Canada’s UN Voting Record

Tasneem Jamal

Douglas Roche

The Ploughshares Monitor December 1999 Volume 20 Issue 4

Note: Following this article are appended:

i) the full text of the New Agenda Coalition resolution

ii) the explanation of Canada’s vote by the Head of Canada’s Delegation, and

iii) details on how the countries of the UN voted on the resolution.

The Government of Canada declared in its formal response to the December 1998 parliamentary committee report on nuclear weapons that it wanted to devalue the political significance of nuclear weapons and work with the New Agenda Coalition in pursuing shared nuclear disarmament objectives. This policy was tested this fall at the UN First (Disarmament) Committee. An analysis of how Canada voted on nuclear disarmament resolutions shows that the government is still not prepared to take a forthright position on action to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

The centrepiece resolution was submitted by the New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden), which was formed last year to seek an unequivocal commitment from the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to commence negotiations leading to a program for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The NAC expressed deep concern at the deterioration of the non-proliferation regime and the spectre of new nuclear arms races.

Canada abstained on NAC’s resolution at the 1998 session of the First Committee, claiming that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade had not yet completed its review of Canada’s nuclear weapons policies. The Committee, when it reported, recommended that “the Government must encourage the nuclear-weapon States to demonstrate their unequivocal commitment to enter into and conclude negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons.” This was in fact the content of Operative Paragraph 1 of the NAC resolution.

This year, NAC returned with a resolution that was softened in order to appeal to NATO states, 12 of whom had abstained last year. The core of the resolution was contained in the new Operative Paragraph 1:

Calls upon the Nuclear Weapons States to make an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and to engage without delay in an accelerated process of negotiations, thus achieving nuclear disarmament, to which they are committed under Article VI of the NPT.

NAC and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs went into extended negotiations on the text. NAC agreed to remove the word “speedy” to get Canada’s affirmative vote. The Foreign Affairs Minister gave his assent for a yes vote. The Defence Minister, whose department maintains a close link with the Pentagon, which is adamantly opposed to comprehensive nuclear negotiations, was opposed. The matter went to the Prime Minister, who took the position that Canada should not be leading a breakout of NATO states into the yes column.

Thus Canada once again abstained on the NAC resolution. With Turkey and the Czech Republic, a new member of NATO, switching their previous no to an abstention, the total number of NATO states abstaining was 14. The other five – the US, the UK, and France, known as the P3, along with two other new NATO states, Hungary and Poland – voted no.

Canada’s explanation-of-vote was very revealing. After praising the NAC resolution, the Canadian representative said: “The Nuclear Weapon States and their partners and alliances need to be engaged if the goals of the New Agenda resolution are to be achieved.” This was a tacit admission that Canada’s hands are tied in voting for nuclear disarmament as long as the US and the NATO leadership hold that nuclear weapons are “essential” to their military doctrine.

To drive home the point that the Canadian government considers itself not free to vote principled positions on nuclear disarmament, Canada also abstained on a new resolution introduced by China and Russia on the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The ABM Treaty was established by the US and the former Soviet Union in 1972 to limit defences against nuclear weapons in an effort to slow down the development of new nuclear weapons. The ABM Treaty has long been considered a cornerstone for maintaining global peace and security and strategic stability.

Canada has always been an ardent upholder of the ABM Treaty. But now the US wants to either weaken or abrogate the Treaty in order to deploy a new national missile defence system. Billions of dollars are being spent on the development of this system, and President Bill Clinton is scheduled to make a decision next June whether to start deployment.

Both Russia and China have protested vigorously to the US, claiming that such deployment will trigger new nuclear arms races, since neither country can accept the prospect of US unilateral invincibility. Canada well recognizes that a missile defence system will de-stabilize the world community, which is why this country did not join in supporting the aborted, Reagan-inspired Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) of the 1980s. Now the US is back and wants Canada’s support.

The Russian-Chinese resolution called for continued efforts to strengthen the ABM Treaty and “to preserve its integrity and validity so that it remains a cornerstone in maintaining global strategic stability and world peace and in promoting further strategic nuclear arms reductions.” The resolution went on to urge countries to refrain from the deployment of such systems and “not to provide a base for such a defence….”

If Canada seriously intended to uphold the ABM Treaty, it would have voted yes. Even France voted yes. The US voted no. Since there were 73 abstentions when the resolution came before the First Committee, Canada had plenty of company, but gave away a principled position.

A consequence of US determination to develop the technology for a missile defence system was Canada’s loss of consensus for its traditional resolution calling for a committee at the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. China balked on the grounds that it would need new fissile material for nuclear weapons to counter the US missile defence system. Having abstained on the ABM resolution, Canada was not in a position to argue with China and withdrew its resolution. The prospect now for a fissile material ban is practically zero.

The annual Malaysian resolution revealed that Canada has not moved away from ambivalence about the elimination of nuclear weapons, the government’s new policy notwithstanding. The resolution called for endorsement of the unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice that nations have an obligation to conclude negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control. Canada voted yes to this paragraph. But the next paragraph, calling for the commencement of “multilateral negotiations in 2000 leading to the early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention” drew a no. Then Canada abstained on the resolution as a whole.

A similar resolution calling for immediate negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament “on a phased program of nuclear disarmament” was turned down by Canada, which has customarily voted against time-bound programs for disarmament (a policy that was turned on its head when Canada supported the package accompanying the Indefinite Extension of the NPT, which stipulated that a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty be achieved by 1996).

Canada, of course, voted for the resolution endorsing the CTBT and urging States which have not yet ratified the CTBT to accelerate their ratification processes. Even the US voted for this resolution.

Canada also joined the great majority of states in voting for the Japanese resolution reaffirming the importance of the NPT and calling for “the determined pursuit by the Nuclear Weapon States of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons, and by all states of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” The key word here is “ultimate.” Canada votes to uphold the “ultimate” elimination of nuclear weapons but resists negotiations now that would lead, in a measured way, toward that goal. By insisting on the maintenance of nuclear weapons, the NWS have manifestly demonstrated their insincerity in implementing Article VI of the NPT.

Canada’s continued weak voting record on nuclear disarmament resolutions – the rhetoric of the government’s policy notwithstanding – is robbing this country of credibility in the nuclear disarmament field. Canada proclaims that it must take a “balanced” approach between its desire for nuclear disarmament and its loyalty to NATO. But there is nothing “balanced” in its voting record. The record shows clearly that Canada refuses to support any resolution that specifies immediate action on a comprehensive approach to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Canada follows the U.S. and NATO line on the tough nuclear disarmament resolutions.

Canadians who followed closely the Parliamentary hearings on nuclear weapons issues and who took hope in the government’s response had a right to expect that Canada would take bolder positions at the UN It is true that Canada took a step forward in urging NATO to review its nuclear weapons policies. But this is only calling for a review. When it comes to voting for comprehensive negotiations Canada says no or abstains. The failure to support the New Agenda resolution is a bitter disappointment to Canadians who expected that this year, in the face of the crippling of the non-proliferation regime, Canada would at least support a moderate resolution.

The failure to do so in the face of such highly informed public opinion as that contained in statements by the Canadian Pugwash Group, the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the United Nations Association of Canada, and the Simons Foundation Strategy Consultation indicates the government’s capitulation to the hard-line Cold War elements that still drive US and NATO nuclear policies. Since there is a strong public opinion in Canada to abolish nuclear weapons and virtually no public opinion to maintain nuclear weapons, the question of the subversion of democracy is opened up by the government’s continual refusal to call forthrightly for an end to nuclear weapons for the sake of all humanity.

The failure to move ahead through the NAC resolution means that Canada is crippled going into the NPT 2000 Review. Last spring, Canada offered the outline of a new set of Principles and Objectives to shore up the NPT. These Principles and Objectives are confined to the step-by-step approach, which in the thirty years of the existence of the NPT has produced a situation where there are virtually as many nuclear weapons now as when the NPT came into existence.

As a result of the UN voting, it now seems that Canada will not be able to support the growing demand for the NWS to make an unequivocal commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons through negotiations. Canada, which holds the NPT at the centre of its policies, will find itself on the margins of the debate – all because it refuses to throw off the intimidation of the Western nuclear powers.

In the Japanese resolution, there is a paragraph that “Encourages the constructive role played by civil society in promoting nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.” Canada voted for this. In Canada there is a highly developed civil society waiting for the opportunity to work with the government, as happened in the Ottawa Process that secured a Landmines Treaty. But a vibrant partnership between civil society and the government to advance nuclear disarmament must await the day when Canada makes an unequivocal commitment to the obtaining of a Nuclear Weapons Convention that will ban forever the production and deployment of nuclear weapons anywhere on the globe.

Former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament Senator Douglas Roche is the Chair of the Middle Powers Initiative (c/o IPPNW, 727 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139, USA, e-mail:
New Agenda Coalition resolution (A/54/563-G)

Approved by the UN General Assembly on 1 December 1999

The General Assembly,

PP1 Convinced that the existence of nuclear weapons is a threat to the survival of humanity,

PP2 Concerned at the prospect of the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons, believing that the contention that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used is not supported by the history of human experience, and convinced that the only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and the assurance that they will never be produced again,

PP3 Concerned also at the continued retention of the nuclear-weapons option by those three States that are nuclear-weapon-capable and that have not acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and concerned at their failure to renounce that option,

PP4 Concerned further that negotiations on nuclear arms reductions are currently stalled,

PP5 Bearing in mind that the overwhelming majority of States entered into legally binding commitments not to receive, manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and recalling that these undertakings have been made in the context of the corresponding legally binding commitments by the Nuclear-Weapon States to the pursuit of nuclear disarmament,

PP6 Recalling the unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice in its 1996 advisory opinion that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control,

PP7 Stressing that the international community must not enter the new millennium with the prospect that the possession of nuclear weapons will be considered legitimate for the indefinite future, and convinced of the imperative to proceed with determination to prohibit and eradicate them for all time,

PP8 Recognizing that the total elimination of nuclear weapons will require measures to be taken firstly by those Nuclear-Weapon States that have the largest arsenals, and stressing that these States must be joined in a seamless process by those Nuclear-Weapon States with lesser arsenals in the near future,

PP9 Welcoming the achievements to date and the future promise of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks process and the possibility it offers for development as a plurilateral mechanism including all the Nuclear-Weapon States, for the practical dismantling and destruction of nuclear armaments undertaken in pursuit of the elimination of nuclear weapons,

PP10 Welcoming also the Trilateral Initiative between the United States of America, the Russian Federation and the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the irreversible removal of fissile materials from weapons programmes,

PP11 Believing that there are a number of practical steps that the Nuclear-Weapon States can and should take immediately before the actual elimination of nuclear arsenals and the development of requisite verification regimes take place and, in this connection, noting certain recent unilateral and other steps,

PP12 Underlining that the ABM Treaty remains a cornerstone of strategic stability,

PP13 Stressing that each article of the NPT is binding on the respective States parties at all times and in all circumstances,

PP14 Stressing the importance of pursuing negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in the Ad Hoc Committee established under item I of its agenda entitled “Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament”, on the basis of the report of the Special Coordinator and the mandate contained therein, on a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and considering that such a treaty must further underpin the process towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons,

PP 15 Emphasizing that, for the total elimination of nuclear weapons to be achieved, effective international cooperation to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons is vital and must be enhanced through, inter alia, the extension of international controls over all fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices,

PP16 Emphasizing the importance of existing nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties and of the early signature and ratification of the relevant protocols to these treaties,

PP 17 Noting the Joint Ministerial Declaration of 9 June 1998 and its call for a new international agenda to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world, through the pursuit, in parallel, of a series of mutually reinforcing measures at the bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral levels,

PP18 Acknowledging the Report of the Secretary-General of 21 September 1999 on the implementation of General Assembly resolution 53/77 Y of 4 December 1998,

PP19 Taking note of the first Report of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency on the Agency’s exploration of verification arrangements that will be necessary for the maintenance of a world free of nuclear weapons,

OP1 Calls upon the Nuclear-Weapon States to make an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and to engage without delay in an accelerated process of negotiations, thus achieving nuclear disarmament, to which they are committed under Article VI of the NPT;

OP2 Calls upon the United States of America and the Russian Federation to bring the Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START II) into force without further delay and to commence negotiations on START III with a view to its early conclusion;

OP3 Calls upon the Nuclear-Weapon States to undertake the necessary steps towards the seamless integration of all five Nuclear-Weapon States into the process leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons;

OP4 Calls for the examination of ways and means to diminish the role of nuclear weapons in security policies so as to enhance strategic stability, facilitate the process of the elimination of these weapons and contribute to international confidence and security;

OP5 Calls upon the Nuclear-Weapon States, in this context, to take early steps:

– To reduce tactical nuclear weapons with a view to their elimination as an integral part of nuclear arms reductions;

– To examine the possibilities for and to proceed to the de-alerting and removal of nuclear warheads from delivery vehicles;

– To further examine nuclear weapons policies and postures;

– To demonstrate transparency on their nuclear arsenals and fissile material inventories; and,

– To place all fissile material for nuclear weapons declared to be in excess of military requirements under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards in the framework of the voluntary safeguards agreements in place;

OP6 Calls upon those three States that are nuclear-weapons-capable and that have not yet acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to reverse clearly and urgently the pursuit of all nuclear weapons development or deployment and to refrain from any action which could undermine regional and international peace and security and the efforts of the international community towards nuclear disarmament and the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation;

OP7 Calls upon those States that have not yet done so to adhere unconditionally and without delay to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to take all the necessary measures which flow from adherence to this instrument as non-nuclear weapon States;

OP8 Also calls upon those States that have not yet done so to conclude full-scope safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and to conclude additional protocols to their safeguards agreements on the basis of the Model Protocol approved by the Board of Governors of the Agency on 15 May 1997;

OP9 Further calls upon those States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify, unconditionally and without delay, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and, pending the entry into force of the Treaty, to observe a moratorium on nuclear tests;

OP10 Calls upon those States that have not yet done so to adhere to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and to work towards its further strengthening;

OP11 Urges the development of the Trilateral Initiative between the United States of America, the Russian Federation and the International Atomic Energy Agency and urges that similar arrangements be developed by the other Nuclear-Weapon States;

OP12 Calls upon the Conference on Disarmament to re-establish the Ad Hoc Committee under item 1 of its agenda entitled “Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament”, on the basis of the report of the Special Coordinator and the mandate contained therein, of a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, taking into consideration both nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament objectives, and to pursue and conclude these negotiations without delay, and, pending the entry into force of the treaty, urges all States to observe a moratorium on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

OP13 Also calls upon the Conference on Disarmament to establish an appropriate subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament and, to that end, to pursue as a matter of priority its intensive consultations on appropriate methods and approaches with a view to reaching such a decision without delay;

OP14 Considers that an international conference on nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, which would effectively complement efforts being undertaken in other settings, could facilitate the consolidation of a new agenda for a nuclear-weapon-free world;

OP15 Notes, in this context, that the Millennium Summit in 2000 will consider peace, security and disarmament;

OP16 Stresses the importance of the full implementation of the decisions and resolution adopted at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and, in this connection, underlines the significance of the forthcoming Review Conference of the States Parties to the NPT in April/May 2000;

OP17 Affirms that the development of verification arrangements will be necessary for the maintenance of a world free from nuclear weapons, and requests the International Atomic Energy Agency, together with any other relevant international organizations and bodies, to continue to explore the elements of such a system;

OP18 Calls for the conclusion of an internationally legally binding instrument to effectively assure non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons;

OP19 Stresses that the pursuit, extension and establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at, especially in regions of tension, such as the Middle East and South Asia, represent a significant contribution to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world;

OP20 Affirms that a nuclear-weapon-free world will ultimately require the underpinnings of a universal and multilaterally negotiated legally binding instrument or a framework encompassing a mutually reinforcing set of instruments;

OP21 Requests the Secretary-General, within existing resources, to compile a report on the implementation of the present resolution;

OP22 Decides to include in the provisional agenda of its fifty-fifth session an item entitled “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: the need for a new agenda”, and to review the implementation of the present resolution.

Explanation of Canada’s vote

By Ambassador Christopher Westdal

Head of the Delegation of Canada to the First Committee of the 54th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

New York, November 9, 1999

Mr. Chairman,

I have asked for the floor to explain the Government of Canada’s position on the draft resolution A/C.1/54/L.18 entitled “Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: The Need for a New Agenda” [passed by the General Assembly on 1 December 1999 as resolution A/54/563-G].

Canada abstained on the “New Agenda” resolution last year and decided to maintain our abstention again this year. In both cases, the decision was the product of careful, very intensive, high-level consideration. I speak now to share some of the thinking underlying that decision.

Mr. Chairman,

Our decision was not, for the most part, a response to the text of the resolution. This year’s text has evolved considerably and favourably relative to that we examined last year.

The Government of Canada also shares much of the New Agenda Coalition’s assessment of the serious strains on the NPT-based nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. The New Agenda resolution remains a very timely and pointed reminder of the urgent need for further progress on both these fronts.

In our view, however, concerted action to address the many challenges facing the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime will require the broadest possible base of support. The nuclear-weapon States and their partners and alliances need to be engaged if the goals of the New Agenda resolution are to be achieved. For our part, we intend to continue to cooperate with all like-minded states in the relevant fora to build greater support for advancing the key aims of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime.

As a member of NATO, Canada was pleased to note the increase in the number of NATO non-nuclear-weapon states sharing a common position in this year’s vote.

We look forward to NATO’s consideration of non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament options mandated by the Washington Summit. We see this process as one of the avenues for addressing the critical issues raised by the New Agenda resolution. As Minister Axworthy said in Boston on October 22nd, the Canadian Government believes it is crucial for NATO to have an arms control and disarmament policy that reflects the next decade – not the last.

The issues addressed by the New Agenda resolution will be before us again in the April/May 2000 NPT Review Conference when the accountability promised in the indefinite extension of the Treaty in 1995 will be put to an important public test. As I indicated in our general statement to this Committee, the Canadian Government will be working to ensure that next spring’s Review Conference reinforces the Treaty and restores momentum to the fulfillment of its goals.

Thank you.

New Agenda Coalition resolution vote

Final vote on UN resolution A/54/563-G, “Towards a nuclear-free world: the need for a new agenda” (the New Agenda Coalition resolution):

In favour (111): Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Against (13): Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Hungary, India, Israel, Monaco, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States.

Abstain (39): Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Federated States of Micronesia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Myanmar, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.

Absent (14): Afghanistan, Comoros, Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Nauru, Palau, Rwanda, Tonga, Turkmenistan.

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