Nuclear non-proliferation & disarmament

The objectives in Chile.
Gareth Evans

GARETH EVANS: Thank you very much Mr Jara for the introduction and thanks to FLACSO who you represent here in Chile for fantastic support in setting up this regional meeting. May I say a few words more about the Commission and its objectives, and a little about this meeting.

The short point to make is that for the last ten years the world has been sleep-walking when it comes to issues of nuclear proliferation and disarmament. The threats are very real. There are still something like 27000 nuclear warheads in the existing nuclear armed states, there is a real risk of further proliferation with new countries acquiring weapons capacity and status. There is a real risk as we now know since 9/11 of terrorist actors of one kind or another, with a determination to cause huge damage by getting access to nuclear material and using that to create even greater havoc and devastation. There is also the risk associated with a rapid expansion of civil nuclear energy in the decades ahead if we are not very careful to ensure that that expansion is associated with very stringent safeguards and security measures.

So there are a lot of things to be concerned about - the issue of nuclear weapons did not go away with the end of the Cold War. The trouble is that for the last ten years we just haven't been seriously addressing these issues at all. Outside the framework of the Non-proliferation Treaty two new countries have acquired weapons, India and Pakistan, joining Israel which has long had them (although not acknowledging that). We've also had problems with North Korea breaking out from that Treaty after having been a member of it for many years, and we have the present problems with Iran - uncertainty about its intentions. We've had a complete failure over the last decade to advance disarmament and arms control negotiations between the US and Russia. The Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has ground to a halt, taking no action at all to negotiate anything for more than the last decade. We had the failure of the 2005 Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference to agree on any language at all. We had the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations when 150 leaders failed to agree on any language at all.

That's the bad news. The good news is that everybody now senses there is a new opportunity to take some really serious action on both the non-proliferation and the disarmament front. Most of that optimism is associated with the new Administration in the United States under President Obama, who in the few months that he has been in office has made very clear his commitment to fundamentally changing direction. President Obama's Summit with President Medvedev of Russia has already born specific fruit with their agreement to immediately initiate a further round of negotiations for deep reductions in the strategic arsenals of Russia and the United States. As a result we go into the Review Conference of the Non-proliferation Treaty next year with a little bit more optimism than we might otherwise have had.

But the truth of the matter is that these issues are not going to be fixed by the US alone - or by the United States and Russia, even though between them they have about 95 per cent of the world's nuclear warheads - 95 per cent of the 27000 that I referred to. The truth of the matter is that we will not make major progress unless there is commitment to this from all major states in the world - there has to be that buy-in and commitment to doing things on both the non-proliferation and the disarmament side.

So that's why this Commission was initiated - to gather up a global constituency, not just the United States-Russia, but to bring together high level players from all around the world to come together and think through what kind of an action agenda would be required if we were to make major progress in solving the problem of proliferation and ultimately getting to zero, that is, ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons completely. We believed that there was a need to start a high level political debate among all the key governments and a need to find a way of energising civil society so that we have some bottom up commitment from the public's around the world, not just from key governments: these convictions were the rationale for creating this new high level Commission.

Australia became involved as the world's biggest supplier or potential supplier of uranium - and with that goes some serious moral responsibility. Japan, which is co-chairing and co-sponsoring this Commission, is of course the only country which has suffered from the impact, the devastating impact, of nuclear explosions. Between us we decided to create a Commission with a membership of people like Ernesto Zedillo, the former President of Mexico and Bill Perry, the former Defense Secretary of the United States - you have the full list. We believed that this Commission can really make a difference.

I'd be happy to respond to any questions you may have about the kind of recommendations that we will be making. We will be focusing very much on getting a successful outcome to next year's Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. We are also concentrating on other achievements in the next four years, which we are describing as the short term: for example bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty finally brought into force. And we are also focusing on the longer term agenda to get to a world where there are many many fewer nuclear weapons and a completely different attitude towards using them than what we have at the moment.

We think it would take a number of years to get those numbers very low, but by around 2025 we can set a target for getting very close to a world without nuclear weapons. Then we are looking at a longer term agenda to actually manage that final transition and all the security conditions which will need to be satisfied to achieve that.

It's a very very complex topic, with many different dimensions to it. We hope that this Commission will bring everything together in a way that is both idealistic in that it doesn't forget that the ultimate objective is to rid the world altogether of these weapons - but is also hard headed, pragmatic and realistic. The report will be in language which will be understood by governments and those who influence governments - and not just a technical exercise for the nuclear priesthood. We have to make this a mainstream political issue - that is what the commission is all about.

This meeting is the first regional meeting of the Commission, the first consultative meeting of its kind. There will be others, as you have heard from Jose, which will follow in Beijing for North East Asia; in New Delhi for South Asia and Cairo for the Middle East - three regions where there are obvious sensitivities.

Why are we having our first regional meeting in Latin America, why here in Santiago? Not because Latin America presents a big problem for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament - on the contrary, it's because Latin America has been a big success story. This is the region of the world that showed real moral and political leadership on nuclear disarmament with every country renouncing the acquisition of nuclear weapons by creating the Tlatelolco Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty, which is a model of course for all the other nuclear weapon free zones.

So the Commission believed that it had much to learn from the countries of the region. We wanted to listen closely to the very high level expertise that is gathered around this particular table and we have learned a lot. The emphasis from the regional colleagues here has been very much on insuring that we treat these issues as a whole - that we don't just focus on non-proliferation and forget about the crucial importance of insuring that the existing nuclear armed states actually move a lot more rapidly than in the past towards disarmament. The issues are very much interconnected.

We had a lot of very articulate contributions on a whole range of issues over the last one day and a half - and we have another half day to go when we will be talking about civil nuclear energy. I expect to come away very much better informed. I would note too that it is important that the countries of the region that have not yet signed up to or ratified the additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is an enhanced verification mechanism, do so - the Commission believes that by doing that the region would again give leadership to the rest of the world in setting new high standards for verification.

It's important that the countries of Latin America play an advocacy role with other key countries, particularly in the global South, to persuade them to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - particularly those countries which have not yet done so and which are preventing the Treaty coming into force. Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile - the countries represented here - are all very respected and powerful advocates in other parts of the world, and one of the things that we hope will come out of this meeting is that energy and that capacity, as well as the excellent history of this region, being more actively applied in advocacy in other parts of the world. We all need to work together if we are going to make a nuclear weapons free world a reality and the Commission has been very grateful for the input and the ideas that we have had over the last two days.

I am happy to respond to your questions.

JOSE JARA (FLACSO): Questions.

QUESTION: Could you please explain... (inaudible) the recommendations arising from for this meeting?

GARETH EVANS: We are not trying to agree on a set of recommendations, nor on a declaration. Rather we were seeking advice on the issues that matter, and I have already mentioned that the main concern is to make sure that equal weight is given to disarmament, as well as to non-proliferation, to end this world of double standards that we've all seen too much of, in which the nuclear armed states tell everybody else what's good for them: that nobody else should acquire nuclear weapons, but then drag their heels in getting rid of those weapons themselves. That was one very strong message from the Latin American side.

The second strong message that we on the commission put back to the Latin American side, going the other way, was that the Commission would want Latin America to continue to be the moral example, the political example, that Latin America has already set for the rest of the world - as it did with the Treaty of Tlatelolco creating a nuclear free zone in the region. We want you to be right in front, showing leadership on strengthening the non-proliferation regime and in particular ensuring the universal acceptance of enhanced verification standards. And as I have already mentioned, the Commission recommended back to our Latin American friends that we would hope the region will play an even more active advocacy role on issues like the Test Ban Treaty and so on.

One particular other subject which I might mention, because it was the subject of a lot of discussion, was on the particular issue of the Middle East and whether or not that issue would be a problem for the Non-proliferation Treaty review next year. The delegates on the Latin American side were saying that their experience as a nuclear weapon free zone might enable us to get into a dialogue with the countries of the Middle East and the other nuclear weapons free zones around the world could also participate in this, so that we can advance thinking and this issue could be addressed and could be neutralised and not become a big problem for the NPT Review Conference next year. So that's four or five examples of things that were being discussed but I emphasise that we are not trying to reach agreement on a list of recommendations, we are just discussing and listening to each other in a very productive mutual dialogue.

QUESTION: In Chile today there is a debate regarding the use of nuclear energy, the pacific use of nuclear energy. I understand it also happens in other Latin American countries and there has been a concern in many environmentalist sectors due to the environmental effects and possibly because there could be interests in other uses of nuclear energy. What is your opinion regarding the debate among Latin American countries on the pacific use of nuclear energy and specifically on the debate that we have in Chile today?

GARETH EVANS: The position of the Commission is very clear that we support the peaceful uses of nuclear energy as part of the whole international trade-off that lies behind the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The reality, going all the way back to when that Treaty was negotiated in the 1960s, is that you would not get agreement to the limitations to proliferation weapons unless there is also a recognition of the rights of all countries to nuclear energy, provided that they confine their activity to peaceful uses or to acquire that technology for peaceful purposes.

So the Commission is not taking the view that nuclear energy is a bad thing, but we are taking a very positive view, and that's quite apart from the current argument about fossil fuels and the necessity for alternative energy sources. There are some big qualifications, however. You don't go down towards the path of supporting nuclear power reactors in any country unless you can be satisfied about the "three Ss" as we call them: safeguards, security and safety.

Safeguards is the business of ensuring that there is no diversion of material from a peaceful program into military uses and that's what the inspections of the international regime are concerned with.

Security is ensuring simply the physical security of the environment so that no material or technology can be stolen or given away A.Q. Khan-style to other people who might want to use that material for terrorist or other purposes. That's an obvious limitation - you want to be satisfied that the security arrangements are very strong.

Safety is the third one and of course that's a very big issue in an earthquake prone country like Chile. But it was also a very big issue in Japan - and there's no more earthquake prone country in the world than Japan - and it's found the way of developing safe technology for reactors. So you will understand that I don't want to comment on the internal Chilean debate on this as that would be inappropriate, but it is fair to say that the rest of the world and the Commission certainly, takes the view that while there is nothing inherently wrong about peaceful use of nuclear energy and while there is much that is to be said in favour of it, we have to be very confident that there will be effective safeguards, effective security and of course effective safety.

QUESTION: El Mercurio newspaper. Do you believe that the problem is possibly the control of proliferation? Perhaps it is necessary to strengthen the current inspection regime or is better to create a new agency for those inspections?

GARETH EVANS: The problem of proliferation has both the demand side and a supply side. In the demand side you have to look at why countries want to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place. Sometimes there are terrible reasons - to exercise power and influence for instance. Other times countries have genuine security anxieties - that their regime would be put at risk, the governing regime, or there would be superiority of conventional weapons by a neighboring country, that's the kind of rationale you hear from Pakistan and Israel to explain why they acquired weapons. You have to be serious about addressing those concerns if they are genuine and not artificial and so the issue of negative security assurances - that they won't be attacked by a nuclear country - all these issues are important and they need to be addressed and we should not forget that a lot of the non-proliferation issues are related to a larger security agenda.

And then more specifically on the supply side there are a lot of things you can do to ensure that even if countries want to acquire nuclear weapons technology they won't be able to get it, that is where the role of the IAEA in verification and inspection mechanisms comes into play and that is where the role of enforcement mechanisms come into play if countries are in breach of their commitments under the Treaty. Now the Commission, when we produce our major report at the end of this year will, I think, take the view that the verification mechanisms need to be strengthened and that the compliance and enforcement mechanisms of the existing Non-proliferation Treaty need to be strengthened. In that context, so far as verification is concerned, we do see the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, as being a perfectly appropriate institutional body to manage that and we don't need any new body for that purpose, but that body needs to be appropriately resourced, it needs to have the personnel and the equipment so that they can do a proper job. And in that context we would certainly, I think, be making recommendations about how to improve its capacity.

On the compliance and enforcement side I think the view is there is not much alternative to the UN Security Council having a more clearly defined role when it comes to early action to deal with countries that are clearly in breach of their obligations or who walk away from the Treaty. Although exercising the right to do so, sure, but for countries that walk away from the Treaty and are in breach of their obligations, there must be ways of creating disincentives for that. There are a number of specific things such as this, which the IAEA itself cannot do because it cannot be an enforcement agency, that mean you need the Security Council working with it for that purpose.

So these are approaches that need to be adopted but again I come back to the point which our Latin American colleagues insisted over and over again in the discussions: that unless there is balance on the other side, unless there is serious commitment to disarmament, it would be very hard to get support from the broader global community for even very rational and very sensible and very defensible measures of this kind. That it has to be seen as a two way process and I think that's a message which we have got very loudly and very clearly from our Latin American colleagues in this meeting.

QUESTION: Could you go deeper into the type of relationship that you have with the IAEA?

GARETH EVANS: We don't have a relationship with them as such. We are simply an independent group of people from around the world who hopefully will have some credibility in the recommendations that we make. And I do emphasise independence because, although we come from different countries, we are not representing country viewpoints, we are there as individuals and I think the strength of our influence will depend on the quality of our recommendations. If we are talking sense then we will be listened to, and if we are talking nonsense then we don't deserve to be listened to.

But I think we have a pretty strong view as a Commission that the IAEA is the best body that we are going to have in this area and that also the IAEA is probably the appropriate body to play a much more important role when it comes not just to non-proliferation but also to disarmament. If we do move down the path of disarmament, dismantling nuclear weapons and setting limitations on the amount of new fissile material - highly enriched uranium and plutonium - that can be produced, if we go down the path of reducing stocks of that material, all of these things will require verification, monitoring, and inspections - very complex procedures - and I think that the view is that the IAEA is the best body for this purpose and there's no particular value in creating new ones for the sake of it. That is not an issue without controversy around the world, but I think it is the position the Commission will take, so I think we'll be very supportive. But again, there is the issue of resources, the issue of costs. It's not cheap to conduct these procedures and if we are going to be serious about disarmament and serious about non-proliferation disciplines then we have to work very hard at improving the capacity of the institutions that we give that responsibility to.

JOSE JARA: Thanks.


This is the transcript of the press Conference with Mr Gareth Evans on Sunday, 3 May 2009, Santiago de Chile, Chile. The International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament is a joint initiative of the Australian and Japanese governments. The Commission was proposed by the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in Kyoto on the 9 June 2008, to be co-chaired by the former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans. On 9 July, the prime ministers of Australia and Japan, Yasuo Fukuda, came to agreement and and announced that former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi would co-chair the Commission. Click here to visit the Commission's website.


Suggested citation
Evans, Gareth, 'Nuclear non-proliferation & disarmament', Evatt Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3, June 2009.<http://evatt.org.au/papers/nuclear-non-proliferation-disarmament.html>