One of the world’s greatest challenges is to ban nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. And one of the leaders of that project is Alyn Ware, a New Zealand runner and activist who used to be a kindergarten teacher.
METTA SPENCER: I think that probably you, more than anybody else, are connected to prominent peace organizations throughout the world that are doing big things globally. In fact, I think you run about half of them!
ALYN WARE: On the nuclear disarmament side I’m working with lots of them.
SPENCER: You’ve just moved to Basel, Switzerland. from New Zealand to manage some of them, right?
WARE: It’s the disarmament programs of the World Future Council, Global Security Institute, Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND).
SPENCER: My god, imagine running four big organizations! Tell me about the World Future Council first.
WARE: Basel will be like a hub. The organizations have offices elsewhere as well. I’m like a network bringing different organizations into collaboration but I’m not “running” them single-handedly.
SPENCER: Well, I was being half-facetious, but I’m sure you’re doing a lot for each of them.
WARE: The World Future Council was set up five or six years ago by the same person who set up the Right Livelihood Award.
SPENCER: Yes, I know of it. You’re a recipient, aren’t you?
WARE: Correct. That award has been around for thirty years Its founder, Jakob von Uexkull, felt that in order to highlight policies it would be good to set up a council that would pick up some of the key initiatives from the Right Livelihood Award and then provide a way of collaborating on them. It’s not just the laureates—there are council members also. The Right Livelihood Award highlights people who have done good work, and the World Future Council picks out policies by governments, elevates them, and circulates them around to other countries to get them to emulate best policies.
SPENCER: Wonderful. Rosalie Bertell won the award some years ago too. She recently passed away, you know.
WARE: Yes, I heard. I met her a few times. We invited her to testify to the foreign affairs committee of New Zealand’s parliament when we had the bill on banning depleted uranium weapons. She was fantastic. She did it by telephone.
SPENCER: Who are some other recipients?
WARE: David Suzuki got it the same year that I did. Some others from Canada are Percy and Louise Schmeiser. Maude Barlow, Tony Clark, and Pat Mooney. On the web site you can see others such as Frances Moore Lappé (Diet for a Small Planet), David Lange (the New Zealand prime minister who kicked out nuclear weapons), and Christopher Weerasmantry (the World Court judge).
World Future Council highlights policies of particular governments in different categories—forestry, sustainable development, future finance, future justice, climate change, energy, and disarmament. On the disarmament side, we did a short book on best policies for nuclear abolition, noting the countries that have prohibited nuclear weapons totally. And then, because of that work, we got commissioned by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which is an organization of 800 parliamentarians from about 150 governments, to write an in-depth handbook on best policies across the board on nuclear disarmament. That book will be launching at an assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Quebec City in October. Many of the delegations will be led by their country’s speaker of the parliament, others by the foreign minister.
SPENCER: Is this group connected to the Canadian effort to get Order of Canada members to petition parliament to support a nuclear weapons convention?
WARE: Yep. The Order of Canada project did a fantastic job. There are [more than] 500 Order of Canada members behind it. That helped Canadian PNND members put forward resolutions that got adopted unanimously in both houses. But the resolutions don’t bind the government, and so far the government hasn’t done anything with them. So we have to consider additional actions to get Canada’s government to act.
WARE: The next step is to take it to Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee. They can make it into something more binding on the government. In some countries, such as Germany, we started with resolutions, then took it to the foreign affairs committee, and that’s made a big difference. So Germany will host a PNND conference in Berlin next February on building a framework for a nuclear weapons free world.
Our office in Basel is bringing together key constituencies to promote the nuclear weapons convention as a good idea. We’re getting political traction with governments. The Middle Powers Initiative has launched an initiative called the Framework Forum, where MPI, with the support of PNND, brings together like-minded governments to start building a framework for a nuclear weapons free world. It asks what it would take to eliminate and prohibit nuclear weapons, using ideas from the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, but actually getting traction to implement some parts of it now.
SPENCER: The Model Nuclear Weapons Convention has been around for ten years or more, hasn’t it?
WARE: Yes, I pulled together the drafting group after we established Abolition 2000—the global network for the abolition of nuclear weapons. From that came the idea that we should actually do a draft treaty. So I pulled together some experts, not all of them from Abolition 2000. Some were from more moderate organizations as well. We spent about a year drafting the model treaty to abolish nuclear weapons. That was submitted to the United Nations in late 1997. During the ten years after that we had a series of workshops—governmental ones, academic ones, scientific ones—and then we revised it. That revised version is the one Ban Ki Moon has been circulating and encouraging governments to use as a guide to negotiations.
SPENCER: You mentioned your other two organizations. Tell me about them, and more about the PNND.
WARE: PNND is bringing together legislators—parliamentarians. Middle Power Initiative is bringing together governments, mostly at the foreign ministry or ambassadorial level. Global Security Institute is bringing in civil society leaders, like Nobel laureates and religious leaders, as well as high-level officials and former officials of the United States.
The Global Security Institute helps us—PNND and MPI—to link with leading policymakers. So, for example, the Global Security Institute arranged for Jimmy Carter to host three of our conferences so far, which helped us bring in high government officials. The Global Security Institute, for example, had Rose Gottemoeller before she was picked up by President Obama to lead the nuclear disarmament negotiations with Russia. It was the Global Security Institute that suggested that the United Nations appoint the actor Michael Douglas as a UN Messenger for Peace and Disarmament. That’s through Jonathan Granoff’s friendship with Douglas, who has been fantastic in helping build publicity and media attention on key disarmament issues. Also, the Global Security Institute has helped us reach out to legislators in the United States across the political spectrum (although there are not so many Republicans now) in order to have behind-the-scenes contact with them.
SPENCER: Excellent. Tell me now about MPI.
WARE: That’s the Middle Power Initiative. It brings governments together for Track Two government consultations. That helps them because within the UN system they can only give the political speeches that have been checked. We bring them together in informal settings with no media, no reporting, using Chatham House rules, so they can explore ideas.
SPENCER: How often do such consultations happen?
WARE: We used to have two per year between 2005 and 2010. They were to help build a strong consensus for the 2010 NPT Review Conference. That’s been achieved; 2010 had a very successful outcome, so now the work of the MPI is to bring the governments together to implement the agreements. We like to have meetings hosted by governments. We’ve had one so far, hosted by Austria. The next one will be hosted by Germany and after that one hosted by Switzerland.
SPENCER: I believe our beloved Doug Roche is a key leader in MPI.
WARE: Yes. He’s the chair until October, when Tad Akiba, the former mayor of Hiroshima, takes over.
SPENCER: Akiba’s great. A couple of years ago we held a conference in the Toronto City Council chambers on nuclear weapons. He spoke to us by videoconference on a huge screen from Hiroshima, and answered questions from the audience. You’ll be working closely with him?
WARE: The office in Basel will be a joint office of MPI, PNND and World Futures Council. We’ll be working with Tad Akiba. He isn’t moving to Basel. We don’t need to live in the same city.
SPENCER: And what is PNND up to?
WARE: We’re about to have our annual assembly in Kazakhstan. We’ll have 80 or 90 parliamentarians—many of them high-level. Our network is about 800 parliamentarians around the world, cross-party. We have Conservatives, Liberals, Social Democrats, Socialists, Greens—the works. We have ten co-presidents—leading MPs from different regions—and a council of 30 parliamentarians. They are the leaders and I’m the global coordinator, facilitating the whole thing. The network operates on a range of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives, depending on what is possible in the PNND members’ parliaments. For example, one of our key members in the United States is Congressman Ed Markey. At the moment he can’t really push the nuclear weapons convention because it’s difficult to get traction on that, but he’s put forward something called the SANE Act—“Sensible Approach to Nuclear Expenditure”—calling for a huge cut in expenditure on nuclear weapons and specifying a number of nuclear weapons programs that could be dismantled. He takes the middle ground. We have another member in the United States who has a more radical stand and doesn’t get as much support: Dennis Kucinich. He’s the one who puts forward the idea of the nuclear weapons convention.
SPENCER: Didn’t he lose the last election?
WARE: No, he’s sitting there at the moment. What happened was, they have an election in November and the Republicans have re-drawn the electoral areas to rule him out. They’ve destroyed his district.
*SPENCER:*Gerrymandering. Tragic. Kucinich is a remarkable person.
WARE: He’s the conscience. It’s wonderful to have his voice but he can’t actually achieve much legislation because he’s putting forward such a strong, principled position. Markey plays the game a bit more, compromises more, but manages to get things adopted.
All around the world we have parliamentarians working. Some of them can get things done where others may take smaller steps, but all of them are committed to a nuclear weapons free world. Some are working on nuclear weapons free zones, which are very important, and you’ll see even in Canada that we have a range of Canadian members of PNND. Some work on a nuclear weapons convention, some on an Arctic nuclear weapon free zone, some on ridding NATO of nuclear weapons.
SPENCER: Are those four the whole list of the organizations you work on?
WARE: There’s one more, which is a joint project of all four of those: the Nuclear Abolition Forum. It’s engaging academics and policy analysts. It puts forward all the different arguments, proposals, critiques of proposals, and the counter-arguments by those saying nuclear weapons are necessary. So there’s a solid academic dialogue going on in one place, where people can go and see who’s writing about what. That’s an initiative of this Basel peace office.
SPENCER: You say it’s not possible to make progress toward a nuclear weapons convention in the US Congress. How do you size up Obama’s own intentions?
WARE: I’ve been quite impressed with President Obama. He was the first US president to acknowledge that the US had been the one country that had used nuclear weapons in wartime and so the United States has a special responsibility to take leadership on this. Also, I’ve been impressed with the fact that he has seen initiatives through—as compared, for example, with Bill Clinton, who put forward the CTBT for ratification. It never got ratified, but got dropped out of Congress. Obama started the negotiations with Russia on the new START; that was very difficult. He had a Russia that attached lots of conditions. He had a Congress with Republicans who were not supporters. Yet he managed to put forward a treaty with Russia that was vital in terms of being able to move on to the next stage, which is not just further reductions with Russia, but bringing the other nuclear weapons states into a disarmament process. Prior to Obama, even if agreements were made between Russia and the US, the other nuclear weapons states had been saying, “Don’t bother us. Russia and the US have huge stockpiles that have to come down a lot more before you start with us.” Obama has now created the possibility to start work on disarmament with the other nuclear weapon states. That’s very positive.
Another positive thing is that he is lowering the role of nuclear weapons in regional security relationships. He put forward a nuclear posture review with NATO, for example. They needed non-nuclear means of security in order to lower the role of nuclear weapons. He has also supported nuclear weapon free zones that other administrations had not supported.
SPENCER: Like where?
WARE: Like the Pacific. He got Hillary Clinton to announce that the US would ratify the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone and the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. He’s even entertaining the proposal for a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.
Probably most important is the Middle East. The fact that the Obama administration backed the idea of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction helped keep the NPT intact in 2010. Iran was ready to block an agreement and walk from the NPT because they saw it as so discriminatory that there was all this attention on their nuclear energy program (and they don’t have nuclear weapons) while there was hardly any attention on Israel, which has nuclear weapons. So the fact that the United States backed the proposal for a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons—which means you’re addressing Israel as well—kept Iran in the non-proliferation regime and accepting some of the conditions. Not only did the US support the idea but they supported action on it, so there is going to be a UN conference in December this year.
SPENCER: That’s the one the Finns are hosting?
WARE: Yep. It will be in Helsinki. So these are some of the things on the policy side. On the personal side, soon after Obama was elected, I got a call from the US embassy in New Zealand saying “We want to meet with you, Alyn.” I said, “What for?” He said, “President Obama has sent a message to most of the key embassies around the world instructing us to ask what you think the US should be doing for nuclear disarmament.”
That was the first indication that the United States was ready to listen and not just to formulate policy themselves. Since then I’ve had an open door with the US State Department to go talk about proposals. It doesn’t mean they agree with everything I put forward but they consider everything very seriously.
SPENCER: How encouraging! I was just at a public affairs conference at Couchiching. Several Canadian diplomats were there. I asked two of them about the prospects for a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone. They brushed it aside and said that Israel will never give up its nuclear weapons. If that is so, is there anything to be gained by holding this meeting in Helsinki?
WARE: The doomsdayers have said that about every nuclear weapon free zone that has been proposed. The first one was Antarctica. They said “that’s crazy.” The superpowers had competing territorial claims there and yet they negotiated the 1969 Antarctica Treaty.
Fast forward to Latin America. You had Cuba still in a relationship with the Soviet Union; you had Brazil and Argentina both pursuing nuclear weapons programs and you had the Mexicans proposing a Latin American nuclear weapon free zone. All the policy wonks said, “No way will it happen. You’re stupid for even trying it.” And now what do we have? We have a fantastic nuclear weapon free zone in Latin America.
Fast forward to the Pacific. The policy wonks said exactly the same thing when we first proposed a South Pacific nuclear weapon free zone. They said, “You’re never going to stop the French testing nuclear weapons there. They are committed to de Gaulle’s Force de Frappe.” And look at what we’ve got. The French were actually the first to close down their nuclear test site after we established the nuclear weapon free zone. Every time you have people saying it’s not possible. But history shows that positive ideas can overcome the odds.
SPENCER: One of the other speakers at Couchiching was an Israeli journalist named Akiva Eldar, who had an angle. He mentioned that the US wants to stop the Iranian nuclear program, but if they did so Israel’s government would treat it as a great triumph and claim they had made Iran do something they didn’t want to do. So the US would need to press Israel to concede something too, which might be a peace settlement with the Palestinians, or might be having Israel agree to a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone. Or both. It was in this context that I asked the two diplomats whether this was a realistic idea and they dismissed the idea of Israel joining the Middle East nuclear weapon free zone. What’s your reaction to the idea of linking nuclear disarmament to a peace settlement with Palestinians?
WARE: Yes, Israel supports the concept of a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone, and voted in favor of the UN resolution that calls for such a zone. However, they say that they would require peace in order to join it, and by peace they mean recognition from the Arab states and Iran. Many of them don’t recognize Israel as a state. So in that process there will probably have to be progress on the Palestinian issue because many of the Arab states would find it difficult to recognize Israel if there isn’t progress on that.
So these issues are tied together. There can be simultaneous movement on them both. That is being proposed for the new process on the UN conference. It looks toward a Middle East zone free of all weapons of mass destruction and will take into consideration the security issues that are important to the parties within the zone, including Israel, the Arab states and Iran.
So yes, there is the possibility of moving forward if you have reasonable leadership and yes, people have been saying that if there are concessions by any country, then the other side could publicly say, “We made the evil other side give up their capacity. Isn’t that great?” They can both claim credit publicly in order to sell it to their own populations, whereas behind the scenes they are actually working diplomatically through intermediaries. That is definitely a way of doing it.
That’s how the Cuban Missile Crisis was finally resolved. Neither side could publicly back down, but they made a deal for the Soviet Union to withdraw its missiles from Cuba if the United States withdrew its missiles from Turkey.
SPENCER: And now there’s a campaign to create an Arctic nuclear weapon free zone.
WARE: Yes. That’s going to be tricky. Some Canadian and Danish Pugwashites are working on it and the Danish government supports it, but of course two nuclear superpowers would have to be in it. The Antarctic was easier. In fact, it is even a demilitarized zone, which the Arctic cannot be. However, the advantage now is that we can appeal to the notion of a global commons. People are more aware these days about environmental impacts that can affect everyone.
SPENCER: Do you sense that the Russians are more hesitant now about further nuclear disarmament than the United States?
WARE: There are forces against it in both countries. In the US it is not only the Republicans but also some Democrats in Congress who favor keeping nuclear weapons. The State Department and the White House are in favor of more disarmament, but not so many people in Congress. They put nuclear weapons facilities in many different states so as to increase the political demand for keeping them. In Russia the objections to further nuclear disarmament are largely based on the fact that the US is going ahead with ballistic missile defence.
SPENCER: I was surprised that Obama didn’t block that.
WARE: He couldn’t withstand the huge political pressure in favor of it. At first he promised not to put missile installations in Eastern Europe but he eventually had to say that they would put them on ships instead.
SPENCER: And in order to get the new START treaty approved, he caved in to pressure and promised the Republicans he’d spend tons of money modernizing the existing nuclear arsenal. So I wonder whether Markey can succeed in reducing the expenditure on nuclear weapons.
WARE: The president can promise that he will budget for something but it is Congress that controls the purse strings. So yes, there is still an opportunity for Congress to cut the expenditures. It was actually a rather smart way for Obama to handle the matter.
SPENCER: What do you consider the most promising approach to establishing a nuclear weapons convention?
WARE: There are two ways. One way would be for a group of like-minded states to begin work on a treaty, which over time the other countries would join. That’s how the land mines treaty came about. Or it could be done through the United Nations, which would bring both positive and negative possibilities. The advantage is that the nuclear weapon states would be involved all along. The disadvantage is that they could slow the process down. Already there has been an attempt to do it through the General Assembly, but there wasn’t enough support, so it was dropped.
What is important is to increase public awareness and create political pressure on governments to ban nuclear weapons. That’s why Norway is going to host a conference on the humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons. It will attract press coverage of the problems and stimulate public demand for nuclear disarmament.
SPENCER: Good for Norway. And good for you too, Alyn. Thanks!
Metta Spencer is editor of Peace Magazine and president of Science for Peace.