Professor Gareth Evans
Professor Gareth Evans
1 April 2010

Nuclear weapons remain an enormous global threat, former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans said in Brisbane last night.

About 23,000 nuclear warheads were still in existence, and 2000 were on “minutes-to-launch” alert.

He said “sheer dumb luck” rather than political skill was the only reason the world had not sustained a nuclear weapons catastrophe in the 65 years since the bombing of Nagasaki.

Despite the end of the Cold War in 1990, the United States and Russia still controlled the vast majority of the world's nuclear weaponry.

Professor Evans was speaking at Customs House in Brisbane, at the second University of Queensland Centenary Oration, a series of addresses by prominent people to mark the university's 100th year.

He said a renewed emphasis on formal education and training would help the public understand the importance of nuclear disarmament. Education also would increase understanding of why mass atrocity crimes in general persisted.

Professor Evans said high school curricula and university courses were a critical part of the four steps required to make change: knowledge, concern, process and leadership.

“High school curricula should find a place for explaining the history of the nuclear arms race, the huge risks that the world faces if it continues in any form, and the sheer enormity of the horrors that are involved in any actual use of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Professor Evans, who presented the oration in conjunction with UQ’s School of Political Science and International Studies, said universities needed to play their part in the knowledge phase of the change process.

“The kind of programs on offer from UQ and elsewhere are a good start, but they need to be much more widespread,” he said.

Professor Evans encouraged people to move from the sideline, to take action.

“It has been said that the world is divided between those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened,” Professor Evans said.

“If we are going to translate good ideas into effective practical action, whether it be in the context of avoiding the horrors of mass atrocity crimes or nuclear obliteration, that means continuing determined action from all those passionately committed to making it happen.”

Professor Evans joins a number of other speakers who are part of the UQ Centenary Oration series.

The next speaker, Dr Tony Haymet from the Scripps Institute in San Diego, will deliver an oration at St Lucia on April 14 about the use of robots in ocean exploration.

Young Australian of the Year finalist and indigenous mentor Jack Manning Bancroft, and Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, are also scheduled to speak in the Oration series this year.

All orations are open free to the public, and seats can be reserved online.