by Peggy Mason, Rideau Institute President and a former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament
Leaders from more than 50 countries including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Washington on Thursday and Friday at a Nuclear Security Summit dedicated to keeping nuclear bomb making materials out of the hands of terrorists. To stave off this horrifying possibility, they pledged not to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether or even to significantly reduce their numbers, currently at some 15, 000 warheads in the hands of 9 nuclear weapons states, with the lion’s share held by the USA and then Russia. Nuclear disarmament was not even on the agenda. Instead the sole focus was the safe storage and disposal of, and accounting for, nuclear bomb making material, whether in military or civilian facilities.
The initiative to secure nuclear materials was not initially conceived as a substitute for nuclear disarmament. Quite the contrary. In President Obama’s visionary 2009 speech that so electrified his Prague audience, the Oslo Nobel Peace Prize Committee and much of the rest of the world, the central goal was to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. And in 2010 there was exciting progress to this end with a review of USA nuclear doctrine to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, and a treaty with Russia for verifiable reductions in long-range nuclear arsenals.
But this bold vision went no further, thwarted perhaps in equal measure by Russian and Republican intransigence and, as commentators like Joe Cirincione have observed, by Obama’s own bureaucracy where vested interests of the “nuclear-industrial complex” won the day.
Instead of further reductions in nuclear weapons, the USA has embarked on a $1 trillion plan to replace the entire Cold War arsenal. And all of the other 8 nuclear weapons states are to a greater or lesser extent also engaged in modernization efforts.
So is it any wonder that former Disarmament Ambassadors like myself and Paul Meyer view the Nuclear Security Summit with a somewhat jaundiced eye? Project Ploughshares Executive Director and tireless nuclear disarmament advocate, Cesar Jaramillo sums up the dilemma:
The point that gets lost is it’s virtually impossible to fully prevent the spread of nuclear technology in the absence of credible effort towards abolition…. There are no ‘right hands’ for ‘wrong weapons.”
It is essential that the Canadian government take a leadership role in revitalizing nuclear disarmament efforts.
Parliamentarians, disarmament experts, activists, ordinary Canadians must all play a role in convincing the Liberal government to embrace this task. There is a global parliamentary network, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), in which Canadian MPs have long played a constructive role. Former NDP MP Paul Dewar is past Co-President of PNND – Canada and NDP MP Linda Duncan is current co-chair with Conservative MP Blaine Calkins. In preparation for the NDP Federal Policy Convention 8-10 April in Edmonton, both Dewar and Duncan are supporting a grass roots effort by NDP members and their riding associations to specifically include in the NDP policy platform a resolution committing the Party to:
[a]ctively supporting international efforts to promote nuclear disarmament”.
This is a most timely, welcome and crystal clear initiative to help bring the vital and urgent goal of nuclear disarmament back to the forefront of Canadian international security policy.
Progressive American commentators like Joe Cirincione believe that it may not be too late to see President Obama building on his landmark nuclear deal with Iran by taking equally bold steps to curb nuclear modernization by the United States and other nuclear weapons states.
This is no time for Canadian timidity. We call on the Liberal government to show leadership on global nuclear disarmament efforts.
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