Category SfP Bulletin February 2017

The President's Corner: Science for Peace as a Foreign Language

If you join a group such as Science for Peace, you have to learn its culture, which is mostly a matter of learning its language. For most of us, as when we acquired our first language, this learning is a simple, stress-free matter of absorbing the usage that we hear around us.

However, some people join who are already proficient in another alien tongue: “Military-speak.” They may undergo culture shock from the contradictions they have to resolve or choose between. Situations of mutual incomprehension arise that are either funny or a source of consternation. As a fluent speaker of Science for Peace, I’ll offer here a short course in our lingo for those who experience the latter more often than the former. This will be more than a glossary of terms, rather an immersion in what for some may be a foreign culture.

In principle, our organization has always been a pluralistic one that welcomes members who hold a diversity of perspectives. In reality, however, we are not more diverse than any other organization that has an identity and culture of its own that it wants to maintain. Hence, there has actually been a consensus about certain fundamental matters-at least until recently when I have sought to make our membership and our board of directors more inclusive. One value of this greater diversity is precisely that the expression of surprising ideas in our meetings requires us to notice and re-appraise our own assumptions, which had been unnecessary when we all took them for granted. Thus at a recent meeting, many of us were surprised by two or three members’ endorsement of NATO’s training exercises in Estonia and by one member’s angry reaction to the term “militarism” on the grounds that it is pejorative.

His objection highlights a latent culture clash that we need to address. I will begin by reaffirming Science for Peace’s commitment to the active promotion of peace. We endorse negotiation, diplomacy, support for institutions of governance, and (when stronger methods seem requited) reliance on waging conflict through such techniques as boycotts, trade sanctions, and other forms of nonviolent civil resistance. If we pay more attention to peacemaking, there will be less peacekeeping to do-and perhaps no occasion for military intervention.

Indeed, Science for Peace regards most military interventions as manifestations of a reviled disposition we call “militarism.” My computer dictionary defines militarism as “the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or protect national interests.” As the dictionary acknowledges, the term is derogatory. Indeed, militarism is probably Science for Peace’s primary enemy, so it now becomes necessary to clarify our reasons for that opinion.

Military people prefer to use the term ‘security’ to describe their functions, though that begs the question. Does a strong military provide greater security to a population or does it invite warfare? Presumably the answer is mixed. Sometimes having a military force may keep us safer and sometimes not. What is at issue here is the ratio between the two effects, though nobody can give a precise answer. It has been answered with simplistic slogans since ancient times, when, for example, the Romans advised each other that ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’.

That slogan can be rejected with ease. Alan Newcombe, a Canadian peace researcher, once studied the outcome of situations where nations built up their military force. He found that they were far more likely to get into a war than in comparable situations where countries did not “prepare for war.” The correct answer is: If you want peace, prepare for peace. War preparations usually make you less secure, not more so.

Why should that be the case? Science for Peace members typically explain it in terms of the reciprocal perceptions of threat and reassurance. If our nation, viewing a potential adversary, feels insecure, we may build up our military as a purely defensive measure. We do not want to start a war but only to be able to win one, should it occur against our wishes. But our adversary feels increasingly insecure as he watches us prepare and responds in kind. Each side believes it is only preparing to defend itself, but it sees the other side as intending aggression. An arms race ensues that can be triggered by an unexpected event such as the assassination of a visiting archduke. And as soon as the first blood is shed, it is virtually impossible to stop the momentum of retaliatory violence.

If, as this suggests, preparation for warfare makes war more likely, what should a peace organization propose instead? Mikhail Gorbachev called it “common security.” This is the notion that we cannot augment our own security by making our neighbors or adversaries insecure. We have to reassure them of our benign intentions, even when we dislike them and mistrust their attitudes toward us. Build mutual trust and confidence, not mutual insecurity.

Does this always work? No. Genghis Khan slaughtered forty million people who bore him no ill will and you can think of other examples. On the other hand, no group managed to stop his hordes by military means either. (The Mongols did not conquer Europe but withdrew in a rush because of bad weather. Tree rings from that period show a series of rainy years, which reduced pastureland for their horses and decreased their mobility, hampering the military effectiveness of the Mongol cavalry.)

Although my Science for Peace friends generally believe that military preparedness makes us less secure, rather than more, that does not mean that many of us consider ourselves pacifists. I can adduce no numbers as proof, but I think a large majority of us do want our cities to have police forces and do favor the protection of vulnerable people elsewhere, even if this requires resort to some violence. How do we resolve the contradiction between this and the principle of common security? The answer lies in a principle that was promoted during the Cold War called ‘non-provocative defence’.

If you worry that someone is about to invade your home, you lock the doors. A door cannot be an aggressive weapon, so your invader has no reason to fear you if he backs off. Then, if he tries to climb in the window, you warn him that you have a weapon and will use it if he comes in. Such a threat may lead to your use of violence, but only for strictly defensive purposes, which is (in my opinion) justifiable and need not frighten an adversary if he stays away. That preserves common security.

Likewise, the police in your town are supposed to be not waging a war against criminals but rather trying to defend non-criminals. They may rarely have to shoot to stop someone in an act of violence, but they are not supposed to pursue anyone through the streets if they can use peaceable means. Nothing makes a community less secure than when people must fear their own police instead of being able to call on them for protection.

During the Cold War, some Pugwashites applied the same notion to inter-state conflicts. They advised hostile countries to refrain from purchasing any military equipment that could be used to “project power” far from home. Instead, they proposed the use of stationary or short-range weapons around their homelands, which would prove that each nation could not attack its adversary because it lacked any means to do so, whereas if the adversary were to attack, it could defend itself well. (Similarly, the Swiss had warned Hitler that if he sent troops into Switzerland they would blow up their own Alpine tunnels and make it impossible for his invasion to proceed.) But if you possess long-range bombers, ICBMs, submarines, aircraft carriers, and nuclear bombs, you look menacing to others, so don’t buy such things. Calm your adversary; don’t provoke him.

When Lester B. Pearson invented UN peacekeeping, it was a protective operation. The British, French, and Israelis had taken aggressive action against the Egyptians in Suez but had halted when other nations refused to support them. The two sides mistrusted each other, so the peacekeepers went in to protect each side against the other, not to help one side win a war. That became the model for most later peacekeeping operations in which the UN sent troops from various countries at the request of both sides in order to guarantee the ceasefire. Sometimes, unfortunately, the two sides would remain in a frozen conflict for decades (as in Cyprus), but at any rate they would not be fighting. If there is any benefit to a war at all, it is from bringing closure to a conflict. Sometimes one side wins while the other loses decisively and has to live with that reality. Frozen conflicts, on the other hand, may last indefinitely, and peacekeeping operations sometimes do freeze instead of end them.

There are other situations in which the UN’s use of violence is authorized to ‘enforce’ peace on a country that is otherwise noncompliant. The Korean War was the first such case, but lately there have been more. Indeed, over the past decade or so, most operations by the United Nations have been interventions in which the peacekeepers are, in effect, fighting a war on behalf of the side that is deemed the victim of aggression. And instead of wars between states, most wars now are intra-state conflicts between various ethnic populations who live side-by-side in the same area.

In these situations an onlooking peace worker begins to lose his bearings. It is not always certain who the ‘good guys’ are. We are asked to do more than protect; we are asked to help impose a just and democratic regime to alleviate the suffering of oppressed people. This is the situation in the wars that have followed the ‘Arab Spring’. The whole principle of defence or protection has been abandoned. Likewise, in Afghanistan Canada’s troops were sent on a war-fighting mission against the Taliban and whatever remained of Al Qaeda.

Lately in The Globe and Mail there have been articles warning Canadians not to celebrate the decision of the Trudeau government to find a new conflict where Canadian troops can offer their services as peacekeepers. There is no more real peacekeeping, journalist Steven Chase warns, but only war-fighting. He writes: “Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says what Canada will ask its soldiers to do in Africa can no longer be called peacekeeping because the term doesn’t reflect modern demands of stabilizing a conflict zone — something experts say could run the gamut from training other countries’ troops to counterterrorism.”

In ‘classical peacekeeping operations’, two states had consented to stop fighting and merely needed aid in fulfilling that promise. If Canada enters one of the conflicts in Africa, we will engage in a bloody, morally questionable, and ultimately thankless operation.

Worse yet, when we send troops to Latvia as part of NATO, we will be welcomed by the Latvians but perceived by Russians as demonstrating our aggressive intent. We will no longer be guided by an aspiration for common (or mutual) security, and we will abandon the principle of non-provocative defence. We will be war-fighters-a role that militarists accept but Science for Peace members abhor.

But is it truly impossible to revive the original form of peacekeeping? I think not. Indeed, if we insisted on adhering strictly to protective operations instead of ever punishing the ‘bad guys’ in a war, we could send troops to do honorable peacekeeping service.

This notion has not been taken seriously lately, as it should be. In Libya, for example, when Gaddafi promised to go door-to-door in Benghazi, “killing the rebels like rats,” he meant it — and the international community had good reason to intervene and protect the rebels. We could have interposed peacekeepers, warned both sides to stop fighting each other, and enforced that ceasefire so that peace negotiations could begin. Instead, this notion was brushed off as impractical and Gadhafi’s troops were bombed. Instead of establishing a democratic state, we started a war that is continuing even now.

Syria is another case in point. After the first brief attempts were made at nonviolent civil resistance, military support came from every direction for the various belligerent groups. After that, no one was being protected or defended, but each side was being ‘fought for’. These fighters have created the 4.8 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, 6.6 million internally displaced, and more than 13.5 million people needing assistance inside Syria. Even while we were being asked to come and fight on behalf of one group or another, we could watch on the same TV newscasts Syrians fleeing and drowning in the Mediterranean.

If, on the other hand, the UN had set up safe zones inside Syria and had protected their perimeters with peacekeepers, most of these wretched civilians would at least be safe today. Everyone entering the protected zone would have to give up his weapon and count on the peacekeepers to protect them-but not to fight their enemies on their behalf. Such an approach would have required some strong negotiating in the United Nations, since it would violate the sovereignty of Syria; nothing in the Charter now authorizes such an action, so it needs to be changed.

In short, my impression is that Science for Peace members (and maybe even Canadians in general) encourage active peace promotion, nonviolent civil resistance, and even non-provocative defence-but not war-fighting operations. We also believe that most military expenditures should be diverted to paying for human development goals and the rapid changes necessary to prevent climate catastrophe.

Will such a policy eliminate all the violent situations in which military intervention is now invoked? No. Will it enable the right side to win in every struggle? Probably not. (Assad, for example, is a terrible ruler, but getting rid of him would probably result in even worse outcomes.)

Most Science for Peace members would probably support the creation of a rapid reaction peace force under the UN command, which could be sent to crisis zones within a matter of hours, — though before that is set up, we need to clarify the rules of engagement so as to mandate only protective actions, not war-fighting operations. At present, such a clarification seems unlikely.

This would also leave unresolved some hard questions about ‘peace enforcement’. For example, if, as we fervently hope, a binding treaty is adopted to outlaw all nuclear weapons, it will be necessary to create not only intrusive verification procedures but also reliable enforcement mechanisms. Such a change creates new risks and will surely be resisted, but it is one of the challenges we face in moving toward a world where conflicts are numerous but wars are absent.

There has always been some variability of opinion within Science for Peace about the issues I have discussed here, and this statement may evoke even more controversy. If I have misrepresented the views of our members, I apologize and will listen carefully to the feedback. However, the executive committee has discussed some of these issues and found ourselves united in opposition to militarism and in support of common security. That is the language of Science for Peace, and we, who speak it fluently, hope that it will become humankind’s native tongue.

Report of the Working Group on Global Governance


Members: Helmut Burkhardt (chair), Norman Dyson, Rose Dyson, Brydon Gombay, Julia Morton-Marr, Tom Simunovic, Peter Venton, Adnan Zuberi


We believe good global governance is meaningful, feasible and necessary. The time is right for replacing globally the inhumane law of force with the just force of law. A World Federation or an effectively reformed UN could help with solving global issues such as nuclear weapons, wars, climate change, and terrorism.

We collect, produce, and disseminate knowledge on global governance. We raise public awareness worldwide about the need for good global governance and the dangers of bad global governance.


Our Public Forum on Global Governance is accessible via email at It is functional but has not attracted outsiders. The closed Yahoo discussion group for members is frequently used for our work. The ideas and activities of the working group are summarized on our publicly accessible website/blog

Facebook (FB) groups have been established for several projects.

The people-centered global governance FB group was established together with the Simpol group in the UK.

As proposed at the AGM, the Toronto Peace Network (TPN) FB group was created. It needs further development.

Another FB group was created as a Virtual World Federalist Movement — Canada Toronto Branch (WFM-C Toronto) This FB group will likely serve as the main communications channel for the actual WFM-C Toronto Branch as a result of our effort to revive it in a public meeting organized in cooperation with Fergus Watt, the executive coordinator of WFM-C in Ottawa.


Dr. Helmut Burkhardt, Professor of Physics Emeritus, Ryerson University

Coordinator, Science for Peace Working Group on Global Governance for a Just and Sustainable World,

In cooperation with Fergus Watt, Executive Secretary, WFM-Canada

Report of the Working Group on Non-violence


While anti-militarists are skilled in contesting the West’s armed intervention in Iraq and Syria, many of us are far less convincing when it comes to articulating what a non-violent response to conflict in the area might actually look like.

The issue seems particularly pressing at this moment, given the ongoing coalition effort — with Canada in tow — to recapture Mosul from ISIS, a frightening military adventure, doomed to be fought on the backs of civilians, rife with sectarian hostilities, and seemingly lacking palatable endgame.

With terrible news arriving daily, there’s no doubt many of those who participated in the Non-Violence and Civil Society Working Group seminar back on June 27 are now searching their memories for the best bits of an astounding discussion on the possibilities of destroying ISIS without arms.

The gathering took place in the airy Hot House Restaurant in the heart of Toronto’s old city, as 44 peace activists, academics, ecologists, and NATO interns dined on chicken, fish, and steak, and heard Maciej Bartkowski, senior director for education and research at the Washington-based International Center on Non-Violent Conflict (ICNC), offer his dramatic suggestions for a weapon-less take-down of ISIS.

As a bonus, we had a rare opportunity to see the strategic non-violent perspective stand up to well-reasoned scepticism in the form of a passionate commentary by Lieutenant-Colonel (ret’d) David Last, a professor from the Royal Military College with a deep experience in Peacekeeping.

The conversation travelled through time and space and touched on an array of experiences from East Timor to Poland, Mali to Ukraine, Nepal, Chiapas, South Africa, the Balkans and more, as well as probed potential action plans both for governments and civil society.

The fascinating exchange began with Bartkowski outlining a major finding of the new civil resistance scholarship. According to the work of Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, non-violent contests are twice as likely to be successful as those fought with arms (53% to 26%). Moreover, nonviolent struggles are far less likely to relapse into civil war, and have a much greater propensity to lead to democratic change.

So here is Bartkowski’s breakthrough concept: there is a greater potential for destabilizing ISIS through the slow and steady non-violent elimination of its power sources, than there is through military intervention with its inevitable massive civilian body count, and tendency to fuel further ISIS recruitment. In the place of armed attacks on ISIS forces, he offered instead the enormous potential of containment and isolation.

Most dictators rely on authority and legitimacy, violence and an adversary responding in kind, he said, but they also can’t rule without skilled personnel, material resources, and a host of various intangible supports. If governments and civil society target these pillars of ISIS rule, there exists the reasonable prospect of defanging and destroying the organization.

Here is his menu of strategic possibilities:

  1. “The hollowing out of ISIS’s legitimacy through humour.” This is already occurring through off-the-wall Twitter responses to ISIS recruiting bids and witty online ads parodying ISIS leaders.
  2. Encouraging defections of ISIS followers. ISIS relies on its cadre, but it’s more difficult to entice its followers to leave when they are being fired upon — one reason a military intervention appears counter-productive. When members do make the break, governments should not send them to prison, but rather encourage them to participate in public anti-extremism campaigns.
  3. Increasing the space for civilian resistance. Because it’s territorially based, ISIS is reliant on the skills of the population — its engineers, teachers, writers, etc, presenting possibilities for protest and sabotage, even in small ways, as in generating deliberate inefficiencies. There are already acts of protest in the very heart of ISIS-declared capital Raqqa, he pointed out, like anti-ISIS graffiti and posters, and the distribution of dissenting magazines. No matter how brutal dictatorial rule is, there is always the possibility, he pointed out, for defiance, either overt or subtle, all the more so since ISIS depends more for its survival on taxes levied on its subjects than oil production.
  4. Ensuring that non-violent resistance offers a strong sense of identity, purpose and adventure. Successful movements have been able to offer citizens a new sense of purpose, and any civil resistance against brutal actors such as dictatorships or totalitarians like ISIS would need to do the same, he said. The Communist regime in Poland was arguably much stronger than ISIS with its strong services, yet the Poles nevertheless managed to overthrow it. But not until they offered the society an idea of an alternative, parallel community of people with a shared identity.
  5. ISIS relies on violence, but killing off its leaders won’t destroy the group, he said pointing to research showing that only 7% of violent organizations are actually defeated by violent means. It’s more efficacious to keep leaders alive and allow internal rivalries to percolate, Bartkowski argued. Often such groups undergo their own changes and stabilize by becoming service providers, Hezbollah being a case in point. The problem of retaking cities from ISIS is that these cities are destroyed for years, like Ramadi and perhaps like Fallujah.
    Violent warfare against ISIS is much costlier in human lives than a possible alternative policy such as containment; indeed, attacks on ISIS created more lashing out by the organization on the local populace.
    As well, violent armed groups expect violence. Why, he asked, would we then be interested in giving them what they expect or want?
  6. Draining the population ISIS relies on. ISIS is concerned about people vacating the territory, so the issue then becomes: how to help civilians leave and further what can only be called a “protest migration”. Carving out an area of civilian protection is key to a containment strategy, he said, citing the successful examples of Colombia’s San Jose de Apardado, which declared neutrality from armed groups, the same strategy employed by locals in Afghanistan and Tuzla.

He concluded with a reflection on what activists must consider before they contemplate civil resistance against armed groups. Among other items, civilians should assess the goals of the authoritarian group, and whether its survival depends on recognition and a degree of cooperation on the part of the locals. If this is so, resistors must discern how such cooperation is induced and locate the pillars of support for the armed group and its allies. Such information and analysis will prove invaluable, he said, for civilians in strategizing and planning their actions.

David Last then presented his energetic commentary on Bartkowski’s scenario, providing the audience with an amazing opportunity to process the arguments. “The ICNC is right,” he said emphatically, “but not entirely right.”

In June 1995, Last was a staff officer of the UN Protection Force in Zagreb in Croatia, and when it was clear that Serb forces were coming to Srebrenica, he sought information on non-violent civil defense, and “soon had faxes from all over the world on the best that non-violence had to offer at the time.” But “you know how Srebrenica ended,” he said. “We didn’t have time to build systems for non-violence,” and without time, it’s “irresponsible to urge non-violence when people are faced with those ready to do them harm.”

He ceded there is value and merit in strategic non-violence, which he further agreed derives its real strength from social organizations, and argued that cadets and NATO interns need to understand that it can be more effective than violence. But he argued, “if that’s all we’ve got in our magazine, we’re in trouble.” NATO needs to develop capacity for unarmed approaches, but it is irresponsible to offer only non-violence in the face of violence, he said, explaining that he doesn’t believe ISIS can be contained without resort to military intervention. Game Theory, the key principle of which is ‘do as you are done to’ suggests that a winning strategy comes from opening with cooperation, but being prepared to respond with what you are given. Hawks are a necessary part of the success of doves, he said.

Bartkowski took up the argument. In the case of Srebrenica, he said, 7,000 men and boys were killed, but would we expect fewer casualties if they had engaged with arms? “I would dare to say there wouldn’t have been 7,000 killed but tens of thousands of men, boys, women, and children killed. Arms wouldn’t have prevented the massacre; it would have escalated it on a much larger scale.”

NATO engaged with KLA in Kosovo against the Serbs, but atrocities by Serbs against civilians escalated during the NATO bombing. NATO provided a cover for atrocities, he said. Milosevic became a hero for resisting the western power but what took him down was not NATO but non-violent organizing — millions on the streets.

Last responded arguing that, “we don’t want professional soldiers who think the only moral and effective function is to use weapons”, and he declared himself in “vehement agreement” with Bartkowski on the NATO bombing. But in the end, the managers of violence have to be prepared to kill people, he said. In the case of Srebrenica, we can blame the international community for drawing lines around protected areas, and then failing to provide the military means of securing it. In Russia and the Balkans there is a two-sided strategy; on one hand, in Estonia, there is non-violent civil resistance training, people-based defense, but at the same time there are military threats and armed incursions that date from the cold war. “To stand up to Russian military power and say ‘they can’t kill all of us’ — sorry.”

That’s what NATO is for; that’s what the military balance is for, he argued. NATO is about containment in the Baltics. “Military forces have to know the utility of non-violence to organize democratic and civilian-based defense.” But non-violence can’t do the job on its own, he stressed.

The discussion meandered in a most illuminating direction.

Marty Klein, for example, raised the issue of army-less Mali and the incursion of Al Qaeda. “I don’t think you can let people die,” he said.

Bartkowski responded, referring to the 1991 popular uprising in Mali which brought down a brutal regime, and the case of the librarians of Timbuktu in 2012 who smuggled out ancient texts, at the risk of the resistors’ lives.

Non-violent resistance isn’t an ethical stance, he explained. The Poles chose to struggle non-violently not necessarily because they were committed Gandhians, but because they remembered Hungary in 1956 and said “we just can’t take up arms or we will be crushed in a couple of days.” So they chose civil resistance. That’s the tradition he comes from, he said, pointing out that he would support the use of violence if it looked more effective — he would be “comfortable” with this. But he sees so many arguments that violent resistance would be futile and costlier than engaging in nonviolent resistance, including such strategies as staying put, or fleeing.

In Poland, there was an annual celebration of the armed uprising of Warsaw (where in two months 200,000 civilians were killed) but, he said, we don’t recognize as heroic the decision of Krakow elites to rationally refuse to rise up against Germans. We don’t celebrate the decision of the Krakovians to stay down and save the city. People were immersed in the ethos of struggle, saying it was moral to respond. But not taking up arms was the rational strategic decision, he said.

Lyn Adamson raised the issue of East Timor and how, after the independence referendum, the guerrillas remained in the mountains despite the repression of the regime so as not to provide a pretext for even more of it.

Bartkowski enlarged upon this issue of the strategic refraining from violence, talking about the ANC and its “iconography of violence” used to motivate people to engage in nonviolent resistance through conjuring romantic notions of struggle. During some demonstrations, wooden-made and real Kalashnikovs were displayed as part of the resistance, “but right now, we are going on strike,” the leadership said. “The ANC and United Democratic Front or UDF were able to mobilize many more people this way, children, women, men. Regardless of whether you had a Kalashnikov or not, you could engage in boycotts and strikes.”

Comparing the number of civilian deaths in Syria during the non-violent period of struggle (March to Aug of 2011) with the number in the next phase, which was partially non-violent and partially armed, Bartkowski finds that civilian casualties increased by 60%. But in the purely violent phase in 2012, there were three or four times as many deaths in a six-month period as in the nonviolent phase. If there is only one-sided violence, fewer people die, he concludes. When the other side responds with violence, it provides a pretext for the dictatorship to attack both nonviolent activists and those with arms.

The back-and-forth continued with Last arguing that the international community failed to provide security in the face of predictable violence in East Timor. “That requires trained and effective military troops. I applaud non-violent effectiveness, but there is another side to that equation,” he said.

Addressing Last’s earlier comment on NATO, Bartkowski said he believed that Eastern Europe would probably be more successful using civilian-based resistance against Russian occupation than relying on the alliance, saving lives and minimizing destruction of cities and towns in the process. Last rebutted this in strong tones: “I think that’s an experiment in which you are prepared to sacrifice the lives of other people,” he said.

Bartkowski response was that in some non-violent struggles, the army can provide security with their bodies, but without arms. In Ukraine in 2004, for example, many soldiers defected from the regime but didn’t send tanks to protect the Maidan against interior security forces still loyal to the government. Instead, they threatened to form a protective cordon, a human chain without weapons, knowing that Ukrainians wouldn’t stand for the killing of unarmed soldiers.

“Security,” he said emphatically, “might not come from the barrel of a gun but from strategic positioning of manpower. One might imagine such a human chain of unarmed soldiers in Srebrenica.”

This conversation continued until nearly 10:00 pm, and there were a dozen hands still waving, begging for an opportunity to ask more questions. The evening was an enjoyable success in that everyone was stimulated to think about historical events and to postulate general inferences from them.

When members of the audience were invited to leave their email addresses for additional meetings of the working group on nonviolence, all seven of the NATO interns signed up. Our next challenge is to decide what to organize next — for them, and for the more committed activists in Science for Peace. We are immensely grateful to ICNC for generously enabling us to hold such a useful meeting, and, of course, we are deeply grateful to, and impressed by Maciej Bartkowski for coming and sharing his profound insights. We also thank David Last for bringing this debate to life in a cogent way.

Science for Peace Position 2017? NATO, Canada, USA, and Russia

Should Science for Peace, an educational organization promoting non-violence and nuclear disarmament:

  • continue to be silent on Canada’s role in NATO?
  • advocate a security model based on the United Nations rather than NATO?
  • advocate that Canada leave NATO?

In 1997 Science for Peace addressed the relationships between Canada, the military alliance NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and Russia in a message from Peter Nicholls, the President of Science for Peace, “President’s message on NATO, Canada, and Russia.” (Nicholls 1997)

Those days, by comparison to today, were optimistic. Nicholls observed that: “The Soviet Union and its “threat” to invade Western Europe have both disappeared” although he saw a warning sign of serious issues to come: “Instead of a Soviet invasion of the West, we have a NATO “‘invasion of Eastern Europe.”

The question then, as well as now, is: “What is Canada doing?” (Nicholls 1997)

Recently, former long-time Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich asked a stark question: War or Peace? (Kucinich 2016).

Kucinich concluded, for Americans:

“Our international relations are built upon lies to promote regime changes, the fantasy of a unipolar world ruled by America, and a blank check for the national security state.

As others prepare for war, we must prepare for peace. We must answer the mindless call to arms with a thoughtful, soulful call to resist the coming build-up for war. A new, resolute peace movement must arise, become visible and challenge those who would make war inevitable.” (Kucinich 2016)

We agree. These are precarious times. As Canadians, as Canada, we can make different and better choices than the USA. Canada needs to have an independent voice that promotes peace.

Since 1947 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock (no author 2016a) has strikingly noted global threat:

1991 17 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT “With the Cold War officially over.”
1998 9 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT “Russia and the United States continue to serve as poor examples to the rest of the world.”
2016 3 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT “The probability of global catastrophe is very high.”
2017 2.5 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT “In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent.”

Both pre-1991 and post-1991 after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, Canada seems to have taken a “business-as-usual” approach to its involvement with NATO by following the lead of the United States “into the US-led Atlantic security community.” (Regehr 2016)

In 1997 it may have been reasonable to wonder what Canada was doing, and to give Canada and the NATO military alliance the benefit of the doubt about whether it would become something more than a US-led military alliance.

Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, it is clear how the NATO military alliance has evolved. Today NATO is risking a military confrontation with its threatening actions towards Russia (no author 2016a).

The questions for Science for Peace are:

  • Can or will Science for Peace continue to observe the evolution of the NATO military alliance, and Canada’s role within it, without clearly stating a position on NATO?
  • Is there sufficient evidence to suggest that Science for Peace and other peace organizations should be calling for Canada to withdraw from NATO and to expect NATO to act less aggressively toward the rest of the world?
  • Also, can Canada, as an independent voice, help reduce the tensions between the US-led NATO and Russia?

It is to be hoped that it is not too late to provide some sober second thought.

NATO in 2017

What has changed with the military alliance NATO in the 25+ years after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact?

It is clear that in the early post-1991 years NATO was an organization in search of a purpose, and it still is (Petrolekas 2016). The pre-1991 bipolar world in which NATO was created has been replaced by a uni-polar world with the United States as the only global superpower.

With these changes, NATO was, in fact, robbed of its reason for existence. Yet, stark developments occurred:

“What has changed in the wake of the Cold War and the Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 is the eruption of American militarism, based on the conviction of the US ruling establishment that, with the demise of the USSR, it could freely employ its military might in a bid to assert world hegemony and reverse the global economic decline of American capitalism.” (Van Auken 2016)

“January 1994, [Bill] Clinton announced that NATO enlargement was ‘no longer a question of whether but when and how.’ Just days before, alliance leaders approved the launch of the Partnership for Peace, a program designed to strengthen ties with Central and Eastern European countries, including many former Soviet republics like Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia.” (Masters 2016)

Prior to 1991 by the terms of NATO’s Article 5, (NATO 2016a) NATO presented itself as a defence organization that would only respond militarily in defence of a NATO member, and specifically a NATO member’s territory (Masters 2016). After 1991, the new NATO took military actions beyond the NATO borders into the former Yugoslavia, then Afghanistan, and Libya (Masters 2016), as NATO sought a military rationale for its continued existence.

Further, NATO also needed a strong opponent to justify its military domination of Europe and project power beyond European borders. It was well known by United States military hawks that Russia would be threatened by the NATO expansion, since there has been a very long history of western European and United States — Russian tensions (Giraldi 2016) (Masters 2016). The threatening advances eastward by expanding NATO membership and the lack of empathy for the Russian perspective (Regehr 2016) may now have created a Russian threat — or the political perception of Russian threat — meeting the NATO military alliance’s criteria for an enemy that will justify NATO continued existence.

The NATO military alliance is built on consensus (no author 2016b). In this context, Canada has clearly supported not only the expansion of NATO and the extra-territorial military missions, but also nuclear war, including first use of nuclear weapons in the front-line areas of Europe between NATO and Russian forces.

Clearly, post-1991, the NATO military alliance has created a reason for its existence by projecting its power not only beyond the borders of the original members, but up to the existing borders of Russia (no author 2016b).

More disturbing than these aggressive actions have been the discussions indicating plans and planning for nuclear exchanges (Van Auken 2016), including using tactical nuclear weapons through a reinvigoration of nuclear deterrence strategies. These deterrence strategies include, in the thinking of some generals, the new tactical nuclear weapons potentially as an effective warning rather than an automatic escalation of the fighting-and as a result it is a weapon that is much “more usable.” (Giraldi 2016) A more sober view of the use of tactical nuclear weapons would be a catastrophe since any use would break the taboo, and then what will ensue is unpredictable.

Canada has supported NATO’s nuclear arsenal and policies, and has taken part in its nuclear war planning group, even though for many years the vast majority of Canadians have thought the world would be much safer if there were no nuclear arsenals (Environics 2008). Indeed, the Trudeau government claims (in speeches by Foreign Minister Dion and official correspondence) that nuclear weapons are essential for our security — a claim that, if valid, would logically ensure and justify proliferation in other nations. Yet, the risks of detonation by accident, technological failure (inevitable in complex systems), human fallibility, or terrorists, are greater than ever before, as numerous US former nucle ar war-hawks tell us. Furthermore — as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists declared years ago — by the law of probabilities, if nuclear weapons are retained, they will inevitably one day be used again. The vast majority of nations, through three humanitarian conferences (Oslo; Nayarit, Mexico, Austria), have reached the ethical judgement that nuclear weapons are utterly inhumane and immoral. Canada voted against the resulting Humanitarian Pledge at the UN General Assembly (no author 2016e). In the face of the nuclear weapons states’, including Canada’s, refusal to take concrete steps to disarm (repeatedly agreed to at review conferences of the Non-Proliferation Treaty), despite the commitment of most to the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Article VI (no author 2016c) by which they promised nuclear disarmament, the international community has finally acted. In October 2016, the UN General Assembly voted to begin negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty to prohibit this last, worst weapon of mass destruction. Mustafa Kibaroglu recently said it well in his article, “To abolish nuclear weapons, strip away their handsome mask” (Kibaroglu 2016) when referring to the United Nations A/C.1/71/L.41 “General and complete disarmament: taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” (United Nations 2016a):

“The ban may not end the reign of nuclear weapons on its own, nor do so in the foreseeable future, but it can be expected to create a universal stigma around nuclear weapons-signifying the beginning of the end. It would not be a surprise if, decades from now, the ban treaty is regarded as the foundation of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

In the face of this rising tide, NATO nations boycotted the conferences and the process by which the treaty resolution was developed. The real reason, it seems, is that they realize a ban treaty will make NATO’s nuclear practices open to question and opposition, and will undermine the legitimacy of nuclear weapons. (A US letter, labelled Annex 1 and dated 17 Oct. 2016, which was passed on to NATO nations by NATO at US request and revealed by the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), noted that NATO is committed to deterrence and to nuclear weapons, as long as they exist, for the defence of its allies, and thus NATO nations should not participate in the treaty process (NATO 2016b). [The attached Annex 2 sets out ways in which a ban treaty will undermine NATO’s nuclear policies and advises NATO nations not to participate in the ban treaty negotiations.] The Government of Canada has taken the NATO stance: it voted against the UNGA ban treaty resolution in December 2016. (United Nations 2016b).

The post-1991 behaviour of NATO and Canada’s willingness to support NATO, clearly fit the definition of militarism (Lorincz 2016):

“the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.”

Should Science for Peace, an organization promoting non-violence and nuclear disarmament, remain silent on this vital question of NATO, given its policies?

In a world facing serious environmental issues such as desertification with global warming, severe worldwide economic inequality, a refugee crisis, and random terrorism, Canada needs to reconsider its international role. In particular, the Canadian government needs to examine the relevance of NATO, and assess Canada’s commitment to and support for its actions and for its promotion of nuclear weapons and “First Use” policy (Rathke 2016) (no author 2016d) (Mendelsohn 2016).

Our assessment and conclusion in 2017 is: it is time for Science for Peace, along with other peace organizations, to take the stand that Canada should leave NATO (Lorincz, 2016). Canada should make this radical change for the sake of the global common security and sustainable peace that our world desperately needs. These are principles that Science for Peace has consistently worked for.


Environics. 2008. “The Canada’s World Poll — Final Report, January 2008.” The Environics Institute. January.’s%20world%20poll%20-%20final%20report.pdf .

Giraldi, Philip. 2016. “Is Nuclear War Becoming Thinkable?” The American Conservative. October 5. .

Kibaroglu, Mustafa. 2016. “To Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Strip Away Their Handsome Mask | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.” December 19.

Kucinich, Dennis. 2016. “War or Peace?” Counterpunch. October 21. .

Lorincz, Tamara. 2016. “From Diplomacy to Sustainable Peace VOW Submission” August. .

Masters, Jonathan. 2016. “The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).” Council on Foreign Relations. .

Mendelsohn, Jack. 2016. “NATO’s Nuclear Weapons: The Rationale for ‘No First Use’ | Arms Control Association.” Arms Control Today. Accessed August 16. .

NATO. 2016a. “Collective Defence — Article 5.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization. .

—-. 2016b. “United States Non-Paper: ‘Defense Impacts of Potential United Nations General Assembly Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.’” International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). October 17. .

Nicholls, Peter. 1997. “Science for Peace: President’s Message NATO, Canada, and Russia.” Science for Peace. March 1. .

no author. 2016a. “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. .

—-. 2016b. “NATO — Topic: Consensus Decision-Making at NATO.” March 14.

—-. 2016c. “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. &oldid=730488239 .

—-. 2016d. “No First Use.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. .

—-. 2016e. “Historic UN Vote on Nuclear Ban Treaty | Rideau Institute.” October 28. .

Petrolekas, George. 2016. “Beyond the Struggle to Find Purpose, NATO Summit Reveals Hidden Perils.” The Globe and Mail. July 11. .

Rathke, Jeffrey. 2016. “NATO’s Nuclear Policy as Part of a Revitalized Deterrence Strategy.” Center for Strategic and International Studies. August 14. .

Regehr, Ernie. 2016. “Canada and Euro-Atlantic Security | The Simons Foundation.” Canada and Euro-Atlantic Security, Defence Policy Review Briefing Paper — Aug 5, 2016. Accessed August 15. .

United Nations. 2016a. “General and Complete Disarmament: Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations.” Oct. 14. .

—-. 2016b. “General Assembly Concludes Main Part of Seventy-First Session, Adopting 15 Texts Recommended by Fifth Committee | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases.” United Nations. December 24. .

Van Auken, Bill. 2016. “Pentagon Chief Outlines Preparations for Nuclear War with Russia.” Strategic Culture Foundation. September 29.

Fact Sheet: A NATO primer

(source: )

Washington, July 27 — As NATO’s purpose and value continues to be debated throughout the U.S. election campaign, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Strategy and Statecraft Program and CNAS Strategy and Statecraft Program Researcher Adam Twardowski have written a primer answering key questions about the alliance, including what the alliance requires of members and whether it is up to dealing with modern threats.

The full primer is below:

The question of U.S. commitments to partners and allies has been a focal point of this year’s U.S. presidential election cycle. The Washington Treaty, which forms the basis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO, has attracted the most attention. As candidates from both sides debate the pros and cons of membership and examine burden sharing, CNAS experts have written a primer on the Alliance, defense spending by its members, and U.S. commitments to NATO.

1. What does NATO membership require members to do?

NATO is charged with ensuring the security of its member states through political and military means. To join NATO, aspiring countries must meet political, economic, and military goals that will enable them to contribute effectively to the operation of the Alliance. These goals include instituting stable democratic governance, market-based economic systems, and the rule of law. The key military obligation of NATO member states is collective self-defense. Article 3 of the 1949 Washington Treaty specifically stipulates that “in order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

2. Are members obliged to spend two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense?

No. The 1949 Washington Treaty does not obligate members to spend a certain percentage of their GDP on defense. During the 2002 Prague Summit, Alliance leaders set two percent of GDP as a standard for national defense spending. This was not a binding treaty obligation, however, but rather a benchmark goal, and one that has proven to be elusive. Political pressure and consultation are currently the only means available to inch member states closer to the goal of two percent defense spending.

3. How many members are spending that much?

Between the 2002 Prague Summit and the 2014 Wales Summit, defense spending among NATO members generally trended downward, and today only five member states, the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Greece, and Estonia, actually spend two percent of their GDP on defense. At the Wales Summit, members pledged to turn the trend around and put a halt to further defense cuts. Today, 22 of the 28 member states spend a larger portion of their economy on national defense relative to 2015, leading to Alliance-wide growth of 2.65 percent. More can be done, but progress has been made on strengthening burden sharing.

4. What is Article 5?

Article 5 is the clause in the original 1949 Washington Treaty upon which the Alliance’s commitment to collective defense is built. Simply put, it states that an attack against one NATO ally will be considered an attack against them all. Article 5 states that the Alliance “will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary.” The phrase “such action it deems necessary” within Article 5 is important in that it means that each state individually decides how, or if, to come to the aid of another. The invocation of Article 5 does not obligate any specific course of action, nor does it require a collective Alliance-wide response. The only required action the Treaty spells out is that after a decision has been taken to use armed force in defense of a member state that decision must be reported to the U.N. Security Council and that the armed force “shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

5. Has Article 5 ever been invoked?

For the majority of its history, the West assumed that Western European states would invoke Article 5 in the face of potential Soviet aggression. However, the only time Article 5 has ever been invoked was in the defense of the United States following the 9/11 attacks. NATO forces played a key role in post-9/11 counterterrorism operations outside the Euro-Atlantic area. As a result of the 9/11 attacks, NATO launched its first ever anti-terror operation, Eagle Assist, followed by Active Endeavor, in which NATO’s Standing Naval Forces deployed to patrol the Eastern Mediterranean.

6. Is an Alliance created in 1949 capable of addressing today’s security threats?

The fall of the Berlin Wall led to probing questions regarding NATO’s purpose and character in the new century. Recognizing the need to “go out of area or out of business,” NATO decided early on to adopt proactive measures addressing a range of new security threats. During the Balkan Wars, for instance, NATO took an active role in addressing the military and humanitarian calamity unfolding on the European continent by bombing Serbian military positions and later deploying a peacekeeping force that enforced the region’s fragile ceasefire. After 9/11, it took on wider counterterrorism and counterpiracy missions and committed personnel and resources to Afghanistan to conduct security operations and build up local Afghan security forces. Today, it is focused on developing new tools in the cyber, energy, and hybrid domains, as well as enhancing partnerships around the world. Even as it pursues all these initiatives, Russia’s resurgence in eastern Europe has magnified the need for the Alliance to return to its traditional deterrence posture. The most recent summit in Warsaw provided a much-needed opportunity to showcase NATO’s revitalized commitment to deterrence and resilience through significantly higher defense spending, new battalions in nervous eastern member states, and continued expansion of membership opportunities and partnerships.

NATO’s post-Cold War evolution shows it is an Alliance capable of adaptation and innovation. Could it do more? Of course. It operates by consensus so change happens at an incremental pace, but it has adjusted to the changing face of international security and made meaningful contributions.

7. Does the United States need NATO?

The United States has a unique ability to project power globally and is the most capable member of the Alliance in terms of military forces. But partners and allies provide a number of benefits without which the United States could not easily project its power or ensure its security-international legitimacy, interoperable forces, command and control, new tools, and different types of partnerships. In return, the United States provides leadership and capabilities that many allies lack, as well as unmatched influence in shaping policy and steering Alliance-wide priorities. The United States needs NATO more than ever because it has a strong geostrategic and economic interest in a unified and peaceful Europe, which is now threatened by aggressive Russian maneuvers on NATO’s eastern flank. Key NATO allies like Turkey are instrumental in U.S.-led efforts to disrupt and destroy ISIS. In a time of unprecedented security and economic challenges to the international order, the endurance of alliances like NATO provides much needed stability and certainty in a rapidly shifting security environment.

Smith is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at or 202-457-9409

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies.

Report of the Working Group on Oceans and Frontiers

Geotechnical politics of Ocean Frontiers
Comparative perspectives on Asian & North American disputes and synergies in Global Development
Peace Research Lecture Series: 2016-2017
Organized by the Ocean Frontiers Research Working Group-Science for Peace, Canada
Supported by York Center for Asian Research (YCAR), York University, Toronto, Canada

The Ocean of our planetary home is One: the global ocean commons, the common heritage of mankind is a mysterious planetary space and life-giving resource-but divided, territorialized, and given many cultural and political names, aside from being used for technical infrastructure development and economic development. Militarization of disputed maritime boundaries, technologizing of oceanic coastal regions by nuclear power plants, and constructions of national airspace from the contested waterways of national maritime boundaries are a few examples of a much larger field of ocean development and governance, entangled with S & T policies, international development practices, and global affairs of maritime states. Ocean geotechnical politics across China, ASEAN, Japan, Australia, Canada, Russia, and the U.S. has contributed to an increasing arms race and show of military power, not just to assert competitive sovereignty claims across disputed maritime space, but to also affirm the freedom of navigation and overflight across the global commons. This is of course in addition to the controversies of nuclear reactor meltdown in several oceanic coastal regions, and the unresolved controversy of how best to dispose spent nuclear fuel.

In this peace research series of lectures, we explore both regional and international conflicts and synergies arising out of technological developments across ocean frontiers. Our eminent guest speakers are scientists, engineers, scholars, and working professionals from the fields of technological systems control, civil and geoengineering, S & T policy, ocean policy and governance, disaster and environmental crisis management. The one hour lecture of every guest speaker will be followed by a 20-30 mins Q&A session with the audience. Each of these lectures will focus on:

  1. exploring techno-scientific norms of safety and security, technical controversies of control systems as well as conflicts and synergies in inter-state relations;
  2. elucidating the entanglements of S & T policy, control systems building and ocean resources sustainability; and
  3. analyzing peace norms, and pacification instruments deployed to curb inter-state conflicts, and/or resolve issues thwarting human and collective security.

Report of the Nuclear Weapons working group


As we begin a new year, the formidable task of eliminating nuclear weapons remains before us. 2016 was intense for anyone following the politics surrounding nuclear weapons, and although it left us with reasons for increased concern, the year also brought us reasons to hope.

North Korea’s nuclear tests and Donald Trump’s tweets on escalating the arms race have pushed nuclear weapons into the headlines and have renewed the irrational defence of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Our own Canadian government, as a NATO member, has been spewing out the convoluted arguments in many letters to our Working Group members over the last few months.

The vengeful ghost of mutual assured destruction is being fleshed out and is regaining its place as something to fear. Over the past couple of decades’ humankind has become distracted by other worries, such as global warming, pandemic disease, economic meltdown, terrorist attacks… and we have allowed the existential threat from nuclear weapons to drift from our consciousness. However, current events are waking us up and reminding us that these insanely destructive weapons must be abolished before they abolish us.

It has been said that not until nuclear weapons are used again will the public pay adequate attention to the threat. However, with nuclear weapons more prominently in the news, hopefully we can engage both the media and the public on the issue, build civil society momentum, and avoid such a catastrophic scenario.

The most significant development of 2016 is the United Nations General Assembly approval of Resolution L.41 recommended to it in October by its First Committee on Disarmament and International Security to start negotiations in 2017 on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The resolution was adopted by a large majority, with 113 UN member states voting in favour, 35 voting against and 13 abstaining.

“The adoption of this resolution represents a meaningful advancement towards the elimination of nuclear weapons,” said Ray Acheson, Director of the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). “It also represents a revolt of the vast majority of states against the violence, intimidation, and injustice perpetuated by those supporting these weapons of mass destruction.” Noting decades of activism against nuclear weapons around the world, Ms. Acheson argued that the pursuit of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons is transformative.

“By stigmatising nuclear weapons through legally codifying their prohibition, a treaty banning nuclear weapons will help facilitate nuclear disarmament,” she suggested. “It will be an essential legal tool to help compel nuclear-armed states to disarm by creating legal, political, economic, and social disincentives for the possession of nuclear weapons.”

Science for Peace, as a member organization of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), will be watching the discussions carefully, and despite its vote against Resolution L.41, will be pressing the Canadian government to join these historic negotiations and work to achieve a strong and effective treaty. Our Working Group will continue to engage with our Members of Parliament, particularly over the next two months. Canada will have to decide very quickly whether we support the majority of nations that have come to their senses and are about to outlaw nuclear weapons, or side with those looking to expand and modernize nuclear weapons. The support of every Canadian is needed.

UN Votes to Outlaw Nuclear Weapons in 2017


NEW YORK, October 27, 2016 — The United Nations today adopted a landmark resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. This historic decision heralds an end to two decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, with 38 against and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society coalition active in 100 countries, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this paramount threat.

“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.

The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject — 415 in favour and 124 against, with 74 abstentions — inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in next year’s negotiations.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts.

“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament,” said Fihn.

“Today’s vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament,” she said.

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.

Nuclear disarmament has been high on the UN agenda since the organization’s formation in 1945. Efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the modernization of their nuclear forces.

Twenty years have passed since a multilateral nuclear disarmament instrument was last negotiated: the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which has yet to enter into legal force due to the opposition of a handful of nations.

Today’s resolution, known as L.41, acts upon the key recommendation of a UN working group on nuclear disarmament that met in Geneva this year to assess the merits of various proposals for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.

It also follows three major intergovernmental conferences examining the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, held in Norway, Mexico and Austria in 2013 and 2014. These gatherings helped reframe the nuclear weapons debate to focus on the harm that such weapons inflict on people.

The conferences also enabled non-nuclear-armed nations to play a more assertive role in the disarmament arena. By the third and final conference, which took place in Vienna in December 2014, most governments had signalled their desire to outlaw nuclear weapons.

Following the Vienna conference, ICAN was instrumental in garnering support for a 127-nation diplomatic pledge, known as the humanitarian pledge, committing governments to cooperate in efforts “to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons”.

Throughout this process, victims and survivors of nuclear weapon detonations, including nuclear testing, have contributed actively. Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing and an ICAN supporter, has been a leading proponent of a ban.

“This is a truly historic moment for the entire world,” she said following today’s vote. “For those of us who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is a very joyous occasion. We have been waiting so long for this day to come.”

“Nuclear weapons are absolutely abhorrent. All nations should participate in the negotiations next year to outlaw them. I hope to be there myself to remind delegates of the unspeakable suffering that nuclear weapons cause. It is all of our responsibility to make sure that such suffering never happens again.”

There are still more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, mostly in the arsenals of just two nations: the United States and Russia. Seven other nations possess nuclear weapons: Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Most of the nine nuclear-armed nations voted against the UN resolution. Many of their allies, including those in Europe that host nuclear weapons on their territory as part of a NATO arrangement, also failed to support the resolution.

But the nations of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific voted overwhelmingly in favour of the resolution, and are likely to be key players at the negotiating conference in New York next year.

On Monday [October 2, 2016-eds.], 15 Nobel Peace Prize winners urged nations to support the negotiations and to bring them “to a timely and successful conclusion so that we can proceed rapidly toward the final elimination of this existential threat to humanity”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has also appealed to governments to support this process, stating on 12 October that the international community has a “unique opportunity” to achieve a ban on the “most destructive weapon ever invented”.

“This treaty won’t eliminate nuclear weapons overnight,” concluded Fihn. “But it will establish a powerful new international legal standard, stigmatizing nuclear weapons and compelling nations to take urgent action on disarmament.”

In particular, the treaty will place great pressure on nations that claim protection from an ally’s nuclear weapons to end this practice, which in turn will create pressure for disarmament action by the nuclear-armed nations.

Winter 2017 Lecture Series

Science for Peace Presents

Our weekly series of free public lectures
Wednesday evenings, 7:00 – 9:00 pm, fall 2016 and winter 2017
University College, 15 Kings College Circle, U. of Toronto.
Everyone is welcome. Bring a friend.

Fall term

September 14, 2016
Sam Lanfranco Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar (Economics), York U
Digital Disruption and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
September 21, 2016
Alex Belyakov The Roots Collaborative, Founding Member
Sustainability: Are We Missing the Point?
YouTube video: 2016-09-21 Alex Belyakov lecture
September 28, 2016
Mitu Sengupta Associate Professor of Political Science, Ryerson University
Are the UN SDGs Worth the Cost and Effort?
October 5, 2016
Mark Winfield Professor of Environmental Studies, York University
The Prospects for an Effective National Climate Change Strategy in Canada
October 12, 2016
Martin Klein Professor Emeritus of History, University of Toronto
What is Terror, Who are the Terrorists, and Why do they Use Terror?
YouTube video: 2016-10-12 Martin Klein lecture
October 19, 2016
Genevieve Vaughan Semiotician and author based in Rome and Texas
Women and the Gift Economy: The Alternative Paradigm
YouTube video: 2016-10-19 Genevieve Vaughan lecture
October 26, 2016
Gail Russel Course Instructor, Canadian Studies program, U of T.
IQ Policy and Development in Nunavut
YouTube video: 2016-10-26 Gail Russel lecture
November 2, 2016
Alison Kemper Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship & Strategy, Ryerson U.
The Overvaluation Trap
YouTube video: 2016-11-02 Alison Kemper lecture
November 9, 2016
Richard Sandbrook Prof. Emeritus of Political Science, U of Toronto
Towards This Generation’s New Left: Impediments and Possibilities
YouTube video: 2016-11-09 Richard Sandbrook lecture
November 16, 2016
Gandhian Village Movement in India: Women and Nonviolence
Lyn Adamson nonviolence trainer and activist and Lee Ann McKenna trainer, facilitator, mediator, and author
YouTube video: 2016-11-16 Adamson/McKenna lecture
November 23, 2016
Stephen Bocking Professor of Environmental History, Trent University
Cold Science: The Cold War and Environmental Science in the Canadian Arctic
YouTube video: 2016-11-23 Stephen Bocking lecture
November 30, 2016
Mustafa Koc Professor of Sociology, Ryerson University
Turkey’s Struggle for Democracy
YouTube video: 2016-11-30 Mustafa Koc lecture

Winter term

January 11, 2017
Joseph Carens Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto
The Ethics of Immigration
YouTube video: 2017-01-11 Joseph Carens lecture
January 18, 2017
Fergus Watt Executive Director, World Federalist Movement of Canada
Building a World Community: Principles, Strategy, Advocacy
YouTube video: 2017-01-18 Fergus Watt lecture
January 25, 2017
Sandy Smith Professor of Forestry, University of Toronto
Invasive species in our Forests
YouTube video: 2017-01-25 Sandy Smith lecture
February 1, 2017
John McLaughlin Professor of Public Health, Dalla Lana School, University of Toronto
Scientific Realism and Other Forces that Influence Research on Environment and Health
YouTube video: 2017-02-01 John McLaughlin lecture
February 8, 2017
Olivia Ward Journalist and Filmmaker
Truth, Lies and Democracy: Journalism after Trump
YouTube video: 2017-02-08 Olivia Ward lecture
February 15, 2017
Blake Poland Associate Professor of Public Health, Dalla Lana School, University of Toronto
Social Movements as Agents of Change
YouTube video: 2017-02-15 Blake Poland lecture
March 1, 2017
Miloud Chennoufi Department of Defence Studies, Canadian Forces College
Tragedy in Syria: Is There a Solution?
YouTube video: 2017-03-01 Milloud Chennoufi lecture
March 8, 2017
Emmay Mah, coordinator, People’s Climate Movement; director, Enviromentum, a project of Tides Canada
A Different Shade of Green: The New Face of the Climate Movement
YouTube video: 2017-03-08 Emmay Mah lecture
March 15, 2017
Judith Teichman Professor of Political Science and International Development, University of Toronto
The U.S. Election and the Implications for Mexico
YouTube video: 2017-03-15 Judith Teichman lecture
March 22, 2017
Ernie Regehr Senior Fellow, The Simons Foundation Vancouver
Disarming Conflict: How Wars End
YouTube video: 2017-02-22 Ernie Regehr lecture
March 29, 2017
Paul Kingston Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto
Syria: Past, Present, Future
April 5, 2017
Vanessa Oliver and the research team “Transformation Action Graffiti” Department of Youth Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford.
Community Healing Art Mural: Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Student Collaboration
YouTube video: 2017-04-05 TAG lecture

in memoriam

Calvin C. (“Kelly”) Gotlieb (March 27, 1921 — October 16, 2016)
Ursula Franklin (September 19, 1921 — July 22, 2016)
David V.J. Bell (April 9, 1944 — January 10, 2017)

Calvin C. (“Kelly”) Gotlieb
(March 27, 1921 — October 16, 2016)

Ursula Franklin
(September 19, 1921 — July 22, 2016)

David V.J. Bell
(April 9, 1944 — January 10, 2017)

Full text version of all articles from SfP Bulletin February 2017. A PDF edition is also available.

Science for Peace Bulletin | ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)