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Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament: Where Next?

Keynote Address by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans, Co-Chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, to IAEA Safeguards Symposium, Vienna, 1 November 2010

Let me come straight to the point. We are still at a real watershed with respect to the whole nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament project. Hopes have been so high for most of the last two years, especially following the political breakthrough that came with the election of a US president totally committed to the ultimate achievement of a nuclear weapon free world. But unless the key players in the international community, and there are many that matter in this context, not just the US and Russia, get really serious about moving forward on the multiple critical agenda issues that face us – not just safeguards, the subject of this symposium, but right across the whole spectrum of non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful-uses challenges  –  there is a very real danger that such remaining momentum for change as there is will stall, that the whole project will fall apart, and that we will be condemned to live for the indefinitely foreseeable future in a nuclear world that is very dangerous indeed.

The prevailing sentiment after the May Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was one of relief – that the conference had not broken down as it did in 2005, that catastrophe had been avoided: in effect, that this particular watershed point had been passed. But the positive gains from that conference, when objectively assessed, were negligible on crucial NPT-regime strengthening issues, and, with the possible exception of the agreement to hold a Middle East conference in 2012, very slight indeed elsewhere.

And, weighing in the negative balance, there have been some serious disappointments on other key benchmark issues spelt out in President Obama’s April 2009 Prague Speech and on which real movement had been hoped for this year. Nothing has moved on Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratification by the US or any other major nuclear power;  the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)  negotiation remains completely stalled; there is now real uncertainty about US ratification of the New START treaty with Russia, and with it any major new round of arms reduction negotiations; there has been less than hoped for movement in reducing the role and salience of nuclear weapons in national security doctrine; there has been no movement on the DPRK file; and concerns about Iran’s intentions remain as strong as ever. About the only ray of real light for the year has been the substantial measure of agreement achieved at the Washington Summit on nuclear security issues and cooperative implementation of the global anti-terrorism agenda.

In my own approach to difficult international policy issues I usually err on the side of congenital optimism, and it is possible to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty on most of the specific issues I have mentioned – and others as well like the question of multilateralisation of sensitive stages of the fuel cycle on which the IAEA Board of Governors has already expended so much time and energy. The road ahead – as mapped in detail, e.g., in the report last year by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) with which I hope you are familiar – was always going to be long and slow.

But everything depends on some real momentum being sustained. If that momentum is lost, as it was during the fifteen years or so of sleepwalking that followed the initial flurry of disarmament activity in the early post Cold War years, and looks in real danger right now of being completely lost again, it is not easy to see how it will ever be regained. And that is very bad news indeed for this planet.

It is worth reminding ourselves on these occasions, although the facts and arguments should be familiar enough to this audience, why such an outcome would be such bad news, and why it is that the work that is done at symposiums and conferences like this matters so much. The truth of the matter is that the threats we face are not remote or trivial, but real, immediate and immense. Confronting them now is not a matter of choice but necessity. Complacency is not an option.

Why Complacency is Not an Option

Existing Weapons. Threat number one comes from the existing stockpile. Despite big reductions which occurred immediately after the end of the Cold War, there are at least 23,000 nuclear warheads still in existence, with a combined destructive capability of 150,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs.  Over 9,000 of them are in the hands of the US, around 13,000 with Russia, and around 1000 with the other nuclear-armed states combined (China, France, UK, India, Pakistan, Israel and – at the margin – North Korea).  More than a third of all these weapons – over 7,000 – remain operationally deployed. And, most extraordinarily of all, over 2000 of the US and Russian weapons remain on dangerously high alert, ready to be launched on warning in the event of a perceived attack, within a decision window for each President of four to eight minutes.

Given what we now know about how many times the very sophisticated command and control systems of the Cold War years were strained by mistakes and false alarms;  given what we know about how much less sophisticated are the command and control systems of some of the newer nuclear-armed states; and given what we both know and can guess about how much more sophisticated and capable cyber offence will be of overcoming cyber defence in the years ahead, it is sheer dumb luck – not a matter of good political leadership or the inherent stability of the weapons systems that have evolved – that there has not to date been a nuclear weapons catastrophe, and  utterly wishful thinking to believe that luck can continue in perpetuity. As the Canberra Commission put it, starkly and succinctly, in 1996: so long as any nuclear weapons remain anywhere, they are bound one day to be used -  if not by  design, then by mistake or miscalculation.

We have been even closer to catastrophe in the past than most people know. Communications satellite launches have been mistaken for nuclear missile launches; demonstration tapes of incoming missiles have been confused for the real thing; technical glitches have triggered real-time alerts; live nuclear weapons have been flown by mistake around the US without anyone noticing until the plane returned to base. About the only consolation to be derived from this comedy of errors, if anything so serious can be called a comedy, is the very recent revelation that for several months of his presidency Bill Clinton completely mislaid the nuclear codes he was supposed to carry in his pocket at all times – which means that a US retaliatory nuclear strike could not in fact have been authorised even had anyone wanted to!

New Nuclear Armed States. Threat number two is proliferation – new states adding new stockpiles, with all the risks of deliberate or inadvertent use that come with them.  So long as any state retains nuclear weapons, others will want them, for reasons that may be wrongheaded but have their own force: maybe to buy perceived equivalent prestige in the case of relatively strong powers; or to try to buy immunity from attack in the case of weak ones. India, Pakistan and Israel have already joined the five original nuclear powers. North Korea has thumbed its nose at the NPT, and now has five or six nuclear explosive devices. Iran may or may not be preparing to follow suit; if it does, others in the region are bound to join in.  The ‘cascade’ of proliferation which has been feared since the 1960s may not now be far away, at least in the wider Middle East.

Nuclear Terrorism. Add to all that now risk number three: of terrorist actors getting their hands on a nuclear weapon or the makings of one. We can no longer be under any illusions about the intent of certain messianic groups to cause destruction on a massive scale. And – although the probability is small, and probably lower than some alarmist accounts have suggested – their capacity should not be underestimated to put together a Hiroshima-sized nuclear device, using manageable technology long in the public domain and back-channel sourcing of the kind the AQ Khan network taught us to be alarmed about, and explode it from the inside of a  delivery truck in Trafalgar Square, or Times Square– or a small boat in New York harbour or on the Thames –causing in each case hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries.

Peaceful Nuclear Energy. The fourth risk is associated with the likely significant expansion of civil nuclear energy in the decades ahead, in response not least to the need for non-fossil fuel contributions to base-load electricity generation –  maybe a  less dramatic expansion than the doubling-plus-within-twenty years that was originally widely predicted, but significant nonetheless, and with a number of new countries still likely to take up this option. The problem, as an audience of safeguards specialists will be well aware, is not so much with the power generating plants themselves, but new uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing facilities such countries may be tempted to build: so called “bomb starter kits” of the kind that have caused so much anxiety in North Korea and Iran.

The bottom line is this. Nuclear weapons are not only the most indiscriminately inhumane weapons ever invented, and for that reason alone worth every possible effort to eliminate, but the only weapons ever invented that have the capacity to wholly destroy life on this planet as we know it. And the arsenals we now possess – taking into account the technical refinement of current weapons and their combination of blast, radiation and ‘nuclear winter’ effects – are able to do so many times over. The only remotely comparable existential threat is from global warming – and nuclear bombs will kill us much faster than CO2.  There is only one way we can be confident that will never occur:  stopping the further spread of nuclear weapons, and reducing the existing stockpiles to zero.

So how do we get there?  What needs to be done, and how well are we doing it? It is now generally accepted that, as the ICNND and others have framed the current debate,  there are three big inter-related objectives about which we have to get serious and, moreover, get serious simultaneously because they are closely interrelated:

  • first, disarmament, dramatically reducing the existing stockpile of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminating them;
  • second, non-proliferation, holding a very tight line against new players coming into the weapons game and taking action to reduce the proliferation risks associated with any major expansion of  civil nuclear energy;
  • and third, putting in place the building blocks for both  disarmament and non-proliferation, three in particular  – a comprehensive test ban treaty, a global ban on the production of any new material for fissile purposes, and effective measures of nuclear security to guard existing weapon and fissile material stocks against theft or diversion.

So, taking them in reverse order, let me take you through – in a little more detail –  what  getting serious mean in each of these areas, how far have we come to date, and what remains to be done.

Getting Serious about the Building Blocks

CTBT. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as the first crucial building block for both non-proliferation and disarmament, setting as it does a qualitative cap on the capacity of both existing weapons possessors and potential new ones to develop new nuclear weapons. But although concluded in 1996, the treaty is still not in force – and the only thing stopping testing is a fragile voluntary moratorium. Entry into force specifically depends on ratification by nine states who have not done so  – six who have at least signed it (US, China, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran and Israel)  and three who have not (India, Pakistan and North Korea), despite constant strong urging by the rest of the international community, including at the NPT Review Conference. Indonesia has announced that it will now move to ratification, but the crucial holdout is the US: if Washington moves this will be a real circuit-breaker, certainly with China and India in the first instance (although there is no practical reason for either of these states to wait for the US, and both would enhance their nuclear credentials if they pre-empted it). President Obama announced in Prague last year that he was determined to “immediately and aggressively pursue US ratification” but has so far been unable to deliver on that promise, with ever more aggressive partisan politics placing the necessary 67 Senate votes, for the time being at least, out of reach. Tomorrow’s mid-term elections do not appear likely to make his task any easier.

FMCT. The quantitative counterpart to banning testing is verifiably banning the production of further quantities of fissile material – highly enriched uranium or plutonium – for weapons purposes. That would be achieved by negotiating to conclusion the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) now before the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. But despite years of skirmishing – and renewed statements of determination by nearly all the key players over the last two years to get the process moving, and with reasonably strong language coming out of the NPT Review Conference – negotiations remain completely paralysed as a result of Pakistan refusing the necessary consensus to even let them commence (in a way that one suspects has not been entirely to the discomfort of at least two other currently nuclear- armed states who also appear to be keen to further add to their nuclear arsenals). It was hoped that the ministerial meeting convened in late September by the UN Secretary General in the margins of the General Assembly would do something to break this logjam, but it appears – to put it gently – to have been totally ineffectual in this respect. It's time for the great majority of states, who do want progress on this, to now either seek a separate mandate from the UN General Assembly, or negotiate informally a treaty text and open it for signature. And in the meantime they should at least seek a voluntary moratorium on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes.

Nuclear Security. The only reasonably good news on the building blocks front is in the area of nuclear security, where President Obama’s Washington Summit in April did secure agreement from all the key players to put maximum effort into the effective practical implementation of the multiple treaties, resolutions, arrangements and cooperative threat reduction programs already in place – many of them agreed after 9/11 – designed to put so-called “loose nukes”, i.e. nuclear weapons and materials insufficiently guarded against theft or diversion,  once and for all out of the reach of rogue states and non-state terrorist actors. It cannot be assumed that these measures are currently watertight, or will be for the foreseeable future, but as much is being done as could reasonably be expected.

Getting Serious about Non-Proliferation

Getting serious about non-proliferation means in the first instance effectively remedying weaknesses in the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, and strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as the relevant watchdog organisation. But even though those weaknesses have been clearly identified, not least in our Commission report, and widely acknowledged – and will be acutely clear to this audience – the news here is not especially encouraging. The agreed language on these issues at the NPT Review Conference was either limp or non-existent, the most that can be said following the NPT Review Conference is that all this is still work in progress.

Safeguards. Most states now acknowledge that the traditional safeguards system, which focuses essentially on accountancy – tracking the flow of materials inside civil reactors and ensuring there is no diversion to military purposes – has to be supplemented by a proper detection system, enabling the following up, with effective inspections, of intelligence received about a state engaging in unreported fuel cycle activity, or more seriously still, actual weapon design or engineering. The voluntary ‘Additional Protocol’ by which states can agree to these additional disciplines, has not been universally embraced and there has been a reluctance by many NPT members – again unhappily in evidence at the NPT Review Conference – to put pressure on the foot-draggers by making its acceptance a condition of supply by others of nuclear technology or materials.

Withdrawal. It is also very widely recognized that there need to  be some explicit pains and penalties attached to a state purporting to walk away from the NPT - as North Korea has done – after spending years sheltering under it building weapons capacity in the guise of a peaceful program. But again, with a number of states claiming that this is at odds with the general right under international law to withdraw from any treaty, action has so far gone no further than rhetoric –  with not even any rhetoric on the subject in the agreed Conclusions of the NPT Review Conference.

IAEA. It is also widely recognised – and well documented in particular by the Zedillo Commission report on the Role of the IAEA to 2020 and Beyond – that the IAEA badly needs more personnel, expanded and updated laboratories and general budgetary support if it is to be able to do its monitoring and inspection job, and a hopefully expanded such job in the future, with maximum efficiency, but its member states have again, so far anyway, shied away from delivering much more than purely rhetorical support, with not even much of that evident in the NPT Review Conference outcome.

Peaceful Uses. Getting serious about non-proliferation also means addressing the proliferation risks potentially associated with the likely dramatic expansion of civil nuclear energy in the years ahead. Proliferation resistant technology – involving mainly new reactor designs which don’t require or produce sensitive material – may be part of the answer in the longer run, but the most immediate need is to ensure that no new ‘bomb starter kits’ are built by new countries. That means in turn being able to offer them assurances of supply of the fuel they need, the creation of an internationally managed fuel bank, or some other multilateral arrangement that would pose less risk. While all these options are under active discussion by the IAEA Board of Governors, agreement on any of them, in a way that would put this concern to rest still seems some distance away, and the NPT Review Conference did nothing much to bring it closer. It is to be hoped that countries like Brazil and South Africa will exercise their growing global influence to find a solution to this problem, rather than continuing to focus on difficulties.

The most immediately pressing of all non-proliferation needs is, of course, to deal effectively with the specific problems of North Korea and Iran – getting Pyongyang back into the NPT box, and ensuring that Tehran doesn’t jump out of it. The NPT Review Conference was vociferous on North Korea in its absence, but – understandably but disappointingly –completely silent on Iran, which was very much present.

DPRK.  Although the North Korean problem on the face of it is more immediately serious, given that it has already tested nuclear explosive devices and  possesses half dozen or so of them, it is in a sense more manageable: neither of the countries most threatened by this development, Japan or South Korea, have shown any signs of wanting to join the race; there is no reason to fear – unless one accepts a ‘madman’ theory, never usually a good idea in international relations despite its popularity in the world’s tabloids – that North Korea would ever commit national suicide by actually using its devices aggressively;  and with the succession issue now apparently resolved for the time being, there are some signs that Pyongyang is again getting serious about restarting denuclearisation negotiations. Don’t hold your breath for a result – nothing in this country is ever beyond doubt – but the old contain-and-deter-but-keep-the-door-open-for-negotiations formula seems to be working.

Iran. The Iran case is more troubling, not only because just one or two nuclear bombs in its possession would be seen, understandably, as an immediate existential threat by Israel, but also because it is also reasonable to assume that a number of its neighbours – of whom Egypt has been the most explicit - would almost certainly want to respond with weapon programs of their own. Tehran’s excessively secretive and insufficiently responsive behaviour has certainly justified the international sanctions that have been imposed so far, but it has always been Quixotic to think that pressure of this kind alone would be enough to stop Iran’s whole uranium enrichment program dead in its tracks.

I believe that we have to try harder than we have done so far as an international community to understand Iran’s thinking. One does not have to look hard for reasons for Tehran pushing the limits of international tolerance as far as it has to date, including making up for the humiliations of the Mossadeq era and beyond; demonstrating its technological prowess; and making clear its distaste for those Western powers whose perceived double standards abandoned Iran to the chemical weapons-mercies of Saddam Hussein in the war of the late 80s.  

But there are, equally, a number of reasons for thinking that Iran will actually stop well short of actually making the nuclear weapons it may sooner or later have the capability to produce. In my own many off-the-record discussions with senior officials, including key arms negotiators, in Tehran, New York, Vienna and elsewhere over the last few years, wearing my various hats as former Foreign Minister, President of the International Crisis and co-chair of the ICNND, I have regularly heard five such reasons, which I think deserve to be taken seriously, though I am well aware that others will disagree.  

The first is that Israel will indeed perceive the existence of one or two Iranian bombs as an intolerable existential threat, demanding a pre-emptive military attack with or without US support, with resources Tehran knows it cannot match. But Iranians consider such an attack very unlikely provided they do not cross the red line of actual weaponisation.

Second, it is well understood that there is zero tolerance in Moscow and Beijing for an Iranian bomb, and all the rope that Russia and China have allowed Iran in the Security Council so far will completely run out if Iran weaponises. The writing on this wall is seen more clearly still after the most recent round of sanctions decisions.

Third, following from this, there is a clear perception that if Iran acquires an actual bomb, the globally enforced economic sanctions regime will become impossibly stringent. Financial sanctions, direct and indirect, are biting already – including on the significant economic interests of the Revolutionary Guard – and more heavily than in the past, but have so far been tolerable.  Once it were to be in unarguable breach of the NPT, Iran sees as inevitable a comprehensive global buy-in to a much-tougher-still sanctions regime.

Fourth, it is acknowledged that any regional hegemony Iran is likely to buy with nuclear weapons is likely to be fairly short-lived. There is certainly some scepticism about the capacity of Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Turkey to move quickly to build bombs of their own, and a belief that they would be under much international pressure, especially from the US not to do so, but – equally – a clear view that Arab-Persian, Sunni-Shiite or more straightforward regional power anxieties would make such moves inevitable.

A fifth reason, invariably put with great passion, is religious: weapons of mass destruction are simply against every precept of Islam. This is not a factor to which Western cynics will give much credence, but it has echoed very strongly in every private conversation I have ever had with Iranian officials, great or minor, as it does in all their public statements. And it is not without plausibility: Iran did not, after all, respond in kind when it was bombarded with chemical weapons by Iraq.  

I hope my Iranian colleagues will forgive me if I say that none of this is to suggest that Iranian intentions can be taken absolutely on trust. There is too much history, too much disconcerting ongoing leadership rhetoric, and too many ongoing grounds for suspicion, for that. Any agreement involving the lifting of sanctions and Iran’s diplomatic isolation would need to be accompanied by Iran accepting very intrusive monitoring, inspection and verification arrangements, going not only to all its nuclear power facilities but also to any suspected weapons design or engineering facilities  – and giving others in the international community real confidence that they would have some twelve months lead time in which to respond to any evidence of real intent to move to weaponisation.

But it does suggest there is a solid foundation of rationality on which to build in keeping the door well ajar for negotiations. Iran is an extraordinarily complex country, and often perplexing to outsiders.  But just as we cannot afford to misread the forces of extremism that undoubtedly persist, we also fail at our peril to read those currents of restraint and good sense that are running within the country, not just in the wider community but at high policymaking levels.

Getting Serious about Disarmament

Holding the line against new proliferation breakouts is of course only part of the story.  The nuclear threat will continue to hang over us until the last nuclear-armed state destroys its last weapon, and we have to get serious, now, about disarmament. That means the five original nuclear weapons state members of the NPT getting serious, in a way that they have never been in the past, about their explicit commitment under Article VI of that Treaty to go down that path. And it also means the three nuclear-armed elephants outside the NPT – India, Pakistan and Israel – also being prepared to ultimately eliminate their own respective arsenals.

Minimization. The realistic way forward, as our Commission argued and has been very widely accepted (though not, unfortunately, in the NPT Review Conference’s agreed conclusions, which are wholly silent on anything resembling timelines, however broad and  indicative) is to treat the enterprise as involving two very distinct phases – minimization and elimination – setting a specific target date for the first, but recognising that identifying a credible target date for getting to zero is much more difficult.  For achieving the ‘minimization point’, we argued that 2025 can and should be set as the target date. Getting there would involve three things.  First, the reduction of overall nuclear weapons numbers  by over 90 per cent, from 23,000 down to less than 2,000: with the US and Russia coming down to 500 each, and all the other nuclear armed states retaining no more than 1,000 between them (which would require none of them to give up, if that’s what they are concerned about, minimum deterrent capability); second, all nuclear states signing up to a doctrine of no first use; and third, all of them giving credibility to that commitment by limiting their actual deployments to an absolute minimum, and certainly (hopefully long before 2025)  taking all their weapons off high alert launch status. Getting to this point will be tough, but doable. And it will make the world much safer than it is now.

Elimination. But getting from there to zero will, however, we have to acknowledge, be much tougher: it will be perceived by all the relevant players as not just further steps in the same game, but a different game, and one for which it not possible at this stage to set a credible concluding date. Geopolitical and psychological factors will be very much in play: states in dangerous neighbourhoods, like South Asia and the Middle East are going to be very hard to persuade to give up their nuclear weapons unless and until the underlying tensions in those regions are basically resolved, however unuseable those weapons might be by any rational calculation.  And states like France, and perhaps Britain as well – for whom nuclear weapons have long seemed to be more a matter of national status and prestige than anything very evidently advancing their security – will have to be persuaded that their standing won’t decline.

Moreover, every nuclear armed state is going to have to be persuaded that verification and enforcement arrangements are in place that will ensure absolutely that no state will be able to rearm without being detected in ample time, and that it will be able to be stopped from going further, without the kind of inhibition created by present Security Council veto rights. The verification issue is a big challenge for safeguards specialists, and also the IAEA as well as the obviously best qualified institutional candidate for this role.

The point is not to be spooked by these realities, but to regard them as challenges that can and will, over time, be overcome. States like the UK and Norway are working hard now on shaping a verification regime that will work in a global zero world. What seems unthinkable now is likely to seem much more achievable ten years from now: just as pessimism can feed on itself and produce pessimism, so too are positive developments self-reinforcing.

Bilateral and Multilateral Talks. The objective now must be focus single-mindedly on the minimization strategy: to bed down the New START treaty between the US and Russia (much easier said than done in the current US political climate), and to start almost immediately on the next round of serious bilateral arms reduction negotiations. There are plenty of obstacles ahead in this respect, not least stated Russian concerns about the US’ perceived massive current conventional weapons superiority, and the problems posed by its ballistic missile defence programs, but they are not insuperable. At the same time the foundations have to be laid for eventual multilateral negotiations with the other key players - not least China (which has concerns about US capability very similar to Russia’s), India and Pakistan, in respect to all of whom the first priority must be to try to reach agreement on a freeze on additions to their present arsenals.

Middle East. Of course it is the case that no progress will be made on the nuclear front without serious efforts to remove other sources of tension both globally, and in the different regions. That’s true of South Asia and North East Asia, and nowhere are regional tensions more acute at the moment than in the Middle East. But the nuclear dynamic at work there is by no means hopeless.  It is clear talking to Israeli officials, as I have done a number of times in recent years,  that they are no longer obsessed, as they were in decades past, at the prospect of being overrun by their vastly bigger Arab neighbours: they know, as does everyone else, that their formidable military capability is totally capable of dealing with any non-nuclear threat contingency. Their real concern these days is with a possible nuclear-armed Iran. Which combination in turn makes the idea of a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone, which they could join with their Arab neighbours in supporting, much less unattractive than it was in the past. I believe that  the prospect of their cooperation in the 2012 Middle East Conference on such a zone, as agreed by the NPT Review Conference, is rather stronger in fact than their initial public reaction would suggest. And I have already argued that Iran might in fact not prove as big a problem as is currently widely assumed.

Next  Steps

Achieving a nuclear weapons world is not an impossible dream, but it will certainly be an incredibly hard slog.  To get there, the critical need is to build and sustain the necessary political will. That has many ingredients, as the Commission spelled out in its report, but the most critical of them will be the right leadership. And that has to come at three different levels: top down, sideways from peers, and bottom up.

The crucial top-down leadership is going to have to come from the US and Russia: holding between them 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons, disarmament is inconceivable unless they lead the way bilaterally. Presidents Obama and Medvedev have made a flying start, but the next two years will be absolutely crucial in determining whether that momentum can be maintained.

When it comes to peer group leverage, like-minded countries around the world have to be mobilised to maintain the pressure on all the relevant players to do everything that is necessary to advance the disarmament, non-proliferation and building block agendas I have described. Australia and Japan, building on their joint sponsorship of the ICNND, have initiated a Cross-Regional Grouping of ministers – which met first recently in the margins of the UNGA – which may prove useful in this respect.

Another way of keeping political attention focused would be for like minded countries to support financially the ICNND’s proposal to establish, as an ongoing vehicle for analysis, advocacy and pressure, a high profile, independent Global Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. That Centre would have two distinctive missions – first, to produce an annual score-card which would spell out clear benchmarks for progress, critically monitor how they are being met, and be effective advocates for change; and second to be the international body coordinating worldwide work on crafting a new Nuclear Weapons Convention that would provide a workable framework for ultimate multilateral negotiations. Australia, Austria and Switzerland have expressed interest in supporting such a centre,  though not yet on a scale to make it viable, and I hope other countries represented here might help make this work. 

When it comes to bottom up pressure, the critical need is to engage and energise influential civil society figures, key NGOs around the world, and the publics on whose support they depend, to focus on what needs to be done, year by year, step by step, and to hold governments relentlessly to account if they fall short. One way of doing that  – on which I am also presently working with others, with the support in particular of NTI – is to create a worldwide set of leadership networks, comprising former heads of  government, senior ministers and others who may be capable of influencing their own and other governments to take these issues seriously.

The really crucial need, of course, is to somehow capture the imagination of publics around the world in the same way it has been by that other great threat to our global survival, man-made climate change. Maybe the vehicle for that is now to hand with the new film Countdown to Zero, premiered recently in the US and scheduled for worldwide distribution in coming months, by exactly the same documentary team that produced Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I certainly hope so.

My very last word is this. If we are going to generate effective action to avoid the horror of nuclear obliteration it will mean continuing determined effort from all those passionately committed to holding the line on proliferation, and making disarmament happen. That means not just from national and international leaders but from everyone, ordinary citizens in every country across every corner of the globe capable of influencing them. And it certainly means from you, the world’s safeguards specialists, who know more about all these issues than anyone, and are better placed than most to take a large part of this agenda forward. Thank you for your attention, and good luck with your deliberations this week.