The International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament seeks to contribute to the global effort to help build a new momentum to reconsider the role of nuclear weapons in international relations and eventually to eliminate them.

India’s great founding Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, worked energetically to defuse global tensions during the Cold War, commissioned the first study on the human effects of nuclear explosions, and campaigned tirelessly to eliminate what he termed these ‘frightful engines of destruction.’ It is our ambition to carry forward Nehru’s vision into the 21st century.

Even if nuclear warhead numbers are well down from Cold War peaks there are still over 23,000 in existence, and nearly all of them have a destructive potential many times greater than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And thousands of such weapons remain on high alert, ready to be launched within minutes. Nuclear-armed states have taken only limited steps towards reducing stockpiles, their common commitment to the ultimate goal of a nuclear weapon free world.

The time is right to make a renewed effort to break the logjam, building the global momentum led by the U.S. and Russia, to ensure that historic opportunities are not lost to indifference. There has been a range of appeals from current and former world leaders and nuclear decision makers urging a renewed effort to move the nuclear disarmament agenda forward: for new cuts to nuclear arsenals, bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force and to commence negotiation of a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for weapons use. It is highly significant that President Barack Obama chose to convene this month a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

The International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament seeks to contribute to the current global effort, to help build a new momentum to reconsider the role of nuclear weapons in international relations and eventually to eliminate them. This is not an issue which we can allow to be pushed aside by new threats, be they concerns over the global financial crisis or the prospect of pandemics and climate change. The nuclear threat is an ever present danger which must be addressed in parallel. And after a decade of neglect, the issue demands priority attention from our political leaders world-wide.

Indeed nuclear weapons could still be the biggest risk of all to the peace and stability of our world — at the global level and regionally: nuclear weapons arsenals are still huge. The possibility remains that still more countries will acquire them, and the danger persists of their deliberate or accidental use by states or non-state terrorist actors.

That is why we, the Commission, and indeed the international community, were greatly encouraged by the results of the April summit between Presidents Medvedev and Obama. The agreement to pursue a deal on cutting nuclear weapons that would replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), Russia should kick start movement on broader disarmament and non-proliferation measures.

Leadership from Russia and the U.S. is crucial, but so too is the commitment of other nuclear armed states if nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament momentum is to be regenerated. But there has to be buy-in from many other international players as well. The moment has to be seized by governments, and civil society activists around the world, working to a common action agenda that is both idealistic and realistically pragmatic. The countries of South Asia have made it clear that they share with most other nations the conviction that every effort should be made to eliminate the world’s store of nuclear weapons. But it is clear that there are still major regional challenges to be addressed to bring about the circumstances whereby this process can be moved forward. The effort has to be global but it must be matched by addressing regional challenges.

It was essentially to identify such a global agenda, and to energise a high-level global political debate around it, that Prime Ministers Rudd of Australia and Fukuda of Japan, on 9 June 2008, launched the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament which we have the privilege to co-chair. Significantly, on the same day, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened an international nuclear disarmament conference in New Delhi, calling for the countries of the world to create a framework to rid the world of atomic weapons. We sense opportunity in these parallel expressions of intent and commitment.

The Commission is independent of governments, but its highly distinguished membership, and research support structure, is drawn from both nuclear-armed and non-nuclear armed states around the world. It is addressing all the inter-related issues of nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the future of civil nuclear energy, and holding commission meetings and regional consultations in many capitals. And it aims to produce a handbook of practical — and clearly written — recommendations as a guide to policymakers.

As Co-Chairs of the Commission we are honoured to be joined in this endeavour by an outstanding panel of individuals, including former heads of state and government and globally recognised specialists, who have agreed to serve as Commissioners, and by the equally impressive group of Advisory Board members and Associated Research Centres who will be contributing to the Commission’s work. South Asia is strongly represented on the Commission by former Chief of the Pakistan Army, General Jehangir Karamet, former National Security Adviser of India, Brajesh Mishra, and Additional Secretary of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, Prasad Kariyawasam. We have also benefited from our collaboration with Delhi Policy Group, and in particular Lieutenant General (retired) Raghavan (also current President of the Centre for Security Analysis, Chennai) who is a member of our Advisory Board.

While the Commission’s immediate focus will be on the May 2010 conference that will review the architecture of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it will look beyond that conference and grapple with the pressing issue of the engagement of those countries who have not joined the Treaty (India, Pakistan and Israel), and those who have either purported to walk away from it or whose commitment to it remains uncertain: all of them critical if the path to the elimination of nuclear weapons globally is to be maintained.

While no final decisions have yet been taken by the Commission about any of its detailed recommendations, the general approach is to identify a three-phased action plan. The first task is to spell out all the steps which can and should be taken in the short term, to around 2012, to build initial momentum: including bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force, negotiating a convention to ban the further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes, achieving significant reductions in actual weapons numbers, and achieving broad consensus on the future course of disarmament negotiations. The second part of the action plan will involve identifying a series of steps, through to around 2025, by which nuclear weapons would be reduced to truly minimal numbers, the dangers of their accidental use would be effectively eliminated, and nuclear doctrine would be agreed and applied dramatically limiting occasions for their deliberate use. The third task is to identify how the final step could then be taken, of moving from such a ‘minimalist vantage point’ to a world without any nuclear weapons at all.

Indian leaders have declared their commitment to nuclear disarmament — a commitment which must be shared by the entire region. In recognition of India’s regional and global roles in matters of international security, and the importance of the South Asia region more generally the Commission will meet in New Delhi in October, at a conference held in consultation with the Delhi Policy Group. The meeting will be regional, to consult with South Asian nuclear and strategic experts from government, academia and, those involved in developing the nuclear power industry. We have invited representatives from key regional states — Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — and look forward greatly to hearing regional perspectives on the full range of issues on which the Commission is working.

We hope and expect that this will be a very productive event, which will make its own significant contribution to the movement for a safer and saner nuclear future that is now at last — after so many years of inaction — starting to emerge right around the world.

(Gareth Evans is former Foreign Minister of Australia and is President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group. Yoriko Kawaguchi is former Foreign Minister of Japan and member of the House of Councillors. They are Co-Chairs of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND)).

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