Reviving Canada’s Lead on Nuclear Disarmament

Tasneem Jamal

Ernie Regehr and Douglas Roche

Published by Embassy, an Ottawa-based foreign policy weekly

NATO debates over Afghanistan, eastward expansion, and ballistic missile defence at last week’s summit in Bucharest made it clear that old suspicions and tensions between East and West have not disappeared.

At the core of those suspicions remain huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons. While the final communiqué pledged continued support for arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, it showed no inclination to relinquish NATO’s own reliance on nuclear weapons.

But NATO cannot have it both ways. “Counter-proliferation” efforts to deny others nuclear weapons will not be successful if NATO members continue to rely on those same weapons of mass destruction for their own security. The only solution is a commitment to nuclear disarmament everywhere.

To that end, Canada must recover its prominent role in working for the elimination of nuclear weapons, a role that has been in retreat under the Harper government. Indeed, that was the dominant finding for the sponsors of a special seminar of 20 nuclear disarmament experts held in Ottawa in February.

Through the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Canada has joined the international community’s pledge of an “unequivocal undertaking” for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. But through NATO, Canada continues to support an alliance posture that regards nuclear weapons as “essential” to our security. NATO’s policies for the retention of nuclear weapons are still trumping the legal obligation under the NPT to achieve nuclear disarmament.

Prime Minister Harper should seek an early opportunity to prominently and unambiguously reaffirm the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. He would be in good company by joining senior American figures Henry Kissinger, William Perry, George Shultz, and Sam Nunn, who in January issued their second high-profile call for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The prime minister would also be voicing the wishes of Canadians, as demonstrated by a recent poll commissioned by the Simons Foundation showing that 88 percent of Canadians think nuclear weapons make the world a more dangerous place and would support the elimination of nuclear weapons through an enforceable agreement.

Such an affirmation by the prime minister should be coupled with a re-energized Canadian diplomacy in support of concrete steps toward nuclear elimination, including the de-alerting of all deployed weapons to remove the threat of accidental annihilation, entry into force of the comprehensive ban on testing nuclear weapons, achieving a ban on production of fissile material for weapons purposes, and substantial, irreversible, and verified reductions to existing arsenals.

Looking ahead to NATO’s 60th anniversary in 2009, Canada must work for a review of NATO nuclear policy to reject the fiction that nuclear weapons “preserve peace.” Canada should press NATO to revise its Strategic Concept to acknowledge that nuclear weapons pose an unacceptable risk to humanity, and that their early elimination is essential to human security.

To move from words to action, NATO should be challenged to remove, and dismantle, all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from the territories of non-nuclear weapon states of the alliance and to call on Russia to reciprocate with cuts to its arsenal of tactical weapons as a step toward complete nuclear disarmament.

In addition, India, Israel, and Pakistan must be integrated into the disarmament and nonproliferation mainstream. To that end, Canada should continue to call on all three to honour the repeated demands of the international community “to accede to [the NPT] as non-nuclearweapon States promptly and without conditions.”

Canada must also be energetic in non-proliferation efforts, especially since Canada is a prominent supplier of uranium and technologies for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. With a growing world demand for energy and the spread of nuclear power technology, Canada should be a leader in the pursuit of multilateral control over all weapons-sensitive elements of the nuclear fuel cycle.

A world facing rapidly advancing climate change and an extraordinary array of additional challenges-energy deficits, burgeoning pollution, acute water shortages, unrelenting hunger,grossly inadequate health services, and chronic armed conflict-should not also be burdened with the continuing threat of nuclear annihilation.

In the face of cumulative and deeply consequential environmental damage, the human community is awakening to the reality that the Earth is a delicate, fragile home. Each generation has a sacred duty to nurture the planet and to care for its people. It is a duty that is violated and dishonored by the maintenance of arsenals to assault, or even to threaten, the Earth and its people with the almost limitless destructive power of nuclear weapons.

Responsible stewardship of the Earth requires no less than the permanent elimination of nuclear weapons, and Canada’s place should be clearly in the vanguard of this inescapable struggle.

© 2008 The Hill Times Publishing Inc.

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