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In full: Brown’s nuclear speech

Published 18 March 2009

The full text of Gordon Brown’s speech on nuclear energy and proliferation.

BBC News, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Let me first of all welcome you to London - friends from every continent - from America to Russia, from Latin America to the Middle East, Africa to the Far East and of course from the International Atomic Energy Agency itself.

The size and diversity of this gathering is a truly global expression of the strength of our shared ambition to secure for our world peaceful nuclear power, and to reduce and remove from it the dangers of nuclear weapons.

In just two weeks time, the eyes of the world will turn to London as the leaders of the G20 nations meet here to rebuild our global economy.

At stake will be a global new deal for our economic future, with decisions that will remake the rules not just for a global economy but for a global society.

And the actions that we take in the coming weeks and months will define the values of our world - and the inheritance we will bequeath our children and our grandchildren.

Amid the pressures of a global economic crisis there will be those who argue that other challenges are a distraction, that the global economy is the only concern where there is an urgency to act or the opportunity to seize an historic moment.

But I think that is to profoundly misunderstand the world we are in today - and the one we can build for tomorrow.

For I believe that history will take a broader view, and in due course tell how in the making of a new global society and in an unprecedented time of change we had to confront four great and interconnected challenges - the challenges of global financial instability, global climate change, global poverty and, my subject today, global security.

Momentous challenges, but challenges best addressed together.

And in this world of change, the task of leadership is to name the challenges, shape them and rise to them.

And the nuclear question is absolutely central to them - more than about security, vital as it is, more than about nuclear power - and meeting the challenge of energy shortages and climate change, important as they are - it is about the values of the global society we are trying to build.

It is about the very idea of progress itself, about the foundations upon which we build our common security and a sustainable future for our planet.

In short - about what kind of world we are and what kind of world we want to be.

Taxing as these issues are, I am an optimist with faith in the future.

For I believe we are witnessing - as nations come together to address the financial crisis - the power of common purpose nations agreeing not just high aspirations but practical down to earth actions, governments acting quickly and collectively to take radical and even previously unthinkable measures — because we know now that we must succeed together, or separately fail.

And as we learn from this experience of turning common purpose into common action in our shared global society - so I believe we can together seize this time of profound change to forge for our generation a new internationalism that is both hard-headed and progressive.

A multilateralism born out of a commitment to the power of international cooperation not confrontation, founded on a belief in collaboration not isolation, and driven forward by a conviction that what we achieve together will be greater than what we can achieve on our own.

And it is this new spirit of progressive multilateralism that gives us hope that we can find within ourselves and together the moral courage and leadership the world now seeks.

Sir Michael Quinlan, who sadly died last month, and for whose work we will always be grateful, argued thirty years ago - that nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented.

Our task now, he said, "is to devise a system for living in peace and freedom while ensuring that nuclear weapons are never used, either to destroy or blackmail".

That pragmatism was right for the dark days of the Cold War.

But I believe we can and should now aim higher the only way to guarantee that our children and grandchildren will be free from the threat of nuclear war is to create a world in which countries can, with confidence, refuse to take up nuclear weapons in the knowledge that they will never be required.

I know from President Obama and the new US administration that America shares with us the ultimate ambition of a world free from nuclear weapons.

But let me be clear this will be a difficult path that will be crossed in steps, not in one leap.

With each step we must aim to build confidence, confidence that action to prevent proliferation is working and that states with weapons are making strides to live up to their commitments.

And I believe that this is the time to act to take together the next step in building that confidence for we are at a decisive moment, facing risks of a new and dangerous nuclear era of new state and perhaps even non-state nuclear weapon holders.

Once there were five nuclear weapons powers.

Now there are nearly twice as many, with the risk that there could be many more.

Proliferation is our most immediate concern And for that reason alone it is time to act.

And there is yet another risk that of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of unstable or ideologically driven regimes, or terrorists groups like Al Qaeda.

We must all commit to prevent this from ever happening.

In 2005 the Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference failed. We can not afford to fail next year.

So as we approach the 2010 Review Conference I want us to renew and refresh for our times the grand global bargain, the covenant of hope between nations at the heart of the treaty.

A bargain under which we reaffirm the rights and responsibilities for those countries which forgo nuclear weapons

But also a bargain under which there are tough responsibilities to be discharged by nuclear weapons states For as possessor states we cannot expect to successfully exercise moral and political leadership in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons if we ourselves do not demonstrate leadership on the question of disarmament of our weapons.

Under this bargain there is a right for all states to develop civil nuclear power.

But there is a responsibility for these states to reject the development of nuclear weapons.

And there is a responsibility too on nuclear weapons states to reduce their nuclear weapons

So in the coming months Britain - working with other countries - will be setting out a "Road to 2010" Plan with detailed proposals on civil nuclear power, disarmament and non-proliferation, on fissile material security and the role and development of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

We will be seeking the widest possible international engagement and consultation around this plan.

We will also host a recognised nuclear weapons state conference on nuclear disarmament issues and confidence building measures, including the verification of disarmament.

For in the same way Britain has led in challenging old orthodoxies by eliminating conventional weapons which cause harm to civilians, such as cluster munitions, I pledge that Britain will be at the forefront of the international campaign to prevent nuclear proliferation and to accelerate multilateral nuclear disarmament.

Article VI of the Non Proliferation Treaty specifically states that countries that do possess nuclear weapons agree to divest themselves of them over time.

No single nuclear weapons state can be expect