Saturday 02 Jul 2022 | 17:52 | SYDNEY
Saturday 02 Jul 2022 | 17:52 | SYDNEY

Rudd disarmament plan leaves many questions


Rory Medcalf


13 June 2008 15:10

The more I try to learn about Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s proposed international panel for nuclear disarmament, the more questions I have. Very little detail has been released; it is now not even clear whether this will be a joint Australia-Japan endeavour, or an Australian endeavour that has Japan’s broad approval.

As indicated in an earlier blog post, I am all for a serious Australian initiative to seize the gathering opportunities in the world for genuine progress towards reducing nuclear dangers and moving closer to the distant goal of nuclear disarmament. This is precisely why I am not yet convinced that a re-born Canberra Commission is the best way Australia can expend its limited disarmament diplomacy resources. And why I think some hard questions need to be asked – questions that much of the Australian media, and even the public disarmament lobby, seem not yet to have raised.

So, in the interests of ensuring that Mr Rudd’s initiative is the real deal, and that it has maximum chance of generating action by other governments to advance the disarmament agenda, here are a few:

  • How will the new commission be resourced? The original Canberra Commission had a budget of a million dollars (and would have received more if the Howard Government had not soft-pedalled it) and secretariat support from six full-time DFAT officials. The new project needs at least a similar level of support (and in today’s money). But this should not be a drain on the existing arms control bureaucracy within DFAT, which is already understaffed and overstretched.
  • How will the proper resourcing of the new commission square with Government cuts to DFAT’s budget?
  • How will the project be co-ordinated with other governments, especially the Japanese? What consultation was there with Japan (or any other country) before the announcement? What consultations will there be now that there has been an announcement? How will this project be coordinated with the disarmament initiatives of other countries (and leading NGOs), some of which are already well underway?
  • Why the timeframe of completing a report late in 2009? That leaves precious little time to promote its recommendations before the NPT Review Conference in early 2010.  The Canberra Commission project took barely nine months to complete. Why take twice as long this time? Why not at least go for some provisional mini-reports before then?
  • What will the Government be doing to support nuclear disarmament in the ‘real’ diplomatic track of government-to-government consultations (as opposed to government-sponsored meetings of non-government experts) between now and the 2010 NPT Review Conference?
  • How independent will the panel be? How can we be sure that the Australian and/or Japanese Governments won’t seek to tone down its recommendations if they do not suit national policies?
  • Is there a guarantee that the Australian and/or Japanese Government/s will actively support the commission’s recommendations, something the Howard Government failed to do with the original Canberra Commission?

Answers to these questions might convince the sceptics that the project is not just well-intentioned but is on the right track.