Question 3: Nuclear disarmament: Which measures intended to promote the realization of a world without nuclear weapons should Canada support?

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Federal party responses below.

The present international political climate is one where many governments, including the world’s three largest military powers, are demonstrating a reduced commitment to the rule of law and cooperation within the framework of international organizations like the United Nations. 

One consequence of this crisis in multilateralism is a growing risk of nuclear catastrophe. Recent developments include: a deterioration in East-West relations, notably between Russia and NATO; U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran; imminent U.S. and Russian withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty; heightened military tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan; and the development of ‘tactical nuclear weapons’ and hypersonic missile systems.

All of this is occurring within the context of a new nuclear arms race, precipitated in large part, by the U.S. allocation of $1.5 trillion to ‘modernize’ its nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years. In fact all nine nuclear weapons states are modernizing and/or expanding their nuclear arsenals. 

Despite these growing threats, Canada’s nuclear arms control and disarmament policies have changed very little in over a decade. On June 18, 2018, the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence issued the following (all-party) recommendation: 

“That the Government of Canada take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons…” 

There are many steps that Canada could take.

A NATO policy of “No First Use”

Any use of nuclear weapons would be a violation of the international humanitarian rules of armed conflict. Yet Canada and others in the NATO alliance continue to maintain a strategic doctrine that permits the “first use” of nuclear weapons, even in response to a non-nuclear weapons attack.

A policy of No First Use would mean that NATO pledges that its members would never to be the first to use nuclear weapons. This would be an important step toward bringing NATO’s Strategic Concept into line with its acknowledged international legal and political obligations.


Both the United States and Russia keep about 900 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched in minutes. If satellites and radars send warning of an incoming attack, the goal is to be able to launch their missiles quickly, before the attacking warheads could land.

But the warning systems are not foolproof. There have been well-documented “false warnings” of nuclear attack in both the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States that led the countries to begin launch preparations and increased the risk that nuclear weapons would be used. Taking missiles off hair-trigger alert and eliminating options to launch on warning would end this risk. 

Support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Frustrated with the slow pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament, 122 governments came together in 2017 to negotiate the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty is is a powerful statement, grounded in an understanding of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, of the political, moral, and legal standards enjoining non-use and elimination of nuclear arms, and of the need to redress the damage wrought by the nuclear age to people and the environment. 

The TPNW reinforces existing treaty- and custom-based international law requiring the non-use and elimination of nuclear weapons. That law applies to states whether or not they join the treaty. That includes the nuclear-armed states, which did not participate in the negotiations, as well as states, including Canada, in nuclear alliances, most of which likewise did not participate.

Signing the TPNW would oblige Canada to make changes to its policies and practices and make genuine efforts to bring NATO into conformity with the Treaty. 

Which of the following measures intended to promote the realization of a world without nuclear weapons would a government led by your party support:

  • A NATO policy of “No First Use”? (Green Party, NDP)
  • De-alerting, i.e. a NATO policy of taking missiles off hair-trigger alert and eliminating options to launch on warning? (Green Party, NDP)
  • Signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? (Green Party, NDP)

Further detail from the NDP:

We think the Liberal government has done very little to promote nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, notably through the boycott of negotiations for the first-ever Nuclear Ban Treaty, and their reluctance to oppose the treaty. As you note, we should take more steps, including working within NATO to get the alliance to clearly defend nuclear disarmament efforts. 

Response from the Liberal Party:

Canada remains strongly committed to playing a leading role in ensuring that our children will inherit a world free of nuclear weapons. We absolutely recognize the grave consequences of even an accidental nuclear detonation, which could have impacts that transcend borders and harm the environment, the global economy and even the health of future generations.

Recently, tangible progress on nuclear disarmament has slowed. We recognize that, today, there are many who feel a deep sense of frustration regarding the pace of recent progress on nuclear disarmament. The Liberal Party shares this frustration. Advancing nuclear disarmament in a meaningful has been a priority for us in government and will remain so if we are re-elected.

Unfortunately, we believe that the conditions required to facilitate further major reductions in nuclear arsenals and eventually eliminating them are not present. No nuclear weapons states are participating in these negotiations, because they do not take account of the current international security context of Russian military adventurism and expansionism, or North Korea’s testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles designed to threaten the whole Asia-Pacific region, including North America.

Historically, non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, or actual weapon reductions, have only ever taken place with the relevant actors at the table. Without the participation of states possessing nuclear weapons, it is certain that not a single nuclear weapon will be eliminated. Further efforts are required to build confidence and trust and reduce the levels of tensions between States.

Our position is also that of the vast majority of our allies: Germany, France, the UK, and Norway to name just a few. Despite a problematic international security environment, there is room to pursue effective nuclear disarmament efforts. Canada and our allies maintain that nuclear disarmament can only realistically be achieved through an approach that takes into account the views and security interests of all states.

Nuclear disarmament should be the goal of every country, and of every government. It is certainly the Liberal Party’s goal – and if re-elected we will pursue pragmatic initiatives that will lead to a world without nuclear weapons.

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