Press Conference to Present Report on ‘Eliminating Nuclear Threats’

25 January 2010

Press Conference to Present Report on ‘Eliminating Nuclear Threats’

25 January 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Present Report on ‘Eliminating Nuclear Threats’

“It is sheer dumb luck that we have succeeded as a world without a nuclear catastrophe since 1945, and not a function of good policy,” Gareth Evans, an honorary professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne, said today at a Headquarters press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Australia.

In that context, the status quo was not an option and serious progress must be made towards abolishing nuclear weapons completely, said Mr. Evans as he presented the report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, of which he is a Co-Chair.

Mr. Evans was President and Chief Executive of the International Crisis Group from 2000 to 2009.  He had been a member of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change in 2004, and a member of the Blix Commission in 2006.  He served as Foreign Minister of Australia during the 1990s.

He said the single mantra that most characterized the report was that, as long as any State had nuclear weapons, others would want them, and as long as States retained them, they were bound to use them one day, by accident or miscalculation if not by deliberate design.  “Any such use would be catastrophic for life on this planet as we know it.”  That was the frame of reference for the report, released in December 2009, and everything else was detail, he said, adding that its launch marked the first time in a long while that such a report had ridden the wave rather than resisting the tide.

The International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament was proposed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia following his July 2008 visit to the Hiroshima peace memorial.  Launched by Prime Minister Rudd and then-Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of Japan in New York in September 2008, the Commission is a joint initiative of the Australian and Japanese Governments with the stated aim of reinvigorating, at a high political level, global debate on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in the context both of the forthcoming 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and beyond.

Mr. Evans explained that the Commission’s report, Eliminating Nuclear Threats:  A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers, was intended to provide analysis and focused policy recommendations ahead of the NPT review in May.  It represented significant added value for several reasons, including the global way in which it had been put together.  The Commission membership had embraced several different starting views on the issue and the text had gone through an extremely complex consultative process worldwide.

He said the document was also very comprehensive, realistic and pragmatic, and not just another wish list.  It recognized real-world threats and tried to navigate the path through them, while shaping recommendations, many of which many had been incorporated into a series of practical action plans that included set priorities and timeframes.

In the short-term, extending until 2012, the Commission emphasized the critical importance of getting much done to set the pace and put in place the building blocks for non-proliferation and disarmament, he said.  That meant full ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and its entry into force; negotiations in Geneva on a fissile material cut-off treaty; and close attention to the whole array of nuclear security issues, which would be focused on the Obama Summit in April.  The Commission also urged a successful outcome to the NPT Review Conference and a resolution of both the Iran and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea questions.

In the disarmament context, Mr. Evans said, the most crucial item in the short term was for the United States and the Russian Federation to conclude bilateral negotiation and extension of a Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START).  Beyond that, they must engage seriously in the next round, leading to further deep reductions.

Also in the short term, he continued, Commission members wished to see the beginnings of wider multilateralism on the disarmament front, and greater acceptance that the role of nuclear weapons was not to be an “all-purpose” deterrent but, at most, a deterrent against their use by others who had them.  Review of the United States posture would be the foundation for narrowing the scope of that role and moving forward on that agenda.

He went on to says that the medium-term agenda, to 2025, concerned the achievement by nuclear-weapon States of a dramatic reduction in the number of existing warheads –- from 23,000 to no more than 2,000, or a 90 per cent reduction.  That should be accompanied by the adoption of a “no first use” policy by all nuclear-armed States and agreement to keep only a small proportion of those weapons on launch status.  The longer-term objective was a world without nuclear weapons, he said, adding, however, that the Commission did not feel able to put a specific date on that goal as there were too many issues to resolve, including in the geopolitical and psychological realms.

As for the upcoming NPT Conference, he stressed that with hundreds of drafts in circulation, there was “a great sprawling mess of ideas and issues out there” and it was very important to prioritize and focus sharply on deliverables.  Of course, the outcome of President Obama’s security summit in April was important, but the Commission held that three themes would make or break the NPT review:  strengthening the NPT regime itself; agreement on a “big news statement” on disarmament, based on the view that disarmament and non-proliferation were “joined at the hip”; and “serious movement” emanating from the 1995 commitment to a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

On the latter point, he said the Commission understood that negotiations on a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East any time soon were unlikely, but it was very important to honour the commitment made at the 1995 NPT Review.  A productive avenue might well be a conference of key regional players convened by the United Nations to consider preconditions in detail.

Also central to the report, he said, was the nature of the very clear risks associated with existing arsenals, exacerbated by the growing list of nuclear-weapons States, and of nuclear terrorism associated with the dramatic expansion of peaceful nuclear energy, particularly when accompanied by the establishment of reprocessing and enriching facilities in countries previously lacking them.

Asked how the Secretary-General’s five-point plan on disarmament would inform the NPT Review, he said it was an important document that also informed the Commission’s work.  Specifically mentioned in the five points was the idea of a nuclear weapons convention.  The Commission recommended an immediate start on refining and articulating what such a convention might look like, but felt it was premature to use the notion of a convention as a kind of campaign treaty, in the same way that had occurred in the cases of the Cluster Munitions Convention and the Mine-Ban Convention.  The nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues were “just too sprawlingly complex”, he added.  Thus, it was too ambitious to evolve something as incredibly complex as a nuclear weapons convention.  Neither was it credible to put more weight on the convention itself as a negotiating vehicle.

Replying to a question as to whether considering possible new sanctions against Iran might divert attention from the core issues at the NPT Conference, he said the Commission felt it was fine to keep the pressure on Iran to the extent that it comply at least with its reporting obligations.  It was understandable why further progress on sanctions was being considered to keep the regime credible, but the door must be kept open for negotiations.  The Commission was optimistic that a peaceful resolution was possible as long as Iran did not engage in actual weaponization, and every effort must be made to ensure that did not happen.

While acknowledging that the Iran dynamic would have an impact on the NPT Conference, he said no one should be “spooked” by what should be done until then.  Hopefully the Non-Aligned Movement would not “get too locked into positions” as a result of the concerns of just one or two of its members on one or two issues.  It was important for the Movement to recognize how big an opportunity there was to advance the nuclear disarmament agenda.  It would be a tragedy to achieve a commitment on non-proliferation and disarmament as the Conference was stymied in that way.

In response to a query about the India-United States agreement, he said it had raised several issues covered in the report, but the good news was that it demonstrated that countries outside the NPT were at least capable of being brought, at least partially, within the disciplines associated with the Treaty.  India’s agreement to inspections showed a way forward in terms of parallel processes; it was possible to get people signed up without their actually joining the NPT.

He said a main theme running through the report was the need to recognize the three countries outside the NPT -- India, Pakistan, and Israel -- and to try to find constructive ways to bring them in.  In the case of the bilateral arrangement between India and the United States, it was a “bad deal” that did not demand enough from the Indian Government on such things as non-production of fissile material and non-resumption of nuclear testing.  But the way forward was not to say no to any deals at all with anyone outside the NPT, but to set criteria for the kind of commitments that should be made.

As for the Commission’s view of a statement attributed to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, that it would not return to six-party talks until sanctions were lifted, Mr. Evans said:  “We’re playing a long game”, which would not end with the NPT Review.  Declining to comment on the day-to-day manoeuvrings of that country, he described the negotiating process as “bizarre”, adding that the Commission’s clear view was that the only possible way forward was to keep open negotiations in which everything possible was on the table, from sanctions to economic support, “so North Korea will get serious again about denuclearizing the peninsula”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.