Refocusing Canadian Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament Policy

Tasneem Jamal

Tariq Rauf is Director, International Organizations and Nonproliferation Project Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies

Each of the panelists at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence & Alternative Security Arrangement, held in Ottawa on September 28-31, 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?

Canada stands at a crossroad of its nuclear nonproliferation and arms control and disarmament (NACD) policy. For more than two decades Canada has been a steadfast supporter of peace and security through negotiated arms control arrangements; strengthened multilateral instruments and approaches to nonproliferation and disarmament (both global and regional); and broadened definitions of security inclusive of concepts of comprehensive, common, and lately human security. Canada made pioneering contributions of resources and expertise to developing concepts of verification of arms control and disarmament agreements. It played crucial roles in the conclusion of multilateral negotiations on a Treaty Reducing Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Open Skies, Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the Treaty Banning Anti-Personnel Landmines (APL). Despite much pressure, in the mid-1980s, Canada resisted approaches to join in the ill-considered US Strategic Defense Initiative.

Just over five years ago, Canada played a key role in securing the indefinite extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), enshrining the concept of permanence with accountability, and just over three months ago, Canada again played an important role in achieving the consensus Final Document at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. And in 1995, Canada crafted a compromise mandate on the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) that still remains relevant.

Furthermore, Canada promoted a regional security dialogue in Asia Pacific, advocated much needed changes in NATO’s outmoded nuclear doctrine, and promoted regional security measures in the Americas, Africa, and Eastern Europe. And domestically, the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT) in December 1998 broke new ground, and the Government of Canada response of April 1999 accepted most of the recommendations of SCFAIT – both these documents also continue to remain relevant. In sum, this is an enviable record that likely will be difficult to better in the coming years, but at the very least Canada must continue the momentum and rise to deal with emerging new challenges while at the same time taking advantage of new opportunities for seeking further progress in the NACD area.


Nuclear weapons are held by a handful of states, which insist that these weapons provide unique security benefits, and yet reserve uniquely to themselves the right to own them. This situation is highly discriminatory and thus unstable; it cannot be sustained. The possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them … a central reality is that nuclear weapons diminish the security of all states (Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons).

Why is Canada at a crossroad? For several reasons: 1) the end of an era marked by top-down NACD policy initiatives – i.e., a policy agenda primarily driven by the foreign affairs minister; 2) a presidential transition in the United States, where arms control has declined in importance as an element of security policy; 3) Canada’s forthcoming presidency of the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) early in 2001; 4) an impasse in strategic arms reductions; 5) a heightened emphasis on unilateralist initiatives, such as the US national missile defence (NMD) program; 6) disarray among the permanent members of the Security Council on NACD matters; 7) tacit but tangible legitimization of nuclear proliferation in South Asia; and 8) increasing challenges faced by multilateral NACD instruments and institutions.

This paper will address some of the challenges relevant to NACD and NMD.


Many deep sighs of relief were probably heaved in several NATO capitals when the news came through confirming swirling rumours that Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy had submitted his resignation and would stop leading Canada’s foreign policy by the end of the year. Finally, in their view, the “misguided” activism of Canada’s NACD would come to an end; there would be no more “nagging” by Canadian officials, no further papers by Canada trying to push the NACD envelope, and thus little further need to insult or berate Canadian diplomats when their policy initiatives or pronouncements could not be countered by normal intellectual ripostes.

The point is that, in these changing times, it is even more important for Canada to maintain its “cutting edge” in NACD policy initiatives. Fortunately, Canada is blessed with competent and hard-working diplomats and their efforts should be supported and supplemented by the NGO and academic sectors. The new minister should actively seek out the involvement and expertise of these sectors, and strive to maintain Canada’s leadership in the NACD field despite the usual and expected nay-saying from certain allied countries and from the Department of National Defence.

Another important reason for Canada to continue with its so-called “activism” is the potential availability of allies or like-minded countries to join in making the case for the implementation of the NACD commitments undertaken at the 1995 and 2000 NPT conferences, and of the CTBT. While it is correct as pointed out in the report of the “NATO and Nuclear Weapons Roundtable” (CCFPD 2000) that some NATO states (hosting stationed nuclear weapons) and likely allies (such as Netherlands and Norway) are either reluctant to publicly debate NATO nuclear weapon issues or to push for further nuclear disarmament within NATO, it is also correct to note that both officials and the public in these countries continue to look up to Canadian leadership to bring these issues to the table and to the forefront, even if these states find themselves lacking the courage to express support. Furthermore, continuing Canadian activism on NACD is necessary to support those (thus far weak) voices in countries such as Australia, Germany, and Japan that would like to see further rapid progress in nuclear disarmament. In this regard, Canada should work with the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) states on crafting draft resolutions at the UN that can secure the support of a wide range of states, and try to coordinate its policy objectives at the CD and future NPT fora. Furthermore, Canada should support the UN Secretary-General’s initiative for an international conference addressing nuclear dangers, as a way of bringing international attention to bear on the continuing threat posed by large nuclear arsenals – amounting to more than 30,000 nuclear warheads – a large portion of which are on “hair-trigger” alert, and the challenge of disposing of hundreds of metric tons of excess weapons plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Coincidentally, it is sadly correct to note that at the recently concluded NPT review conference, Canada was not among the leading “demandeurs” on nuclear disarmament – that position was occupied by the New Agenda Coalition – and, frankly speaking, Canadian objections regarding some of the NAC platform items were neither credible nor coherent. These objections or reservations were driven primarily out of (misplaced) loyalty to NATO and US positions. The contrast between Canada’s recent initiatives on NACD and its performance at the NPT Review Conference became even more vivid when the NATO-5 and the EU common position went beyond NATO orthodoxy on issues such as tactical nuclear weapons, transparency, and nuclear disarmament.

Canada faces a difficult choice between offering fealty to NATO and US positions on NACD in order to retain a voice in these circles and an opportunity to foster change from within, and charting a bolder course with the attendant risks of alienating some of its traditional allies. On balance, Canada has probably struck the right “safe” compromises, but the time may well have come to opt for a bold course of action more in keeping with Canada’s own principles and priorities of securing a world without nuclear weapons:

• In this context, Canada must state and re-state at every opportunity that it seeks the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons through the steadfast implementation of unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral measures, at the earliest possible date. This effort must include both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons.

• Canada must continue to resist any movement – de facto or de jure – to legitimize or to accept new nuclear-weapon states. Its approach should continue to be guided by Security Council Resolution 1172 and the 2000 NPT Final Document.

• Canada should continue to promote the full and effective implementation of the NPT and the CTBT. The universality of the NPT and the CTBT should remain an important consideration, with no exceptions being made for any non-ratifying state in any part of the world.

• Canada should support transparency and accountability in nuclear weapons and related fissile materials, as this is key to achieving the goal of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. Management and disposition of excess weapons fissile material is an area where Canada has been and must continue to make contributions, including irretrievable storage and reactor disposition.

• Canada should facilitate the negotiation of an FMCT at the CD, and pending the commencement of such a negotiation must promote dialogue and engagement through alternative channels.

Canada’s Nuclear and Chemical Disarmament Implementation Agency (IDN) together with the Division for Non-Proliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament (IDA) should produce an annual Arms Control Compliance Statement that would assess Canada’s compliance with its NACD commitments, including an assessment of such compliance by multilateral security arrangements of which Canada is a member – such as NATO. The purpose would be to demonstrate Canada’s full compliance and thus credentials in the NACD arena. Similarly, Canada should champion the cause of such a statement being produced and publicly disseminated in member states by NATO.

Furthermore, Canada should take a leadership role in seeking the implementation of the “practical steps” toward nuclear disarmament agreed in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference. In this regard, in continuation with its own good early work – namely the SCFAIT report and the Government response – Canada should seriously consider the convening of an international commission to pick up the torch from the 1996 Canberra Commission and the 1998-1999 Tokyo Forum to further promote the cause of nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament. The starting point for such an effort could be the “practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI of the [NPT] and paragraphs 3 and 4(c) of the 1995 Decision on ‘Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament’” agreed in New York last May by the parties to the NPT.


Canada has been in the forefront in pressing for changes to NATO’s outdated and irrelevant nuclear doctrine to make it conform to the parameters of the NPT. This is a commitment that is challenging but must be maintained and requires sustained long-term support from the highest political levels in Ottawa. With regard to NATO’s nuclear policy Canada should press for: 1) further reducing the role of nuclear weapons – a clear statement that NATO’s nuclear posture is configured to deter, as an absolute last resort, only a nuclear attack; 2) promoting transparency, accountability, reduction, and elimination of non-strategic nuclear weapons; 3) ensuring full compliance with all aspects of the NPT by all NATO member states; and 4) a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons under any circumstance. Of these three priorities, I would focus more heavily on the first three – the fourth item is important but largely symbolic in a practical sense.

Canada should take the lead in making the case for a Ministerial Statement by NATO foreign ministers, at the earliest possible opportunity, clearly stating that the only and sole justification for NATO nuclear weapons is to deter a direct nuclear attack on NATO member states, and that such nuclear weapons would only be used as an absolute last resort. NATO’s declared nuclear weapons employment policy is counter to the negative security assurances given by the nuclear- weapon States (NWS) to NPT states under UN Security Council Resolution 984 of April 1995 and other similar commitments given in the context of the NPT. Chemical and biological and ballistic missile threats are vastly exaggerated. We should place greater emphasis on getting all states to accede to and comply with the Chemical Weapons and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Conventions, and to make prudent civil-defence preparations – nuclear weapons are irrelevant in this context.

While NATO has reduced its stationed nuclear weapons in Europe from a Cold War high of more than 7,000 to a current low of some 180 (B61 Mod. -3, -4, -10 air-delivered warheads), the number of countries hosting such weapons has remained constant at seven under both so-called dual-key and single-key control. On the other side, Russia now holds the entire remaining stockpile of some 16,000 non-strategic nuclear warheads produced by the former Soviet Union (of which some 4,000 are deployed), while the United States active tactical stockpile numbers approximately 1,500 warheads (with several thousands in storage).

Non-strategic nuclear weapons traditionally have been deemed the most dangerous and the most destabilizing, due to their proximity to zones of conflict; lack of strong permissive action links and the danger of pre-delegation; and the risk of early, pre-emptive, or accidental use. Given the deterioration in the Russian armed forces and the nuclear complex, the safety and security of non-strategic nuclear weapons remains an important concern. These concerns are further exacerbated following Russian threats to either re-deploy non-strategic nuclear weapons in Belarus and some of the New Independent States or along Russia’s western and southern borders, or to make additional such weapons.

With the advent of ‘smart’ advanced conventional munitions, non-strategic nuclear weapons are no longer as crucial for military planners as they once were during the height of the Cold War. Reportedly, even the United States Air Force would prefer to remove its remaining B61 nuclear bombs from Europe. NATO security would be enhanced if steps were taken to codify the 1991 Bush-Gorbachev declarations on unilateral nuclear withdrawals and to agree on a framework on data exchanges covering numbers and locations of non-strategic nuclear warheads, monitored central storage, and warhead deactivation and dismantlement.

Both the United States and the Russian Federation should be encouraged to withdraw all non-strategic nuclear weapons from Europe – i.e., from the Atlantic to the Urals – and to consider the complete elimination of this class of weapon. In this context, Canada should advocate the establishment of a NATO-Russia high-level working group on non-strategic weapons to examine issues of transparency, accountability, safe storage, reductions, and elimination. Furthermore, Canada could sponsor a seminar addressing these issues involving the participation of officials and non-governmental experts from NATO, Russia, Belarus, Finland, Sweden, and Ukraine; and co-sponsor a resolution at the General Assembly calling for transparency and reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons. However, progress in dealing with non-strategic nuclear weapons should not come at the expense of securing further progress in START, but should be achieved in parallel.


A fissile material cut-off treaty has long been a Canadian NACD priority. Both the 1995 and 2000 NPT conferences reiterated the call for such a treaty. However, due to disagreements between the NWS and three proliferating states, as well as others, no agreement has been possible in the CD (since the fall of 1998) even to agree on the negotiating format, i.e., to establish an Ad Hoc Committee. Furthermore, there is still no agreement on dealing with existing stocks of weapon-usable fissile material in the five nuclear-weapon states and in India, Israel, and Pakistan – any FMCT that does not directly deal with existing stocks, or might legitimize such stocks, would be counterproductive to the cause of both nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament.

While the 2000 NPT Review Conference reiterated the call for a cut-off treaty in the context of a work program, realism suggests that the issue of a multilateral FMCT should be abandoned in favour of an agreement among the five NWS to codify their moratoria on new production and to include transparency and safeguards measures on existing stocks. Such an agreement would eventually also require the participation of India, Israel, and Pakistan. It must be recognized that an FMCT is a relic of the Cold War arms control agenda – where it was perceived at the time as constituting an important nuclear disarmament measure – but after the Cold War, given the voluntary production moratoria in four of the five NWS, an FMCT has become primarily a nuclear nonproliferation measure. Contrary to popular belief, an FMCT is not necessarily the “next logical step” towards nuclear disarmament, and despite wishful thinking, it will not succeed in achieving through the backdoor what the NPT has not achieved: capture of the three non-NPT proliferant states. Therefore, a realistic and pragmatic approach would call for an agreement between the NWS on an FMCT, which could be expanded to include India, Israel, and Pakistan. On the other hand, the Non-nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) could make a positive contribution by convening technical seminars in Geneva and/or Vienna (outside of the CD) addressing definitional, scope, and verification issues. Canada has sponsored such seminars in the past and must continue to do so in the future.


The United States has been engaged in research, development, and testing of components that could be used for a limited national missile defence system since the early 1980s, despite opposition and criticism from Russia on the grounds that the US system would be in violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and that it would lead to a de-stabilization of their nuclear deterrent relationship. The precise architecture of the proposed NMD system has not yet been finalized but its general characteristics and components have been mapped out. The proposed NMD would be deployed in three incrementally more capable stages. The first stage – capability 1 or “C-1” – system is designed to defend against a few (up to five) simple incoming warheads (without decoys); the second stage, C-2, would provide protection against a few complex warheads (with decoys); and the third stage, C-3, would defend against many complex warheads. The C-1 system would have 20 to 100 interceptors deployed at a single site; C-2 100 interceptors also at a single site; and C-3 between 100 to 200 interceptors at multiple sites. All three variants of the US NMD system under consideration would require amendment of every substantive article in the 1972 ABM Treaty.

None of the dozens of national missile defence systems proposed over the past 30 years has ever proven to be technically feasible. The past two decades of efforts to invent a viable national missile defence have been characterized by exaggerated claims of success and promises of performance that later proved false. There have only been 15 intercept attempts outside the atmosphere conducted by the US Department of Defense since 1982, and none of these tests was conducted under realistic conditions. Of these, only four or 26 per cent actually hit their (co-operative) targets. The low number of past tests and the poor success rate warrant deep scepticism for much success in the near future with the proposed systems.

On September 1, US President Clinton deferred the decision to deploy an NMD system, citing the immaturity of intercept technologies and the danger of disturbing the global balance of power. However, both US presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush are committed to their versions of an NMD system.

Thus far Canada has not formally enunciated its criteria for the current US NMD program, but has voiced deep concern and warned against the deleterious consequences of such a system, which will include further proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Since the NMD decision in the US has only been postponed and the future of the program remains unclear, Canada should continue to exercise and voice caution against the program’s negative effects for nonproliferation and disarmament, and should continue to insist that NORAD should remain separate from NMD. Furthermore, Canada should also clearly and publicly outline its criteria for any NMD program. These might include:

• the identification of a credible, technologically feasible, ballistic missile threat to North America;

• cost-effective and proven ABM technology;

• full assessment of the impact on NACD of any deployment;

• compliance with all existing NACD treaties; and

• cooperative deployment of limited NMD, if it goes ahead.

At the same time, Canada must continue with its efforts at the Conference on Disarmament to promote the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee to address issues concerning the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), with special emphasis on preventing the weaponization of space. Furthermore, Canada must advocate ways of dealing multilaterally with the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, that extend beyond the non-negotiated Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Such an effort could involve a ban on missile trade between MTCR members and transparency measures such as advance notification of test launches; limits, or a ban, on flight tests; and eventually a complete ban on all types of ballistic missiles.


Canada faces a time of transition and opportunity. During the transition, it should be the priority of both officials and the NGO community to produce a package of Canadian policy initiatives based on both continuity and change for the new foreign affairs minister. A new minister may not initially bring the same level of expertise or commitment to NACD that we have become used to over the past few years; therefore, it is vitally important for the new minister to receive the correct guidance and advice, that would effectively counter “business as usual” or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” advice from certain NATO and allied sources.

CD Presidency: Canada’s forthcoming presidency of the CD should be fully utilized to press for a full program of work at the moribund or “rusted” single multilateral negotiating forum. The papers presented by Canada during the 1998-1999 sessions of the CD that so “annoyed” delegations from certain allied countries need to be updated. These UN documents include: CD/1568 (4 Feb 99) on nuclear disarmament; CD/1569 (4 Feb 99) on PAROS; CD/ 1574 (9 Mar 99) on nuclear disarmament; CD/1578 (18 Mar 99) on FMCT; and CD/1485 (20 Jan 98) on FMCT; CD/1486 (21 Jan 98) on nuclear disarmament; CD/1487 (21 Jan 98) on PAROS; and CD/1502 (2 Apr 98) on negative security assurances. Revised and updated versions of these papers would be helpful in introducing new ideas and could possibly inject some momentum in the CD to reach agreement on a program of work. The CD presidency will also provide an important forum for the new foreign affairs minister to enunciate Canada’s NACD priorities for the 21st century; and Canada could propose a meeting of the CD at the level of foreign ministers to try to break the logjam and to inject some much needed political realism and accountability to that body. Furthermore, Canada should sponsor technical and expert-level workshops or seminars, on the margins of the CD, to examine key issues pertaining to an FMCT, PAROS, and disarmament, with a view to exchanging views and considering new ideas and concepts. Thus, Canada’s efforts at the CD must extend beyond the bureaucratic functions of the first presidency of a new year, i.e., securing agreement on an Agenda – the same Agenda as for the year 2000 could remain relevant during 2001.

Education of an Administration: Another useful opportunity that is around the corner is that of the “education of an administration.” Once again, Canada should prepare for educating and advising a new administration in Washington on the merits of human security, multilateralism versus unilateralism, engagement versus isolation, and the crucial role of arms control in national security policy. In 1989, Canada in its briefing to the-then new US president, George Bush, advocated the resurrection of the old proposal of “Open Skies.” In 1993, President Bill Clinton picked up on another old idea, that of an FMCT, that was championed by Canada. Furthermore, in 1995, the US belatedly picked up on Canada’s concept of permanence with accountability with respect to the indefinite extension of the NPT; and at the 2000 NPT Conference it came around to supporting Canada’s views on strengthening that Treaty’s review process. Thus, Canada should prepare a list of practical proposals that could be discussed with the new administration in Washington as it struggles to find its feet on the global stage.

Canada should begin its preparations for the “education of an administration” as soon as possible, in order to finalize its briefing points and priorities to be communicated to the president-elect in the US.

US Vice-President Al Gore already has some experience in dealing with multilateral matters and international affairs, and is seemingly committed to continuing on a path of traditional NACD with the Russian Federation. On the other hand, in the heat of election politics, he has committed his future administration to the deployment of at least a C-1 NMD system. He remains supportive of the CTBT, the NPT, and other negotiated treaties. Issues that might be broached with a Gore transition team next spring might include: 1) the importance of the preservation of strategic stability and further nuclear arms reductions (including de-alerting, non-strategic nuclear weapons, excess weapons plutonium disposition, and changes to the Single Integrated Operational Plan [SIOP], the US nuclear war operations plan); 2) the importance of preserving the 1972 ABM Treaty, limiting deployment of any missile defence system within the confines of this treaty, negotiated transition to more robust defences (if all relevant criteria are met); 3) greater caution with respect to the appeasement of nuclear proliferators (India, Israel, and Pakistan), more consistent non-proliferation policy, and greater fealty to the NPT; 4) early ratification of the CTBT; 5) greater flexibility on nuclear disarmament, outer space, and FMCT at the CD; 6) further strengthening of the cooperative threat reduction (CTR) program (Nunn-Lugar) with the Russian Federation and the Soviet successor states; 7) no further expansion of NATO; and 8) greater engagement multilaterally, including the full-payment of all outstanding assessed UN dues.

George W. Bush has been supportive of a deployed NMD system and is prepared to jettison the ABM Treaty in its pursuit, indicated interest in reducing nuclear weapons as well as de-alerting, but remains opposed to the CTBT. Issues that might be broached with a Bush transition team next spring might include: 1) priority implementation of START II, greater emphasis on a START III framework down to 1,500 or fewer strategic warheads, inclusion of non-strategic weapons; 2) caution with respect to NMD, focus on treaty-based initiatives and limits on NMD, greater policy investment regarding a multilateral control system for ballistic and cruise missile proliferation; 3) greater emphasis on relations with the Russian Federation on security and defence matters, and sustaining the CTR program; 4) early ratification of pending treaties, including the CTBT and CFE modifications, ABM multilateralization and demarcation, and support for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) verification protocol effort; 5) engagement with multilateral institutions and organizations; 6) limits on conventional arms exports; 7) excess weapons plutonium disposition; and 8) full support for the UN and other multilateral instruments.

A New International Commission on NACD: Finally, achieving further progress on nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, or regional security issues depends on clarity of vision, clarity of commitment, and harmonized standards. Being satisfied with the lowest common denominator of agreement among states is at best an unreliable guide to security and stability. It is therefore vital to formulate a grand strategy for the prohibition of nuclear weapons as part of a broader vision of curbing the further spread of nuclear weapons – this is where the role and credibility of the United Nations needs to be enhanced. Though some of the NWS at the recent NPT conference excoriated the Secretary-General’s call for an international conference on identifying ways to eliminate nuclear dangers, the 2000 Final Document nevertheless took “note” of this proposal. Canada should build on this initiative and must lead the struggle against the continuation of a world at the self-serving mercies of history’s greatest proliferators of all classes of weapons of mass destruction, as well as of ballistic/cruise missiles and of conventional weapons – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council! Canada should consider sponsoring and convening an international commission to examine ways and means of securing the implementation of the “practical steps” toward nuclear disarmament agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, as well as follow-up steps.

Tariq Rauf is Director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies located at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.


Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development 2000, “NATO and Nuclear Weapons Roundtable,” August.

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