17 March 2022
Conversations: Gareth Evans on Good International Citizenship
In this episode of Lowy Institute Conversations, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans speaks to Executive Director Michael Fullilove about his new book Good International Citizenship: The case for decency.
In this episode of Lowy Institute Conversations, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans speaks to Executive Director Michael Fullilove about his new book Good International Citizenship: The case for decency. He argues that being, and being seen to be, a good international citizen is in a country's national interest. He sets out four benchmarks by which a country's performance can be judged: its foreign aid generosity, its response to human rights violations, its reaction to violence and mass atrocities, and its contribution to dealing with complex global issues such as nuclear proliferation and climate change.
The Hon Gareth Evans AC QC was a Cabinet minister throughout the Hawke–Keating governments and served as foreign minister from 1988 to 1996. He was president of the International Crisis Group from 2000 to 2009, and Chancellor of the Australian National University from 2010 to 2019. He was co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and the Australia–Japan International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. He has written or edited thirteen books, most recently Incorrigible Optimist: A Political Memoir.
Evans, Gareth. Good International Citizenship: The case for decency. Monash University Press (2022)
Michael Fullilove: Hello and welcome to Lowy Institute Conversations - a podcast in which Lowy Institute researchers and the world's leading experts discuss the big international issues. I'm Michael Fullilove, the Executive Director of the Lowy Institute. And I'm delighted today to welcome to our headquarters at 31 Bligh Street an old friend of mine: Gareth Evans. A barrister and academic by training, Gareth entered the federal parliament in 1978 as a Senator for Victoria. In the Hawke government he served in a number of key cabinet ministries. And of course in 1988, he was appointed Foreign Minister and he went on to be one of our longest-serving and finest foreign ministers. After leaving politics, Gareth has had an enormously busy and distinguished life. He was president and CEO of the International Crisis Group. He was co-chair of both the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and the Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. And he served as Chancellor of the ANU from 2010 to 2020. The reason that I've lured Gareth in to the Institute today is he's the author of a terrific new book, "Good International Citizenship: the case for decency", published by Monash University publishing. Today, I'll be talking to Gareth about his life, his career and the arguments for good international citizenship that he lays out in this pithy new book. Towards the end of the conversation, I want to ask Gareth about the shocking events in Ukraine of the past three weeks. So, Gareth Evans, a very warm welcome back to the Lowy Institute.
Gareth Evans: A great pleasure to join you as always Michael.
Michael Fullilove: Alright, Gareth, I want to take Dylan Thomas's injunction to begin at the beginning. Let me ask you about formative experiences that you had as a young man that switched you on to the world - and led you to start thinking about the world and developing your own worldview?
Gareth Evans: Most crucially, I think, was a series of travel experiences I had during the 60s. Notably to Japan, which I vividly remember leading me to Hiroshima and standing under Global Zero and just appreciating deeply the indiscriminate inhumanity of these weapons. And that memory and that impression has stayed with me ever since. Then, later, sort of backpacking my way across Asia, bits of Africa, the Middle East and Europe to Oxford, I had a number again, of equally impacting experiences. I mean, one, for example, was in in Saigon - checking into a very squalid, seedy hotel and, and seeing the horror and the misery of war at close hands. In this instance, a great, enormous GI beating a half-naked Vietnamese girl down the stairs with a broomstick. I mean, it was that kind of atmosphere. It just brought home to you the downsides. Then across the way in Cambodia - drinking beer and eating noodles with that generation of students, as I did all around Asia on that trip, and really enjoying and getting immersed in the culture. But then realizing, seven or eight years later, that those kids were almost certainly all dead - either murdered outright by the Khmer Rouge or dying of starvation, malnutrition, sickness. I suppose another - just one more travel experience to mention - is being invited to the United States by the State Department as a part of a student leader program because I was President of the SRC at the University at that stage. And it's quite probably one of the most counterproductive investments the State Department's ever made, because although I was deeply exposed to the civil rights movement, which enormously impressed me the way that was awakening, I was also deeply exposed to the anti-Vietnam movement on the Berkeley campus and elsewhere. And having gone there was a sort of very lukewarm supporter in the early 60s of the Vietnam War, I came back a really very fierce opponent. But that was not quite what the American - but I did respect, obviously, the way in which they approach the whole business of outreach and tried to expose us to the great and glorious culture.
Michael Fullilove: All right, so you went to Oxford, you studied PPE. I think you returned to Melbourne, you practice law. You entered parliament, you entered public life. And as I mentioned, you served in a number of big portfolios in those exciting early days of the Hawke government - Attorney General's, Resources, Transport and Communication. But then in 1988, I guess you have your apotheosis. And Bill Hayden moves up to Yarralumla, you're appointed Foreign Minister. In your 2017 memoir, "Incorrigible Optimist," you paraphrase Wordsworth...
Gareth Evans: "Bliss, was it that dawn to be alive. But to be Foreign Minister was the very heaven..."
Michael Fullilove: Okay, why was it the very heaven to be Foreign Minister?
Gareth Evans: Well, remember this has coincided with the end of the Cold War and the opening up of vistas of international cooperation, particularly on security and peace issues in the Security Council and elsewhere, that had previously been unthinkable. And that bore fruit in all sorts of very obvious ways. Not least the Cambodian settlement, which we may come back to later. But just the general sense that the art of the possible - in terms of achieving the big things in international relations, not just the peace and security things - but the big cooperative solutions to multiple other global public goods problems, which had been stymied by that Cold War stalemate.
Michael Fullilove: That's a very serious answer. But is there another level at which being Foreign Minister is just more fun than other cabinet ministries for someone like you?
Gareth Evans: Yeah. It's a great job. Just the sense of adventure and being able to visit again all those countries and cultures which I'd previously seen from third class train perspective, but having much higher access, but being able to relate those experiences to my colleagues in high office elsewhere. And to be able to touch base with each of them in terms of the country, the culture that they represented, and to make contact and explore with them the art of the possible in terms of making the world a better place. And you met some incredibly sort of impressive people along the way. Dealing, for example, with the anti-apartheid movement that Australia played a very prominent part in and, and being one of the first internationals to meet Nelson Mandela when he came out of jail as I was. And just being struck by the grace and the decency of probably the most impressive person I've ever met in public life. But also the kind of relationships you developed with them all sorts of other characters. Jim Baker, I remember, vividly the US Secretary of State at the time. And that Bush Senior administration, which was not ideologically a natural soulmate, but they were so professional, they were so good, they're so sharp. I remember Baker saying to me once, 'Well, sometimes guys, you've just got to rise above principle'. That was a little bit of a shock to the system to realise just how pragmatic these guys were prepared to be. But they were a highly intelligent bunch of highly effective professionals. And really, it was a very, very exciting time to be around.
Michael Fullilove: I'm a lapsed lawyer turned foreign policy analyst. How much of your legal training informed your work as Foreign Minister, do you think? Because often, it does seem to me that international lawyers and foreign policy people are two tribes. They look at the world in different ways. Lawyers tend to be more black and white, and categorical foreign policy people tend to be more shades of grey. Do you agree with that? And which tribe do you identify with?
Gareth Evans: Well, I don't think it's as stark contrast as that. I think the habits of mind that you learn as a lawyer - rigorous analytical thinking albeit more linear, rather than necessarily more discursive - stand you in very, very good stead. I've been described as someone who has a mind that craves structures, which is a bit unusual in the foreign policy context. But I found that the disciplined thinking that was involved in in legal practice and legal analysis did carry over very, very directly. I mean, a significant part of your business as Foreign Minister is treaty-making and implementation and negotiation and wordsmithing. And lawyers tend to be very good wordsmiths. It's very good training for that. So, true it is that some people can be a bit black and white. But again, having to take briefs for clients that you might not agree with, or you might not have confidence in the full veracity of their position is pretty good training for diplomatic negotiation where you do have to be prepared to take sides which are sometimes uncomfortable, and argue cases which are sometimes a bit uncomfortable, but nonetheless, that professional legal training, I think, is extremely useful.
Michael Fullilove: All right. Now, you said that Baker told you sometimes you have to rise above principle, but this book is about seeing principle and good international citizenship as serving the national interest as well. So why don't we start there? We all know why it's important to act in a principled way but in this book, Good International Citizenship: The case for decency - make the case to us that it's in a country's national interest to be a good international citizen.
Gareth Evans: Let's be clear what we're talking about. And I think it's easiest to approach this in terms of a set of benchmarks of what it is to be good. And I think there are four in particular that really matter which we can explore in a bit more detail, no doubt later. But one is being a very generous aid donor. Secondly, being a serious advocate for human rights against those international benchmarks, the Universal Declaration and so on. Thirdly, is doing everything you reasonably can to advance the cause of peace and security, including in faraway countries and responding effectively to atrocity crimes and assisting those who are seriously impacted by the horror of war and atrocity crimes - namely, looking after refugees. That's a third benchmark or set of benchmarks. And the fourth one is dealing cooperatively and constructively - making a contribution to the resolution of those big existential problems: pandemics, climate change and nuclear catastrophe, where obviously Australia stands to benefit along with everyone else in both security and economic terms, if we get it right. But along the way - for us as for many other countries - there are downsides and costs involved, which make it not always an easy policy choice. But being a principal contributor to the solution of those big existential problems along with being a serious aid donor and human rights advocate and all the rest is what I mean by being a good international citizen. Now, there's two basic reasons I offer. One, of course, is the moral imperative, which speaks for itself, although I do spell out the different kinds of moral reasoning that take us there by different routes to essentially the same end point - that there is something really significant about our common humanity which cries out for a decent response. But the other point I make, which was really one of the main points of writing this little essay, is to emphasise, as you said in your question, that this is not just a matter of warm inner glow. This is not just a matter of responding to a perceived moral imperative. Being and being seen to be a good international citizen. Being and being seen to be a decent country in all these ways, is something that very much redounds to our national interest in a very hard headed and very practical way. And plays into the other more familiar duo of security and economic interests. And I think it does this in three ways, which I spell out. Very quickly - one is reputational advantage. Countries that are seen to be worthy of emulation and trust are countries that are seen to be good to visit to study and to invest with to trade with, to support the leadership positions in international positions and to work with closely in addressing international problems. And that soft power, as it's obviously been described by Joe Nye, and many others since, and is still an under-appreciated dimension of international relations. It really matters in terms of your ability to move other, more immediately obviously hard-headed objectives. A second return is reciprocity. This is just a natural feature of human discourse, with which we're all familiar. If I behave decently to you in a way that I don't have to for reasons of my own self interest, you will be that much more inclined to behave decently to us. And help us - Australia, for example, with our people trafficking or refugee problems - because we've been supportive of you with your piracy problem or your natural disaster issues. So the reciprocity thing is important. And the third thing that comes into play here, and I've already said it is that, being a decent, cooperative, international citizen - being perceived as such, and being cooperatively engaged in trying to resolve these big existential problems - gives you that much more of a chance of getting stuff done. Because if the more countries behave with this kind of mindset, that they're not going to be driven by the immediate, the obvious, the direct returns, but are going to be driven by the larger imperative to get these big policy things right, the more countries that approach it in that way, the better chance there is of getting final delivery on it. So they're the hard-headed reasons, and I think they're very important. We'll no doubt come to this later on. Because I think too much of the political class just fails to get it about the necessity of having this kind of agenda. They regard it as optional add-on stuff. They regard it as what you do if you've got the resources, and it's not too costly, or perhaps if there's some domestic pressure group pushing you hard on some particular issue. But for too many people in government, for too many governments this is not - this repertoire of issues I've described, which I described, the third dimension of national interest - is not really seen in that role at all. It's not seen as the core business it's seen as an optional extra.
Michael Fullilove: You're talking about the traditional duo of security and prosperity. And then to that you'd add this third dimension of good international citizenship. But how would you respond to the sceptics who say, look, that's all very well and good, but ultimately, in the world in which we all live, security and prosperity are more important. Because when other countries are judging Australia, for example, they want to know how successful are you economically? How many resources do you have that you can deploy? What are your hard power assets? That ultimately those things are more important than the sort of softer elements that you've mentioned? How do you respond to those guys?
Gareth Evans: I don't think it's as simple and straightforward as that. I think a lot of the political class, the analytical class, thinks in those terms, and does regard this stuff as optional extras that don't really contribute all that much. But, one of my favourite examples, and it's a slightly cynical example, but I'm appealing here to a cynical audience. And that is squeaky clean Sweden. Famously generous in aid performance, famously decent when it comes to accommodating refugees and contributing to peacekeeping, and contributing to global peace making. A classic traditional good international citizen internationally. Also happens to be one of the world's greatest suppliers of conventional weapons through Bofors, and Kockums and all those huge firms. And I think part of the reason for that is that Sweden is seen by absolutely everybody as a country that you can comfortably deal with. A decent country that has no downside reputational issues that you have to wrestle with. So people say that's a cynical example. But it's because I do want to make the point that this stuff is not just boy scout good deeds. There is a hard-headed return. But also there is a moral imperative will. And I think playing this kind of role and being seen to visibly play it, contributes both domestically to a sense of national self- worth - and we can talk a little bit later on, perhaps about the politics of decency - but it also genuinely, I think, contributes to you your international standing. A lot of this is essentially anecdotal. I've travelled the world a hell of a lot, not just as Foreign Minister, but in my subsequent incarnations to which you referred. And I just know the extent to which both good behaviour and bad behaviour against these benchmarks resonates in terms of other people's reaction. The Tampa enterprise did us immense reputational damage. Kevin Rudd's apology to the stolen generation, by contrast, played immensely to our advantage. Because people said this is a decent country doing decent things. And particularly in the context of multilateral negotiation, and problem solving, this stuff really, really does matter. And, of course, if you want to play a role being elected to the Security Council, and so on of the United Nations, this stuff is really quite important in terms of the story that you tell when you when you're attracting votes around the place. This stuff does resonate with a very large proportion of the world, even if a lot of other players are themselves maybe not all that necessarily decent. I mean, they at least recognize the the advantage of being so understood.
Michael Fullilove: Okay. Let me come to a couple of those benchmarks that you mentioned earlier. And let's focus in on how Australia has done. First of all, on overseas aid, a quarter of a century ago, we were in the top 10, in terms of aid budget as a percentage of our GNI. Now we're at 25th, spending 20 cents for every $100 of our national income on foreign assistance. What what's happened here do you think? How much of it is political? I know in your book, you cite some interesting Lowy Institute research on the politics of it.
Gareth Evans: We can come to that. But look, the storyline is a really very dismal one. And in comparative terms we're spending half as much on aid as we did under Menzies. Yes, we've fallen away against that international benchmark. In fact, our performance over the last 50 years has shown the greatest decline in commitment to aid of any rich developed country. And that's not a story to be proud of. And not only against that international benchmark have we fallen from a high of 0.65 proportion of overseas development assistance to Gross National Income in the Whitlam period, we've not only fallen to around 0.2 at the moment. But it's projected that on the current indicators, we will be back to 0.19, 0.18 over the next two years. Which puts us right at the bottom of the OECD list. And that's not a good place to be when you are the 12th or 13th richest country in the world. And particularly with the kind of regional responsibilities we have in South Pacific, in our own area, it's just not good. And I think what's driven this poor response on aid is a lingering perception among politicians, partly supported by the Lowy Institute poll in 2017, which found 73% of the population tested, thinking that we were spending too much on aid. But that's a misperception. When you burrow down - as Lowy did the next year in its report - you find a completely different story. And I think it's worth telling the story, just spelling it out: the next year, instead of asking the question as they had in 2017, we're spending nearly $4 billion, what do you think about that - oh, Christ, people said, that's much too much. In 2018, they asked the question, what do you think is the percentage of the national budget that we are spending on aid? And what do you think is the right percentage to spend on aid? And the average response for what people thought we were spending was $14 in every hundred - 14%. And then when they were asked, well, what do you think we should be spending. They said around 10% sounds about right - $10 in every 100. What we were, in fact, spending was 80 cents in every $100. So people were, believed, that we were spending 17 and a half times as much on aid as we actually were. But were prepared to spend 12 and a half times as much as we actually were. And I think that tells you a story. I mean, it's consistent with what we know about Australian decency, the generosity of Australia's response to things like the Aceh Tsunami, and just generally the decency with which people sort of approach these issues. It's an Australian characteristic. And politicians, I do think ignore this - maybe not at their peril. I don't think it's the sort of stuff that necessarily is extraordinary politically salient if you get it right or if you get it wrong. But I don't think it loses you elections, notwithstanding all the assumptions that Peter Walsh and all the other bean counters of my generation and generations of bean counters since make - that charity begins at home, that people are always going to want you to spend money on health, education, welfare, infrastructure, rather than on foreigners. That assumption, I think, is just ill-founded. And we can accordingly afford to be politically, governments can afford to be good international citizens. And from all the obvious moral and other reasons for being that, there's no political downside.
Michael Fullilove: All right, let's move to the peace and security benchmark. And I want to ask you about the peace process in in Cambodia. When you became Foreign Minister the conflict and genocide had claimed millions of lives. And your efforts to mediate between the parties to the conflict help bring an end to the fighting. They were formalized later in the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and for your efforts, of course, and we remember that Congressman Stephen Solarz nominated you for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Gareth Evans: Well, many are called but few are chosen. There we go.
Michael Fullilove: Nice to be called. So, tell us about that. How did you come to the decision that this was a good use of of your time and the Australian government's resources? What was achieved there? Just tell us a bit about that episode.
Gareth Evans: Well, I think this was a classic good international citizenship exercise, because there was nothing much for us in terms of being affected by the chaotic security environment which continued in Cambodia. Nothing for us economically and nothing really in terms of more guarantees of regional security. But it was a cancerous problem which continued to gnaw at everybody's conscience and continued to cause catastrophic misery in Cambodia itself. And a lot of resources had been devoted to trying to address it in the years before I came into office - in which Bill Hayden was a prominent player. And I honour his role because he tried very hard with the Vietnamese and so on, in particular, who were supporting the Hun Sen government at the time, to moderate the opposition to find a solution. But the driving force behind this was my instinct - that maybe Australia as a creative, active, middle power - but with a lot of diplomatic capacity, a fair bit of potential credit in the bank, could perhaps make a difference if we could come up with a creative solution that nobody else had really thought of. And with a bit of input from my colleague, Stephen Solarz, the American congressman who told me that he'd had this idea but was unable to persuade anyone in Washington to take it seriously any way you go. The idea essentially which we ran with, was that the solution to this problem - which had lots of internal divisions in Cambodia, had ASEAN versus Vietnamese divisions, and had the great powers all divided, with Russia supporting Vietnam and China supporting the Khmer Rouge and the Western powers supporting ASEAN. My idea was essentially, that the key to resolving this was to give China a face-saving way of stepping back from supporting the Khmer Rouge. They were obviously uncomfortable. Having been in the position and traditional supporters of these genocidaires. But they did not want to yield overt political authority to the opponents: the Vietnamese or the Western-backed royalists. So the idea of standing back and bringing the United Nations in with an unprecedented degree of engagement, not just as election organisers or peacekeeping monitors, but actually centrally involved in the administration of the country during the transition period. That was the big idea. And, we sold that very successfully with a lot of help diplomatically from Mike Costello and a first class team of professionals in Foreign Affairs. And it's a long and complicated story, which I won't get into. But we are credited with, in all the work we did in fleshing this out and advocating and selling it, we are credited with breaking that impasse and creating the conditions for that '91 peace settlement and the UN successful operation that followed. It didn't of course, deliver as we hoped it would, democracy and human rights, as well as peace to Cambodia. And that's another story as one of the frustrations of my life that we didn't completely solve all those problems. But getting nearly 400,000 people back from refugee camps, getting an end once and for all to that terrible decade plus of genocide and civil war. And giving people brand new life opportunities for the first time was a was a pretty big achievement. And one for which Australia continues to be highly regarded.
Michael Fullilove: Let me ask you about climate change and environment issues, if I can Gareth. The latest IPCC assessment report puts this into stark relief. Climate change isn't coming at us, it's arrived. But Australia has trailed behind many other developed countries in our emissions reduction targets, and certainly we're seen as dragging our feet. My sense is that we've got this weird situation in Australia, where on the right of politics conservatives often say that Australia should lead the world on security issues in a way but free-ride on climate issues. What I mean there is they'll say, we should take a forward-leaning approach in the region, we should develop our hard power, we should take steps that other countries are fearful to do. But on climate change, they're very quick to say, but with only 2% of emissions, you know, we can't change the world anyway, so why should we take any risks? Interestingly, on the left, I see the opposite, where you often see lefties saying we should lead the world on the environment, but we can't change the security climate. So why are we engaging? What do you think of that take on the debate, and more generally, what explains Australia's underperformance on climate? And how can we turn it around?
Gareth Evans: There's a lot bundled up there. There is a significant interconnection, however, between hard security and climate issues, in particular in the South Pacific, where, for those countries, this is an existential issue. They understand perfectly well that Australia in terms of our total emissions is not going to be able to keep the sea levels down. But they sure as hell understand that we've been a laggard of world-class proportions in terms of going along with the emerging consensus around the world that this is a crucial problem that has to be addressed. And our failure to play a responsible role in that respect - our continuing failure - is one that redounds very much to our disadvantage. And that's important in security terms in this highly competitive environment with China and so on that we're now seeing in our own immediate region. Let's be clear about the extent to which we are a laggard. I mean, yes, the Morrison government has been brought reluctantly kicking and screaming to adopting the 2050 net zero target. But the crucial issue right now is the 2030 target. And not only do we not have a very well thought through plan about how we're going to deliver 2050, we've got no plan at all, or no commitment at all on 2030. And that just matters, because this is - this was barely an issue anywhere. anyone's attention when I was in government, but my God, it's a big issue now. And everyone gets it. And I think it just is a quintessential good international citizenship issue. Where its resolution depends on many, many countries - ourselves included - putting aside our most immediate self-interest, and economic returns we get from fossil fuels, and playing into the into the larger narrative. And, we might be we might be small players in terms of total emission, but we are very big players in the energy market with LNG and with our thermal coal exports and so on. And what we say and do in this space matters. And when Australia was perceived to be as backward as we have been in recent years, this has been a big, big negative for us in terms of, you know, this soft power area.
Michael Fullilove: All right, one of your benchmarks for good international citizenship is his activism on the nuclear non-proliferation front, and you've been very active about that in government and after government. I was interested to see last year that you didn't agree with the concerns that some people had expressed that the acquisition of nuclear-propelled submarines proposed a nuclear proliferation threat. Now, this is slightly different from the question of whether nuclear boats are in our national interest or not. But from a nuclear proliferation point of view, you weren't worried about that. So I wanted to take the opportunity just to ask you about that issue.
Gareth Evans: Well, I've never been of the 'vital bodily fluids' brigade that's worried about, you know, nuclear energy, for power purposes, power generation purposes or for nuclear propulsion purposes. I don't think there's any - even though that starts to get us in a military terrain. This is not the same as, as having a loving for nuclear deterrence and nuclear weaponry. Which I have a profound and total and comprehensive distaste for and high levels of alarm about. But I do think it's important as always, to separate these issues out and be serious about understanding that the technical issues that are involved. And in the context of the kind of propulsion that is being talked about, namely HEU, highly enriched uranium units, which you buy as sealed units, and you don't touch them for the life of the boats - 30 years plus - you don't touch them. And so it sounds extraordinary, but that's the way it works. So you don't have issues of refueling. You don't have anything like the the issues of maintenance and the necessity for domestic nuclear industry and so on and the possible avenue, incentive to develop enrichment facilities of your own. There's none of those risks of proliferation where the country to move in that irresponsible direction with this particular kind of contribution to the technical contribution to nuclear propulsion. So that's the point I was making. And I think it's an important one. But Australia really, I think the point needs to be made on the larger scale, that Australia has made a contribution with the Canberra Commission that Keating and I initiated in 1996. Again, with the Japan-Australia Commission that Kevin Rudd initiated. We made a serious contribution to making the normative case for moving much more rapidly towards nuclear weapons elimination. But also the practical contribution of mapping a path for getting there, which is credible and realistic and not just wholly romantic. It is probably wholly romantic to stake your faith in a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty which the nuclear powers - none of them - are remotely prepared to buy into and which treaty has a number of technical problems in terms of lack of effective verification and enforcement provisions and so on. But what we should be doing globally, and what Australia should be continuing to be a very strong voice on, is contributing to nuclear risk reduction. And that agenda of risk reduction issues which I and others have spelled out - the most important of which at the moment are not only reduction in the total number of nuclear weapons and the number of weapons deployed and the number of weapons on high alert status, but also the issue of nuclear doctrine. Adopting the principle of no first use, Obama wanted to go down that particular path. Joe Biden has long been on record wanting to go down that path. The issue is being addressed again in the current US nuclear posture review. But Australia has been one of the most prominent voices in opposing that. We, along with the northeast Asians - Korea and Japan - and the Central Eastern Europeans, stymied Obama's attempts to build alliance support for that nuclear doctrine position. And as I understand it, the current Australian Government is arguing fiercely in Washington at the moment as we speak, that no, you can't possibly give up the potential threat of nuclear weapons use in response to a conventional, cyber or other attack. Not just in terms of defence against nuclear attack - in which case, nobody's arguing against retaliatory use, so long as we've got weapons, but I sure as hell argue against first use. And that's the only way to start moving towards nuclear sanity. And to countermanding the disposition, which is otherwise always there, for other countries to to follow the lead. So as long as the nuclear-armed countries insist that their security needs justify nuclear weapons, but nobody else's does. The Canberra Commission spelled this out very nicely, I think in this mantra, which has been repeated over and over again, since: that so long as any country has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any country has nuclear weapons, they're bound one day to be used. If not deliberately, aggressively then through miscommunication or human error or system error. And any such use would be catastrophic for life on this planet as we know it. That was the normative storyline that we articulated extremely well on the Canberra Commission. And it's the kind of role that Australian should again be playing on the international stage. As an ally, the United States, as a nuclear umbrella state, believing that we shelter under US protection, we do have a significant voice, and we ought to be using it. That, to me is another really big benchmark of good international citizenship.
Michael Fullilove: Gareth, I want to explore now, some of these issues that you're raising in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And, in fact, of course, we've had veiled threats from Mr Putin about the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. But let me ask you, what scale of an affront has Russia, a P-5 member of the UN Security Council committed in invading its sovereign neighbour, Ukraine?
Gareth Evans: Oh, it's absolutely unbelievable. This is morally, legally indefensible. And it's the greatest challenge to, assault on, the international order that we've seen since 1945. This makes everything else that we've seen pale into insignificance. A completely unashamed act of aggression against a sovereign state, in circumstances where there's not the beginning of a credible case that Russia was in any way at risk. And it's just totally indefensible. And it's been extremely important that the international response has been as united and as strong as it is. And I would identify Australia's strong bipartisan response to this in terms of our willingness to take tough sanctions measures and all the rest, as being a classic example of good international citizenship. Because this is in the Euro-Atlantic theater and in terms of the immediate security risks to us of this going pear shaped, they're not high. The economic risks, of course of the conflict continuing, we share along with everybody else: high oil prices, and inflation and interest rate implications. But basically, this is a distant conflict. But what's involved here is a really fundamental principle about the integrity of the global order. And if we let this pass, without a sustained, massive united international effort, then we've abdicated all responsibility.
Michael Fullilove: On the nuclear issue there was a - Elliot Cohen, the Washington commentator had a piece yesterday in The Atlantic that was called 'America's hesitation is heartbreaking'. And he was concerned that America has not been as full throated in the military support that it's provided to the Ukrainians. But also that it has allowed itself to be spooked by the likelihood that Putin might escalate even up to nuclear to nuclear levels, if they engage too directly. And let me let me give you a quote from Cohen. He says, we should not signal to the Russians, they have a trump card they can play to stop us from doing anything. Nuclear weapons are why the United States should refrain from attacking Russia directly, not why it should fear fighting Russians in a country they invaded. What do you think about that?
Gareth Evans: Well, I think that's a misconceived response. These are always very tough calls. But the call that the West has made - that it's not going to move from very strong military support for Ukraine to actually fighting the war on Ukraine's behalf - is a call that I think is entirely rationally defensible. Because that would signal full scale war between the West and Russia, with a very much more real risk of escalation, including to nuclear levels, than is involved in the braggadocio with which Putin has brandishing his nuclear weapons at the moment. I mean, I've been wrong along with everybody else about believing that Putin wasn't ever actually going to fully invade Ukraine. I thought we'd see some more ugly salami slicing, which would create some real dilemmas for everybody. But this full on attempt to completely take over a sovereign country was not something we anticipated, and it may be that Putin's mindset is now such and so psychotic, quite plausibly, that he will do something completely crazy. But on any rational calculation, to escalate the Ukrainian conflict into one involving the use by him initially of nuclear weapons, would be just a catastrophic miscalculation that would certainly raise the stakes if he were to use nuclear weapons, even just small strategic weapons. And it would require us all over again, to think through the implications of whether or not this should be a trigger for a wider war. But you've always got to make the judgment - I've been, during my entire professional life about trying to identify criteria for the use of military force not only in the context of the responsibility to protect against mass atrocity crimes, which I had a lot to do with developing, but also the use of military force generally. And I do think there are a number of prudential criteria which you have to apply in terms of proportionality and last resort and all the rest of it. But the crucial criterion is that the use of military force or particular kind of use military force will do will do more good than harm. And, there's a real risk in upscaling or escalating a relatively confined conflict into a general conflict. If your anxiety is about the horror and misery and terrible suffering that people are experiencing, then you have to be conscious of the infinitely likely increase, dramatic increase in the scale of that suffering that will be involved with the war goes more general. And that's always been an inherent limitation, for example, on the Responsibility to Protect principle if China does move to full and outright genocide rather than just arguable genocide against the Uighur population, or if it behaved similarly, in Tibet, it's not credible to threaten it with the use of military force - even if that could be approved by the United Nations Security Council - because to do so would escalate a contained albeit horrific scenario into a full scale warfighting scenario. And so you do have to sort of temper your idealism and your tough mindedness with a degree of pragmatism. And that just comes with the territory on all this stuff.
Michael Fullilove: How do you think that the Ukraine conflict might end? What are the prospects for negotiated settlement? We have possible mediators in Israel and Turkey? What would that look like? Do you think?
Gareth Evans: I think it is not incredible to contemplate a negotiated settlement, not just a ceasefire, which everybody holds the position which would not be very satisfactory at all, but a full negotiated political settlement. It's very remote at the moment. It seems implausible at the moment. But it's, it's possible, so long as both countries in a war situation are hurting. And when there's no clear path to outright victory for either side. For Russia, there is a path to outright victory, pretty obviously visible in the short term. But how sustainable is that going to be in the long term? How do you subjugate 44 million people, most of whom hate your guts and can tell you so, in your own language? It's just not - all our experience with Afghanistan, Vietnam tells us that it might take a lot of time. But it's very hard to believe that's sustainable. And similarly, from the other side, the Ukrainians might win the war in the long run in the way that I've just suggested. But in the short run, there's terrible, terrible suffering involved, terrible hurt involved. Which is obviously encouraging Zelinskyy to be thinking and he's thinking a little bit out loud, about what are the kinds of things he can put on the table. It's not for us in the West to be proposing diplomatic solutions or putting any pressure on him. He's got to make the call as to what he's prepared to put on the table and what he's prepared to accept. I think there are some things he could put on the table and could possibly accept. One of them which he has floated is adopting a position essentially neutrality for the future, hopefully supported by some wider regional security agreement, but a position of neutrality, which would obviate the necessity for Ukraine to seek protection from joining NATO, which is obviously a gigantic no-no from Russia's point of view. Second, he could clearly commit himself not to acquire nuclear weapons. I think that's easy. He could commit himself to more clear-cut provisions for supporting Russian minority rights. Russia, even as a second official language. I think on the Donbass oblasts - the two of them - Ukraine could agree to fully-supervised plebiscite in which all options would be on the table: future with Ukraine, future with Russia, or independence. And in the case of Crimea, again, that's very tough to concede the validity of an annexation. It's occurred in very problematic circumstances, but that is a fait accompli. Crimea was always a bit of a special case, because of its very obvious Russian character. I know, I've spent a bit of time there. It's possible to think of that otherwise. So all of these things could come on the table now whether they'd be enough of a face saver to get put in the kind of off-ramp that we all hope that he he might take remains to be seen. I think it's very important that countries like China, do put some private - if not public - pressure on him to go down that particular path. And I think we could get to but we're not there yet. And it's going to be very, very, very tough ride.
Michael Fullilove: And speaking of China, how big a choice does Beijing face at the moment?
Gareth Evans: They're hugely discomfited by the position they are in. All the evidence seems to be that you know, the love-in they had with Xi and Putin just before the invasion with the 'friends without limits' stuff was not something they anticipated resulting in an invasion, just a few days later. Because this is at odds with everything China has been saying forever about international behaviour. Whatever you think about its position on Taiwan, and it claims to be part of sovereign China - it doesn't acknowledge it to be another sovereign state - and China's position has been absolutely clear-cut and stated as recently as last 24 hours by Yang Jiechi, the very senior Chinese policy figure. What did he say, China is, this has reached a stage where that we did not want to see, this conflict between ... So China's, I'd be very, very surprised if China would overtly support now Russia, with military supplies, or were even significant economic support to get them through the pressure they're under. I think this just takes Xi into territory where he does not want to go. And we should respect that and not make life more difficult by talking about 'arcs of autocrats', and all the rest of it at this time, where what we want - what we want to see to do, what we want China to do is to is to exercise a real responsibility. And I think that's not impossible at all, given the pressures they're under to navigate this.
Michael Fullilove: Gareth I always enjoy speaking to you. Thank you for continuing to apply your intelligence and experience to these interesting issues facing the world. And thank you for coming to the institute today to talk to our listeners.
Gareth Evans: My pleasure, Michael.
Michael Fullilove: And let me urge everybody to pick up a copy of Good International Citizenship published by Monash University publishing, it's not only crunchy and nutritious but it's short.
Gareth Evans: And cheap!
Michael Fullilove: Cheap and short and good and very much worth the investment of your money and time. So do pick up that book Good International Citizenship: The case for decency by Gareth Evans. You've been listening to Conversations, a podcast from the Lowy Institute team, with production support from David Vallance and Josh Goding. Thanks very much and see you soon.