Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:15 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:15 | SYDNEY

Nuclear disarmament: Eyes on Oslo


Rory Medcalf


27 February 2008 07:27

I am in Oslo this week to join a global non-government conference on nuclear disarmament. This event, hosted by the Norwegian Government in cooperation with the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Hoover Institution, aims to seize the momentum started by two important public statements on the vision of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons made by the unlikely quartet of George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn (see here and here).

It will be fascinating to learn whether genuinely fresh thinking is being generated – and whether there are opportunities for the Rudd Government to start putting its nuclear disarmament rhetoric into policy action. After day one, I can say that there is a heartening amount of serious international work going on – these are not quite the bleak days for arms control we witnessed in the early part of the George W Bush era. And it is not just at a non-government level: in particular, there is a new joint initiative by the British and Norwegian governments to assess the technical requirements to verify nuclear disarmament.

If today’s Australia has something special to offer, it might be best to focus on what we can do to build consensus on reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our extended region – the Asia-Pacific or, if you like, the Indo-Pacific – rather than repeating the sort of global initiatives the Keating Government used to pursue. Global campaigns remain important, and Canberra should by all means support them; indeed, Australia has for some years been part of the Norwegian-sponsored Seven-Nation Initiative, aimed at building a broad coalition for disarmament among nuclear and non-nuclear, developed and developing states. But more work needs to be done to reduce nuclear mistrust in Asia, and that's where Australia might be well-placed for a bridging role. Reducing reliance on nuclear weapons for security will be an essential ingredient of any meaningful long-run disarmament push. More on these ideas later.

Borrowing a trick from The Interpreter editor’s favourite blog, Arms Control Wonk (which also has some good coverage of the Oslo conference; the Wonk himself is here), I provide here the Norwegian Foreign Ministry’s convenient webcast of the opening session.

All good and visionary stuff. The tricky bits came later, in the closed sessions – notably some frank exchanges of views on how to reconcile the interests of nuclear energy haves and nuclear energy wannabes in the gathering debate about climate change, nuclear energy and nuclear weapons proliferation. These are vital issues which the Lowy Institute will explore in some forthcoming research and events.