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N disarmament: Suggestions from Geneva

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COMMENTS

8 February 2010 09:13

Dougal McInnes is a former transnational issues analyst with the Office of National Assessments, and has worked with the Department of Defence and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

'Another day, another global panel, another big fat report.' So quipped Australia's leading figure on nuclear disarmament in Geneva last week.

Professor Gareth Evans, co chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament, was at UN HQ presenting the Commissions report ‘Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Guide for Global Policy Makers'. (The report was formally launched in Tokyo last December with Prime Minister Rudd.)

Evans told the audience of diplomats (and interested observers like myself) that since 1945 only sheer dumb luck – not policy – has avoided a nuclear catastrophe by accident, design or miscalculation.

The most insightful offerings in Geneva were Evans' pragmatic suggestions to diplomats who spoke during question time.

Israel's representative underlined his country's concerns about NPT membership. Evans implored Israel to look forward, not back. A small step forward for Israel would be to articulate concerns in a formal dialogue, something Evans managed last year when he convened a meeting in Cairo attended by representatives from Israel, Iran and the Arab League. In short, NPT membership is not a show-stopper and acceptance of this point would be progress.

Similarly, Evans told the Indian representative to the UN in Geneva that, rather than focusing on the intransigence of others, any movement towards signing the CTBT would be progress.

The French representative underlined her country's freeze on nuclear weapon numbers and the dismantling of its nuclear testing facilities. For Evans, however, progress would see France reconsider its unworkable two-tier approach that advocates for reductions and a halt in testing while not formally committing to total nuclear disarmament.

Evans was making the utterly practical point that introspection by those countries with nuclear weapons is the first step. And no matter how small the resulting step, this is progress. Evans concluded by reminding his audience: it's important not to make the best the enemy of the good when it comes to nuclear disarmament.

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