“I think it’s very positive, particularly when you look at it in the context of what’s also happening in the next week – the signing of the US-Russia bilateral agreement and the Nuclear Security Summit,” he said.
Professor Evans says countries like China need to be more transparent about their nuclear arsenal.
“It’s one thing for China to say it has embraced a no first use doctrine, which is very important. It’s one thing for China to say that it’s very committed to a nuclear weapon-free world,” he said.
“But who can get into any kind of serious dialogue with the Chinese when they won’t acknowledge the number of weapons they have or the nature of their deployment?”
Message for Iran
It is the first time a US administration has held an unclassified review of its nuclear posture and is in keeping with Mr Obama’s promise to move towards a world without nuclear weapons.
US defence secretary Robert Gates says the doctrine supports countries in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But he says it sends a message to countries such as Iran and North Korea, who are not in compliance.
“If there is a message for Iran and North Korea here, it is … if you’re not going to play by the rules, if you’re going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you,” Mr Gates said.