From Ideas to Action: "Political Will" in International Decisionmaking
Address by by Professor Gareth Evans, Co-Chair of the International Commissions on Nuclear Non-Proliferation & Disarmament and Intervention & State Sovereignty, President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group, and former Foreign Minister of Australia, Brisbane, 31 March 2010
It is a pleasure and a privilege to have been asked to deliver this oration in the series celebrating the University of Queensland’s 100th anniversary - which is also the inaugural Annual Public Lecture for UQ's School of Political Science and International Studies. With the continuing close associations I have with three other jealously competitive major universities – as Chancellor of ANU, a Professorial Fellow at Melbourne and an Honorary Fellow at Oxford – you will appreciate that I am under great pressure not to say anything too quotably effusive about this campus and all who sail with it.
But, frankly, it’s very hard not to. This is a great university, one of the very finest in Australia, and right up there in comparative international rankings. And you certainly rank very highly indeed in my own immediate field, with the School of Political Science and International Studies offering an extraordinarily large and comprehensive range of studies in international relations generally, and hosting three centres of real distinction in specific areas on which I want to focus in this talk: the Rotary Centre for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution, the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and the Disarmament and Nonproliferation Studies Unit. In research and teaching in these areas, and many others as well, UQ has set the bar very high, and the invitation you extended to me to help honour your past achievements, laud your present ones, and wish you every continuing success for the next century, is an offer I couldn’t refuse.
For any of us engaged in public policy issues, domestic or international, as practitioners, academics, media commentators or simply interested observers, one of the most oft-repeated lamentations of them all - one that we’ve all heard more times than we can remember, and have probably uttered ourselves almost as often – is that there is a “lack of political will” to do something that is crying out to be done, and which seems on the face of it to be not impossible to do, even though it might be difficult, complex and take time. Whether, to take just a few familiar international examples, it is delivering sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, or Greek and Turkish Cypriots, or Indians and Pakistanis over Kashmir; or intervening robustly to stop mass atrocity crimes in Rwanda or Darfur; or simply getting on with the business of ridding the world of the most destructive, indiscriminately inhumane and militarily unuseable weapons ever invented, over and again we are inclined to say, by way of explanation or excuse, that the problem is simply that the necessary political will is just not there.
I have been familiar with that lamentation, and wailed it often enough myself, through a lifetime of trying to influence public policy. First as a young civil society activist trying to get local, state and national politicians engaged and energized on issues like indigenous land rights, law reform and apartheid. Then as a politician and cabinet minister myself, trying to mobilize my peers within the national government to see issues the way I did and give me the budgetary resources to tackle them. Then also as foreign minister for a number of years, trying to energize my peers in the international community to initiate and follow through collective responses to various problems we faced, whether it was delivering peace in Cambodia, building new regional economic and security architecture, or meeting the challenge of chemical and other weapons of mass destruction. Then again as a rather older civil society activist with the International Crisis Group, in the somewhat unusual position of playing the traditional NGO bottom-up advocacy role but being able as well to work the high-level peer group access track. And on multiple occasions over the last twenty years, sitting on international panels and commissions with various of the global great and good trying to not only identify but implement global solutions to problems ranging from conflict and mass atrocity crime prevention to nuclear disarmament. Whether one is inside or outside the decision-making tent, or somewhere in between, the frustrations – I can testify better than most – are just as acute. The biggest constituency, in any policymaking community, is inertia: doing nothing is almost always easier than doing something, and reasons for caution or delay can always be found.
But what I have learned very clearly from four decades of trying to make things happen, nationally and internationally, is that there is no point in simply wailing. The absence of political will is the occasion not for lamentation, but mobilization. As the Wobbly labour agitator Joe Hill put it before he faced a Utah firing squad on a trumped up murder conviction in 1915 - in words which at least some of my fellow agitators and film buffs from the 60s might recognize – ‘Don’t mourn, organize!’. To explain a failure as the result of lack of political will is simply to restate the problem, not provide an explanation or any kind of strategy for change. The need to generate the necessary will to do anything hard, or expensive, or politically sensitive, or seen for better or worse as not directly relevant to the national interest, is just a fact of public policy life. Political will is capable of creation, and subject to change: its presence or absence is not a given. It is not a missing ingredient, waiting in each case to be found if we only had the key to the right cupboard or lifted the right stone. It has to be painfully and laboriously constructed, case by case, context by context.
So what do we have to do to contruct that political will, to move from ideas to action, when it comes to international decisionmaking? What if anything have I learned from all the different experiences I have had – in the world of government, activist NGOs, and policy commissions – about how to get things done? Mainly, I think, that the task has to be accomplished at four levels - ensuring first, that there is knowledge of the issue by everyone that matters; second, that there is concern to do something about getting it right, third, that there is a clearly identified process available in terms of both strategic solution and the institutional and organizational means to advance it; and fourth, that there is the necessary leadership, without which - even if every other box is ticked, inertia will inevitably prevail.
In the time remaining I want to illustrate these themes by referring particularly to my experiences in the two areas in which I have co-chaired international commissions – on Intervention and State Sovereignty, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament – and from which I think more general lessons can be drawn as well as from anywhere else. The discouraging news, let me say at the outset, is that putting in place all the elements I have mentioned is very hard work indeed: it needs good arguments, sustained energy and creativity in advancing them and, especially in the case of leadership, a measure of luck. But the better news is that at least the arguments and strategies are there, and that there are plenty of both governmental and civil society actors around – not least in Australia itself – with the competence, commitment and organizational capacity to advance them.
Perhaps it is worth stating one rather obvious general caveat before we plunge further into detail. What is in issue here is not just political will as such, but the right kind of political will. Getting what one asks for in life can be a risky business, and here as elsewhere it is important to stay clear-headed. There was no shortage of will involved in the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, or some other alarums and excursions of both historical and recent memory. The problem of political will can on occasion be not so much its absence as its over-exuberant presence.
The first requirement for getting something done about an international problem is knowledge - ensuring that all the relevant players know that it exists. In my experience this is not usually as inhibiting a factor as it is sometimes claimed to be, but nonetheless there are a number of ways we can improve the chances that this will not be a credible excuse for inaction.
In the case of mass atrocity crimes – genocide, ethnic cleansing, major war crimes and crimes against humanity - there is a long history of political leaders trying to explain their inaction in the face of catastrophes such as Rwanda saying after the event “we didn’t know what was happening” or, more subtly, “we didn’t fully appreciate how serious the problem was.” But over and again, when these claims are properly evaluated they turn out to be quite false. There was always someone within the system in question who had a clear sense of the nature and scale of the catastrophe that was unfolding, and in most of the worst cases there was at least some kind of memorandum conveying that information finding its way to the most senior decision-making level. That nothing, or not enough, then happened was a function of there going missing one or more of the other elements that make up political will – insufficient concern, insufficient belief that external action would make a difference, poor institutional process in shaping deliverable options and acting on them, or simply failed leadership.
One of the clearest examples remains the United States reaction to Rwanda in 1994. When President Clinton visited Kigali in 1998 he said, in the course of a moving speech to the crowd at the airport, “All over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed in this unimaginable terror.” But a subsequent report in 2004 by the National Security Archive, an independent nongovernmental research institute based in Washington D.C., which went to court to obtain the material, disclosed that the CIA's national intelligence daily, a secret briefing distributed directly to the president, vice-president and hundreds of senior officials, included at the relevant time almost daily reports on Rwanda, with considerable detail about what was happening.
More can be done to ensure that the “no knowledge” excuse within governments and intergovernmental organizations is in future totally untenable. An important step would be for them to establish focal points within their systems staffed by officials whose full-time day-job it is to keep track of the relevant information, evaluate it, ensure that it gets on to the relevant desks, identify response options and follow them through. Those who have never been involved in decisionmaking at the highest levels can scarcely begin to imagine how many problems and issues are simultaneously clamoring for attention at any given time, how hard it is to get anyone to focus on anything but the most immediate and urgent, and how tempting it is to deny, diminish or defer a problem in the hope that it will disappear entirely or be seen as someone else’s. The “focal point” approach - still barely in its infancy in most of the governments and organizations with which I am familiar - will make succumbing to that temptation much less easy.
The media, non-governmental organizations and other civil society actors, including research institutes both inside and outside universities (like UQ’s Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect), all have crucial information-generating and disseminating roles in this area. For NGOs and research institutes, the challenge need is to supplement the kind of sharply focused reports and briefings and alert bulletins being regularly distributed by organizations like the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch with more broadly based, coordinated and sustained public advocacy on such a scale and of such an intensity that it simply cannot be ignored by senior decisionmakers.
In the case of the media, there is no question but that good reporting, well-argued opinion pieces and in particular real-time transmission of images of suffering do generate both domestic and international pressure to act. The “CNN effect” can be almost irresistible. But with few exceptions there is less to this than first meets the eye. Part of the problem is that many atrocity crimes occur in security environments too hair-raising to expect news crews to stick around, or in areas where they have been refused access by the authorities, and conscience-shocking and action-motivating images just do not get into circulation. And the other part of the problem is that in the current “infotainment” media universe, most international stories – to the extent they get covered at all – are treated briefly, selectively and without sustained follow up.
It may be that the traditional role of the mainstream media as the basic information source for policymakers, as well as publics at large, is now being superseded, particularly for generations younger than mine, by all the new forms of electronic communication, broadcast, narrowcast and direct personal messaging. But the lesson is that if civil society organizations and activists do want to ensure that decisionmakers continue to have no excuses when it comes to knowledge of mass atrocity crime situations, they will have to continue to work hard to communicate the relevant information by every means that modern technology has to offer.
In the case of nuclear issues, when it comes to militaries, defence ministries, weapons research laboratories and think tanks and research institutes generally there is still a substantial pool of specialist technical knowledge on nuclear weapons systems and arms control strategies. But it is not clear that enough of these specialists and scholars are finding it possible to make the transition from Cold War thinking to that required in today’s world, where – and I will come back how this issue should be now argued – nuclear weapons are far less the solution than the problem. Nor is it clear that the pool is being refreshed at a sufficient rate by new entrants with both the skills and mindset to cope with the huge challenges involved in winding back the whole existing system.
The mainstream media, it has to be said, remains largely uninterested, except in the context of the immediate challenges of the kind posed by North Korea and Iran. And among publics at large, although the younger generation is far more information-technology and social-networking savvy than its elders, it is not clear that nuclear issues are gaining much traction by comparison with other public policy concerns like climate change, environmental degradation generally, resource security, global disease, and financial and employment security. Clearly there is a need, which hopefully will be partly met by reports like that of my Commission, for advocates of change to do a better job of explaining to the media and publics directly why the elimination of nuclear weapons is a good idea. But public engagement is a long-haul enterprise, requiring rather more than a few well-placed op-eds, and public lectures and seminars in major capitals, and even well-managed NGO campaigns. .
There needs to be, in my and my Commission’s strong view, a renewed emphasis on formal education and training, in schools and universities. High school curricula should find a place for explaining the history of the nuclear arms race, the huge risks that the world faces if it continues in any form, and the sheer enormity of the horrors that are involved in any actual use of nuclear weapons. And an associated need is for more specialized courses on nuclear-related issues – from the scientific and technical to the strategic policy and legal – in universities and diplomatic-training and related institutions. The kind of programs that are on offer from UQ’s School of Political Science and International Studies and elsewhere are a good start, but they need to be much more widespread.
Knowing about an actual or emerging international problem is one thing, but having enough concern to want to take some action in response is something else, particularly if it may involve the expenditure of national blood or treasure. What can be done to encourage in decisionmakers in national governments, and relevant intergovernmental organizations, the sense that they do in fact have a responsibility to take appropriate action which it is within their physical and financial capacity to deliver? Part of the answer is to frame the overall issue in a way that it cannot be readily dismissed; another is to articulate specific arguments for action in a way that cannot be readily ignored.
In the case of mass atrocity crimes, the framing question continues to be crucial. So long as the issue was cast in terms of “the right to humanitarian intervention”, with the policy choices being either to send in the Marines or do nothing, there was never a prospect of any kind of global consensus being reached about how to respond to even the most catastrophic genocidal situations, like Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia: the global North focused on coercive military intervention but the South, for understandable enough reasons, was deeply resistant to any opening up of the traditional sovereign immunity from any external intervention in internal matters. The great achievement of the Canadian-government commission I co-chaired in 2001, whose basic recommendations were unanimously endorsed by the UN at head of government level in 2005, was to re-conceptualise the whole issue in terms not of the “right to intervene” but the “responsibility to protect”, placing the primary responsibility on sovereign states to protect their own people from mass atrocity crimes, a secondary responsibility on others to help them to do so, and only then – if a state proved unable or unwilling to act appropriately
emphasising the responsibility of the wider international community to engage in any way necessary to halt or avert catastrophe.
If the responsibility to protect is to be more than just a general principle still honoured more in the breach than the observance, it is crucial to ensure that in particular cases as they arise the right arguments are directed to the right people – by individuals or organizations who themselves have credibility with the decisionmakers in question. From my own experience, both in government and beating on the doors of government, one has to recognise that there are certain individuals, at or near the top of the decisionmaking food chains whose attitudes are going to be decisive, and good arguments have to be found that will both appeal to them and be useful to them in explaining and defending their decisions. There are four different kinds of argument that matter in this respect in most contexts, not just the immediate one of mass atrocity crimes: moral, national interest, financial, and political.
While cynics might take the view, not without good cause, that politicians and public officials do always rather like to be seen as acting from higher motives, however base their real ones may be, it cannot be assumed that moral imperatives, important as they are in every culture, will have sufficient momentum on their own to carry the day. Part of the problem stems from basic characteristics of the human psyche, with emerging experimental evidence that Stalin was not far off the mark when he reputedly said that “One man’s death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” Against that, it is strongly arguable that the course of history has shown human society steadily expanding its “circle of empathy”, from an initial kernel of relations and friends, to the clan, the tribe, the nation, and wider and wider groups including other races, with this phenomenon much reinforced in recent times by ever growing international movement and communication, and the cosmopolitanism associated with that. From this perspective, the basic case for responding in some productive way when one becomes aware of an actual or imminent mass atrocity crime, rests simply on our common humanity: the impossibility of ignoring the cries of pain and distress of our fellow human beings.
International political will is more than just the sum of attitudes and policies of individual countries, and how arguments are put between states and their representatives in bilateral and multilateral contacts, and within intergovernmental organizations, is crucial. But there is a sense in which, in international as in national decisionmaking, all politics is local. It is important, for example, that there be, if possible, effective cost-benefit arguments made in financial terms for action rather than inaction (on the ground, for example, that an ounce of preventive effort now will make unnecessary a ton of clean up effort later with post crisis refugee resettlement, physical reconstruction and the like). Governments also find useful in this context political arguments which, even if they might not win them elections, will help them consolidate support in their own bases: one of the reasons George W. Bush was so uncharacteristically interested in Sudan was that the conflict there was a talismanic issue for fundamentalist Christian lobbies.
The most obvious way in which local considerations intrude into international decisionmaking is in the invariable requirement that all governments will have that a particular course of action if possible advances, and at the very least does not prejudice, their state’s national interest. (This is a variation of course on a very old theme about the primacy of self-interest in most human affairs, in which context I remember Paul Keating once telling us in Cabinet about a very formative piece of advice that he had received from the former populist Premier of NSW, Jack Lang: “In any horse race, son, always back the one called Self Interest. He’ll be the only one trying.”)
In the context of mass atrocity crimes, national interest arguments are in fact much easier to make now in relation to the kind of “quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing” about which the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was so famously dismissive in the lead-up to Munich. This is because of what we know now about the capacity of failed, failing, rogue and phantom states, in this ever more globalised and interdependent world, to be a source of havoc for others. Put simply, states that cannot or will not stop internal atrocity crimes are the kind of states that cannot or will not stop terrorism, weapons proliferation, drug and people trafficking, the spread of health pandemics and other global risks.
There is, moreover, another dimension to national interest these days, quite distinct from the familiar duo of security and economic interests, and protecting oneself from the essentially physical threats just mentioned. Every country has an interest in being, and being seen to be, a good international citizen. The interest in question here is more than just the pleasure of basking in approbation. There are many direct reciprocal benefits to be gained in a world where no country can solve all its own problems: my assistance for you today in solving your drugs and terrorism problem might reasonably lead you to be more willing to help solve my environmental or refugee problem tomorrow. But the reputational benefit does also count. The perception of being a country willing to take principled stands for other than immediately self-interested reasons does no harm at all – as the Scandinavians in particular seem to have well understood – when it comes to advancing one’s own commercial or political agendas.
Turning to the case of nuclear weapons, there is less scope here than there was in the context of managing the shift from ‘the right to intervene’ to ‘the responsibility to protect’ for fundamentally re-conceptualizing the issue in such a way as to make the need for action less easily dismissed. But there is clearly an imperative to make the whole issue of disarmament, in particular, seem – in the minds of key global decisionmakers – not merely important but urgent. My nuclear commission sought to do this by describing, accurately, the dangers associated with the retention of nuclear weapons as equivalent – in terms of risks to life on this planet as we know it – to the worst of the dangers associated with climate change.
The specific arguments can and should be made With 23,000 nuclear weapons still in existence, with a combined destructive power of 150,000 Hiroshima bombs; with 2,000 of them, even twenty years after the end of the Cold War, still on dangerously high minutes-to-launch alert; with all that we now know about how close the very sophisticated US-Soviet command and control systems came, on multiple occasions, through machine or human error, to delivering catastrophe; with all that we know about how much less sophisticated some of the newer-weapon-states’ systems now are; and with all that we know now about the extraordinary potential for delivering misinformation or worse through cyber attack; with all that we know now about the potential threat posed by non-state terrorist actors getting their hands on nuclear weapons or material; and with all that we know about the various weaknesses that continue to exist in systems for storing and securing such weapons and material – it is sheer dumb luck, not a matter of good political and military leadership or inherently reliable systems management, that the world has not so far sustained in the 65 years since Nagasaki a major nuclear weapons catastrophe.
Add to that the risks associated with new states – and not just North Korea and Iran – joining the ranks of the nuclear-armed proliferators, and of the likely dramatic increase in the number of civil nuclear power stations in the next twenty years or more being accompanied by more new states acquiring national uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities (‘bomb starter kits’, as these have been called without undue exaggeration), and it is evident that there is simply no scope for complacency about the nuclear future. Maintaining the status quo is simply not an option.
If these messages are to really penetrate the minds of decisionmakers, and the publics that hold them to account, I suspect it will take rather more than the advocacy efforts of my commission – and even those of key policy leaders like the US ‘gang of four’ (Kissinger-Shultz-Nunn-Perry) who have been making important hard-nosed realist arguments for the last three years that in the world of today and the future retaining nuclear weapons is far more dangerous than their elimination, or President Obama himself. It will take a mass campaign of real bite and impact, for which a key tool is happily coming to hand with a film ‘Countdown to Zero’ – by the same team that produced the hugely influential Al Gore film on climate change, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – due for worldwide release later this year.
The next critical ingredient is some process capable of translating knowledge and concern into actual action: process in the sense both of a clearly identified strategic solution and the institutional and organizational means to advance it.
In the case of mass atrocity crimes there are five major process areas which need further attention if the new norm is to be effectively implemented in practice, which for present purposes I will simply list, without any discussion in detail. There is a need to untangle any remaining problems of definition so as to ensure to the extent possible that there is agreement about what are specifically ‘responsibility to protect’ situations, and what may be better thought of as more familiar conflict or human rights violation cases: a regularly published watchlist, perhaps prepared by the Global Centre on the Responsibility to Protect in New York, with input from regionally focused groups like the UQ Asia Pacific Centre, would be very helpful in this respect. There is a need to ensure that there are early warning and response focal points established within all the key governments and intergovernmental organizations. There is a need to have in place civilian capability able to be utilized, as occasion arises, for diplomatic mediation, civilian policing and other critical administrative support. There is a need to have, at least in a standby capacity, rapid response military capability, to ensure available support in the most extreme cases which cannot be otherwise addressed. And there is a need to consolidate informal mechanisms for quickly mobilizing and sustaining political support when ugly situations arise, particularly a global NGO coordinating mechanism and a governmental group of ‘friends of the responsibility to protect’, frameworks for both of which now exist, but need further development.
When it comes to nuclear policy, there is here is no shortage of available institutional machinery through which to advance both non-proliferation and disarmament objectives, and a good deal of my recent nuclear Commission report has been occupied with describing it, and recommending its further and better use. The key contribution I believe we have made is to spell out in a very pragmatic and hard-headed way a sequence of action agendas – covering the short term to 2012, the medium term to 2025, and longer term beyond 2025 – which will eventually get us, step by realistic step, aiming first at minimizing and then at ultimately eliminating weapons stockpiles, a nuclear weapon free world.
Again this is not the occasion to spell out in any detail the very complex strategies that are involved here, and on which I am engaged in close consultation with some 25 governments in my current worldwide travels in the lead-up to the big Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May. But it is perhaps worth making the point, as I have been in many capitals, that we have less time than the Commission envisaged to generate the necessary momentum for change. The critical ‘short term’ is not what happens by 2012, but what happens this year: 2010 has become the watershed.
There are eight benchmark events or issues on which we need to focus in the coming months. If there are positive moves forward in more than half of them, we are in good shape to sustain the momentum that has been generated, above all else, by President Obama in his pathbreaking Prague speech just on a year ago, in April 2009, in which he articulated his vision for a nuclear weapon free world and spelt out some important US commitments to rapidly advance that process. But if there are negative results in half or more instances, there is every unhappy prospect that – notwithstanding all the efforts of those of us on the Australia-Japan Commission and in many other parts of the world – the whole nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation file will go back into the sleepwalking mode it has been in for the last decade, with potentially disastrous consequences.
In short, the key issues this year are the US-Russia bilateral strategic arms reduction treaty (which has now at last been agreed between Washington and Moscow, but needs to be ratified by 67 votes in the US Senate, perhaps a tall order); the US Nuclear Posture Review shortly to be announced, which may prove to be a big missed opportunity in terms of genuinely reducing, as promised, the role of nuclear weapons in the US security arsenal; the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification by the US, which looks certain to remain a prisoner this year of the highly partisan current political climate; movement on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty in Geneva, which is currently once again completely stuck; the Obama nuclear security summit, which does seem likely to generate some serious commitment to locking up loose nuclear weapons and material once and for all; the five-yearly NPT Review Conference in May, which is hanging in the balance; and – of course – the continuing vey fragile situations in North Korea and Iran, which – particularly in the latter case – need to be seen to be well on the way to diplomatic resolution this year if there is not to be an alarming deterioration in global and regional security. Getting the majority of these issues moving in the right direction in the months ahead will be, needless to say, an extraordinarily difficult task, but the stakes are as high as they could possibly be.
The final, and always indispensable ingredient, in generating the political will to move from ideas to action, is good leadership. In all my years of engagement in public policy, both domestically and internationally, I have never ceased to be amazed at the capacity of individuals to make a difference, for better or for worse – whatever the cherished views of analysts and historians about deeper underlying currents and causes, and the ultimate insignificance of individuals in the real scheme of things. The capacity of individual leaders to choose cynicism over statesmanship, and votes over principles, is notorious enough, but just as common is the capacity, against the run of the logical play, to miss opportunities or to otherwise create havoc, in ways that are absolutely critical to outcomes.
I have often made the point that when it comes to this crucial ingredient of leadership, there is a huge amount of pure chance in play. So much does seem to depend just on the luck of the draw: whether at a time of fragility and transition a country finds itself with a Mandela, or a Milosevic or Mugabe; an Ataturk or an Arafat; a Rabin who can see and seize the moment, and change course, or someone who never will. Despite all our best efforts, that has always been so, and probably always will be. Looking around the world at those individuals who currently matter most, we just have to express the fervent hope that even if leaders are not always born, and only on very rare occasions are elected, they can at least on occasion be made.
In most domestic and even international policy contexts, you don’t usually need to look beyond a relatively small handful of players to identify the leadership that really matters. It does not always have to be delivered in a spectacular way to be effective, nor by the biggest figures or the greatest powers. In the areas of mass atrocity crimes, for example, it is the kind of leadership shown by Sadako Ogata as UNHCR and Jan Egeland as the UN’s humanitarian relief coordinator, in speaking out strongly and consistently and relentlessly about the horrors they saw unfolding around them and demanding an international response. Or perhaps the kind of leadership that was shown by Indonesia and Australia, in crafting together the UN peace plan, that brought a final end, at the beginning of the 1990s, to Cambodia’s protracted nightmare. Or the kind of leadership that was shown by Canada in initiating the Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty who worked away diligently behind the scenes with Kofi Annan and others for months in the run-up to the 2005 UN World Summit to ensure, despite all the forces arrayed against it, that the responsibility to protect norm would be embraced.
In the nuclear policy context, the problem of achieving a nuclear weapon free world – and ensuring that things don’t get worse before they get better – is so complex, and involves so many different players at different levels, that no one actor’s leadership is likely, by itself, to be decisive. What is really required is leadership at three different levels – from the top down (by the major nuclear-armed powers), from like-minded peers (like Australia and Japan) pushing out the envelope and creating peer pressure for disarmament and from the bottom up, by NGOs, university research institutes and other key civil society players keeping political leaders accountable. Each is necessary, and none by itself sufficient.
It has been said, and let this be my last word, that the world is divided between those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. If we are going to translate good ideas into effective practical action, whether it be in the context of avoiding the horrors of mass atrocity crimes or nuclear obliteration or anything else, that means continuing determined action from all those passionately committed to making it happen. And that means not just from national and international leaders but from everyone, ordinary citizens in every country across every corner of the globe included – and certainly the outstanding researchers, teachers and advocates at this great Australian University of Queensland – who are capable of influencing them. You don’t get to change the world simply by observing it.