What is to be done? By whom? When? and How?

What is to be done? By whom? When? and How?

Joseph Camilleri: Thanks very much Richard – just a simple question that I thought I might wrestle with. As most of you will know, over the last 60 years, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set the nuclear clock, which is the Doomsday Clock, as a symbol of how close or how far we are from catastrophic destruction. And that minute hand has swung from about two minutes to midnight at the height of the Cold War and the first hydrogen explosion in 1953 to 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, with the formal ending of the Cold War.

In January 2007, it was set at five minutes to midnight, and with very good reason, because a great number of events and trends that have come together over the last 20 years, despite the complacency and euphoria of the post Cold War period, have suggested that we are in fact perilously close to the possible first use of a nuclear weapon, as we have been at many times during the Cold War.

And it’s precisely in response to this understanding and perception, which is quite widely shared among those who think seriously about the question, that we have had so many attempts, proposals, initiatives, commissions, studies…attempting to address ways of diffusing the problem.

And of these various suggestions, probably the most important insight, which has been with us for a long time, is the idea that somehow we must move, not just towards ameliorating the situation, but towards the final abolition of the nuclear weapon.

And as part of that, it has been, I think, an important idea that commitment should be legally enshrined in a nuclear weapons convention. Now unfortunately that basic idea has often been misrepresented, or at least poorly represented, poorly expressed, as if it were an all or nothing proposition. That suddenly tomorrow, the next week, the next year, such a convention will have been signed and that will be the end of the story. Of course, it is going to be much more difficult and much more complicated.

But nevertheless, it offers us, I think, a very useful compass as to how we might proceed. And the suggestion I have put forward, which is not purely original to me, is that we should be thinking of a staged approach. A staged approach for agreeing to such a convention, and a staged approach after such agreement, for the implementation of the convention.

And perhaps both staged approaches could be understood in terms of three phases. The first phase, which might take us from now to roughly 2015, might be one in which we agree to a number of useful initiatives, many of which have already been mentioned by Gareth Evans, and I won’t repeat them. They are all fairly well known to us. That would take us to the coming review conference in 2010, and to the next one, 2015.

And in the second stage, which might go from 2015 to 2025, a 10 year period, we could see the actual holding of an international conference at which agreement would be reached for a nuclear weapons convention.

And thereafter, we would have the second part, hopefully, of that 10 year period, and then the third phase, 2025 to 2040, for the actual full implementation of the staged approach enshrined in the convention, itself.

The value of such an approach is that it gives time to build on constructive initiatives, each allowing for greatest confidence, mutual confidence, that the next step is possible, and providing a wide range of actors, governments of all kinds with different geographical, political, cultural locations, each to play its own role.

And it gives, of course, a very important role, also, to clusters of governments, to coalitions of all kinds–small and large, and to a number of international organizations, whether it be the UN Security Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency, regional organizations, the EU, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or whether it be the Asia-Pacific community that some people are speaking of. And it gives a very important role to civil society organizations, nationally, locally, regionally, and indeed, globally.

So let me, in the few minutes that I have left, suggest what might be useful initiatives if we keep in mind two countries of particular interest to us as we foreshadow the conclusions of the commission of which Gareth Evans is the co-chair, the two countries being Australia and Japan.

It would be useful, if shortly after that commission has published its report, both countries were to commit themselves to the goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons and to a nuclear weapons convention, and to do this as a formal resolution of their respective parliaments. And we should be preparing for this very quickly in Australia.

Fortunately, the parliamentary inquiry that has just produced its report, more or less proposes precisely such a course of action. In line with that objective, both governments, having received the report of the commission, should then proceed to articulate a package of proposals and measures as part of a staged or phased program of action.

Such a program would then be set out in a major Prime Ministerial speech in each country. It would be a Rudd statement in the case of Australia. This would then be echoed in a series of other ministerial statements, foreign ministers and other senior ministers, not just in the parliament, other parts of Australia, and most importantly, at the United Nations and other international forums. That must be a clearly understood goal that we are striving for, as of now.

Both governments would commit themselves to a rigorous nuclear safeguards program. The underlying text of that program would be that no materials, facilities, or equipment would be made available to any country which is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), or to any nuclear weapons country which has not committed itself to a transparent and comprehensive nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament policy in the aftermath of the commission’s report.

Civil society organizations both in Australia and Japan would have a great deal to do, as well. In close consultation, professional groups, media groups, educational bodies, as well as the longstanding peace and related groups, would need to engage in a national public awareness and educational program, preferably based on a coalition which would had been formally organized no later than the end of 2010.

At the same time, civil society organizations, taking their cue from the report of the commission, would give particular prominence to a number of well selected, strategically projected proposals for widespread public discussion and eventual adoption by a number of governments.

Such proposals, concrete, specific, and action-oriented, would include Australia and Japan hosting an international conference designed to strengthen existing nuclear weapons free zones and the encouragements of new ones.

Australia and Japan then actually set in motion the process, which will take quite a few years, for the drafting of an international convention for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

And most importantly, in each country, the establishment of a formal ongoing consultative mechanism linking government and its various departments to civil society organizations in Australia and internationally.

Bilaterally, jointly, Japan and Australia would seek a sustained dialogue with the United States with a view to encouraging both the US administration, Congress, and the Pentagon to support and, where appropriate, initiate some or all of the steps outlined in the commission which will be reporting to us within the next few months, and a similar dialogue attempted jointly by Australia and Japan with China.

Australia and Japan, acting again in tandem, should initiate a sustained dialogue, the third dialogue, with their Southeast Asian neighbors, in particular Indonesia and Malaysia, which have had a longstanding interest in nuclear disarmament with a view to determining which specific bilateral and multilateral initiatives would be taken.

Australia and Japan should give serious consideration to which cluster of countries, governments around the world they would wish to lend their support and active participation in pursuing many of these initiatives on the global stage.

Consideration should also be given to ways of integrating this agenda, nuclear nonproliferation disarmament agenda, in ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asian Summit, and importantly, in any of the discussions currently taking place with a view to the establishment of an Asia-Pacific community.

Japan and Australia should launch a concerted diplomatic effort to ensure the success of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference next year. And in particular, to articulate what are the key principles that link nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament, which must be before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference of 2010, and in line with that, promote a set of concrete proposals in line with key elements of the commission’s report.

In the event of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty conference not achieving the desired outcomes–a real possibility, hopefully not–both Japan and Australia should then have already intimated that in the event of such result, they would seek to place a nuclear weapons convention proposal before the General Assembly, preferably at a special session, and if necessary, before the Security Council.

Such a plan cannot, of course, come to fruition without the necessary commitment of human and financial resources. To this end, two closely related measures are advisable. Both countries, once the commission has issued its report, should set up a high-level interdepartmental committee, and no element of civil society in Japan or Australia should rest for a minute until it has been formed. An interdepartmental committee coordinated by the prime minister’s office, which would have overall responsibility for the formulation and execution of the Australian National Action Plan and the Japanese National Action Plan, respectively.

Such a committee would be assisted by a sufficiently large team of experienced and knowledgeable resource personnel, who would contribute to the framing of policy, the presentation of policy in diplomatic forums, its implementation, and the complex processes of negotiation, consultation, and collaboration with civil society.

And for this to work, civil society would need to do its work; professional groups, media groups, educational bodies, religious groups, and many, many others. The ideas and proposals that I have been suggesting would then make a nice fit with the kind, hopefully constructive, proposals that will come out of the commission either late this year or early next year.

These are nothing less than highly practical, modest steps that are within the reach of both Australia and Japan. In each case, civil society and government have, at different times in both countries, played a constructive and important role, though seldom, regrettably, in collaborative or sustained fashion. This is the opportunity that we now have.

Both Australia and Japan are regional powers whose history, geography, and political culture make them uniquely placed to contribute to the cooperative effort that is needed to create, in the longer term, a world free of nuclear weapons.

At five minutes to midnight, there is not one second to lose.


About Joseph Camilleri

Joseph Camilleri is the Director of the Centre for Dialogue, La Trobe University.

He presented this speech at a public forum on nuclear disarmament, Who Will Stop Nuclear Next Use? The forum was organized by the Nautilus Institute at RMIT. It was held on Sunday 20 September 2009 at RMIT Storey Hall.