Evans welcomes nuclear review  

Transcript – 7.30 Report (ABC), Kerry O’Brien, 7 April 2010

View the video on the 7.30 Report website.

Evans, now co-chair of an international commission on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, has welcomed the US nuclear review and I spoke with him from Jakarta earlier this evening.

Gareth Evans, descriptions of the Obama nuclear review include that it's radical, that it's one of the biggest changes in US strategic thinking since the end of the Cold War. Is it really that radical, really that big a change?

GARETH EVANS, NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION COMMISSION: It's a net positive and it's certainly a change from where the last administration was at. But it's not that super-radical and certainly doesn't go as far as my own commission was recommending in the sense of coming up with a very specific declaration that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons, so long as they existed, was to deter others from using nukes. But what it does do is articulate that very clearly as an objective. It certainly limits in a number of ways the way in which America would use nukes in the future, in particular a very clear commitment not to use them against non-nuclear weapons states which are in compliance with the non-proliferation treaty obligations, and it's also quite good I think in making a very clear commitment not to build any new generation nuclear weapons, which was a strong fear of those who thought that under the guise of stockpile reliability for the indefinite future, the US would be doing just that. They made it very clear: no new missions, no new capabilities. And all of those I think are important confidence-building factors for the momentum that we're all trying now to build for major moves forward on disarmament and non-proliferation.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So in what circumstances would the US now feel justified in using nuclear weapons as a first strike against another country?

GARETH EVANS: Well clearly if it was very directly threatened with nuclear attack by another nuclear armed state - that's the clear case. The slightly less clear case is where it or its allies were threatened by a nuclear weapon state with biological attack or other weapons of mass destruction or conventional weapons of a kind which posed a real existential threat to the country in question. I think the latter scenario is more theoretical than real. Hopefully the first scenario is theoretical as well. But all of this does represent a significant limiting of the circumstances in which weapons would be used, because under the previous administration, a great deal of ambiguity was maintained. In a whole variety of threat is scenarios that option was kept open, including the use by non-nuclear armed states, for example, of chemical or biological weapons that was an occasion for the potential use of nukes. That's now been closed off, those options, and that's an important step forward.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How strong a warning or a message does this review send to Iran or North Korea or any country seeking to develop nuclear weapons?

GARETH EVANS: Pretty strong in fact because the qualification on the assurance that the US has given that it won't threaten or use nukes against non-nuclear armed states. The qualification is that they have to be in compliance with the non-proliferation treaty, with their obligations under it. And of course North Korea has walked away from the treaty, thumbed its nose at it and Iran is presently in this condition of having refused to honour requests and resolutions from the UN Security Council and it's in fact been deemed to be in non-compliance. So, Iran and North Korea have been made very definite exceptions to the notion that they're somehow immune from attack and I think that message will come through loudly and clearly.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How big a step is this in the context of President Obama's pledge a year ago to move towards a world without nuclear weapons. America and Russia will still be bristling with nuclear weapons after presidents Obama and Medvedev sign their new disarmament treaty in Prague tomorrow, will they not?

GARETH EVANS: Well it's one of a number of important steps that all come together. Obama last year in Prague said that one of the things he would do is reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US military doctrine. Well he's done that; not as much as he could've, but he's done it. I think when you add to that the fact that the first steps have now been taken for further serious reductions in US-Russian arms levels with the treaty being signed tomorrow. When you look at the likely quite successful outcome I think next week of the Obama summit on nuclear security issues, locking up loose weapons, loose materials around the world, I think these three things coming together as they have will put a bit of wind in the sails which is badly needed for those of us who want this year to be a year of real momentum generation for the disarmament cause. Look, it's gonna be a very, very long haul before we get to a nuclear weapon-free world. There's still 23,000 nuclear weapons out there. The US and Russia still have 22,000 of them between them and we've got a long way to go of further bilateral and multi-lateral negotiations to get there. But this is all a piece in terms of the overall strategy that we and our commission have recommended and that most sensible people think has to happen. There has to be a combination of these things coming together in this way. So, a net positive I think for this objective.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How strongly do you rate the threat, the real threat of nuclear terrorism and is President Obama's summit really going to do anything? Is it really going to be capable of doing anything to reduce that threat?

GARETH EVANS: The intention of non-state terrorist actors to use nuclear weapons or radiological weapons if they could, is unquestioned - their desire to cause maximum havoc. Their capability of doing so is a matter of question; some people say it'd be pretty easy, others say the engineering and other constraints would make it very tough. But when you think that all they've gotta do is do some - provided they can get hold of some basic nuclear material like highly enriched uranium or reprocessed plutonium. If they can get that basic material, all they've gotta do is some fairly basic engineering to turn it into a crude, primitive, Hiroshima-style weapon, put it in the back of a pantechnicon or a boat steaming into the harbour or a major city and explode the thing and we could be proven wrong as early as tomorrow, those of us - those commentators who say this is a wildly implausible scenario. The risk is not negligible. We've gotta guard against it. And I think the kind of things they're doing next week which is basically aiming at putting flesh on the bones of a whole series previous resolutions, commitments, machinery building, so there'll be really effective implementation of these containment strategies over the next three or four years and the application of the necessary resources. I think all of this is doing as much as could possibly be done to address the nuclear terrorist threat.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Gareth Evans, thanks very much for talking with us.

GARETH EVANS: Nice to talk to you, Kerry. Thankyou.

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