Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:19 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:19 | SYDNEY

Nuclear Commission: How far and with whom?


Martine Letts

21 August 2008 16:04

Thank you to the Sun-Herald of 17 August for a memory jogger with the latest goss on what’s happening with the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament-ICNND for short-until someone can find a catchier name. It reports (no link available) on the 'new mini-empire' that an emaciated DFAT has been forced to establish and staff to cater for its needs.  

It’s a worry to think that the Commission’s Secretariat is being financed from within (none) existing DFAT resources, on which we have signalled our concern in previous blog posts.

On the positive side of the ledger, the system seems to be gearing up to get the work of the Commission rolling, even though we do not yet know who the members of the International Commission are — other than the two co-chairs, Evans from Australia and Kawaguchi from Japan. We also do not know what its final mandate will be.

Anyone familiar with the pace at which Gareth Evans works expects he is very busy canvassing names and working to settle the scope of work. He will be aware that to add value to the work already being done on nuclear disarmament and non proliferation, the Commission must go beyond the traditional framework of NPT Review Conferences and involve key states which are not signatories to the treaty. The Commission’s membership should reflect this and there should be a commissioner from India, Pakistan and Israel in addition to representatives from the five official nuclear weapons states. To reflect contemporary realities the Commission must not be North Atlantic centric and should invite at least one Latin American Commissioner and an additional Asian commissioner, preferably from South East Asia, such as Indonesia.

To provide a credible road map for non-proliferation and disarmament, the Commission must also look beyond the 2010 NPT Review conference and take into account growing demand for nuclear energy, especially in Asia.

So, while the Commission would want to deliver something within the first term of the Rudd government, tying the work of the Commission to the NPT Review process will put at risk the objective of drawing the other nuclear weapons capable states, which have not signed the NPT, into the process. If the Commission winds up prior to the NPT Review Conference, much of its valuable work and recommendations might perish at the Conference. Moreover, the Commission will want to draw on the work of the Review Conference in its recommendations and could address, in a less politically charged environment, the questions debated there.

The Commission will also want to make a compelling case for accelerated action on nuclear disarmament, not just because nuclear weapons are dangerous, but because continued attachment to them makes them an attractive asset for others.

The world’s focus on the threat of the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states, ahead of progress on nuclear disarmament, has been seen as a cynical exercise by the Nuclear Weapon States to deflect attention from their failure to make real progress on disarmament. It has been seen as a way of depriving nuclear energy aspirants of the right to develop nuclear energy. This has provided diplomatic cover for states like Iran which are pursuing an indigenous enrichment capacity as a way of keeping their future weapons options open.

But history has caught up with us. Voracious energy needs and the search for cleaner energy have made nuclear energy an attractive option for many more states, putting additional strain on the relatively contained nuclear world we have lived in. Experts say that our existing institutions are not designed to handle a world where an additional dozen states have the capacity to develop the full nuclear fuel cycle.

Non Nuclear Weapon States must also be prepared to make sacrifices. Nuclear Weapon States will not agree to progressive reductions to zero unless the Non Nuclear Weapon States agree to put additional controls to reduce the risks of a latent breakout capacity. The logic of nuclear restraint can be strengthened by these countries forswearing the option to enrich uranium. This touches on sensitive sovereignty issues, but if the Nuclear Weapon States are to give up their weapons, other states should make a concrete gesture to show the world they do not intend to develop them. The use of emerging proliferation safe technologies can provide an additional level of assurance.

Over a two year period the Commission can produce some credible work and produce a marketing plan to galvanise governments into reaching a new understanding and roadmap to manage the new nuclear age. In this world, nuclear weapons will be universally understood to be detrimental to international or national security, while it manages securely the growing demand for nuclear power to meet growing energy needs with a low carbon footprint.