Transcript, E & O E 

18 February, 2010

National Press Club Address, Canberra.

Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AO QC, Co-chair, International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament

LAURIE WILSON: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the National Press Club for today's National Australia Bank address. It doesn't seem all that long ago to me that I can recall a certain former senior Government minister as he contemplated life after politics lamenting the prospect of suffering what he termed the relevance deprivation syndrome.

That minister of course was Gareth Evans, our guest today and if you thought after 13 years as a cabinet minister, including eight as Australia's foreign minister, that he was about to enter a period of international irrelevance, then the records suggest he was sadly mistaken.

Today he is president emeritus of the International Crisis Group, which as you know is based in Brussels and which he directed for nigh on a decade. He was this year's recipient of the Roosevelt Institute's Freedom from Fear Award and closer to home, as I am sure you are all aware, he was recently appointed chancellor of Australia's top university, top international ranked university, the Australia National University.

Today though, he is here in his role as co-chair of the International Commission on Non-proliferation and Disarmament to discuss the potential to eliminate nuclear threat, which continues to hang over us all.

Ladies and gentlemen, with his fourteenth appearance at the National Press Club, I'm told, and the first in just over a decade, please welcome our guest today, Professor Gareth Evans.

GARETH EVANS: Well thanks, Laurie for what some of you will no doubt regard that disgracefully over-generous introduction. I always rather nurtured the hope that if I was to be remembered by posterity for anything I said it would be for one of my more high minded coinages, like the responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes or good international citizenship as an appropriate third layer of national interest to go with security and economic traditional categorisations.

But this being the country that it is and the low minded does tend to sort of rather overwhelm the more exalted, so I am afraid it will be, if I am ever to achieve linguistic immortality, it will be for relevance deprivation syndrome, along, I fear, streaker's defence. But that's another story.

Let me just simply say for the outset - at the outset today that in terms of my role over the last year or so with the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, I could not be suffering less from relevance deprivation syndrome, because this is really one of the great issues of our time and we in Australia are right in the thick of it.

And I suppose I should also say that when it comes to the analysis and the recommendations that we've produced in this report, published a few weeks ago, the things coming out of it can't really be just characterised as what seemed like good ideas at the time. I think these ideas and analysis and recommendations will stand the test of longevity and the test of impact.

That said, I mean this is a sceptical audience and a sceptical city in a sceptical country so I do acknowledge the very high probability that quite a few of you will be taking the view, well another day, another global commission or panel of the great and the good. Another big fat report, uttering worthy sentiments on worthy topics, so what? What's the value added? Been there done that. Blix Commission, Canberra Commission, Tokyo Forum, God knows what else.

I think I can answer that question very directly and very specifically. We do claim, and I think the reception around the world that this report has experienced in the last few weeks reinforced me in making this claim, that there are at least four ways in which this report really does add value.

The first is its timeliness. For the first time in a long time, on this issue of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation we are riding something of a wave, rather than resisting a tide.

The window was initially opened with that famous Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal by the Gang of Four, hard-nosed, Cold War realists, Kissinger, Schultz, Nunn and Perry who made the case, for the first time really, in a way that captured a wide international audience that nuclear weapons, whatever their utility in the Cold War years may conceivably have been, had outlived their usefulness and were really very dangerous indeed.

Then, of course with the ascension of President Obama at the beginning of last year and the response to his obvious deep personal commitment to these issues by the Russian president, among others, a window really does seem to have opened in which, rather than resisting a tide, as I say, we are riding a wave. This report, I think tries to capture that moment and articulate a way in which that wave might be very precisely ridden all the way to shore.

The second value added I think is in the representativeness of the group that put this report together and the process that went into it. The members of the panel, when you look at it, are an extraordinarily distinguished lot, present company of course always modestly excepted. But people like Bill Perry, the former US Secretary of Defence, Shirley Williams from the UK, Yoriko Kawaguchi my co-chair from Japan, Prince Turki Al Faisal from Saudi Arabia and also a number of people who, I think, make very clear that this wasn't a matter of putting together a group who were necessarily going to sing a chorus from the same song sheet.

We had Klaus Naumann, the German, very senior military guy, head of the German Armed Forces and the most senior military man in NATO, who had been on record, in recent years, as saying that nuclear weapons were a pretty good thing and the full range of their deterrent utility ought to be applied in the Euro-Atlantic theatre.

We had also people on the panel like Brajesh Mishra, who was actually one of the fathers of the Indian nuclear bomb. And the whole point was to get a group together that would in fact represent the whole spectrum of views on this issue and see if we could forge a consensus from them in a way that wasn't just lowest common denominator fudge, and I think we have succeeded in that.

Not unhelped by a very, very extensive worldwide process of consultation, many, many meetings in many, many countries, many inputs from many different people and the report, I think, represents that.

The third element that really does add value is, I believe, and speaks for itself when you look at the report is its comprehensiveness. Many of these previous enterprises have tended to focus on one, or at most two of the three issue areas that are so inextricably interlinked in this topic: disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of civil energy.

We have covered all of them in what some of you would no doubt think is nauseous detail, but in a way which is genuinely comprehensive, genuinely teases out not just prescriptions but the kind of analysis that is needed to make sense of those prescriptions.

Finally, above all what I think does make this report one that can claim to be really adding value is its very strong realism, its pragmatism, its acknowledgement that no point in just writing about the world as we would like it to be. No point in producing just another wish list of idealised aspirations. What was absolutely critical was to acknowledge the constraints, the obstacles, the innumerable obstacles which exist out there to achievement in any of these areas, but to show how they might be surmounted and to move forward against the background of a very pragmatic, realistic appreciation of that real world. And that I think has been more than anything else one of the reasons this report has attracted from nearly everyone that's responded to it, publicly or privately, around the world a pretty substantial following of respect and attention.

Anyway, so much for all of that. What are the basic themes of the report? Well, I think a couple in particular that are worth articulating at the outset. First of all, there's absolutely no room for complacency about the issue of nuclear weapons on this planet, despite the sleepwalk, despite the lethargy, despite the obvious complacency which exists in so many of our societies at so many different levels, and has done since at least the end of the Cold War.

The truth of the matter is that when we know what we do know about the fragility of the nuclear standoff and the number of times it came close to catastrophe in the Cold War years, even between a Soviet Union and United States that had very, very sophisticated command and control mechanisms, when we know how much more fragile the command and control mechanisms are now from a number of the newer nuclear armed states; when we know about the capacity under a much more sophisticated IT environment to wage cyber misinformation of a kind that can again raise very high the risks of the wrong messages, the wrong signals about incoming attacks and so on being received; when we know what we know about the reality or the intent at least of non state terrorist actors to wreak the maximum possible havoc if they ever had half the chance, and when we know what we know about the capability to do just that which is very high when it comes to so called dirty bomb explosions to harness radio nucleis of a kind that are very widespread, available in medical and industrial uses to conventional explosives which would cause psychological havoc, although, not a huge amount of physical damage.

But we also know that their capacity is not negligible to go all the way to acquire by one means or another, or to make by one means or another an actual nuclear weapon, a full scale nuclear weapon, with results that would be absolutely catastrophic if there were to be a triggering of such weapon in any major population centre anywhere in the world.

When we know what we also know about the risks of proliferation adding to the number of countries with nuclear weapons that are out there at the moment, and when we know what we also know about the risks associated with a very dramatic explosion in civil nuclear energy of the kind that is widely anticipated in the context of climate change fears, not least. Not so much with power stations themselves, but with the production at the front or back end of the fuel cycle in association with those power centres of new enrichment or reprocessing facilities of the kind that have not been exaggeratedly called bomb starter kits. If we do see in the context of a doubling plus of the world's civil nuclear capacity a number of new states coming on line, not only with power reactors but with uranium enrichments processing facilities or backend plutonium reprocessing facilities, we're in for a lot of potential trouble indeed.

And when you add all of that up I think you come to a couple of conclusions. One, that it's sheer dumb luck, not a matter of political leadership, good management, inherent stabilisation or anything else that we haven't had a nuclear catastrophe so far in the last 65 years that nuclear weapons have existed. And secondly that it will be an absolute miracle if that luck continues for very much longer in the future.

The best way in which I think all of this has been articulated is very, very simply by the Canberra Commission in 1996 in language that was picked up in the Blix Commission and that we ourselves make the heart of our core message. It's this in three simple sentences: so long as any country has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any nuclear weapons remain in existence anywhere in the world, there is a grave risk to the point of certainty that they will be one day used by accident or miscalculation, if not design, and any such use would be catastrophic for life on this planet as we know it.

So, what are the policy prescriptions that flow from all of that? What do we do about the 23,000 nuclear warheads that are out there right now with a destructive capacity equal to 150,000 Hiroshima scale bombs, 2000 of which warheads are as we speak now, even 20 years after the Cold War, on very high alert such that if there is a signal that comes in to either Russian leadership or the American leadership that there are incoming ICBM's, possibly nuclear tipped, the President of each country respectively has between four and eight minutes to decide whether to launch a retaliatory nuclear response.

In this kind of world with those kinds of weapons around, with those kinds of systems still in place, with this kind of capacity that we know about from the Cold War years for human fallibility - for machine fallibility, for machine disinformation through cyberspace and so on - what the hell do we do about it? Well, the actual prescriptions that flow through this report are many and varied.

Let me summarise them very, very briskly and I'm happy to go into more detail on each bit of this in question time if you want.

Summarise it very briefly by saying that rather than just putting out a whole pile of undifferentiated policy responses and recommendations, what we tried to do was gather them up in terms of practical action agendas, short term, medium term and long term respectively. The short term, the next three years to 2012. The medium term, the next 15 years through to 2025. The longer term beyond that. What are we saying in short about what the policy responses should be in each of these three time periods?

I'll spend most of the time on the short term because this is the period when we really do have to get some runs on the board and set this process moving forward and generating momentum because without this in the next little while, it's going to be very, very difficult to build it in the way that's necessary.

Three basic things have to be done. Three boxes of things in the short term. First of all, to do something about the necessary building blocks for both disarmament and non-proliferation. And there are three such building blocks in particular that are very relevant here.

One is the issue of better securing potentially loose, or actually loose, weapons and weapons material out there in the world as it now is. That is essentially the subject matter of the Obama Nuclear Security Summit in April, and I think we can expect some reasonable returns from that. The second building block in the short term is obviously the long - the aspiration of so many of us for so many years now of bringing into force in effect the comprehensive test ban treaty. To not just be relying upon the present voluntary moratorium, but actually ensuring that it has legal force which will mean the necessity of a number of identified designated states to formally ratify it, beginning with the United States.

President Obama in his famous Prague speech last year said that he would aggressively pursue that objective. The world cheered, but such now has been the impact of the Massachusetts meltdown and other factors contributing to the very obvious dumbing down of American politics that there's no longer I think any confidence anywhere that that goal can be achieved, but it is a terribly important one to keep centre front on the agenda. And when the Americans do ratify it we can expect many other countries presently holding back to do likewise. And the third building block that's really crucial to get moving on is this fissile material cut off treaty which sounds exotic but really what it means simply is an international agreement to ban the further production of any new fissile material, highly enriched uranium or plutonium of weapons grade, the kind that could be used in nuclear weapons.

That has been a very protracted process getting that negotiation started, and I'm afraid it was very high priority for President Obama again last year in his speech, but once again that's become horribly stuck in the Conference on Disarmament Process in Geneva with our Pakistani colleagues once again refusing to give consensus to the process moving forward and enraging almost everyone else in the world, except perhaps one or two countries that are sheltering behind them in the process. Anyway, they're the building blocks.

Then there's the specific issue of disarmament. How do we get moving on that in the short term? Well, the crucial elements here are again three fold. First of all, bedding down the current US Russia bilateral negotiation that's been laboriously pursued over the last year since Obama came to office, and is now finally pretty much agreed as between the US and Russia. But again is still awaiting actual ratification now, or will be in the next month or two, by the US Senate. And again in the very jaded and polarised political environment that exists there what had been thought of not many months ago as an absolute lay down misere, an absolute certainty, has now got a lot of people worried. And of course if that momentum is not sustained an awful lot of other things are going to go off the boil because the United States and Russia between them have 22,000, 95 per cent of the 23,000 weapons that presently exist, and without their leadership we're not going to get very fair on any of these fronts.

Moreover, it's not just bedding down this treaty and ratifying it, it's ensuring that within the next three years we have at least the beginnings of a serious ongoing process of further deep strategic reductions, or deep reductions in all classes for that matter of nuclear weapons by these two countries. We can't just settle with what we've got. The second thing that's got to happen so far as disarmament is concerned in the short term is for at least a start to be made on bringing other countries, other nuclear armed states, into a process of at least talking about disarmament and hopefully getting to the stage where they're at least committing, if not to reducing their arsenals, not to increasing them.

That's going to be a very hard ask with China, Pakistan, India which are three countries which at the moment are almost certainly engaged in increasing their arsenals, even though all these other countries apart from the US and Russia between them only have about 1000 warheads at most between them. Nonetheless, if they're going to continue to increase, it's going to be very difficult to get the dynamics into disarmament mode rather than making the situation worse mode.

So we've got to get something moving at least in that area in the next little while. And the third thing that has to happen so far as disarmament is concerned in the short term is for there to be at least the beginnings of a serious move by the major nuclear armed states on the question of nuclear doctrine to reduce the role, the salience of nuclear weapons, in national security strategy. At the moment there's only China and India are formally committed to a policy of no first use which means that they would not, if they're to be believed, ever use nuclear weapons other than in response to a nuclear attack themselves, not for other security contingencies.

But the other nuclear armed states give no such guarantees, make no such declarations. And as a result we have the spectacle of the US umbrella, nuclear umbrella, for example, being available and being very explicitly available for not only the US but its allies to protect them, not only against the possibility of nuclear attack, but the possibility of biological, chemical, cyber or conventional attack as well.

And unless you move away from that all purpose strategic ambiguity, that all notion that nuclear weapons are available across the whole range of security contingencies, you're not even beginning to make a move on disarmament.

We hope very much, and the commission's report is very explicit and very articulate on this subject, not without some difficulty from my Japanese colleagues for whom a broad nuclear umbrella has been, until very, very recently, a national article of faith, we have made very strong recommendations which I have been very actively advocating with the US administration in particular in recent months in the context of the US nuclear posture review, which is going to announce a result in just a very few weeks at the beginning of March.

If it is the case that President Obama is able to come up with new language in the US nuclear doctrine which actually gives content to his Prague speech last year in which he said, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, if he does that I think that will give a major boost to the cause we're talking about. If that doesn't happen, that will be a matter of very considerable disappointment. So that's another thing right in the short term that is hanging in the balance at the moment.

I said there were three boxes of things in the short term. The third box relates to non-proliferation itself. And here obviously the objectives over the short term period, the next three years, to resolve if we possibly can, contain at least if we can't, the Iran and DPRK North Korea nuclear breakout, or potential breakout problems which I'm happy to say something more in question time if you want to pick up that theme, but also in the very short term we have to make a success in the next few months of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the NPT Review Conference, which comes around at five yearly intervals and is squarely centre-front of global attention at the moment in May.

What will be necessary to account that success I think basically again are three things.

One, very strong agreement coming out of that global conference for measures to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime which frankly, badly needs it, and again, without going into detail now, what we're talking about here are better safeguards, verification mechanisms, better compliance and enforcement mechanisms and a strengthening of the staffing and budgetary resources and, indeed, whole culture of the International Atomic Energy Agency itself.

The second thing we need from the NPT Review Conference, apart from agreement on those specific measures, is some very strong statement of commitment joined by the present nuclear weapons states towards the goal of disarmament.

They are notionally obliged by the language of the NPT treaty itself, the famous Article Six, to move towards nuclear disarmament and indeed general and complete global disarmament. But of course for many, many years that obligation has been honoured far more in the breach than in the observance. Double standards have been perceived as being alive and well by the vast majority of the non-weapon states, and I think this is very much coming to a head in the NPT Review Conference this year. And unless the nuclear arms states do agree to a strong statement of commitment - everybody knows it's going to take a hell of a long time and I'll get to that point in a moment. But at least a strong and believable commitment that they're on that path is going to be very, very difficult to get buy-in, by these other countries for the critical commitments that we need, the agreements that we need, the treaty changes that we may need to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.

So a strong statement on that and again, one of the things in this report is a strong such draft statement picking up the language of the last one that was actually agreed in 2000 but which disappeared without trace at the 2005 conference. We have articulated a way of bringing that up to date and giving real content to it. And one of the many things I'm doing as I move around the world now - with something like 40-odd speeches to make in 26 countries over the next five months - that's one of the themes that I'm pushing very hard, both publicly and in private discussions with key governments.

And the third thing that is necessary I think to make a success of the NPT Review Conference - there are lots of other issues as well that'll be out there - but the third big issue that really could determine the success or failure of this is forward movement on the issue of a Middle East weapons of mass destruction free zone or nuclear weapons free zone. This is an issue that has resonated enormously, as a number of people in this room will know, with the NAM countries, the developing countries who made it a condition of their agreement to the 1995 indefinite extension of the NPT Treaty that there would be movement on this issue.

We all know that it would be utterly quixotic to contemplate Israel, a very major nuclear arms state in the region at the moment, although not acknowledging that status. We know that it would be quixotic for Israel to move now to any formal negotiation for such a treaty, and it's just not going to be persuadable on that subject until it feels that its own neighbourhood is peaceful and stable. But at least we can move further forward on that subject.

And one of the, again, useful things I think this commission did during the last year in which we've been in operation was to hold a regional meeting in Cairo which was attended by all the major Arab league countries and by Iran and by Israel as well in which we had a very productive discussion about at least some of the pre-conditions and pre-requisites for such a zone in the Middle East.

And if that can be translated into some further process of this kind in the year ahead we may be able to manage this particular issue, which could otherwise be a serious showstopper at the May review conference. So they're a long, long list of short term things on which movement really is necessary.

Much more briefly in terms of the medium term agenda, what we're arguing for and what we think is realistically doable, although of course the world is full of sceptics on this subject, we think that by 2025, the next 15 years, provided we can generate some serious momentum in the short term, it will be possible and should be aimed at to bring the stock of nuclear warheads down from the present 23,000 to less than 2000 which would be a more than 90 per cent reduction.

To get there we would need the Russians to come down from 13,000-odd at the moment to about 500, the Americans to come down from 9000-odd to around again 500 and for the other nuclear arms states, six of them or six and a half if you want to add North Korea and for the other nuclear arms states to not at least increase there arsenals over that period. That would be a very, very dramatic reduction and inherently make the world a lot safer than it is at the moment, but we also say it would need to be accompanied by two other objectives being achieved in that time frame.

The second objective is for universal agreement by the nuclear arms states on a no first use doctrine which would mean that for such nuclear weapons, as they all have, they all committed to not using them other than in retaliation for a nuclear attack, not for any other contingency.

And thirdly, in order to give credibility to what might otherwise just be thought to be an oral commitment, not worth the paper it was written on as they say, it would be very, very necessary for the deployment of those nuclear weapons to also reflect that commitment by only having a very small number of nuclear weapons actually physically deployed.

No doubt countries would want them to be in submarines and otherwise and mobile land-based systems which would be survivable in the event of a surprise nuclear attack. But a minimum number so deployed. Certainly none of them on high launch alert status and with most of them disassembled, dismantled and not available for immediate use at all.

If we could get that kind of world, with very low numbers, nuclear doctrine of the kind I described, nuclear deployments of the kind I described, it would be a hell of a lot safer than the world we have at the moment.

But that can't be the end point for all of this. You have to keep your sights very, very firmly set on the ultimate objective of getting to zero if you are going to sustain this momentum and get the kind of buy-in that I keep describing as necessary, from all the other countries in the world that have so far exercised a degree of restraint in terms of their own nuclear acquisitions.

And so the objective has to be in the third term, the longer term that we describe after 2025, to as soon as possible get from those minimum numbers to zero.

One of the things the commission did not do despite many invitations from civil society and lots of other people to do so was to identify a specific date certain, the target date by which we thought this zero objective could actually be achieved.

Of course we could have plucked a figure out of the air as most other people dealing with this issue in this way have but we thought it would defy credibility to do so. Because the truth of the matter is there is a quantum leap involved in terms of what's needed to manage the achievement of minimum to zero as compared to what's necessary to manage the achievement of what we've got now down to minimum.

In other words there's a very, very big qualitative as well as quantitative difference between the minimisation phase and the final elimination phase.

In particular, and we spell all this out again in the report, you've got to deal with the geo-political realities that will, or hopefully may not continue to exist. Not only the tectonic plate issues that determine the posture of the major powers viz-a-viz each other but also the regional issues that have been the source of so much volatility and have been the incentive for so much of the nuclear weapon acquisition and activity we've seen.

You've got to deal with the psychological reality that even if every rational argument in the world militates against retaining nuclear weapons, still you're going to have to have - you're going to have countries for reasons of status, prestige, testosterone or whatever, absolutely determined to hang on to what they've got and not give them up.

You're going to have questions of verification which will be very hard to address creating in effect something close to certainty in the minds of leaders of all these countries that nobody will steal a march on them, that the system of monitoring will be such that anyone tempted to break out will be very quickly discovered.

And you've got to have an enforcement mechanism in place that will give everybody confidence that if there is that attempted break out the world as a whole will do something about it that's effective and not be stymied by the kind of present security council vetoes and so on that have so often inhibited this. So, that's the series of tasks that we've identified for ourselves. Just a final few words on the subject of the politics of all of this. The short term is extremely important as I've said and it's the very short term, this year 2010, that's probably the most important time frame of all.

I've already mentioned the number of things that are going to come to a head this year and even if one leaves to one side the uncertainty about the comprehensive test ban treaty ratification, the uncertainty about the status of the fissile material treaty negotiation in Geneva, we still have a whole lot of other opportunities to move either forward or backwards in the course of this coming 12 months.

The Russia/US ratification and follow on negotiations I've already mentioned. The nuclear posture review decision by the United States I've already mentioned. The Obama Security Summit I've already mentioned in April.

The NPT Review Conference I've already mentioned in May and of course the omnipresent spectre of the Iran situation, in particular, hanging over us all year.

There's a lot of international policy energy which is going to have to be harnessed. It's going to have to be energised, going to have to be mobilised if we are to move forward on this issue. And it's got to come at a number of different levels. It's obviously got to come top down from the major nuclear weapons states themselves: Russia, the United States in particular, but the other existing nuclear arms states as well.

They've got to be serious and demonstrate that they're serious. There's got to be much more bottom up activity than we've seen in recent decades from civil society actually mobilising community sentiment in the way that makes sceptical governments believe that this is an issue to which they have to be responsive to their own electorates.

But above all I think, and this is where Australia very much comes in - this will be my final word - it requires peer group activity, middle order level. Not by the top guys, not just civil society, but by the great majority of states around the world that don't have nuclear weapons and who collectively and in some cases individually can exercise a great deal of influence indeed.

Germany, I have to say is very much one of those states and Germany under its present government and Minister Westerwelle and Defence Minister Guttenberg, both of whom I've met in recent weeks, have been very, very positive in their support for this kind of agenda. It's very, very important that we get that kind of commitment and energising from core groups of these states.

In this particular context I think it is fair to say to a no doubt sceptical, again, Australian audience, that Australia can play a very, very major role in this respect. The reality is that we've got a very strong track record and it was that track record that Kevin Rudd was building on when he set in train with his Japanese Prime Ministerial counterpart this exercise in mid-2008. We were the country that brought - negotiated to a conclusion the Chemical Weapons Convention back in the days when I was foreign minister. A lot of scepticism that that could ever happen but it did. We are the country that played a crucial role in ensuring the continuation in '95 of the NPT, the indefinite extension of the NPT itself. We are the country that in the '95-'96 period played a crucial role in the negotiation of the comprehensive test ban treaty in taking it out of the cul-de-sac in Geneva into New York where in fact it got endorsed and with results we see today. And we are the country that mobilised the Canberra Commission back over a decade ago in '96 which was really the first governmentally sponsored commission to actually identify the issues in stark terms and to begin to create an international agenda.

I think with the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament we're very much continuing that tradition and this has built us a very high international profile and it's one moreover that we simply have to, whatever the perception about the degree of difficulty of all of this and you do have to be an optimist to move forward, this is an issue in which we can make a real difference.

So we've really got no choice. We've really got no choice because this is an issue, as I began by saying, about which none of us can be complacent.

Nuclear weapons are right up there alongside climate change as the only two - between them global issues - where mis-steps in policy could lead to an end to life on this planet as we know it. And frankly mis-steps with nuclear weapons could kill us all a hell of a lot faster than CO2.

So my very last sentence is just this: the reality is that in this business as in so many others, both optimism and pessimism tend to be self-fulfilling, and I believe that the only choice that I for one can make and this country for one can make is to come down on the side of the optimist and work like hell to make this vision, difficult, distant, optimistic as it may be, a reality in the years ahead. Thank you.

LAURIE WILSON: Thank you very much, Professor Evans.

Time now for our usual round of questions from our media members. And the first question today is from Mark Dodd.

QUESTION: Mark Dodd from The Australian.

Do you support the tightening of sanctions against Iran, over its refusal to have low-enriched uranium converted offshore, and if so, what forms should those sanctions take? Thanks.

GARETH EVANS: I don't think we have any alternative but to pursue as an international community a further round of sanctions with as much effectiveness as we can possibly muster, and probably the most effective form of sanctions are the financial ones that inhibit the flow of capital to, in turn, make very difficult, not only as a trade finance and so on, but actual investment, which is desperately needed and which will ultimately have a really negative economic impact on Iran.

Of all the lessons we learnt about the application of sanctions, particularly in the apartheid years, it was that, forget about trade sanctions, forget about sports boycotts, however much they made us feel better, the only sanctions that did make any difference were the financial ones. Add to that, targeted sanctions against key individuals and you do have something which, potentially at least, has some utility.

I have to say that I'm a little bit sceptical about whether any of this is going to make a hell of a lot of difference so far as Iran is concerned. We've already seen Iran staring the world down pretty consistently with all the efforts that have been made over recent years to get it to wind back or ultimately to stop altogether its enrichment activity. They're simply determined. I know because I've spent time in Iran, I've spent time talking to Larijanis(*) and Jalilis(*) as well as many, many other diplomats whose names would be less familiar. I know how they think and how they feel about this, and they're simply not going to compromise on those basic questions of enrichment.

And they may not be, which they regard as their right, as it probably is, under the NPT, so long as its not in a weaponisation context, they're also, it may be the case, that they're not going to compromise, either, in terms of continuing backroom efforts to actually acquire the weaponisation capability, to translate that enrichment into actual weapons.

Where I do think, however, we would be overreacting, would be to make the absolutely, you know, cast iron assumption, that all of this is about actually acquiring nuclear weapons. I think there's a very strong case to be made, it's getting more difficult to be confident about this with the extraordinarily volatile and difficult domestic situation in Iran, but I think, from my own extended experience in dealing with this is, there's a very strong case to be made that what the Iranians want is simply virtual capability, breakout capability.

They want to be seen as having the ability to make weapons if they chose to do so, be seen as also having technology capability, which makes them a major level international player, to have the record of having stared down the West, which makes them a major player in the developing world and in the region particular.

But all of that can be achieved without running the risks of actually acquiring weapons themselves. And it should not be assumed, however much the number of people keep forminating[sic] about this, it should not be assumed that this is an issue beyond negotiation, beyond a negotiable outcome, in a way that would be satisfactory for everyone.

It's hard, very, very hard, dealing with the Iranians, but I think if you bring that frame of mind to bear on it, you still need sanctions out there, you still need the prospect of heavy duty disincentives being in play, as well as incentives, as well as options for more effective monitoring, you need all of that.

But you do need a cast of mine, which says that all this is directed at result of achieving a negotiated solution, not, you know, forcing humiliation and complete retreat upon the Iranians, because, frankly, that's not going to happen, that's not in the national psyche to accommodate anything of that kind. So, very, very delicately balanced issue.

QUESTION: John Kerin from the Australian Financial Review.

Given it's an election year and, I guess, climate change and nuclear issues coincide, to some extent, with the use of peaceful nuclear energy, and your report endorses the use of it, would you like to see a full on debate about peaceful nuclear energy in an election year in Australia?

GARETH EVANS: Well, I'm a healthy realist about these issues, even having been outside politics now for a dozen years, and that's not going to happen. But I do quite strongly believe this is an option that should be kept open in the longer-term for this country, as, indeed, for everyone else. The reason for doing so, in terms of being able to produce base load electric power generation capability, without leaving carbon footprints all over the place, is self-evident. The difficulties you've got in achieving that kind of performance with other forms of renewables, even in the most optimistic viewpoint, all point to the reality that nuclear power's almost certainly, in the long-term, going to have to be part of the mix, however successful we are on the other side of it with carbon capture and all the other strategies that'll be designed to reduce use.

The critical thing is to ensure that, if we are going to move forward on peaceful useful energy - peaceful nuclear energy, we do address the three S's; safety, security, and safeguards. Safety issues speak for themselves, security issues, ensuring that nuclear material is not misused from these facilities, safeguards ensuring there's no diversion of nuclear material from these facilities to military uses, are the critical issues.

And my own view is that it is possible to come up with pretty good answers, in terms of meeting all three of those constraints, but it is going to require a lot of active policy commitment.

Our report goes into, in a lot of detail, the issue about what's involved in generating nuclear non- proliferation resistant technology, sort of closed cycle strategies that at the moment are pretty expensive, but do offer a way forward, that you just don't have this problem of the need for enriched uranium at the front end and the option of reprocessing it at the back end which is so obviously able to be fed into military uses.

There's also a long discussion in the report about other strategies to ensure the multilateralisation of the fuel cycle, involving either fuel banks or fuel supply guarantees or some other way of multilaterally managing those very sensitive facilities at the front and the back end. And the world is going to have to get a lot more serious about accepting those sorts of options than is the case at the moment. There's a heavy duty international debate on all these issues, but - and they're a long way from resolution. But bit by bit there are bits and pieces of good news emerging. I've just been in the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, a few days ago, where they've just announced this big deal with the Koreans to establish four reactors over the next few years, and they've, I think, established something of a gold standard for new nuclear energy generating countries by absolutely renouncing the creation of their own domestic enrichment facility or reprocessing facility. Other countries have not been so explicit, and therein lies the problem.

But the final word to say on civil nuclear energy is that anyone who thinks that you can make a case in this day and age for abandoning nuclear energy completely, as many civil society activists were urging upon us, is to really, quite fundamentally, miss the point, that in the perception of just about all the players in the international community, peaceful nuclear energy is the trade-off for the non-proliferation commitment.

Support for developing countries being able to develop that capacity is absolutely centre front in their thinking, even if their practical capacity to move down that path might be difficult, it's just part of the ideology that's out there. So, quite apart from the intrinsic merits of the issue, which I've been mentioning, the politics of trying to - to try and put a scupper( on peaceful nuclear energy, while at the same time trying to get the buy-in that you need on the other fronts, for non-proliferation, is just very bad, indeed, and just doesn't make any sense at all in terms of the larger objectives of this report.

QUESTION: Chris Johnson from the Canberra Times.

Mr Evans, I'd like to take you off the nuclear topic for just a moment, if I can, and draw on your former life.

You were fundamental in establishing APEC, and in the ASEAN Regional Forum, so you know what's involved in getting these regional groupings together, in this region. Would you give your honest assessment of Kevin Rudd's chances of getting his Asia-Pacific community up and running by 2020, and in the same vain, drawing on your experiences with the UN, what are Australia's chances of getting a seat on the Security Council for 2013-14?

GARETH EVANS: Well, in the present environment, getting improved Asia-Pacific architecture is going to be a difficult call and probably a long haul enterprise. But I don't think any of us should be in any doubt about the utility of that enterprise proceeding, and the absolute utility of Kevin Rudd having opened up a major regional debate on this issue, as he has by his call for an Asia-Pacific community. The basic problem is that APEC is all very well, although it hasn't delivered to anything like the extent that I, for one, would have liked in terms of its basic trade liberalisation agenda.

APEC'S all very well as an economic forum, but it's condemned to go on being just an economic forum, not least because of its composition with Taiwan among its members, which means that sovereign security-type issues are just not going to be part of the repertoire of its discussions. You might do it in the corridors and APEC meetings have actually been the occasion for some major developments on the security front, not least the agreement to move into East Timor in '99. But APEC's got the problem of also being a rather large sprawling size and with very strong representation from across the other side of the Pacific, which may or may not be helpful in getting to where we arguably need to be.

On the security side, you have again a problem of the existing ASEAN Regional Forum, which Australia also had a lot to do with the creation of, not really being seen as an effective vehicle for mobilising - at least at a sort of a summit level - the kind of exchanges that are needed on those topics. And its membership, again, although very broad, is not comprehensive enough to enable what arguably really is necessary, and that is a serious joined-up conversation, at least annually, between the region's major leaders, key players, to address some policy formulation across this whole sprawling terrain of inter-dependent economic and security issues.

So the debate is alive and well. It's been taken a considerable distance in the last 12 months. It needs to be taken a considerable distance further. As I understand it, the Government's in the process at the moment of sort of weighing and balancing options in ways of moving forward. But it's certainly something that I for one, as someone who is intimately involved - and as you acknowledge in the creation of all this early stage of this stuff - does need to be taken forward.

On the question of Australia's security chances, the problem we're facing is that we were late into the field for the election in 2012. Countries do start negotiating and lobbying for this years and years in advance. And in the Western European and Others group, we are finding ourselves competing with Finland and Luxemburg which may not, in the face of it, sound like a, you know, spectacularly difficult task to win one of those two places against - in a three-way contest. But, in fact, it is, simply because when countries are very early in the field, security council votes are a negotiating coin for all sorts of things. And all sorts of people want votes and support for other things, and in return for which you say, well we'll support you in that, if you support us for the security council.

So it's tough, but it's a long, long time since Australia's been there. I think we should be there. We are a creative, energetic middle power, with many, many policy contributions to make. The kind of posture and profile that we've struck again now with this Nuclear Threats Report, making the running on that. The kind of - the posture that the present government has established on the G-20 issue and there are so many other ways, internationally, a lot of which are still work-in-progress issues, as we know.

But the stature is there. And I think there's - for that reason - every reason for confidence now that this can be pulled off. But also reason for realism and reason for caution. It's not going to be easy, for just the reason I mentioned. It's nothing really to do with the intrinsic methods. It's got everything to do with the political dynamics and the mechanisms that are involved in getting there.

QUESTION: Kathy Alexander, Australian Associated Press.

Just a further question for you on Iran and you were talking about financial sanctions. Would you mind just expanding on how those sanctions might work and exactly what they would be on and also when you think they should start. And you also mentioned the possibility of targeted sanctions against key individuals. Could you just take us through what that could mean and against who?

GARETH EVANS: Well financial sanctions essentially work through not necessarily formal mechanisms and formal resolutions. They work through the key centres of movement of the world's capital, the key governments involved, making their own policy decision that their own national corporate entities, financial entities, will not be able to trade directly with the country in question, or to deal financially with the country in question. And moreover, not deal with anybody else who's dealing with it, or not to deal with other corporate entities that are dealing with it. So very, very quickly, you can leverage this up into a really - because a lot of countries are looking over their shoulder. What do we do about our bank capitalisation needs, you know, if we've got all the American banks and the European banks denying us simply because we've been trading with another party indirectly. Maybe two or three removes from dealing directly with Iran. This is actually how it works. I mean I'm simplifying grotesquely, but that's the core idea. And that can actually work. But one of the problems with Iran, of course, is that China is a very keen supplier of investment capital and doesn't feel especially constrained by constraints of this kind. I'm not saying that's the only dynamic at work with China. And might I draw to your attention, those of you who are interested in this topic - and China's role in particular - to a report of my old organisation, the International Crisis Group, which has just been published in the last day or so, which is exactly on this issue about China and Iran and what the dynamics are in play; and, you know, the balance of issues that will weigh upon Chinese decision-makers and it's by no means a one dimensional thing with their economic interests trumping everything else. It's much, much more complex and subtle in nuance than that. But that's basically the way it works.

Targeted sanctions probably not as directly applicable, in this context, as they have been in quite a few other less sophisticated problem areas, where you're just talking about miscellaneous tyrants who you deny travel rights to, you lock-up their bank accounts in Switzerland or elsewhere. You deny their kids access to education, which might be a bit rough, but that's one of the things that does tend to be quite effective in influencing people.

I mean you've got to be careful about over-stating the utility of all of this. I mean the notion that AK47 wielding Janjawid(*) camel-riding militias in Sudan would be much inhibited by being forbidden from shopping in Harrods in something that's sort of - something that, you know, gives one pause and, you know, you've got to be sensible about this. But the other form of of sanction that has become increasingly important in a lot of international discourse - not so much applicable to the Iranian-type case - is the availability of court action through the International Criminal Court under the ICC and the Rome Statute. And, in the other sort of area that I work in, which is conflict more generally, there's no doubt that that spectre of possible justice - with all the difficulties in actually making the system work in bringing people to justice - is the kind of thing that can concentrate individuals minds wonderfully. They can be very, very powerful individual weapons to hold over people. But that's probably as much as I can say.

And when you add all that up, does it amount to something that's sufficient, you know, to bring Iran to its knees on the enrichment issue? Question mark. Big question mark. But I don't think we can do anything other than to pursue that at this stage. The steering down of existing UN Security Council Resolutions, IAEA Resolutions, has just been too blatant for the world to ignore and, therefore, you've got to make the effort, but with a healthy appreciation of how difficult it all is.

QUESTION: Dan Harrison, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

Australian officials in Jakarta have reportedly spoken to Indonesian officials about the political sensitivity of executing convicted Australian drug couriers in an Australian election year. I just wondered whether you might express a view on that course of action, whether it seems reasonable to you, or whether it might carry risks?

GARETH EVANS: I'm afraid you're going to have to go on wondering, because I'm not an all-purpose quote generating resource these days. I might have been in the past, for most things, but not any more. I'm not an all-purpose commentator on current events. I'm out of that. That's for the Government.


Professor Evans, you mentioned earlier that it's only by luck that we managed to avoid a nuclear crisis to this point, and bearing in mind that we've been through a cold war, is the situation in the world, as you see it at the moment with the nuclear ambitions of places like Iran and North Korea as you've mentioned; does that mean that we're going to test - or put that luck to the test, between now and the laudable target of a nuclear free world?

GARETH EVANS: I think in many ways the situation is more dangerous, even now, than it was during the cold war years. And this is essentially the key point that Kissinger, Schultz, Nunn and Perry - all tough-minded realists - have been concerned to make. I mean two issues.

I mean things were bad enough already in the cold war years. And I mean there's more and more of this stuff coming out in the public domain, which really is - you know, you tear your hair out when you realise how close we came.

I'll just give you a couple of examples: I mean the Cuban Missile Crisis; it's only now becoming well known that there were a number of Russian submarines in the area, nuclear armed, nuclear torpedoes. And on one occasion a US depth charge knocked out the communication system of that submarine with Moscow. And under the process - command and control process that existed in this very sophisticated cold war environment, the decision as to whether to fire the nuclear weapon, under those circumstances, was devolved to a majority decision of the three most senior crew members on the submarine. They put it to a vote and the vote was 2-1 in this instance, not to fire the submarine. So we came - and this is a true story - we came, you know, within one vote of officers in a Russian submarine, of World War Three. I mean really it was as close as that. And that was the cold war. That was the sophisticated period. Again, I mean Bill Perry told the story to our Commission, being woken at 3 o'clock in the morning, when he was a very senior computer resource guy in the Defence Department; our computers are showing, Dr Perry, 200 Russian ICBMs on their way towards us. We think it's a glitch, because there doesn't seem to be any reason why they should be doing this. But do you think you could get over here in the next three minutes and tell us what exactly is going on?

There's another story, perfectly true - I mean Senator Chuck Percy was visiting a major nuclear facility buried deep underground in the mid-west and he was given a demonstration of what would appear on the screens, what would happen, if there was a nuclear attack coming in from Russia. Someone put a demonstration tape into the wrong computer, with the result that Chuck Percy had a wonderful demonstration of what it would be like if there was 700 missiles on their way. But the trouble is the rest of the NORAD's system also got that same message on its computers and there was a god-awful scramble, which took about close to 10 minutes to unravel as to what the hell was happening.

Another story - I think it was Norway, one of the Scandinavian countries - was launching a communications satellite towards the end of the cold war years, in the vicinity of the Russian border. And somebody, somewhere, had forgotten to tell the Russians. No, it wasn't the cold war years, it was the early post-war years, under Yeltsin. Somebody had forgotten to tell the Russians that this satellite was being launched and it had all the fingerprints, all the profile of one of the kind of satellites that - one of the missiles that's launched in the early stages of a nuclear exchange, designed to knock-out the communication capacity of the other side. And it's known that the Russian commanders in question recommended to Boris Yeltsin that this could be nothing other than a nuclear signature attack and it should be retaliated accordingly. Luckily, President Yeltsin at the time made the decision that he could just not believe - in his understanding of the current dynamics in play with the US and so on - that it could be anything of this kind - said, no, wait until we find out what the hell this is about. And that was the result.

Now all these stories - and I mean there are many, many like them; some of them in our report - make the point that it was sheer dumb luck that nothing worse happened.

And now, as we look at the world around us, not only do we still have 2000 Russian and American warheads on that high alert status, with the football being carried around by both the Russian and the US President everywhere they go, with all the human error issues that are associated with that machine era, cyber-misinformation era potential, we also have other players in the game. We have other nuclear armed countries; India, Pakistan, whose commander control systems, frankly, are not so sophisticated.

Another story: I was in Islamabad February last year, eight weeks after the Mumbai attack in India. I'd been in Delhi a couple of days early. You could cut the air with a knife in Delhi, right throughout India. You could cut the air with a knife in Islamabad. There was incredible tension in the air. What was going to happen? And the militaries were gearing up for a potential major exchange.

I was in Islamabad talking to senior officials. I said, well, this is the nightmare scenario that many of us have been worried about. You've both got nuclear weapons. What's the possibility of them being used in this kind of confrontation? Oh, no. Impossible, impossible. We've got all these command control systems. Besides which, we've got a hotline which exists between the two military commanders and the political leaders, and if anything got to the stage of that degree of tension - you know, implying that this was - what was going on right now - you know, there's all these fail safe mechanisms.

On my way out to the car park after this meeting, a very junior official tugged my sleeve. He said, look, I just thought I'd better tell you something. What they didn't tell you in there at that meeting, is that the famous hotline, eight weeks into this particular tension situation, has not been used by either side. Not one single phone call had been made by either side to the other, so, you know, whatever else happens, let's keep this calm and under control.

So that was a very long answer to a very short question - but the basic point is, you've got nuclear players out there that don't have the sophistication which wasn't much good anyway, of the cold war powers. You've got the potential for new nuclear players to come into the game, with all these problems being multiplied. You add to all that the problem of a terrorist act that's out there, with unquestioned intent and a degree of capability. We shouldn't exaggerate that. We shouldn't be too alarmist about it, but you have to say it's there. So when you add all that up, it's nuts not to take this issue head on. And bearing in mind how difficult it's going to be, at least get the momentum started, so that we're on our way to making the world just a little bit safer and a little bit saner when it comes to this issue.

QUESTION: Steven Scott from the Financial Review.

I'm going to try my luck with the quote-generator as well.

If we believe the polls, some of the shine's coming off Kevin Rudd. Given your previous experience, how do you think Labor will go in the election and what advice would you give to Kevin Rudd?

GARETH EVANS: That degree of naivety, combined with that degree of hutzpah. I'm not going to say anything more about it.

QUESTION: Mrs Schubert from The Age.

Let's see if we can get a quote on this one. Can I just take you back to the issue of nuclear power and your comments before that Australia should preserve it as a long-term option. What do you think the ramifications are of President Obama's recent comments about the American nuclear energy program? Do you think that will spark a broader global embrace of nuclear power in other countries? And do you think it's not just a long-term option for Australia, that we should actually be thinking about this in the short, to medium-term?

GARETH EVANS: I don't want to make any comment about short-term or planning, or anything else. I'll say no more than I think it should be an option that's kept open and that we should have an ongoing debate about it, because it's difficult to see that we - any more than anyone else - can solve this problem without nuclear power making a significant contribution to it.

As to whether President Obama's renewed statement of enthusiasm just a few days ago for a new surge of activity in the US which, of course, hasn't seen any new nuclear power station produced since the Three Mile Island affair, accident in - when was it, '79. It's been a long, long time. I think that will feed into a growing global perception that provided we can deal with these three S's issues; safety, security, safeguards. And provided, in particular, we can deal sensibly with the issue of front and back end sensitive technologies, really this is something that should be very, very seriously considered.

I mean our European colleagues here would be well able to comment on the very visible mood change that I sense in European countries, that not so long ago were making irrevocable decisions to phase out existing nuclear capacity and certainly not to contemplate any new stuff. I exclude, as always, our French colleagues from this, who have never been troubled by vital bodily fluids considerations of this kind. But the Swedes, the Germans, you know, you can speak for yourselves, the mood is on to make this shift because, I mean, people are just looking at the realities, looking at the numbers and wondering how in the hell we can realise these objectives without this kind of base - non-fossil fuel base load generating capability. I mean it's just that there's an awfully compelling logic to it.

And what's very, very interesting is the number of environmental groups around the world that are sort of agonising and wrestling with this and the slow shift that's evident as people weigh and balance these alternatives. It's not going to make any less necessary the need to deal effectively with the issue of waste management and all the other problems that are associated with nuclear power. But frankly, in the scheme of things, they're a pretty manageable set of problems and they ought not to spook us into thinking that this is not a way forward.

LAURIE WILSON: Let's conclude on that note.

LAURIE WILSON: Gareth Evans, thank you very much for an illuminating and I must say, to some extent in some areas, disturbing address today. Thank you for casting light on these issues. It's an issue that I think many of us probably don't think very much about and it's wonderful that that's something you've been thinking a lot about and working on over the years. It's a great pleasure to have you back in the club. I didn't realise it was 10 years since you addressed us, 14 addresses. Let's see if we can make it 15 at some point. Let's hope it's not 10 years down the track before you're back with us again.

[ Ends ]

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