Canada And Renewal Of The Non-Proliferation Treaty

On 17th April, a month-long conference starts at the United Nations, New York, on renewal of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. One hundred and seventy-four states have signed this treaty, which has been in force for twenty-five years. The treaty recognizes 5 countries as “Nuclear Weapon States” (NW States), and by “Article VI” binds them to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. The rest of the treaty is concerned with binding the other signatories, called “Non-Nuclear-Weapon States” (Non-NW States), not to acquire nuclear weapons. In consideration of that, the NW States promise to assist the Non-NW States in developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes, while not letting them have the materials or technology for making nuclear weapons. Any state can withdraw from the treaty on 6 months notice.

The treaty has come up for review every five years until this crucial 25th year, when it has to be either renewed permanently, renewed for one or more fixed periods, or terminated. It can not in practice be revised because to do that would require, among other things, unanimous consent of the whole of the U.N. Security Council.

Of the states that have not signed the treaty, Israel is known to have a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. Two others, Pakistan and India, are known to be in a position to assemble them quickly if they do not already have them; and several states (signers and non-signers) are suspected of working to acquire them. South Africa claims to have had 6 nuclear weapons, and to have dismantled them.

At each review conference, some pressure has been put on the 5 NW States by the Non-NW States to do their part under Article VI. Until the last few years the NW States have in practice done the opposite they have developed and increased their nuclear arsenals. At the present time, all of them appear to be bent on continuing development; all except Russia and U.S.A. are still increasing their arsenals. Neither of the treaties for nuclear weapons reduction (START I and START II) includes Britain, France, or China.

Preparation for the 25-year conference

The NW states, especially U.S.A., Britain, and France, are pressing very hard for a decision to renew the NPT permanently, without any new conditions, such as a time-table for reduction of nuclear arsenals towards zero, which many Non-NW States want. They are also pressing India and Pakistan to sign the treaty as Non-NW States of course. We interpret their intention as being to perpetuate the discrimination of the countries of the world into NW States and Non-NW States, with a strong mechanism to prevent the latter from acquiring the weapons, and no mechanism for enforcing Article VI.

Although, for the most part, peace organizations regard the Treaty as having some value in spite of its manifest flaws and failures, almost all are opposed to indefinite extension without conditions. A series of limited time extensions is preferred by most, with a strict time-table for nuclear arms reduction by the NW States, and finally replacement by a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons. Some, such as Greenpeace, are fundamentally opposed to the treaty as it stands, because of its encouragement of nuclear power. They and some others advocate amendment, not perhaps realizing how impractical this is because a single adverse vote in the Security Council or the International Atomic Energy Agency can block amendment.

Science for Peace has written to the Minister of Foreign Affairs advocating a Canadian vote for limited extension, with periodic review for progress towards nuclear arms elimination and towards a treaty for abolition. Many individuals and other organizations have done the same. Both of SfP’s U.N. representatives, Tom Davis and Walter Dorn, will be in New York for some part of the Conference.

The Canadian government is however strongly supporting the U.S. demand for unlimited, unconditional extension. We regret to report that Foreign Affairs, in the person of Christopher Westdal, Ambassador for Disarmament, has been lobbying many small nations to vote the same way.

Foreign Affairs has arranged a series of 3 so-called “Consultations” with NGOs and academics in the field of international affairs, in Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver. Walter Dorn and Terry Gardner represented SfP at the one in Toronto. Christopher Westdal was the government representative, meeting a dozen NGO representatives, and the meeting was not in fact a consultation, but rather a briefing on the government position. There was plenty of time for questions and comments, but not for anyone except the ambassador to speak at length. He listened to all comments, but he would not admit any validity for the points we made against the government position: he only spoke to refute them. He often used mere debating techniques, which we did not have much opportunity to rebut. He repeatedly said that the Canadian government position was independent of and different from the U.S. position, but when questioned he failed to show a single point of difference. What we did manage to do was to show very clearly that the government is not representing this segment of Canadian opinion.

We believe it is worth writing to the Prime Minister, with copies to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Ambassador for Disarmament, and your own MP, if you have a point of view on this matter, or can support the SfP position. The article by Derek Paul in the current issue of Peace Magazine, March/April 1995 [to which every member of SfP should by now have a subscription (at $17:50 p.a.), since SW regularly publishes its material therein] will be of help. The government is not likely to alter its vote, but it is right for them to know that they are going against the wishes of a significant number of voters, the people they are supposed to represent.