Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 20:39 | SYDNEY
Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 20:39 | SYDNEY

We can't promote disarmament on the cheap


Martine Letts

12 June 2008 17:17

In a previous blog post I said it was time to take the work on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation from the second track diplomatic circuit directly to the world’s political leadership. The recent Rudd announcement does not quite get us there, notwithstanding Gareth Evans’ experience and qualifications for leading such an exercise. Some commentators have rightly observed the proposal suffers from lack of preparation both as to who will serve on the panel, and how we obtain critical diplomatic support in key capitals, including Washington, New Delhi, Moscow, Islamabad, London, Paris and perhaps even Tel Aviv. There is also a high risk of duplication of existing work in Washington and New Delhi. And where will the Secretariat for the Commission come from? Will it be outsourced to a group of talented volunteers? 

Australia’s successful effort to accelerate the conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention negotiations relied on considerable resource investment by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade from the design phase of producing a text free of brackets and footnotes to a concerted diplomatic effort in more than 30 capitals before then-Foreign Minister Evans even got to Geneva to table the text in the Conference on Disarmament negotiating forum in 1992. This was a year before the final version of the treaty was tabled for signature in Paris in early 1993. For a treaty which took more than 20 years to negotiate, the final, concentrated effort to bring it to conclusion took two years of intensive Australian diplomatic effort with up to six Australian officials working exclusively on this issue from early morning until late in the night. And that was just the Chemical Weapons Convention.

A key success factor for the CWC was having the major chemical weapons powers (the US and then-Soviet Union) on side. A relatively disinterested but diplomatically active player like Australia was able to play the role of galvanising the international consensus towards concluding the negotiations, knowing we had that (quiet) support. Let’s hope that the Evans Commission can do the same for a far more ambitious task. We know that nuclear disarmament has received a new lease on life in the US through the efforts of the 'four horsemen' — Schultz, Kissinger, Nunn and Perry — and that both presidential candidates, McCain and Obama, have expressed support for some sort of nuclear disarmament process. But as Evans himself said, the game is bigger now — we have a number of other states to bring into the fold who have their own ideas about their national interest and the value of nuclear weapons to them. The relatively contained nuclear world we have lived in until now is under critical threat. This is too important an issue to be done on the run and on the cheap.