11 December 2017 0 Comments Posted By : Administrator

Opinion: Canada must change course on nuclear disarmament

On Sunday, Japanese-Canadian Setsuko Thurlow was recognized at the award ceremony for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. But rather than celebrating this momentous occasion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has dismissed the effort for which the prize is being awarded: the creation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the Ban Treaty. The treaty bans the development, production, possession, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons and was adopted by 122 countries at the United Nations this year.

The Nobel was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the group that advocated for the Ban Treaty. In turn, ICAN chose to have Thurlow, one of the last living survivors of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, receive the award along with its executive director. Thurlow immigrated to Canada as an adult and has tirelessly advocated for the abolition of nuclear weapons. She was made a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of her work emphasizing the cataclysmic humanitarian consequences of war and the need for peace. Her speeches recounting the sheer horror of that fateful day in August 1945 when the people of Hiroshima were burnt, blasted, and irradiated by the bomb dropped by the U.S. helped propel the campaign for the Ban Treaty.

One of those moving speeches was delivered at the United Nations earlier this year when the Ban Treaty was being negotiated. But there was no Canadian delegation present to hear it. Canada’s absence was likely due to a note last year from the U.S. Mission to NATO with clear instructions: “The United States calls on all allies and partners to vote against negotiations on a nuclear weapons treaty ban, not to merely abstain. In addition, if negotiations do commence, we ask allies and partners to refrain from joining them.”

Canada’s government did refrain. When the Ban Treaty opened for signature at the United Nations in September of this year, Canada was not among the 53 nations that signed.

The Canadian government offers a rationale and an alternative. It claims that the Ban Treaty was “certain to be ineffective” because of lack of participation by nuclear weapon states. Trudeau went as far as to deem the treaty “sort of useless” in Parliament, even before negotiations concluded and the contours of the treaty finalized.

The government’s preferred alternative disarmament strategy involves what is sometimes called a step-by-step approach involving the negotiation and implementation of a series of arms control treaties. There are two problems with this approach. First, the two main treaties that have been talked about — a ban on nuclear weapons explosions and a ban on the production of fissile material to make nuclear weapons — have been stalled since 1996. Differing views among the nuclear weapon states have prevented even the commencement of negotiations on the latter treaty. The second problem with the step-by-step approach is that it allows the nuclear weapon states to establish the pace of disarmament.

The leading nuclear weapon states today are shifting farther away from even this glacial approach to disarmament. Earlier this year, Christopher Ford, a Trump administration official, stated: “The traditional post-cold war approach of seeking to demonstrate disarmament bona fides by showing steady numerical movement towards elimination…has largely run its course and is no longer tenable.”

This leaves Canada in a tight spot. In October of this year, after the announcement about Thurlow and the peace prize, Prime Minister Trudeau told reporters: “any time you’re going to talk about moving forward on a nuclear-free world, you have to focus on the countries that already have nuclear weapons and therefore look at reducing that amount.”

If this were indeed true, Canada should stop talking about a nuclear-free world, or it should start calling upon the United States—its ally—to reduce its arsenal. At a time when there is widespread concern that nuclear weapons might be used on the Korean peninsula, it is critical that we continue talking about the importance of a nuclear-free world. Abandoning the pursuit of nuclear disarmament would be an unfortunate choice. Encouraging the United States to move towards eliminating nuclear weapons would be timely, but perhaps not so palatable to the Trump administration as it embarks on upgrading its nuclear weapons at an estimated cost of $1.25 trillion.

If Prime Minister Trudeau does not find either of these options appealing, the international community now offers him an alternative: join the vast majority of countries in banning nuclear weapons.

M.V. Ramana is professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs; Lauren J. Borja is a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs.


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