Founding and Early Years (2011-2014)
APLN was launched in May 2011 with 30 members from 13 countries around the region, all former senior leaders – Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign and Defence Ministers, and the like. The initiative was driven by a cohort of former Australian diplomats and academics who recognized the need for a major new advocacy effort on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The inaugural Convenor of the group was former Australian Foreign Minister (1988-1996) and then Australian National University (ANU) Chancellor Gareth Evans, and a Secretariat was established at the ANU Crawford School’s Centre for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (CNND) with Professor Ramesh Thakur (former UN Assistant Secretary-General) as Director, assisted by John Carlson (former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office) and John Tilemann (former diplomat and chief of staff to IAEA Directors-General Blix and El Baradei).
There were two particular inspirations for APLN. The first was the 2010 report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, co-chaired by Gareth Evans and former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, which recommended the establishment of research and advocacy networks to help move forward its proposed reform agenda. The other was the establishment earlier in 2011 of the European Leadership Network (ELN) with similar research and advocacy goals for the Euro-Atlantic region. In its early years APLN, like the ELN, received funding primarily from the Washington DC-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
Members met, initially as a whole group, annually in different locations, starting in Tokyo in November 2011, where the focus was on the risks posed by nuclear proliferation, and – with concerns that the political momentum built in the wake of President Barack Obama’s 2009 Prague speech was waning – the need for serious re-engagement on disarmament. APLN’s Inaugural Statement from the meeting, launched in Seoul a month later, addressed the nuclear threats that the network had been established to counter and laid out the principles that would underpin its engagement.
Over the following years, APLN made continuous efforts to sustain engagement with regional leaders and experts through annual meetings, policy statements, and publication of policy briefs, and through the organization of and participation in many events and conferences.
Expanding the Network (2015-2019)
Beginning in 2015, APLN underwent a number of organizational changes. Gareth Evans stepped down as Convenor of APLN to become Emeritus Convenor and Patron, with Ramesh Thakur and Chung-in Moon becoming Co-convenors. During this period, Chung-in Moon helped APLN develop a closer relationship with the Jeju Forum, a regional multilateral dialogue for promoting peace and prosperity in Asia.
Amongst other priorities, APLN also worked to grow its relationship with the South Asian region. In January 2017, Members from China and South Asia met in New Delhi in conjunction with APLN’s local partner, the Observer Research Foundation, to address the global nuclear disarmament outlook, potential regional applicability of the Treaty on Open Skies, and the trust deficit related to containing nuclear tensions between China, India, and Pakistan.
By the beginning of 2018, APLN had more than 90 members from 15 countries across the region. APLN began planning for a new organizational structure, the core of which was a full-time Executive Director and a professionally staffed office based in Asia. The decision to relocate APLN’s physical office to Seoul, South Korea, reflected a belief that such a reorganization would better enable the office to serve and interact with the network’s Members.
A New Beginning (2019-Present)
By 2019, APLN’s planned organizational changes were implemented: the network’s Articles of Association were formally incorporated under South Korean law, and the Seoul office became fully operational on 15 September 2019. Then Special Advisor to the ROK President Chung-in Moon became APLN’s first full-time Executive Director, while Gareth Evans was elected Chair.
Once APLN relocated its office to Seoul, it developed a close relationship with key ministries of the ROK government, including the Ministry of Unification and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, APLN has engaged in a number of events and projects supported by both ministries. APLN has also developed a stronger partnership with other institutes in the region, such as the Nautilus Institute in Australia, and the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA) and the Toda Peace Institute in Japan.
During this time, APLN has also recognized the need for more diverse voices – including those of the next generation – to be heard in regional and global security debates. APLN seeks to facilitate collaboration between the next generation and current and past leaders by bringing them together to share knowledge and perspectives, and cooperate to address growing nuclear policy challenges in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Towards this goal, APLN has co-hosted annual student essay contests tackling various nuclear issues, co-sponsored the annual KAIST-NEREC Summer Fellows Program, and hosted two panels in the 2021 Asia-Pacific Young Leaders Forum.
In March 2021, co-founder of the European Leadership Network Shatabhisha Shetty, who had joined APLN as Senior Adviser and Communications Director in late 2020, became the Executive Director of APLN. Chung-in Moon retained his role as APLN Vice-Chair and remains highly involved in APLN’s projects and events. In September 2021, former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was elected APLN Chair, as Gareth Evans stepped down from that role, while remaining a Board Member.
Since 2019, the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network has grown dramatically thanks to additional support and funding. The network now consists of over one hundred members from 19 countries across the Asia-Pacific.