Canada’s Role in Promoting the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

Tasneem Jamal

Mary-Wynne Ashford

Mary-Wynne Ashford, MD, Ph.D. is Co-President, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

Each of the panelists at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence & Alternative Security Arrangement, held in Ottawa on September 28-3-, 2001, was asked to submit a short paper relating to the topic of their presentation. The other Consultation participants were asked to submit brief papers responding to one or more of the following questions:

1. What changes to its nuclear policies should NATO be realistically asked to make, in the context of the current review, to move it towards fuller compliance with global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations and imperatives?

2. Are there realistic and credible alternative means of addressing the security concerns that underlie current U.S. interest in missile defense?

3. What are the most realistic short-term or interim measures that should be taken by nuclear weapon states and nuclear alliances to demonstrate a commitment to significantly reducing the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of elimination?

In this brief paper I address the particular role that Canada can play in promoting the elimination of nuclear weapons. Canada has a well earned reputation for commitment to peace building and peace keeping. Our policies have generally focused on support for co-operative means to reduce conflict and aggression, rather than on building military strength. Canada is known for its strong support for the United Nations, and for complying with rulings of the World Court.

Canadians see themselves as being different from Americans in their attitude toward security both at the personal and the national level. Polling indicates that the most common reason given by Canadians who support gun control is that they do not want to be like the Americans. We believe that our security is based on support for the law and commitment to non-violent conflict resolution. In the international arena we are known for persisting in consensus building and principled negotiations toward common security for all nations. Our contribution is an extremely important counter balance to the tendency toward seeking military solutions to conflict.

Our membership in NATO, however, has placed us in positions where we have compromised the principles we have defended in the past. While I do not advocate leaving NATO, I do advocate Canada taking a leading role in influencing NATO to become an alliance that increases world security by supporting the United Nations and international law. The NATO bombings of Kosovo and Serbia undermined international law and the United Nations, and were in contradiction to NATO’s own mandate.

Our voice in NATO may be only one against many, but it is the voice that is consistent with the aspirations expressed in the founding of the United Nations. Warfare has become ever more horrifying since 1945, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons threatening slaughter and destruction of unprecedented scale. At the same time, the world has made enormous progress in the enactment of laws banning chemical and biological weapons as well as anti-personnel landmines. Supporting these laws and working for their enforcement and verification is more likely to ensure security than holding nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

The US program of National Missile Defence has been delayed but not halted. The US Government is bound by law to proceed with the program as soon as it is technically feasible. The rest of the world must refuse to collaborate with the scheme, not only because it is likely to promote a renewed nuclear arms race with China and Russia, but because it represents a world view that security can only be ensured by superior military strength.

Global security is best served by wealthy nations contributing to building stable, participatory democracies in countries in transition from oppressive governments. Democracy within each country must be matched by respect for international treaties and agreements. In 1999 at the Hague Appeal for Peace, UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan deplored the notion that nations can have ‘interests’ outside their borders. This was a clear reference to NATO’s commitment to defending not only its member nations, but also their interests. Canada could provide a valuable service by initiating discussions within NATO to define exactly what interests NATO is committed to defend. It would be unacceptable, for example, to risk the lives of Canadians and use taxpayer money to support military actions to safeguard private investment.

The conflict between NATO’s reliance on nuclear weapons and international law is evidenced in two recent documents. The first is the advisory opinion of the World Court that in general, the threat or use of nuclear weapons is not legal under international law; the second is the final document of the NPT Review in which the signatories agreed to an unequivocal commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons. The ruling means that NATO’s continuing reliance on nuclear weapons as the centrepiece of defence policy undermines international law, and thus undermines the stability of all instruments that have been developed over decades to reduce the likelihood of military conflict. Canadian interests are better served by supporting law than by supporting military actions that contravene treaties, no matter how powerful the military power taking the actions.

For several years, citizens have called for no first use and de-alerting of nuclear weapons. These small steps are still essential, but at this stage, the over-riding task for NATO is the obligation to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.

Recommendations for Canadian Policy in NATO:

1. Refuse to support the US National Missile Defence Program or the technical research and development currently underway.

2. Initiate a discussion of what is meant by “national interests”, and ensure that such interests are congruent with common security and international law, and not based on private economic interests.

3. State clearly and strongly that international security is best served by supporting common security based on the rule of law and support for the United Nations and refuse to participate in NATO actions that do not comply with international law.

4. Insist that NATO recognises and complies with the advisory opinion of the World Court and the final document of the NPT Review.

5. Use NATO to help the OSCE to build democratic institutions in countries at risk, and to support the establishment of open and accountable justice systems.

For more than fifty years Canada has worked to build an international system based on co-operation instead of military dominance. We must now insist that NATO conform to international norms rather than setting itself apart from the world community.

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