By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, 23 Feb 2023 (IDN) — Australia and Indonesia have committed to strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime and cooperating in building practical nuclear safeguard capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, even as concerns remain over Australia's push to acquire the nuclear-powered submarines.
An enhanced trilateral security pact, AUKUS, between Australia, the UK and the US signed in September 2021 will enable Australia to become the first non-nuclear country to have nuclear-powered submarines. [2023-02-23-31] INDONESIAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF
"These submarines set a terrible precedent, enabling transfer and/or acquisition of weapons grade highly enriched uranium by non-nuclear weapons states," says Dr Margaret Beavis, Co-Chair of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Australia.
"Safeguards are almost impossible to enforce on a stealth platform such as a submarine," she adds.
There are two kinds of submarines—diesel-electric or nuclear-powered—either type can hold nuclear warheads.
Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed serious concerns about the nuclear proliferation risks of Australia's nuclear-powered submarine proposal in the region despite the Australian Government's insistence that the submarines will not carry nuclear weapons.
ICAN Australia's Troubled Waters report released last year noted that Australian acquisition of nuclear submarines would be "an unnecessary and retrograde step" and "it would set a precedent where other states would use the same logic to acquire nuclear material and sensitive technology utilising the Paragraph 14 loophole".
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has three main pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology, supporting human health, agriculture, food and water security, and the environment. Paragraph 14 of the treaty requires states to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of their intention, the amount and composition of the nuclear material involved, and the estimated duration of their withdrawal from safeguards.
"While the compatibility of nuclear submarines with the NPT has been subject of debates, Indonesia submitted a paper in the NPT Review Conference in 2022, which in essence sees the development of Australia's nuclear submarine plan as worrying and therefore demands the plan to be subjected to safeguard monitoring and inspection by the IAEA," says Muhadi Sugiono, senior lecturer in the Department of International Relations in Yogyakarta of Indonesia's Universitas Gadjah Mada.
"Indonesia, especially because of its position as a maritime country, has been very concerned with the Australian nuclear submarine plan. AUKUS has become a serious challenge for the region," Mr Sugiono tells IDN.
A joint statement issued by the Australia-Indonesia Foreign and Defence Ministers following their meeting on 9 February in Canberra (Australia) said Australia and Indonesia, which were founding members of the IAEA, "remain steadfast supporters of its vital role and mandate in upholding the NPT".
The four Ministers "highlighted the ambition for a world without nuclear weapons and their commitment to strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, including its cornerstone, the NPT". They also "welcomed cooperation in the context of the Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network (APSN) to build practical safeguards capabilities".
Australia and Indonesia, together with Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK), had established the APSN in 2009 with the aim of building a regional network of nuclear safeguards capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.
Dr Beavis tells IDN, "Indonesia has demonstrated its genuine commitment to nuclear disarmament by signing the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). If Australia is serious about disarmament, it also needs to honour its election commitments by joining Indonesia and signing the treaty".
"Australia relies on the US 'nuclear umbrella', which endorses the use of nuclear weapons. It can remain an ally of the US and still reject these indiscriminate and catastrophic weapons—the worst of all the weapons of mass destruction. New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines have all signed the TPNW and remained allies of the US," she adds.
The TPNW, which entered into force on 22 January 2021, is the first treaty to establish a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, including their development, deployment, possession, use and threat of use. While civil society and many non-nuclear weapon states have welcomed the treaty, the nuclear weapon states and their allies view it as undermining the existing nuclear order based on the NPT.
Australia attended the TPNW First Meeting of States Parties in Vienna in June 2022 as an observer.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong wrote in an Op-Ed published on 23 January 2023, marking the 50th Anniversary of Australia’s ratification of the NPT: "We also welcomed the more recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons coming into force two years ago. While we still need to ensure the TPNW contains the verification arrangements and achieves the universal support that has underpinned the NPT's success, and that it does not undermine the NPT, we share the TPNW’s ambition for a world without nuclear weapons."
On 29 and 30 June 2022, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), in partnership with the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN), convened a workshop in Jakarta. A summary report from the workshop says, participants shared concerns that "nuclear arsenals are being expanded and modernized, and new disruptive technologies—including dual-capable weapons systems—are proliferating in an increasingly unregulated international environment" and that the divide between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states over the pace of disarmament mandated by the NPT is growing.
Abdul Kadir Jailani, Director General for Asian, Pacific and African Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia says, "Indonesia is committed to the prohibition of nuclear weapons. While the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will not eliminate nuclear weapons, it will contribute to further delegitimizing the use of nuclear weapons and strengthen international norms against their uses. To this end, Indonesia would expedite our ratification process of the Treaty at the earliest convenience”.
“The Treaty will also safeguard the rights for all countries to use nuclear technology for peaceful uses, especially for developing countries”, Mr Jailani tells IDN.
At the start of 2022, nine states—the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea)—possessed approximately 12,705 nuclear weapons, of which 9,440 were estimated to be in military stockpiles for potential use.
About 3,732 of these warheads were estimated to be deployed with operational forces, and around 2,000 of these were kept in a state of high operational alert, according to Stockholm International Peace research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook 2022. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Image source: Invest Islands