Friday, February 1, 2008

If you want disarmament, globalize ACDA

AFP reports that the new Australian Foreign Minister is promising a more assertive role in support of nuclear disarmament. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told a Tokyo news conference that:
"The current Australian Government came to office with a new commitment to seek
to be much more active... as a nation on nuclear non-proliferation and
disarmament matters."
We welcome this important step forward. But as former Prime Minister John Howard’s August 2007 deal to sell uranium to India – which has since been reversed by the new Australian Government – makes clear, nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament are not always Australia’s top foreign policy priorities. This is easy to understand, of course, bilateral relationships always loom large in comparison to global imperatives in international politics.

One way to strengthen efforts to promote nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament and to insulate them from political vaguaries may be to strengthen their institutional advocate. The Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office (ASNO), consolidated under a single Director General in 2003 legislation, supports an impressive tradition of Australian arms control and disarmament leadership. ASNO is also subordinate to Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT):
“The Director General reports directly to the responsible Minister. Since 1994
this has been the Minister for Foreign Affairs. ASNO is staffed through DFAT on
the basis that it is a division within the Department. The Director General is a
statutory officer, while all other staff were employed under the Public Service
Act 1999, on a full-time basis.”
By pulling ASNO out from under DFAT, and giving arms control and disarmament an independent voice, Australian Members of Parliament could ensure that these concerns always reach their Head of Government unfiltered by “clientitis” – the tendency of officials responsible for bilateral relationships to sacrifice other priorities for the sake of those relationships – or by officials who are not daily steeped in the technical, legal, and strategic complexities of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

Until the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) was ploughed under ten years ago and the earth below it twice salted by John Bolton, it may have been the most institutionally successful advocate for arms control in any government, ever. In how many countries does a dedicated advocate of nuclear disarmament with authority and staff report directly to the Head of Government? Establishing an independent ASNO may not be a sufficient or even prudent step toward effective Australian nuclear disarmament advocacy, but since nothing else has worked, it may be time to consider giving nuclear disarmament the bureaucratic priority that trade and development assistance enjoy in many goverments through a greater measure of institutional independence and persistance. If nothing else, it would surely get more serious people talking more seriously about the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and give lie to the faulty assumption that nuclear weapons are not the common business of humanity.

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