A time to act

Analysis and Commentary, Featured, News, Ploughshares Monitor

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 42 Issue 4 Winter 2021

If you are feeling anxious about the state of global affairs, you are not alone. At Project Ploughshares, we are keenly aware of the multiple, overlapping crises facing the world today. So are millions around the world, increasingly concerned about the complexity of the formidable challenges before us – and about our collective ability as an international community to craft credible and effective responses.

In addition to arms control, disarmament, and international security challenges – several of which Project Ploughshares follows closely – the world is facing two simultaneous emergencies of grand magnitude. On the one hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended virtually every aspect of our lives and has prompted experts around the world to issue warnings that this will not be the last such public health emergency. Parallel to this, we are faced with an unprecedented climate crisis, whose dire manifestations constitute a grim reminder of the fragility of our natural environment.

And so, there is good reason to be concerned about humankind’s common trajectory. But at Project Ploughshares we are not throwing in the towel. Not now, and not for as long as we can contribute to the construction of a more peaceful, just, and secure world. Our resources, ingenuity, and expertise are focused on finding actionable, practical solutions to some of the most complex security problems facing humanity. At Ploughshares, staff understand our mandate and are unwavering in our shared commitment. And we know that we are not alone in this endeavour. We work with partner organizations and have the backing of many supporters. To them all, our sincere gratitude.

A busy 2021 for Project Ploughshares

The global trade in conventional weapons fuels armed conflict, props up tyrannical regimes, and contributes to the destruction of the built and natural environments. Project Ploughshares employs research and analysis to curb irresponsible arms sales, monitor Canada’s adherence to export controls, and support multilateral efforts to reduce the humanitarian threats posed by the global arms trade.

Last September, Project Ploughshares, in partnership with Amnesty International Canada, published the report No Credible Evidence: Canada’s Flawed Analysis of Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia. The report provides a thorough assessment of Canada’s exports of arms to Saudi Arabia. It ultimately concludes that such exports are inconsistent with aspects of both domestic legislation and the international Arms Trade Treaty, to which Canada is a party.

Ploughshares has also continued to participate in the creation of a multilateral political declaration that addresses the harm caused by the use of such weapons, which we expect to be adopted in early 2022. And we delivered a statement on behalf of the International Network on Explosive Weapons during sessions of the United Nations First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, calling for more stringent measures to protect civilians in urban conflict.

The continued existence of nuclear weapons constitutes a clear and present threat to global security. Nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons still exist and form a cornerstone of national security policy for many states, even those without nuclear weapons. Within NATO, to which Canada belongs, a nuclear-weapon state can make its weapons available to alliance members that are officially non-nuclear-weapon states. Moreover, virtually every state that possesses nuclear weapons is currently spending copious amounts of money to modernize their arsenals and related infrastructure.

The adoption (July 2017) and subsequent entry into force (January 2021) of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has come to embody the frustration of the majority of the world’s countries with policies and actions like these, which perpetuate nuclear weapons.

Project Ploughshares continues to support efforts by the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, the Canadian Pugwash Group, Mines Action Canada, and other civil society groups calling on the Canadian government for more active multilateral engagement and leadership on nuclear disarmament, including Canada’s attending the first Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

We also hosted the first Canadian screening of the film “The Vow from Hiroshima” during the annual commemorations of the bombings of Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9). I was a speaker in the subsequent discussion with the filmmakers and activist Setsuko Thurlow.

We are at the forefront in pushing for norms on responsible behaviour in outer space. One major goal is to limit, if not stop, the weaponization of space, before it is too late. This work is essential, because human use of outer space has become so integrated with most of our daily activities, including those related to communications, transportation, health services, security services, and food production.

Following the successful completion of a project, funded by the Government of Canada’s Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program, to map existing and emerging norms for outer space security, Project Ploughshares received new funding to research the applicability of arms control principles to outer space security. The project findings will be compiled in a comprehensive report and presented at various national and international forums.

Technological advancements continue to pose new challenges for global security. While some applications have clear societal benefits, others threaten to be destabilizing and dangerous. Ploughshares has participated in UN discussions on autonomous weapons, conducted research and advocacy on the humanitarian implications of emerging technologies, and hosted public events on autonomous weapons systems.

Project Ploughshares organized a public event with international experts to discuss the necessary changes, challenges, and potential pitfalls of using export controls to respond to the need to regulate exports of emerging tech. We also published a major report entitled Charting the way forward: Examining the principles of responsible use of military AI by Canada’s allies as part of a project also funded by the MINDS program.

Agents of change

At Project Ploughshares we consider even the prickliest challenges related to our program areas opportunities for constructive action and engagement. We believe strongly in concrete impact. We are not just analysts of a complex reality, but agents of change.

A key underlying premise for all the work we do is that the world can indeed improve. That better choices that affect our shared destiny can be made. Critically, we believe that an engaged and organized civil society can generate positive, demonstrable change.

This is a time to act. With your meaningful and generous support, that is exactly what we will continue to do.

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