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.