The nuclear-weapons-ban thing is not going away, prime minister

In an otherwise grim international landscape, this July’s treaty  to ban the development, testing, possession and use of nuclear weapons,  agreed to by 122 states —  more than two-thirds of UN members, was a positive development. After more than a decade of work, a campaign uniting civil society and concerned governments brought about this breakthrough. While no one expects the nuclear weapons states to renounce their nuclear weapons soon, the treaty provides a strong and unequivocal statement that nuclear weapons are illegal. But where is Canada in all this? Unfortunately, as Cesar Jaramillo writes in this open letter to our Prime Minister, Canada is on the wrong side of history.

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Dear Mr. Trudeau,

 

You recently dismissed this year’s multilateral process to negotiate a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons as “useless.” I’m afraid you were misinformed: it was anything but.

Since no one from your government attended these historic negotiations, I’d like to share a few reflections related to the proceedings. You see, despite the absence of an official government delegation, several Canadians did participate—myself included. Let me fill you in.

Did you know that the unprecedented diplomatic undertaking you consider useless involved not just a majority of the world’s nations?

For innumerable civil society organizations; current and former diplomats; humanitarian agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross; academics and scientists from all continents; and survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—all deeply invested in this process—the July 7 adoption of a nuclear weapons ban treaty was the most consequential nuclear disarmament development in decades.

As with the land mines treaty effort, in which Canada was a global leader two decades ago, the growing global movement to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons is deeply rooted in an unequivocal recognition of the indiscriminate, catastrophic humanitarian consequences of their use.

While land mines still exist, their explicit prohibition has become an integral and necessary element of the framework for their elimination, and the normative bar against their mere possession has been forever raised. Despite your boycott of the nuclear ban treaty negotiations, Canada, too, stands to benefit from a strengthened global norm in rejection of nuclear weapons.

Prime minister, the nuclear disarmament landscape was dramatically altered a few days ago in New York, as newly-emboldened voices from all corners of the planet established a ban of the most dangerous weapons on Earth. Please know that those voices will not be quelled, whatever the position of outliers. They will be heard at conferences of states parties to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, at sessions of the Conference on Disarmament, at the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security.

Canada’s absence was noted and questioned, just as our selling Canadian military goods to human-rights pariah Saudi Arabia has been noted and questioned. The weight and credibility of Canada’s hard-earned disarmament and arms control credentials have taken a substantial hit, abroad and at home.

Were you aware that many of the most knowledgeable Canadians on nuclear disarmament have profound concerns about your government’s handling of this file? This is not an overstatement: you can ask around.

Apprehension about Canada’s stand, and the arguments used to justify it, is shared by Canadian civil society experts, academics, former ranking diplomats, and a host of prominent citizens. Nearly a thousand recipients of the Order of Canada continue to call for urgent Canadian leadership on nuclear disarmament.

Instead Canada, like most other NATO member states, boycotted the conference—just as the U.S. had asked. And even though Canada presents itself as a responsible non-nuclear weapons state, it continues to embrace NATO’s overt nuclear deterrence doctrine as a valid security policy, effectively legitimizing the weapons held by its nuclear-armed allies.

Now those allies are engaged in a multibillion-dollar modernization of their nuclear arsenals. How can this not be seen as contrary to the goal of nuclear abolition? How can the placement of U.S. nuclear weapons on the territories of NATO members in Europe be compatible with the transfer prohibitions of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Do you really believe that proliferation concerns will ever be fully allayed while nuclear states and alliances obstinately cling to their arsenals?

NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy is clearly out of sync with the views and expectations of most states. Why can’t Canada work with its allies, and engage would-be adversaries, to formulate security arrangements that do not pose an existential threat to human civilization? As a NATO member state, it is surely Canada’s prerogative to raise such issues within the alliance—and to expect to be heard.

Ban advocates are fully aware that a legal prohibition is not tantamount to abolition. The need for complementary efforts is undisputed. Canada’s continued work on a fissile materials treaty, for instance, is undoubtedly important. But it is not sufficient. Quite simply, it falls short of current multilateral expectations. Without a cohesive link to a broader, credible move toward complete nuclear disarmament, this effort reflects neither the gravity of the nuclear threat nor the urgency of abolition.

Although Canada has repeatedly claimed that the process that resulted in the ban treaty did not take into account the current international security environment, a growing global majority sees this line of argument as a deliberate delay tactic. If the security environment is not ripe for nuclear disarmament now, when will it be?

This much is certain: the value of the process that resulted in the adoption of the nuclear ban treaty at the United Nations earlier this month goes far beyond the legal prohibition itself. It is ultimately an ongoing political struggle of the highest order.

States with nuclear weapons will only disarm—if they ever do—when they so choose. That odious reality is well understood. But no longer will they control the prevailing narrative of nuclear weapons. For a vast majority of nations, these already-illegitimate instruments of mass destruction are now and forever unambiguously illegal.

The door has been left open for outliers to join the treaty, which opens for signatures on September 20.

Please, prime minister, think very carefully about Canada’s position on nuclear disarmament. Reflect on the groundbreaking, audacious political statement issued at the United Nations this month by most nations, in an open challenge to the express desires of the most powerful states on Earth.

More than 30 years ago, your father led our country in renouncing the placement of U.S. nuclear weapons on Canadian soil. It was a bold move. We need that boldness now.

So read the signs of your time and take up the nuclear disarmament torch. This is your moment, Mr. Trudeau.

But will you seize it?

 

Cesar Jaramillo is the executive director at Project Ploughshares. Founded in 1976, Project Ploughshares works with churches, governments and civil society to advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence, and a is a member of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Peacebuild, the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Steering Board of the Control Arms Coalition and the International Action Network on Small Arms. We thank Cesar Jaramillo for giving us permission to reprint this letter, which was originally published by The Hill Times. You can find it here.

A Call to Remember Peace

November 11 is once again upon us – a time to reflect on the costs of war and show our respect to those who have fought on our behalf. As citizens, these are responsibilities that we should never ignore, but we invite you to go further and take some time this month to consider what we need to do to end war.

Listening to the stories of our soldiers is a place to start. All too often, those who have returned from war stay silent, believing that most of us who stayed behind really don’t want to know about their experiences. They may be right – we certainly prefer the sanitized version, but war, including high-tech war, is not clean and our soldiers are not all heroes; wars bring out the worst of our nature, while admittedly at times revealing some of our finest human qualities.

Our Remembrance Day commemorations seek to remind us of the particular men and women who answered our country’s call. This is very important as the incomprehensibly large numbers of human beings who have died in war – by some estimates more than 200 million in the 20th century alone(1) – can shock, but they then can be far too easily forgotten. Individuals move us; numbers do not. But behind those numbers, we must also remember that it has been civilians – ordinary men, women and children – who have suffered, and continue to suffer the most from war; for most of them, there is no exit from their war-ravaged communities. Rendered invisible by references to “collateral damage,” we must make sure that our remembering of war does not silence them further. Ending war requires us to reflect on the full costs of war, not the suffering of only one side or one group of war’s many victims.

Yet, individualizing war can also be dangerous. Individual stories reveal so much to us about our potential as human beings – our capacity to sacrifice ourselves for others, our resilience in the midst of horrific conditions, and also unfortunately our capacity to destroy. When we focus on individuals, we can lose the big picture. Indeed our Remembrance Day events are often indifferent to the larger political decisions and social conditions which led to these particular wars; wars themselves often seem more like natural disasters out of human control. But wars are human-made. Wars have root causes that can and need to be confronted: economic and social injustice that deprive so many of their basic physical and psychological needs; institutionalized economic interests that are served by war and encourage the continued spread of weapons around the world; ideologies that divide and dehumanize those peoples we deem “different;” and the belief that violence is both normal and inevitable, to name some key ones.

As we think of Canada’s military history on November 11th, it is important to remember that military solutions ultimately do not bring genuine peace. The legacy of violence is just too devastating, leaving broken individuals and communities in its wake. Our world is extremely militarized, and this receives shockingly little attention. The fact that Canada is the only NATO member and one of the few countries which has not signed the new global Arms Trade Treaty – a first global effort to rein in the current largely unregulated arms trade – has received scant attention, let alone outrage here at home. Recently Canada stood opposed to 159 nations who endorsed a joint statement, expressing that nuclear weapons should not be used “under any circumstance.”(2) Let us hope that our new government will move quickly to alter our country’s current course.

Militarized security does not provide genuine security either; rather, it legitimizes the use of force and increases tensions in conflictual political relationships, making nonviolent solutions more difficult to achieve. In 2014 the world spent an estimated $1776 billion – more than $3 million a minute – in military spending.(3) Money can almost always be found for weaponry and wars, but finding the resources to meet the basic needs of all of us who share this planet – well, that is another story. Almost ½ of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. One child will die every four seconds from poverty, hunger or an easily preventable disease.(4) Almost 60 million people are now refugees, fleeing conflict and persecution.(5) War and military preparedness itself carries a massive environmental footprint, beginning, but not ending, with their immeasurably large consumption of fossil fuels.

A more peaceful world for all of the world’s people is attainable, but it requires a fundamental transformation in our thinking and practices. We must remember our past wars and honour our losses, but let’s also recognize that our current unsustainable militarized versions of peace and security are not only unsuccessful, but very dangerous. November 11 is a perfect time to remember that the voices of soldiers are diverse, and a great many have no illusions about the destructive consequences of war and would want nothing more than to see a significant reallocation of the world’s resources from war to peace.

Pat Romano  (Humanities)
&
Dawson College’s Inspire Solutions Project
Claire Elliott (Dawson College Library), Dipti Gupta (Cinema-Communications), Fiona Hanley (Nursing); Greta Hofmann-Nemiroff (English, Humanities, New School; retired), Cynthia Martin (Political Science), Kim Simard (Cinema-Communications)

 

1. See, for example, Milton Leitenberg. Deaths in War and Conflicts in the 20th Century. Ithaca: Peace Studies Program, Cornell University, 2006.
2. The most recent refusal of Canada to support an absolute ban on the use of nuclear weapons occurred at this year’s NPT Review Conference; a similar position was taken by Canada at the 2014 UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. For a recent article reminding us of the need to abolish all nuclear weapons, see Eric Schlosser, “Today’s Nuclear Dilemma” (The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov-Dec 2015). We also recommend you have a look at NUKEMAP, a powerful educational resource created by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology. You can select Montreal as your location and discover what would happen if we were the target of a nuclear bomb from today’s arsenals.
3. For data on military expenditures, see the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s annual reports.
4. For a useful source of statistics on global poverty, see http://www.globalissues.org/.
5. See the latest report on the global refugee crisis at http://www.unhcr.org/556725e69.html