Our own Minister of Foreign Affairs, with a powerful assist from the new Red-Green coalition government in Germany, is giving fresh impetus to the issue of the abolition of nuclear weapons. The task for us seems clear: support, indeed laud, the Minister for what he has already done (we can be certain there are powerful forces arrayed against him, like the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex), and keep him moving forward (for there is a long way yet to go.)
To keep yourself informed and inspired in this most important struggle, read Jonathan Schell’s marvellous new book The Gift of Time: The Case for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons Now – and if you’re in Toronto, go see him speak under our auspices at the St. Lawrence Forum on March 10. For Canadian content, read the landmark report of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs released in December which won the support of all parties – except, perhaps predictably, Reform.
Lloyd Axworthy, the Minister, who had asked the Parliamentary Committee for its report on nuclear weapons, showed a new commitment by the Canadian government when Canada did not vote negatively with the United States, France and Britain, the NATO nuclear weapons states, in a United Nations nuclear disarmament vote in November that called for a demonstrable commitment to abolition. On December 9, at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Mr. Axworthy, supported by the foreign ministers of Germany and Belgium, called for a re-thinking of NATO’s nuclear strategy that would lead to nuclear disarmament.
The Parliamentary Committee, with its Liberal majority along with its members from the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, called for the nuclear weapons states to enter negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons and, meanwhile, to take their nuclear weapons off alert status. While the Committee stopped short of calling for a no-first-use commitment by the nuclear weapons states (apparently in a vain attempt to get Reform to sign on), the great majority of its members showed courage and imagination in going as far as they did and deserve the thanks of the peace community. At the time of the release of the report, I was on a conference call with a number of peace activists, including our own Setsuko Thurlow who, on learning from Doug Roche and Ernie Regehr what was being recommended, literally wept with joy.
The Cold War, with which nuclear weapons were so deeply intertwined, has been over for a decade. We need to avail ourselves of Schell’s gift of time, to rid ourselves of the terrible scourge of nuclear weapons. The testing by India and Pakistan are a warning of how proliferation takes place in the absence of any certain move to abolition by the existing nuclear weapons states. The key event coming up is the NATO summit in Washington in April. NATO is club of a different order than the U.N. and Mr. Axworthy needs, and deserves, all the support we can give.