Hiroshima and the World: Nuclear Disarmament, The Long Road from Hiroshima

by Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans
Born in September 1944 in Melbourne, Australia, Gareth Evans is Co-Chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), and has been President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, the independent NGO working to prevent and resolve deadly conflict worldwide, since January 2000. He was previously a long serving Australian politician and Labor Government Cabinet Minister, including as Resources and Energy Minister (1984-87) and Foreign Minister (1988-96), becoming best known internationally for his role in helping develop the UN peace plan for Cambodia, conclude the Chemical Weapons Convention, initiate APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum, and in establishing the Canberra Commission on Eliminating Nuclear Weapons. He has written or edited nine books, most recently the prize-winning The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All in September 2008.

Nuclear Disarmament, The Long Road from Hiroshima

My connections with Japan and international efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament go back a long way. As a twenty year old university student back in 1964, Japan was the first overseas country I ever visited. Anyone’s first visit abroad always makes a lifetime impact, and that was consolidated in my case by the memorable set of experiences I had as I travelled around the country for six weeks by third class train--eating nothing much else but soba and yakitori; sleeping in ryokan; immersing myself in Japanese culture; learning basic Japanese; and coming to grips with a country that was just beginning to come to terms with itself as the horrible legacy of the War years dropped away.

The most memorable, and moving, of all my experiences in that trip was my visit to Hiroshima. As I stood in the Peace Memorial Park, in the shadow of the Atomic Bomb Dome, I was profoundly moved, as hundreds of thousands of visitors before and after me have been, by the horror of what had occurred on 6 August 1945. At the same time, however, a determination began to grow in me to ensure, if and when I could, that no such nightmare ever happened again.

After I became Foreign Minister of Australia in 1988, there was a chance for me to start making good on that promise to myself, in relation to both nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. In 1989, I convened an international meeting of industry and government leaders in Canberra which won global industry support for a convention totally banning chemical weapons, and in 1992 presented a new draft of such a convention to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, which broke a long-standing deadlock and led a little later to the Chemical Weapons Convention finally being adopted. In 1995--dressed in lawyer’s robes--I presented to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, on behalf of the Australian Government, the strongest case that I could make that nuclear weapons were illegal under international law. And that same year I convened the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, whose 1996 Report made the basic case for the absolute elimination of nuclear weapons in a way that still strongly resonates today.

In the years since, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation have never been far from my mind, as members of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission chaired by Hans Blix and the Commission of Eminent Persons created by Mohamed ElBaradei and chaired by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo on the future role of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

And now I have been honoured to join my friend and colleague, former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, as Co-Chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Hiroshima played a big part in the birth of this Commission, which was created after Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made his own pilgrimage there in June last year, and proposed immediately afterwards to his counterpart, then Prime Minister Fukuda, that it be established.

The aim of our Commission is to reinvigorate international efforts on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, in the context of both the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, and beyond. Despite significant reductions in nuclear arsenals in the early post-Cold War years, for most of the last decade the international community has been sleep-walking on nuclear issues while problems have multiplied. India and Pakistan have become nuclear-armed, North Korea and Iran have challenged the non-proliferation treaty regime, U.S.-Russia and multilateral arms control negotiations have completely stalled, and the 2005 NPT Review Conference and World Summit both failed in their norm-setting roles.

We have seen in the same period the reality of an active international smuggling network involving nuclear materials and technologies. We have real reason to believe that terrorist groups with both the intention and capacity to cause havoc are actively seeking to obtain either a nuclear weapon or to build a massive ‘dirty’ (or radiological) bomb; if they ever succeed, a major new catastrophe is in the making that will make 9/11 look almost insignificant. Governments have already taken some measures to deal with this new threat, but much more needs to be done.

Beyond all that, with growing concerns about both energy security and fossil-fuel impact on climate change, more and more countries are seeking to acquire nuclear reactors for electricity generation, with some of the technologies under consideration raising proliferation concerns of their own. But it is not easy to deal with those concerns when an increasingly vocal group of countries make clear their unwillingness to accept significant restrictions on their right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to develop such technology when the nuclear weapon states have shown little or no reciprocal willingness to comply with their own Treaty obligation to pursue negotiations for nuclear disarmament.

The non-proliferation regime, in other words, has become fragile. The last NPT Review Conference in 2005 ended in failure, and heads of state and government at the UN 60th Anniversary World Summit in the same year could not agree on even a single word on any issue relating to non-proliferation or disarmament. Yet the risk of something going very badly wrong with nuclear weapons, and the catastrophic implications of this for the whole world, are at least as threatening to our future as the implications of the present international financial and economic meltdown and the global warming crisis.

Our Commission hopes to make a substantial contribution to changing this situation. And the time certainly now seems ripe for seeking change, particularly with the obvious commitment that the new U.S. President Barack Obama has already shown to reducing the nuclear threat. In doing so, he has added his voice to the already strong calls made in the past two years by a number of senior statesmen around the world--including some very hard-headed realists like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz--for the elimination and outlawing of nuclear weapons. So far nobody has moved very far down the path from words to action. Among the crucial roles the Australia-Japan Commission can play is to energise a high-level global political debate around highly specific short, medium and long term action plans.

The Commission is very well positioned to do this. Its members include not just nuclear or military experts, but a number who bring many years of first-hand experience in the workings of government at the highest levels. That is extremely important, because in making our recommendations, we have to frame them in a way that has real resonance for policymakers, not just appeal to the nuclear ‘priesthood’, those specialists whose language flies over the heads of most political leaders. What we have to do is make not just a moral and technical case for ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, but a strong political case, making clear the costs and risks of continued weapons possession, and the ways in which national security can still be guaranteed without them.

We do not underestimate the extent of the challenge we are facing, nor the length of time it will take to achieve full nuclear disarmament. We are realists, but above all we are also optimists. We believe that there is every chance that the new leadership being shown by the U.S. in particular will generate not only a positive outcome from next year’s NPT Review Conference, but new momentum across a whole range of complex and inter-related issues which will set us on the road toward really dramatic reduction of nuclear risks over the next decade or so, and ultimately the absolute outlawing of these terrible weapons.

When the Commission meets in Hiroshima in mid-October to finalise its major report, I am confident that the spirit of the hibakusha--which I first came to understand in my visit to this city as a very young man 45 years ago--will be both an inspiration to us and an ever-present reminder of how much it matters to change the course of history and ensure that this city’s nightmare will not be experienced by any other.

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