Nuclear disarmament needs new focus

<em>Professor Gareth Evans. Photo by Belinda Pratten.</em>
18 September 2012

ANU Chancellor Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC has called for a renewed focus on nuclear disarmament, particularly in Asia.

Speaking at the inaugural conference for the Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies Society and Journal, Professor Evans – who is also a former Australian Foreign Minister and past president of the International Crisis Group – warned that nuclear disarmament was not getting the attention it deserved.

“Sometimes the biggest policy questions of all get less attention than they deserve,” said Professor Evans. “So it is with nuclear disarmament, an issue that in earlier decades mobilised hundreds of thousands of activists all over the world, and on which every political leader and senior policymaker had to have some kind of an opinion, but which now barely resonates at all with policymakers or publics.

“Part of the reason seems to be complacency: the perception that in the post-Cold War world nuclear stockpiles are not the threat they may once have been. Another appears to be an ingrained fatalism: the perception that nuclear weapons can’t be uninvented, are always going to be with us, and that there is little point in playing Don Quixote. Perhaps most importantly – and in many ways more disconcertingly – there is the perception on which I will focus in this talk: that disarmament is actually undesirable, because nuclear deterrence works.

“Having wrestled with these issues in a variety of incarnations over the years, I believe that is critical that all these perceptions be challenged, and nowhere more so than in Asia and the Pacific, where every nuclear-armed state except the UK and France is a player, and where, unlike anywhere else in the world, stockpiles of nuclear weapons – in China, India and Pakistan, quite apart from what may be happening at a much lower level in North Korea – are believed to be actually growing."

Professor Evans addded that nuclear disarment was not only achievable, but essential.

“A credible case has to be made – in a contemporary 21st Century context, and focusing particularly on the realities of our own region – not only that nuclear disarmament is achievable, albeit only over a protracted period, but also that it is highly desirable. And that means above all contesting the tenacious belief, by policymakers and those who influence them in nuclear-armed states and their allies, that nuclear deterrence is of real value to their national security, and that its benefits outweigh any possible costs.

"And as I have put it on multiple occasions, there is only one other global policy issue remotely comparable in terms of its impact on planetary survivability, and that is climate change. But nuclear weapons can kill us a lot faster than CO2."

Read a copy of Professor Evan’s full speech online at the ANU News website.

The Asia and the Pacific Public Policy Society and Journal are initiatives of the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. The Crawford School is the ANU ‘gateway’ to public policy, modelled on Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

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