The proliferation of nuclear weapons is the single biggest threat facing the world today, former prime minister Paul Keating says.
Mr Keating, who led the government from 1991 to 1996, said the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into in 1970 was on the verge of collapse.
Speaking to a sold-out crowd at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Mr Keating called on the international community to push for a new order for world peace.
He said the 20th Century order had been one of violence, with major powers holding onto nuclear weapons.
“Nuclear weapon proliferation is the single most immediate threat hanging over the world today,” Mr Keating said.
He said the United States, China, France, Britain and Russia – all signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty – are not only not ridding themselves of nuclear weapons, but developing new ones.
He cited Tony Blair’s Trident submarine program announced in 2006 and said the Bush administration had “turned its hand to new bunker-busting nuclear weapons designed to attack underground facilities.”
Mr Keating said the new variety of US weapons had been designed specifically for intended wartime deployment and operation, and “ditto for the Russians.”
Mr Keating questioned what sort of future the world can expect from the NPT signatories, let alone non-signatories, when the treaty’s promoters ignored their obligations to eliminate nuclear weapons while designing and building new devices.
“The plain fact is there can be no non-proliferation without de-proliferation.
“That is, if the weapons states are not prepared to rid themselves of nuclear weapons, why would other states continue to deny themselves the kind of leverage which these weapons bring?”
He said India, Pakistan and North Korea were such non-signatories to the treaty that posed a nuclear weapons threat.
Mr Keating said the structure of the international system was anarchic and could not be remedied.
He called for a new international order, based on truth and justice and recognising the human right to live in peace and harmony.
“The old order of victorious powers…with major powers hanging onto weapons of massive destruction, is a remnant of the violent 20th century,” Mr Keating said.
“It cannot provide the basis for an equitable and effective system of world governance.
“Just as world community concerns have been ahead of the political system on issues such as global warming, so too world community concern needs to galvanise international action to find a new template for a lasting peace, one embracing all the major powers and regions.
“This can be done..but it requires leadership and imagination.”
Quoting the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, Mr Keating said universal peace needed to come about by human insight, not catastrophe.
© 2008 AAP
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