Joint Press Conference between Mr Gareth Evans and Ms Yoriko Kawaguchi, Co-Chairs, International Commission for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament 

Tuesday, 21 October 2008, Sydney, Australia

GARETH EVANS: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for joining us and let me introduce my Japanese colleague Yoriko Kawaguchi. A great pleasure to have the chance to brief you and to respond to your questions.

The genesis, the origins of this Commission lie in the perception of the two sponsoring governments, Australia and Japan, that for the last decade or so the international community has been sleep walking when it comes to this potentially catastrophic problem of proliferation and a failure to achieve disarmament. The scale of the problem is really, without exaggeration, right up there with the challenge currently being confronted by the international community by the financial system melt down, and the challenge we all know exists with respect to climate change and the need to respond to that.

The scale of the havoc and the devastation that can be wreaked by one major nuclear weapons incident alone puts 9/11 and almost everything else into a category of the insignificant by comparison. It's really a bit of a miracle that throughout the entire Cold War period, and in the post-Cold War period, we haven't had such a catastrophe. But unless we energise ourselves, unless we reinvigorate a high level political debate, which is then accompanied by effective action, we potentially have very alarming consequences staring us in the face.

The truth of the matter is that there are at the moment, depending on how you calculate these things, somewhere between 13,000 and 16,000 nuclear warheads actively deployed, a great many of them still on hair-trigger alert even though the Cold War has been long over. And between them having a phenomenal destructive capability.

The reality also is that we are on the brink - after years and years of containing rather well the emergence of new nuclear weapon states, with all the risks of either deliberate or accidental use of nuclear weapons that flows from the existence of nuclear weapons or nuclear arms proliferation - we are on the verge of what's been described by a number of other commentators and groups as an avalanche, or a cascade of proliferation, unless we are very, very careful indeed and find ways, collectively to hold the line.

If there is a breakout, or a perceived breakout, by Iran, the Middle East alone is a cockpit in which we can anticipate such a cascade of proliferation by a number of other countries who are simply not going to accept that new reality. And so the problem, in short, is a very real one, and it's time that we grappled with it.

I say we've been sleep walking for the last 10 years, because the truth of the matter is that after a flurry of very useful and very positive activity in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War, for the last 10 years, we've really been going backwards. We've had the emergence of two new nuclear armed states, India and Pakistan, to join the assumed nuclear armed state, Israel, outside the disciplines and constraints of the non-proliferation treaty.

We've had the emergence of the very obvious problems in North Korea and Iran. We've had 9/11, with all that that signifies in terms of the potential for non-state actors to cause havoc if they can only get their hands on the relevant technology. We've had the almost complete collapse of the Russia-United States negotiations that were so important in the early post-Cold War years, and producing quite dramatic reductions of numbers, now all that is really very fragile, and has been on the back-burner for years. It has to be dragged back to the front burner, which is obviously going to be difficult in the aftermath of recent events in Georgia. But that's another dimension of the problem.

And we've had a growing disaffection of the non-weapon states with the manifest unwillingness of the weapon states, the P5, in particular, the members of the non-proliferation treaty to be seen to be taking at all seriously their responsibilities to disarm, or at least to move seriously towards disarmament, under the non-proliferation treaty. And all of that has combined to produce a conspicuous lack of consensus in the international community as to how to move forward on all these issues, as has been manifest in recent years with complete failure of the last NPT review conference in 2005 to agree on any language at all about how to strengthen, or even maintain the effectiveness of that treaty, and the complete failure of the world summit in 2005 when at the UN General Assembly, the world's heads of state and government were assembled to agree on even a single word about these issues of non-proliferation and disarmament.

So that's the background to this Commission, and that's why it was felt that we needed a major new push to energise attention, debate, come up with workable recommendations, practical recommendations that will actually snap us out of this torpor, snap us out of this sleep walk and actually get things starting to happen.

The group that has been assembled is a first class combination of people who were both, on the one hand in a number of cases, very, world ranking technical experts on these matters, combined with people who have had very longstanding experience with government and geopolitics, and understand what the political realities of getting movement on these issues were all about.

The Commission will have nearly a two year lifespan, primarily focusing on and feeding into the NPT review conference process in May 2010, but with a life deliberately extended beyond that, so that we can review where we get to and continue to draw a road map for the future which is not just limited to the framework of the NPT, but addresses the whole constellation of additional issues that have to be wrestled with.

So it’s a long, extended process. The Commission's going to meet on a number of occasions, probably at least six, over the next 18 months to two years. It will be meeting all over the world, not only in Australia and Japan, the two sponsoring countries, but almost certainly in Washington early next year, so that we can both talk to and have an impact on the new administration there And we're also planning, hopefully, to meet in Moscow at some stage during the life of this Commission.

We will also be meeting in a number of other regional settings as well, because we want not only to test our own ideas, but to ensure that we get input while we're still at the idea-formulating stage. What we've been doing this last day and a half is just beginning what will be an extended process. So it's too early to share with you in any kind of detail at all preliminary conclusions or recommendations. They are still some distance away. But Yoriko will comment to you in a moment on how that process has gone so far.

What we've simply been doing is refining and defining the issues and working out our work plan for the period ahead. But there are a number of aspects of the international situation, and it's the final thing I want to say, which do give us some confidence that the time is now ripe to move forward. Not least among them the prospect of a new administration in the United States which will be rather more enthusiastic about recapturing the lost momentum of the last decade.

Part of the thing that also gives us encouragement - part of the intellectual environment that gives us encouragement- is the very strong position that's been taken by the so-called “four secretaries”, some call them the “gang of four” – Kissinger, Shultz, Nunn, and Bill Perry, of course a member of our Commission who have made a hard-headed realist case for disarmament, for ultimately getting to zero, of a kind that hasn't been seen before, really, in international discourse and certainly not in United States discourse. And this has been quite influential already in creating an atmosphere that maybe the time has come to do something.

In that context, I say very last of all, in preparation for this Commission, I've been visiting a number of capitals: London; Washington; New York with the United Nations; Delhi; Islamabad; Moscow, talking to Mr Lavrov very recently; Beijing just a few days ago; and Seoul as well. And in those preliminary consultations I've been very pleasantly surprised by the seriousness with which this Commission is being taken, and the perception which does exist out there that notwithstanding all the previous Commissions, and reports and research projects, and lobbying that's been going on with NGOs and others in recent times, and is projected over the future, that this Commission could be very valuable indeed in bringing all the different substantive threats together and then creating a series of blueprints for action that really might make a difference.

So let me stop there and ask Yoriko to just comment briefly on the proceedings so far in her own and Japan's perspective on this, and then we'll open it up to questions.

YORIKO KAWAGUCHI: Thank you Gareth. First, Japan is very honoured and pleased to be co-hosting this International Commission on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament with Australia.

As you know, Japan is the only country with an experience of nuclear, nuclear bomb, and therefore we feel very strongly about creating a world in which there is no nuclear weapon ultimately. And, in this regard we have been presenting to the United Nations resolutions for the ultimate abolition, of the nuclear bombs, and have been successful. More and more countries are coming to subscribe to this, agree to this.

Also, when I was Foreign Minister some years ago I created Friends of CTBT meeting; actually with Australia and some other countries. And, therefore, we are very happy that we are doing this with Australia.

As Gareth was talking, I think the window of opportunities, opportunities is really widening now, and we do need to grasp this opportunity. It is very important, despite many problems which we still have to overcome. And there are really sometimes the problems seem to be surmountable. We have to move forward and we should take this opportunity.

We have been having discussions for a day and a half. We were talking about basically along the lines of NPT three pillars: disarmament; non-proliferation; and peaceful use. This morning we are talking about non-proliferation. And of course, and this afternoon we'll be talking about peaceful uses of energy. These three pillars are inter-related, so we cannot really clearly separate these three pillars. We go back and forth.

But, the atmosphere of the discussion is very productive. We have, we have good chemistry in the, in the room. Everyone is contributing from their own perspective. And very good ideas are coming up. So I have great hopes for the, for our report.

We are emphasising that we should make our report a workable, practical, realistic, action-oriented report. We do not want to create encyclopaedia of issues on non-proliferation and disarmament. When we produce a report we would like the politicians in the world, and also the public, to see the issues; and so that action will, will take place.

So our focus is there. And the group understands and shares this focus. And so we are, right now as Gareth said, we are not in the position to disclose what had been agreed or what had not being agreed. We are really talking about all the issues, but we are doing this in the best atmosphere we could. Thank you.

GARETH EVANS: Over to you.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] ABC TV. You mentioned the possibilities, [inaudible] possibilities of the new administration in the United States. Are you assuming that'll be an Obama administration, and it might be a way of [inaudible] re-energise this process?

GARETH EVANS: I've talked in Washington recently to both Senator McCain's people and Senator Obama's people, and I'm confident that with either of them there will be some at least positive change, including perhaps early ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would send a hugely significant signal to the rest of the world.

Unquestionably, the agenda in which the Obama people are interested is broader, more substantive, and likely to make a bigger international impact than the relatively narrow focus, at least at this stage, of a McCain administration.

So, I make no assumptions, no predictions, about this. I make the objective point that an Obama administration would, on the face of it, given what I know about the advice that he's getting, and the kind of people around him, be one that's likely to be more substantially focused on this. But, even with a McCain administration, it would be an improvement. There's not much to beat frankly.

QUESTION: There seems to be more - sorry, [inaudible] - there seems to be more concern with Iran than with Israel, and [inaudible], especially considering Israel's known military aggression in the region, and its nuclear program.

It appears that there might be, the Commission might be a bit selective about who they perceive to be a concern?

GARETH EVANS: We are very concerned about the reality that Israel is a nuclear armed state, and want to try to find ways of bringing it and the other two big elephants outside the non-proliferation treaty back under a system of genuine international disciplines and constraints - both on the non-proliferation side and on the disarmament side. It’s very difficult when the country maintains a policy of strategic ambiguity and doesn't concede that it has such weapons, and there are issues that we're going to have to wrestle with in that respect. But let me assure you that the perceived reality of Israel's possession of such weapons is one of the factors that we are not going to ignore, and we're going to try and deal with front on in this Commission. Iran's situation is the focus of a lot of international tension. I mean, Iran and North Korea are really the only issues that, nuclear-related issues that generated any attention at all over the last decade. And it's proper that it should generate attention, because both of them demonstrate, North Korea and Iran, just how close you can get to actual weaponisation while sheltering under the formal legal provisions of the Non-proliferation Treaty.

So quite apart from the risks or otherwise of those particular countries, there are very real issues about the weakness or strength, or the need to strengthen the NPT that flow from the Iran and North Korea cases. There's also the obvious concern that were Iran to acquire an actual nuclear weapon, this does pose an existential threat to Israel in a way that hasn't really been the case arguably with some of the other break out situations; simply because the size of Israel, proximity of Israel, one bomb can do an enormous amount of damage.

So, Iranians have to understand - and I have been in Tehran talking at a very high level not so many months ago - Mr Jalili and others - and to Iranian diplomats in New York and Brussels and elsewhere - that while the country does have its own interests in acquiring domestic energy capability, and while it is within its legal rights to manufacture fissile material purely for peaceful purposes, it does have to understand that its past history and the reality of the geopolitical situation as a whole, and some of the inflammatory remarks that have been made in particular by your President, have not been extraordinarily helpful in creating an environment of trust and confidence.

I personally think a deal is doable with Iran, and that it's not the case that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring an actual weapon, although I'm sure it's hell-bent on acquiring the perceived capability to make such a weapon, and fully going ahead with its fissile material program.

So it does pose a real challenge to the international community, and it's very much an issue we'll be wrestling with on this Commission; as to how to, how to deal with that. But please don't make any assumption that there's any inherent biases or discrimination or ideological angst at work here. We're simply trying to create a world that's not at risk from these weapons; and obviously Iran is a cutting edge case at the moment that has to be seriously addressed.

YORIKO KAWAGUCHI: Just to add to what Gareth was saying on Iran, developing countries are in need of energy. There is no question, there will be an increased demand for energy. And also it is true under NPT, as Gareth was indicating, the developing countries have right to use access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. And that is, that is very true.

But, at the same time, developing countries are responsible for creating confidence among international community, among countries, that peaceful uses is observed and not used for something else. And, I think there is really, you know, this discussion of non-proliferation and peaceful uses is a very difficult one. And we, this is something we do need to discuss, and, but at the same time, regional issues, you know, there is no one stick to cover everything.

Regional issues, I think, probably, will have to be discussed separately. But we do appreciate the need of developing countries for increased energy.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]

GARETH EVANS: I wouldn't quite embrace your words that both candidates want to ratify the CTBT. I'm sure that's the case with Barack Obama. And in the case of John McCain. I think what he's saying is that he's really got an open mind on the subject, and the fact that he's opposed it in the past doesn't necessarily mean he will in the future. But I think it's fertile ground to work with in a McCain administration.

The implications elsewhere of the US actually moving to ratify would be quite profound. I was in Beijing, for example, recently, and without attributing words to any particular individual, I can assure you that across the board, the impression I received was that China would find itself under irresistible pressure to itself to ratify the CTBT if the US were to take that step.

And that in turn would I think have ripple effects right throughout the international community. It would be seen as a very important change of position and commitment by two crucial weapon states. And the CTBT is relevant, of course, both to the disarmament objective, and to, naturally, the non-proliferation objective. So it's a very important first step. And we can't underestimate that.

In Russia, talking to senior Russian figures - including the Foreign Minister - I discerned a real willingness to engage again on the START Treaty and associated arms control measures that have been in limbo, and for which in some cases there's a timetable looming when START expires, at the end of 2009 and an associated treaty in 2012. We do have to get that process moving again.

I have no real doubt that a new American administration, probably in both cases, but particularly again in the case of Obama, would be very keen indeed to recommence that particular process. A complicating factor has obviously been introduced by recent events in Georgia and the freeze in atmosphere. But this is a global issue, like climate change, like the financial system meltdown, which is really just too big to run away from. And I think there is a perception on both sides of the Atlantic that those pieces are going to have to be picked up again. But it is going to require a lot of encouragement and pressure from the rest of the international community, and that's partly what this Commission's about.

YORIKO KAWAGUCHI: And to add to what Gareth was just saying this Commission is not just for writing reports, we are interested in influencing Governments by action, so we will be seeking ways to get our views, you know, get across to the United States new administration, and try to influence in whatever way we could.

GARETH EVANS: And if we do meet them in early next year, which is our hope and intention, probably the two highest issues on the agenda, would be one: CTBT and two: reinstating and reinvigorating the US Russia dialogue. There’ll be lots of other issues as well, but they're both very, very high priority, yes.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]

GARETH EVANS: I think the primary role of Australia's status as one of the world's leading current suppliers, and probably the possessor of the world's biggest uranium reserves, the immediate relevance of that has been to generate a real sense of responsibility in the Australian Government that we have to work very very hard to ensure that our uranium is only used for peaceful purposes, and we should be among the world leaders in advancing that cause. That's been the primary motivation.

There'd be no problem selling Australian uranium. On any view, there's going to be a very substantial increase over the years ahead of the number of new energy facilities that are built, and any uranium replacement technology is decades away. So I don't think there's any concern at all on the part of the Australian Government about using these sort of mechanisms to guarantee markets.

It's much more a matter of ensuring that when we do supply uranium, it's subject to safeguards - either the safeguards that are in the NPT itself, or equivalent safeguards at the very least. And in that context, Australia has entered into a bilateral supply agreement with China, which is fully subject to the safeguards to ensure there's no possible diversion of any Australian uranium for non-peaceful purposes, and in the context of India, as you know, Australia is maintaining its present position, that even though it didn't resist the consensus in the nuclear suppliers group to partially bring India in from the cold, partially begin to expose it to international disciplines, nonetheless, Australia is not sufficiently persuaded by India's status in this respect to be willing to supply uranium until such time as it subjects itself to the NPT or perhaps NPT equivalent discipline.

So I wouldn't make any cynical assumptions at all about commercial motivations lying behind of this. It's wholly public spirited, because there is a huge public policy issue out there.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]


GARETH EVANS: Superseded by a new technology.


GARETH EVANS: Well, I mean, you know, laser technology, space-based laser stuff of this kind is potentially quite alarming, but what we want to focus on is the nuclear problem. We're not going to track over ground to do with chemical and biological, which has been well covered by the Blix Commission among others.

I think we will end up saying something about space-based technology, because that's particularly alarming in a nuclear context, and also is alarming in the context of possible new weapons technology that might be delivered.

But frankly, we have a big enough problem right now in getting nukes under control with 13,000 plus actively deployed nuclear weapons out there, and many more in storage, and very few disciplines on the way in which they could be used, and very real concerns about security and safety. This is a huge problem.

I'm not quite sure whether most people appreciate the scale of the destructiveness that's out there. Even so called tactical battlefield nuclear weapons that can be delivered by a howitzer, by an ordinary artillery field gun: I learned yesterday that some of those shells, nuclear shells that can be fired from a howitzer have the destructive capacity of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. And there are literally thousands of those out there.

A single shell, that's tactical, that's battlefield, that's not great big strategic missile that can be fired across continents and land and destroy a city. I mean the scale of devastation that can be reached, that can be accomplished by these things, is just scary. And the scale of the security proportions and the disciplines and the constraints, it's just much less than people imagine.

You will have seen that story a few months ago about the six cruise missiles, nuclear arms, that went missing in the US. Nobody even knew they'd been misplaced and been shuffled somewhere else until after they'd come back, in fact. And, so much of the stuff that's in storage and potentially thievable by terrorist non-state actors is under the most minimal storage, under the most minimal security arrangements.

There's just a huge job out there. And complacency that this is not a problem that's going to actually happen is really utterly misplaced.

So we've got a big enough job, in other words, to deal with this. And then that's not only just the existing arms that are out there, but to stop new countries acquiring and developing them, with all the risks that are associated with that, and the multiplication of those risks as you get more and more countries in the picture.

It's bad enough with just two big superpowers facing each other off. But when you get multiple players, the risks really do accelerate.

QUESTION: [Inaudible re absence of South African representative]

GARETH EVANS: Well, it was purely a matter of misfortune for her, the South African got ill.

YORIKO KAWAGUCHI: She just wasn’t feeling well. Nothing more than that.

GARETH EVANS: Similarly, the Indian representative, Rajesh Mishra, at the last minute was advised by his doctor, as well as Frene Ginwala, not to fly.

We've actually done remarkably well: I mean, this first meeting was always going to be a wing and prayer in terms of attendance, because the notice was so short from the time of the appointment of the Commission, I thought it would be a miracle if we could get two thirds of our members here. In fact, we've got more than two thirds. And we almost had the full thirteen we were expecting.

YORIKO KAWAGUCHI: Good advisers also attending.

GARETH EVANS: Okay. Anything else? If not, thank you very much. I appreciate your interest. And look forward to seeing some more of you as this progresses.


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