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

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.

“De-Alerting”

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”?
  • De-alerting, i.e. a NATO policy of taking missiles off hair-trigger alert and eliminating options to launch on warning?
  • Signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons?

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