Canada and Nuclear Weapons

On 18 April 2005, the Martin government released Canada’s International Policy Statement – A Role of Pride And Influence In The World, inviting response. (The IPS is still on the web site of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.) On November 1, members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, who were travelling across the country to get public input for the committee’s response to the government about its policy proposals, held a hearing in Toronto. I presented a statement at the hearing, as vice president of Science for Peace and its representative to the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which focused on the IPS stance on nuclear weapons and the related policies Canada needs. As a result of discussion at the hearing, on 4 Nov. 2005 I sent the committee the written submission below (slightly expanding my oral statement), which reflects SfP’s agenda for action:

  1. The statements on nuclear weapons policies in the International Policy Statement are few in number and ill-conceived. In various places, in its booklets on diplomacy (p.13) and defence (pp.1, 6), the IPS implies that the problem is irresponsible states and proliferation to these and to terrorists and it notes a responsibility to deny them these WMD. This is a real concern. But the threat posed by the states deploying more than 100 nuclear weapons is far more serious — and, arguably, the very threats and implied threats of the old nuclear weapons states provide an incentive to states to acquire nuclear arsenals. The IPS seems content that US and Russian nuclear forces will shrink greatly under the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. But these weapons are to be stored, not dismantled, there’s no verification mechanism, they could be redeployed at the treaty’s expiry in 2012, and with the end goal being 1700 to 2200 strategic nuclear warheads, both states will retain massive nuclear destructive capacity. The proposal that Canada pursue a strategy to reinforce compliance and verification mechanisms is all very well (diplomacy booklet, p.13). But it does not respond to the urgency of pressing forward towards the abolition of these weapons of excruciating mass destruction – of which there are still more than 27,000.
  2. There are no good nuclear weapons. The Canadian Government should stick to acting on this understanding. Countering proliferation is only a part of what is required. Policy must be based on the fact that nuclear disarmament is Canada’s legal obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Article VI – and it is not a distant goal but rather a duty to conclude negotiations and eliminate nuclear arsenals, according to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion in July 1996. Canada’s current support, once more, of the New Agenda coalition resolution at the UN First Committee is commendable. (Canada’s initial vote for it, unmatched by any other NATO nation, showed the way to a growing number of them.) But Canada’s last minute, highly destructive withdrawal – on the insistence of the Prime Minister’s Office – of support for the resolution at the First Committee for ad hoc committees to be established for the disarmament work that has been held hostage for years by the stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament raises doubt about its commitment to leadership on abolition. Is this the weaker approach of the IPS, or evidence of the pull of the US, evident in other Liberal government moves towards deeper integration?
  3. This summer in Nagasaki, at the World Conference Against A & H Bombs, Judge Christopher Weeramantry, who helped shape the ICJ opinion that use of nuclear weapons is in general illegal, warned us that we are in as much danger in the next five years as in the previous 60. We are, he says, facing the greatest threat of the 7,000-year history of humankind. Why? Thirty or 40 countries have the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons. An illicit market for such weapons exists. Unemployed nuclear scientists are available at a price and nuclear materials can quite easily be obtained. The US, which is spending $40 billion annually on nuclear weapons, has both nuclear first-strike and preventive war policies. (See its 2002 Nuclear Posture Review and the 15 March 2005 US Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations.) We face nuclear catastrophe. With some 4,000 nuclear missiles on launch-on warning – hair trigger alert – in the US and Russia, we are under threat every minute of every day.
  4. It is not a question of “if,” but rather of “when”: nuclear devastation by weaponry will happen. Someday somewhere, whether by accident – deterioration of warning systems in Russia, a computer glitch, human failure – or by intent, nuclear weapons will be used. And the next use will not be on two cities in a nearly defeated nation, but rather, given retaliatory capacities, will likely lead to massive interchanges, even nuclear winter.
  5. As first-hand knowledge fades and dies with the ageing Hibakusha, who sees with clarity, feels in their bones the horror Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced 60 years ago? People vapourized into the mushroom cloud, children, their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, burned like charred logs, dealt a death not even human. People fleeing the cities, walking like ghosts, skin and flesh dripping from their hands, eyes popped out, crying “water! water!” and in great numbers throwing themselves in the river to escape the agony. Come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and learn, as I did in August, what hell on earth the United States inflicted to end a war that had descended into Crusade, carnage, and barbarity. A Japanese peace delegation, which had come to New York to plead with diplomatic missions for strong action to advance nuclear disarmament at the First Committee in the UN, brought me these pictures ten days ago. [Three of these – of the famous shadow on the pavement of a vapourized human being, the charred body of a boy, and the Hibakusha whose story follows, were shown to the committee.] Listen to this Hibakusha, who remembers that when in 1945 doctors administered treatment for his burns, he begged them “kill me, kill me!” because he suffered such pain, and who warned us – thousands of us gathered in the conference, “until nuclear weapons are abolished, any one of you could become a Hibakusha like me.” And think about the submarines silently cruising, cruising, whose missiles could destroy all the cities in the world, all the people, and their habitat, many times over. By our inaction, we are risking a future for a republic of cockroaches, as Jonathan Schell warned many years ago in Fate of the Earth!

So what policies do we need for today’s realities?

  • Canada should speak out against the illegal US policies for the use of nuclear weapons
  • Canada should avoid military or other deep integration with the US, given its nuclear weapons policies
  • Canada should publicly identify as wrong both NATO’s stated reliance on nuclear weapons and its claim that they are essential to preserve peace and stability
  • Canada should initiate a process of review and reform to shift NATO out of nuclear weapons
  • Canada should make a clear, public commitment to the total ban of nuclear weapons
  • Canada should exert pressure, with like-minded states, to get the nuclear weapons states to comply with the NPT, beginning with the 13 Practical Steps
  • Canada should get honest. Its membership in NATO compromises the integrity of Canadian leadership for nuclear disarmament. If Canada cannot shift NATO out of its nuclear ideology and weaponry, it should get out of the alliance
  • Canada should work on becoming a nuclear-weapon -free state and on joining a NWFZ treaty with other such states
  • Canada should take leadership by convening international meetings of like-minded states to identify the elements and processes needed to establish and maintain a nuclear-weapons-free world
  • Canada should invest in and undertake public education on the urgency of nuclear weapons abolition
  • The Government of Canada should join Mayors for Peace and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Disarmament in believing and teaching that a nuclear weapon free world is possible, is necessary. We can – and we must – achieve it.