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Introducing Hans Blix

Introduction by Gareth Evans to Addresses by Dr Hans Blix at United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) Dinner, Melbourne, 27 August 2007, and Australian Society of Labor Lawyers (ASSL) Forum, Sydney, 28 August 2007

When Kofi Annan hauled Hans Blix out of retirement in January 2000 to head the newly reconstituted Iraq disarmament commission (UNMOVIC — UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission), I doubt that he or anyone else would have foreseen that nearly eight years later, alarmingly close to his 80th birthday, Hans would be travelling almost non-stop around the world, being honoured and feted at functions like this, his views constantly sought by the media — and not least, having a starring role in the movie Team America…

The reason of course is that Hans, by his performance as the UN's chief weapons inspector in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq war and subsequently — calling the situation coolly, professionally and exactly as he saw it, and absolutely refusing to be intimidated by the US, UK or anyone else into supporting any case for invasion based on weapons for the continued existence of which he simply could not find evidence — has become a global byword for professionalism, integrity and political independence.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed Hans Blix's career, or knows him personally, as been my privilege for the last 20 years since I first met him in Vienna in his capacity as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and mine as Australian Minister for Resources and Energy (or 'pipes and holes' as we used to call it).

Hans began his professional life, as did I, as an academic lawyer, in his case teaching international law, but he shifted rather more swiftly to diplomacy — noting that some have been unkind enough to suggest I never made that shift at all! He spent fifteen years in the 1960s and 1970s in the Swedish Foreign Ministry as an international law adviser and disarmament specialist, and was then Sweden’s secretary for development, before becoming Foreign Minister in 1978-79.

I have forgiven him doing so as a member of the Swedish Liberal Party — which, in Sweden as here, is actually the Conservative party — because as Hans himself puts it, the Swedish Liberals, while to the right of the Swedish Social Democrats, are actually a standard deviation or two to the left of the German Social Democrats: which in my considered comparative judgement puts them and him, in Australian Labor Party terms, about three or four standard deviations to the left of the NSW Right…

It was following his stint in Swedish politics, in his new capacity as head of the IAEA, a position he held for 16 years, from 1981-97, that Hans really came to be a familiar face in the international community. Under his leadership, while it didn’t get every call right — who of us ever does? — the IAEA became an extraordinarily professional, respected agency, committed to ensuring that the non-proliferation regime held together, preventing nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and ensuring that it was used for peaceful purposes in the safest possible way.

The role of the IAEA and its successor Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, was of course recognised by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. A great many people around the world share my belief that Hans Blix deserved to be also up on that Nobel podium, not only for his extraordinary efforts in holding a sane policy line on disarmament in the lead up to the Iraq War, but for his extraordinarily dedicated and capable leadership of the IAEA during those crucial earlier years.

After he stepped down from UNMOVIC in June 2003 Hans threw himself into the chairmanship of the Swedish-government sponsored Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, in which I had the pleasure of serving alongside a cast of vastly more distinguished international arms control experts. The Commission's report, which we published last year and about which Hans will no doubt talk some more this evening, makes an important contribution, I think, to getting restarted a long-overdue international debate on non-proliferation and disarmament, and the critical connection between the two, making the point that even if weapons of mass destruction cannot be uninvented, they can — if we can only mobilise the political will — be completely outlawed, and their use made unthinkable.

A particular pleasure for me, having initiated with Paul Keating the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and then having had to watch the Australian Government which followed us effectively disown its report, was to see the Blix Commission adopting as a central theme the mantra of the Canberra Commission that 'So long as any state has nuclear weapons others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, there is a high risk that one day they will be used, by design or accident. And any such use would be catastrophic.'

Working directly and closely with Hans on the work of that Commission over three years was for me a huge personal pleasure. Some of the enjoyment was, I have to say, of a slightly masochistic kind in that Hans was a ferocious taskmaster, always knowing exactly what he wanted to saying, being very quick to produce his own drafts and being very stubborn about giving away any single one of the beautiful phrases he thus created — some were unkind enough to describe him in this respect as 'the Gareth Evans' of this Commission!

Looking back now over his still far from complete career, Hans Blix can be proud of not only what he has achieved, but how he has done it. We all know I guess that in these wildly misleading stereotypes that prevail Swedes are supposed to be shy, unemotional, conflict-avoiding, and dour.

Now Hans may not be the world's rowdiest extrovert, but he is anything but shy, and risk-averse when it comes to standing up for what he believes is right, however great and powerful his critics or adversaries may be. And he is anything but bloodlessly unemotional when it comes to making the world a safer and saner place, free once and for all from the horror and terror of weapons of mass destruction.

Hans Blix is a great international citizen of the kind we all wish there were many more in high places today. It has been one of the great honours and privileges of my life to know him — and it’s a great pleasure now for me to invite him to address us.