The Ploughshares Monitor March 1999 Volume 20 Issue 1
In December the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee released a report calling for significant changes in Canada’s nuclear weapons policies. The Committee’s recommendations address both the need to begin a real nuclear abolition process and the need to take immediate steps to reduce the danger of nuclear disaster.
The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade released its long-awaited report on Canada’s nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament policy (Canada and the Nuclear Challenge: Reducing the Political Value of Nuclear Weapons for the Twenty-first Century) on 10 December 1998. The culmination of a two-year study, the Committee’s 126-page report contains 15 important recommendations for improving the contribution that Canada can make to nuclear disarmament. The full list of recommendations is reprinted at the end of this article.
Four of the five political parties represented in the House of Commons supported the report. Only the Reform Party opposed it, issuing a minority report dissenting “from the broad conclusions of the Report.”
The Committee’s first and most fundamental recommendation is that Canada should “work consistently to reduce the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of their progressive reduction and eventual elimination.”
Recommendations 3 and 14 offer elaborations on this goal, advocating (among their other elements) that the government “encourage the nuclear-weapon States to demonstrate their unequivocal commitment to enter into and conclude negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons” and that Canada “support the call for the conclusion of a nuclear weapons disarmament convention.”
Like the other members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Canada already is committed under international law to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. But the Committee’s recommendations break new ground in that they urge the government to make nuclear abolition a concrete policy objective–a goal to be actively sought–not just a rhetorical ideal or distant hope. As the Australian-government-sponsored Canberra Commission concluded in 1996, “The first requirement for movement towards a nuclear weapon free world is for the… nuclear weapon states to commit themselves unequivocally to proceed with all deliberate speed to a world without nuclear weapons, not as an objective for the far distant future, but as an objective which deserves action from the time the commitment is given. A commitment of this kind would transform the whole process.”
Like the Canberra Commission, the Committee refrains from specifying any target date for the completion of the elimination of nuclear weapons. It does express its opinion, however, that the process should not take longer than 50 years, stating that “The possession of such weapons by any state five decades hence should be understood by all as a fundamental threat to international security.” (page 12)
The Committee also recommends that Canada support a number of more immediate steps, including the removal of all nuclear forces from alert and updating of NATO’s nuclear policies.
- “In the interest of increased nuclear safety and stability, and as a means to advance toward the broader goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada endorse the concept of de-alerting all nuclear forces, subject to reciprocity and verification–including the arsenals of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the three nuclear-weapons-capable States–and encourage their governments to pursue this option.” (Recommendation 5)
- “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada argue forcefully within NATO that the present re-examination and update as necessary of the Alliance Strategic Concept should include its nuclear component.” (Recommendation 15)
The Committee also endorses the suggestion put forward by many organizations, including Project Ploughshares, that Canada should build alliances with like-minded states in NATO and the New Agenda Coalition in order to better promote progress on nuclear disarmament. (The New Agenda Coalition is a group of seven–originally eight–middle-power states that released a statement in June 1998 calling on “the governments of each of the nuclear-weapon states and the three nuclear-weapons-capable states to commit themselves unequivocally to the elimination of their respective nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons capability and to agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement.”) The Committee’s recommendation calls on the government to “intensify its efforts, in cooperation with States such as its NATO allies and the members of the New Agenda Coalition, to advance the process of nuclear disarmament.” (Excerpt from Recommendation 3)
The Committee’s willingness to endorse co-operation with the New Agenda Coalition probably was influenced by the strong support that the Canadian government showed in November for a United Nations resolution endorsing the New Agenda Coalition initiative. (Canada and 11 other NATO members ultimately abstained on the resolution, demonstrating their support for its intent but avoiding a complete break with their NATO nuclear allies, who had lobbied strongly for a negative vote.) The influence of the New Agenda Coalition resolution can also be seen in the Committee’s recommendation that the government “encourage the nuclear-weapon States to demonstrate their unequivocal commitment to enter into and conclude negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons”–a close paraphrase of the NAC resolution’s primary provision.
Program of action
The final paragraph of the report (page 90) ends with a strong call for Canadian leadership: “Despite its technical aspects, the challenge of moving toward the prohibition of nuclear weapons remains fundamentally political and moral. The Committee is convinced that Canada has the vision, talent and credibility to play a leading role in finally ending the nuclear threat overhanging humanity. Our goal entering the next millennium is a more secure and better world for all. We can think of no higher foreign policy imperative.”
Taken as a whole, the Committee’s recommendations comprise an excellent program of action, addressing both the need to begin a real nuclear abolition process and the need to take immediate steps to reduce the danger of inadvertent nuclear disaster. Its report is both a strong endorsement of the nuclear disarmament initiatives that Foreign Affairs Minister Axworthy has begun to take and a powerful call to take even bolder steps. In Project Ploughshares’ view, the Committee’s report is an excellent foundation upon which to base Canada’s future nuclear policies. Senator Douglas Roche, Canada’s former Ambassador for Disamament, has similar praise for the report, calling it a “landmark document” that “deserves the support of all Canadians.”
The primary weakness of the report is the vagueness of Recommendation 15. There is no good reason why the Committee could not have recommended that the nuclear powers commit themselves never to be the first to use nuclear weapons, for example. The possibility that the Committee would call for a no-first-use policy was the subject of much speculation in the press prior to the publication of the report. According to some accounts, the Committee considered making such a recommendation, but was dissuaded by opposition from the United States and some other NATO allies. Certainly it is true that some of the members of the committee would have supported such a position.
The text of the report does leans heavily in the direction of supporting a no-first-use policy. It notes that “all [committee members] agree that… [NATO’s] Strategic Concept must reflect the changes in the international landscape and security priorities since 1991, including recognition of the need to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons wherever possible.” (page 87) And it specifically suggests that “NATO could… support the need for progressively limiting reliance on nuclear weapons by declaring that it would not use these weapons to respond to a conventional attack, a highly implausible scenario in any case.” (page 78)
This is a sensible suggestion as far as it goes, which is most of the way towards a no-first-use policy. Unfortunately, however, it leaves open the question of whether it would be appropriate to use nuclear weapons in response to a biological or chemical attack. The possibility of such a response has often been suggested by the nuclear weapons states in recent years as they seek to justify retention of their arsenals, but the use of nuclear weapons under such circumstances would violate the Negative Security Assurances given to non-nuclear-weapons states under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other treaties. The Canadian government has spoken out strongly against the use of nuclear weapons under such circumstances, and many legal scholars, including former committee member Ted McWhinney, believe that first use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances would violate international law. The Committee itself notes on page 50 of its report that “Canada and other non-nuclear-weapons states must… stress that the dangers of biological or chemical weapons cannot be used as a justification for retaining nuclear weapons.”
Given these facts, it is somewhat mystifying that the Committee did not find itself able to make an explicit recommendation in favour of a no-first-use policy.
Throughout the review, committee members remarked on the surprising breadth and strength of the public demand for action on the nuclear issue. Indeed, it is unlikely that there would have been any review if it had not been for public activism on the subject. Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s October 1996 request to the Committee to undertake its nuclear policy study was largely inspired by public calls for a review, including in particular the September 1996 set of cross-Canada roundtables on nuclear weapons issues led by Douglas Roche and sponsored by Project Ploughshares.
The Canadian Church Leaders’ 1998 Statement on Nuclear Weapons, which asked Prime Minister Chrétien to affirm abolition as the central goal of Canadian nuclear weapons policy, was another important contribution to the process. A church leaders delegation led by Janet Somerville, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, appeared before the Committee on 26 February 1998 to present the churches’ views. (Her description of the churches’ “hope and longing that in our lifetime the last nuclear weapon will be disabled and dismantled and the human family will reject as unthinkable, as unchooseable, the nuclear option, as something that simply must not be inflicted by some human beings upon others” is quoted in the report.)
The second set of roundtable consultations, held in September 1998, also made an important contribution to the review, significantly reinforcing the strong action-oriented public environment that encouraged the Committee to produce a bold report.
The report’s recommendations parallel quite closely those made by the 1998 set of roundtables, which generally agreed on two short-term and two longer-term recommendations. The longer-term recommendations were that Canada should make the abolition of nuclear weapons a real objective of Canadian foreign policy, calling for the negotiation of a convention to eliminate nuclear weapons, and that the government should renounce Canadian reliance on nuclear weapons for national defence. The short-term recommendations were that Canada should support immediate steps to reduce the nuclear threat, including the removal of nuclear forces from alert and renunciation of the first use of nuclear weapons, and that Canada should work in co-operation with like-minded states in NATO and the New Agenda Coalition to press the nuclear disarmament agenda.
Of these recommendations, only the renunciation of Canadian reliance on nuclear weapons is not reflected in some form in the Committee’s recommendations (and even it arguably is implied in the long run in the Committee’s support for the elimination of nuclear weapons). While the Committee did not explicitly support no-first-use, it did make a more general call for changes in NATO’s nuclear policies and explicitly supported the de-alerting of nuclear forces.
The government has 150 days to respond to the committee’s report, meaning it must table its response in the House of Commons by early May. None of the committee’s recommendations is binding on the government, but it is likely that Foreign Affairs Minister Axworthy will support many of them. The real question is whether he, and the committee, will be able to convince the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet to support them.
Project Ploughshares and other peace organizations will be working hard to ensure that the public’s demand for action is heard by the Prime Minister and his colleagues as they consider the future of Canada’s nuclear disarmament policies. It is vitally important that members of the public speak up.
Recommendations of the SCFAIT report
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada adopt the following fundamental principle to guide its nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament policy, within an overarching framework encompassing all aspects–political, military, and commercial–of Canada’s international relations:
- That Canada work consistently to reduce the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of their progressive reduction and eventual elimination.
In order to implement this fundamental principle, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada issue a policy statement which explains the links between Canada’s nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament policy and all other aspects of its international relations. In addition, it must also establish a process to achieve a basis for ongoing consensus by keeping the Canadian public and parliamentarians informed of developments in this area, in particular by means of:
- Annual preparatory meetings–held, for example, under the auspices of the Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development–of the type held with non-governmental organizations and representatives of civil society before the annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission;
- An annual public appearance before this Committee by the Ambassador to the United Nations for Disarmament Affairs;
- Strengthened coordination between the departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and National Defence, in the first instance by the inclusion of a representative from National Defence on Canadian delegations to multilateral nuclear non-proliferation fora.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada intensify its efforts, in cooperation with States such as its NATO allies and the members of the New Agenda Coalition, to advance the process of nuclear disarmament. To this end, it must encourage public input and inform the public on the exorbitant humanitarian, environmental and economic costs of nuclear weapons as well as their impact on international peace and security. In addition, 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. Drawing on the lessons of the Ottawa Process, it should also examine innovative means to advance the process of nuclear disarmament.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada explore additional means of both providing more information to Canadians on civilian uses of nuclear technology, and receiving more public input into government policy in this area. As one means of achieving this, the Committee also recommends that the Parliament of Canada conduct a separate and in-depth study on the domestic use, and foreign export of, Canada’s civilian nuclear technology.
In the interest of increased nuclear safety and stability, and as a means to advance toward the broader goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada endorse the concept of de-alerting all nuclear forces, subject to reciprocity and verification–including the arsenals of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the three nuclear-weapons-capable States–and encourage their governments to pursue this option.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada take all possible action to encourage the United States and Russia to continue the START process. In particular, Canada should encourage Russia to ratify START II, should provide concrete support towards achieving this objective, and should encourage like-minded states to work with Russia to ensure increased political and economic stability in that country. Beyond this, Canada should urge both parties to pursue progressive and reciprocal reforms to their respective nuclear postures.
Given its potential contribution to nuclear safety and stability, and the need to act promptly to address the possible implications of the millennium bug, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada explore further with the United States and Russia the feasibility of establishing a NORAD “hotline” to supplement and strengthen Russia’s missile early warning system. Canada should also strongly support the idea of broadening such a mechanism to include other nuclear-weapons-capable States.
The Committee recommends that the Government reject the idea of burning MOX fuel in Canada because this option is totally unfeasible, but that it continue to work with other governments to address the problem of surplus fissile material.
In view of their responsibilities as nuclear-weapon States under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and as Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada encourage the United Kingdom, France and China to: increase transparency about their nuclear stockpiles, fissile material and doctrine; support the call of Canada and other States for the substantive discussion of nuclear disarmament issues at the Conference on Disarmament; and explore with the United States and Russia means of preparing to enter nuclear disarmament reductions at the earliest possible moment.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to support all international efforts to address the underlying regional security issues in South Asia and the Middle East. Working with like-minded States, it should take a more proactive role in stressing the regional and global security benefits of immediately increasing communication and co-operation between States in those regions as a means of building trust. In both regions–but particularly in South Asia given the recent nuclear tests – Canada should also stress: the freezing of nuclear weapon programs; adhering to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and participating in the negotiation of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and; joining the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada work to strengthen international efforts to prevent the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons and missile systems and to ensure adequate funding for verification purposes. In addition to strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention through the negotiation of a Verification Protocol and continuing to support the operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Government should also examine methods of increasing the effectiveness of the Australia Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime, as well as cooperation in intelligence and law enforcement to prevent terrorist acquisition of such weapons.
The Committee recommends that the Government, having strengthened the international safeguards regime by signing its new Model Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency, use all means at its disposal to convince other States to do likewise. Before entering into a future Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with any other State, the Government should, at a minimum, require that State to adopt the new Model Protocol.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada meet annually with the other parties to all Nuclear Cooperation Agreements to review the application of such Agreements, and table a report on the results of such meetings in Parliament.
The Committee recommends that the Canadian Government intensify its efforts, in cooperation with like-minded States, such as our NATO allies, to advance the global disarmament and security agenda:
- Canada should reaffirm its support for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as the centrepiece of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and should reject any attempt to revise the Treaty to acknowledge India and Pakistan as “nuclear-weapon States” under it. It should also continue to strive to ensure that the nuclear-weapon States honour their commitments to a strengthened review process for the NPT, which will lead to an updated statement of Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at the 2000 Review Conference.
- Canada should complete the process of ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty as quickly as possible and urge all other States to do likewise. Should India and Pakistan refuse to accept the Treaty unconditionally, Canada should nevertheless encourage the international community to ensure the Treaty’s legal entry into force.
- Canada should play a strong role at the Conference on Disarmament in the forthcoming negotiations for a broad Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty which will serve both non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.
- Canada should support the establishment of a nuclear arms register to cover both weapons and fissile material as proposed by Germany in 1993.
- Canada should support the call for the conclusion of a nuclear weapons disarmament convention.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada argue forcefully within NATO that the present re-examination and update as necessary of the Alliance Strategic Concept should include its nuclear component.