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Ending the Strangelove Scenario: A New Commission on Nuclear Disarmament
by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
2008-06-18 08:05:55
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Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is exuding confidence on the international stage. He has recently made a series of statements on a range of foreign policy initiatives, suggesting much promise. His report card is, however, a mixed one. Much potential, with little in the way of clarity.

Take, for instance, Rudd’s suggestion for setting up an organization to assess global nuclear disarmament, to be called the Nuclear Non-Proliferations and Disarmament Commission. The occasion to make this announcement was auspicious, taken in Kyoto hours before laying a wreath for the victims of Hiroshima. It gave Rudd a chance to pen a reflection in the guest book at the museum: ‘Let the world resolve afresh from the ashes of this city – to work together for the common mission of peace for this Asia-Pacific century, and for a world where one day nuclear weapons are no more.’

Two features then to note from this little comment, both which have been expounded upon since: Rudd’s belief that this century will belong to the Asia-Pacific region (not America, or anyone else), and the abolitionist agenda for nuclear weapons. On the latter, Rudd proposes that this new organization will be co-chaired by former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans, with the intention of continuing the work of the defunct Canberra Commission, which was created by the Keating government in 1995 to examine similar questions on global nuclear disarmament. This has the flavour of sad repetition, re-inventing a wheel which never worked in the first place.

What then can be made of this new organization, should it ever reach some concrete form? Rudd, for one, sees it as necessary to save the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty from the ‘death of a thousand cuts’. But in so doing, he is challenging the conventional NPT regime. And while the regime has not been a spectacular success, it has not been an abysmal failure either. Rudd’s proposal does little to edge countries such as Israel, Pakistan or India towards a regime of nuclear disarmament. Little is said, for instance, on the perennial problem of more effective inspections.

The nuclear conversation is an imperative for modern global security, whatever realists or the morally jaundiced might think. But as is always the case with such matters, the issue hinges on how this conversation is to take place.

The first is an obvious difficulty with how Australian foreign policy will reconcile its vast natural deposits of uranium with the agenda of the Evans-chaired commission. Ban the bomb, yet still sell uranium. Of course, the argument here is that uranium patrons will be checked for their anti-proliferation credentials – India, a non-signatory of the NPT, won’t be on the list of customers, nor presumably, Pakistan or Israel. Russia, inexplicably, will continue to be a happy recipient.

Then comes another, oft neglected problem, something to be put on the agenda of the new NNPD. Even if the object of this commission was realized – global eradication and abolition of nuclear weapons, ending Dr. Strangelove dooms day scenarios that crowd the shelves of policy-makers, we would still be left with the wandering know-how, freelance scientists hawking their wares. The greatest problem in that case is how to convince scientists otherwise engaged in military ventures to cease offering their services to foreign powers or non-state networks.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program, was courted by various regimes from Tripoli to Pyongyang before being put under house arrest by General Pervez Musharraf. His network comprised forty individuals, only a handful of which were apprehended and imprisoned. It’s contacts within this proliferating web were vast: companies in Europe, some of them in Germany, Italy and Spain, along with ‘private actors’ in countries from Singapore to Turkey.

Supposedly crippled in 2004, the Khan network threatened a resumption of smuggling activities in 2007. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, some 429 nuclear trafficking cases were recorded between 2001-5, while 10 percent of them have involved criminal organizations.

Not every scientist has the mercenary eye of a Khan, but preventing the brains behind projects from following their career wanderlust is the challenge in any post-nuclear framework. Nuclear smuggling, and the dilemma of non-state actors, remains a problem within a decentralized nuclear network.

While removing the lethal armoury of nuclear weapons from states such as Russia and the United States should be a priority, the more immediate expectation would be to curb networks profiting in the trade of illicit nuclear material. Otherwise this committee threatens to go the same way the Canberra commission did, its recommendations left unrecognised and inconsequential.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge, and teaches history at the University of Queensland.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-06-18 09:34:02
Indeed, nuclear weapons are "the abomination" and the West is the Green Hulk fighting his own self identity. The abomination is only the external symptom.

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