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  • October 3rd, 2017

Civil society conference offers practical way forward on nuclear disarmament

Ottawa signing ceremony


The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. — General Omar Bradley, 1948.

From Friday, September 22nd to Saturday, September 23rd, this year’s Group of 78 Annual Policy Conference, Getting to Nuclear Zero: Building Common Security for a Post-MAD World, brought together a diverse group of concerned citizens to engage with each other and learn more about how to achieve a nuclear-weapons free world. Many thanks go out to the sponsors, organizers, speakers, and members who made this important event so successful and thought-provoking. (The Rideau Institute was a sponsor, part of the organizing committee, and panel contributor.)

The conference had many highlights and noteworthy presentations, including a panel on nuclear disarmament negotiations and three major panels on aspects of common security: how to achieve and sustain common security; major impediments; and the role of Canadian leadership in moving the international community closer to a sustainable peace and common security architecture.

This blog post will focus on the keynote address by one of the leading Canadian and international nuclear verification experts,  Tariq Rauf, who did an outstanding job of contextualizing the conversations that would follow throughout the conference.

Mr. Rauf, whose long and distinguished career has given him vast technical expertise on the issues being tackled at the conference, gave a speech that was both diagnostic and prescriptive. He provided fascinating insights into IAEA verification processes and their relation to nuclear disarmament. Most important of all, he offered an elegantly simple, yet effective, way forward on the central issue of verifying irreversible nuclear disarmament.

In my view, the practical way forward would be for each of the nine nuclear-armed States to follow the South Africa model — dismantle their own nuclear warheads and make available records for international verification, and place all nuclear material from dismantled warheads under international monitoring and verification.

He also discussed the importance of nuclear risk reduction, recommending that Canada champion the establishment of Global Nuclear Risk Reduction and Strategic Stability Centres with the participation of nuclear-armed states, to reduce the myriad risks associated with the possession of nuclear weapons.

On Canada’s unfortunate non-participation in the recent historic negotiations leading to the adoption by 122 UN member states of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Mr. Rauf had this to say:

For Canada, the first country ever to formally renounce nuclear weapons,to be absent at the General Assembly conference negotiations on a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty and place its chips with those of the New Procrastination and Delay Initiative (NPDI) — I mean the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative — and with NATO, that has the self-contradictory policy of being a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist, is a betrayal of the aspirations of Canadians.

To read the full text by Tariq Rauf, clickRestoring Canada’s leadership in Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament (speaking notes; final edited version to come).

Photo credit: unknown.


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  • Blog
  • September 18th, 2017

Diplomacy and dialogue the only sane way forward with North Korea

U.S.-ROK military exercise

We will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table. Neither shall we flinch even an inch from the road to bolstering up the nuclear forces chosen by ourselves, unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the D.P.R.K. are fundamentally eliminated.” [Emphasis added.]

Former Senior American official, and now Visiting Professor Robert Carlin, has catalogued recent North Korean offers to negotiate which typically are along the lines quoted above.

Troublingly, western media all too often report the first, but not the second, part of the North Korean statement.

Also less well-known is that the USA has yet to offer dialogue that is not conditional on North Korea first renouncing nuclear weapons before talks can begin, clearly a non-starter insofar as North Korea is concerned. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein believes that must change:

“The United States must quickly engage North Korea in a high-level dialogue without any preconditions… In my view, diplomacy is the only sound path forward.”


“To put this another way, this means that diplomacy has not yet been given a meaningful chance to work.” – former Ambassador Peggy Mason

There is a role for Canada in promoting a diplomatic solution.

Canada needs to get behind the call for dialogue without preconditions. We also need to support the recent offer of diplomatic “good offices” from the UN Secretary-General.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered to play the same diplomatic role with respect to North Korean talks as Germany played in the successful “6 plus one” nuclear talks with Iran.

North Korea may have gone too far down the road of nuclear armament to renounce them entirely. But freezing their capability may be an achievable goal.  And this is the thinking behind a recent joint Russian-Chinese proposal that merits close attention.  They summarize their proposal as follows:

“The Parties are putting forward a joint initiative, which is based on the Chinese-proposed ideas of “double freezing” (missile and nuclear activities by the DPRK and large-scale joint exercises by the United States and the Republic of Korea) and “parallel advancement” towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the creation of peace mechanisms on the peninsula, and the Russian-proposed stage-by-stage Korean settlement plan.”

It is especially urgent that Canada join the call for dialogue between the US and DPRK without preconditions in light of the ominous statements made by President Trump in his UN General Assembly speech on September 19th.

“If [the United States] is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing, and able, but hopefully that will not be necessary.”

For the full text of testimony by Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on National Defence on September 14th, click here.

For journalist David Pugliese’s highlights of the Committee hearings click: Analysis: U.S. would let a nuke missile wipe out a Canadian city – then maybe it’s time for a new ally?

To hear a discussion on CBC’s the Current on Monday, 18 September featuring CBC journalist Murray Brewster, Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason and RMC professor Christian Leuprecht, click: Should Canada join ballistic missile defence program?


Photo credit (ROK-U.S. military exercise): Wikimedia.


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  • Blog
  • September 1st, 2017

Penny Sanger: Lifelong Peace Educator 1931-2017

Penny SangerAnother strong and articulate voice for peace and peace education has gone silent. See: Penny Sanger  (Globe and Mail, 22 July 2017).

Penny dedicated her life to peace education and activism. We presented her with the Anne Goodman Award for Peace Education in 2015.Voice of Women for Peace

She wrote for many publications including the Peterborough Examiner, the New Internationalist and founded the Glebe Report. She authored Blind Faith, a book about the toxic legacy of the nuclear industry on her hometown of Port Hope.

She leaves such an incredible legacy, and will always be an inspiration to me, so active and passionate to the very end.Sister Mary-Ellen Francoeur

Penny helped launch and run numerous peace and social justice organizations, including the Canadian chapter of the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, the Ottawa Miles for Millions Campaign, the foreign policy NGO known as the Group of 78, Canadian Friends of Burma, the Make Room for Peace campaign, and Educating for Peace.

I remember Penny best for her kindness, open-mindedness, her sense of humour and particularly her commitment to an array of good causes, including peace education, Burma, and secular humanism…. She was a staunch defender of principled journalism and free speech, never cynical.Robin Collins

In the 1990s the World Federalists ran an educational project, called “Our Planet in Every Classroom” which entailed distributing posters of the image of Earth from space (the famous NASA photo) and an accompanying global education resource guide.

Penny provided lots of useful advice for the guide and helped campaign to get many teachers to incorporate peace education in their social sciences curricula.Fergus Watt

In the early 2000’s Penny worked with a small group in Ottawa to press the new Canadian War Museum (CWM) to “make room for peace” while it prepared to build and open the new $136 million museum in 2005. Penny minced no words in talking about the obligation of a ‘war museum’ to educate about peace, offering excellent suggestions, including the hosting of a lecture on peace and security by a high profile individual. She also provided concrete examples like the superb anti-war exhibition at the UK’s Imperial War Museum. After many stops and starts, the CWM did go on to develop and mount Peace – the Exhibitionin 2013.

The Make Room for Peace group, of which Penny Sanger was a founding member, undoubtedly helped make that space for peace at the CWM.Debbie Grisdale

Penny was a true activist. Some of us wrote and talked about the deplorable military rule in Burma,  Penny actually  went out there at a dangerous time, crossed a fast-moving river on a raft as she publicly identified with the resistance. –  Murray Thomson

Rest in peace, dear friend.

Click here for the Globe and Mail obituary.

There will be a celebration of Penny Sanger’s life on September 24 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Glebe Community Centre in Ottawa.

Photo credits – family and friends.

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  • Blog
  • August 25th, 2017

Canada is failing the people of Yemen

Sana'a_after_airstrike_20-4-2015_-_Widespread_destruction-_15_banner_darkThe crisis in Yemen continues to worsen as the Saudi-led coalition forces and Houthi rebels blatantly disregard the damage being inflicted on innocent Yemeni civilians. Famine and disease have spread through the country unchecked, due in large part to a Saudi-imposed blockade on air and sea ports that has resulted in a desperate shortage of food, humanitarian aid, and medical supplies. The United Nations has renewed demands for combatants to allow unconditional humanitarian access to all parts of the country.

Saudi-led coalition allies repeatedly have hindered the movement of aid and commercial goods to the population. Huthi/Saleh [forces in Taiz]… routinely interfere with the work of humanitarians, at times demanding the diversion of aid to themselves or denying aid workers access to populations in need. (International Crisis Group)

The human cost of the two-year-old conflict is horrific. At least 8,000 civilian deaths and 45,000 injuries were reported by the middle of 2017, though it is suspected that the real figures are much higher. A recent draft UN report alleges that the Saudi coalition was responsible for more than 680 child casualties in 2016. A devastating cholera outbreak, the most recent consequence of the fighting, has thus far afflicted over 500,000 people and resulted in almost 2,000 deaths. This outbreak is being exacerbated, and potentially even strategically exploited, by the coalition forces.  Meanwhile, 17 million people are experiencing food insecurity and nearly 15 million lack access to basic healthcare services.

The innocent people of Yemen are trapped within a complex network of different national, regional and international competing vested interests, resulting in violent and deadly outcomes for which they alone suffer… Only bold leadership from the players in this conflict, both home and abroad, can [end the total ambivalence to human tragedy] – indeed it is their moral, and legal, responsibility to do so. (Wolfgang Jamann, Secretary General for CARE International)

As the situation deteriorates, an effective international response is desperately needed. To date, there has been a widespread failure on the part of the international community to substantively address the crisis, which is unfolding in plain view and in which combatants are demonstrably violating the rules of international law. Indiscriminate air strikes, imprecise weapons used in residential areas, and the use of cluster munitions are but a few of the atrocities being perpetrated on both sides of the conflict. Significant pressure needs to be put on Saudi Arabia to de-escalate the situation and bring an end to civilian suffering.

The UN Security Council should take prompt action to rejuvenate the political track by passing a long-overdue new resolution under its mandatory Chapter VII authority demanding an immediate ceasefire, unfettered humanitarian access and a return to talks based on the existing UN roadmap, which requires compromises from both sides. (International Crisis Group)

In such a context of lawlessness and abuse, there is an urgent need for truth, accountability and justice for victims of the conflict. Given the apparent inadequacies of Saudi Arabia and Yemen-led investigations to date, Amnesty International believes the only way to achieve this is through the establishment of a UN-led independent international investigation to look into alleged violations by all parties. (Amnesty International)

It is in this context that we must once again highlight the unconscionable decision by the Canadian government to continue moving forward with the $15 billion Saudi arms deal. Simply put, Canada cannot export weapons to Saudi Arabia without being complicit in the gross violations of human rights being perpetrated by Saudi forces. In addition to Canada taking a more active diplomatic role in resolving the Yemen conflict, it is absolutely critical that this arms deal is cancelled and that Bill-C47 ensures an acceptably high standard for Canadian arms exports moving forward.


Photo credit: Wikimedia.

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  • Blog
  • August 17th, 2017

No military solutions for U.S.-North Korea stand-off

Reckless, juvenile threats from President Donald Trump toward North Korea have escalated the acrimonious relationship between the two nations and undermined attempts, even within his own administration, at securing a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power, the likes of which the world has never seen.” – Donald Trump

“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” – Donald Trump

The bellicose rhetoric coming from the U.S. does nothing but reinforce the fears of the North Korean regime, which has developed its nuclear program as a means of defence against what it perceives as American aggression. Even White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has contradicted Trump’s bluster by categorically rejecting the possibility of a military solution to North Korea’s nuclear threats.

It is vital that Canada work alongside its international partners to encourage constructive negotiations between the two nations. In a recent statement, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter made a thoughtful and balanced series of recommendations based on his experiences in Pyongyang:

“In addition to restraining the warlike rhetoric, our leaders need to encourage talks between North Korea and other countries, especially China and Russia… All parties must assure North Koreans that we will forgo any military action against them if North Korea remains peaceful… When this confrontational crisis is ended, the United States should be prepared to consummate a permanent treaty to replace the ceasefire of 1953.” – Jimmy Carter

Canada has an important role to play in facilitating discussion and promoting restraint. To that end, Canadian diplomats have reportedly begun preliminary discussions with North Korean officials. Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has commented on the situation, maintaining that Canada should seek multilateral diplomacy while also decrying North Korean nuclear development and, unfortunately, side-stepping the issue of U.S. culpability.

“It is of absolutely pressing concern for Canada and we are very involved working with our international partners to seek a resolution, a de-escalation, to really get North Korea to understand it must get off of this path.” – Chrystia Freeland

It serves no one’s interest to overhype the threat posed by North Korea.

“The Kim regime is ruthless and brutal, but it is not reckless. Nor is it suicidal. Instead, its priorities and nuclear arsenal are designed to preserve the ‘divine’ Kim Dynasty and North Korean sovereignty.” – Dr. Joseph Gerson

Despite the challenges, there is a credible and progressive path forward in North Korea–U.S. relations, if cooler heads can prevail. Joseph Gerson puts it thusly:

“There is no military solution to the dangers posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  We need to do all that we can to bring reason to bear with Common Security diplomacy that can bring these two nuclear powers back from the brink … the Common Security approach seeks a near-term freeze in North Korea’s nuclear and missile arsenals in exchange for halting threatening U.S.-South Korean military exercises and finally ending the Korean War by replacing the Armistice Agreement with a Peace Agreement. Negotiations for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula could then be pursued on the basis of improved relations and increased trust.”

And lest we forget, Scott Taylor reminds us in a recent (paywalled) article in the Hill Times (“Scariest part of U.S. – North Korea showdown isn’t Kim Jong-un,” 16 August 2017):

“… the only nation to have ever actually used a nuclear bomb against humans is the United States.”

For those interested in delving further into the history and motivations of the secretive North Korean regime as well as some possible ways forward, see the insightful paper prepared by former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament Marius Grinius (North Korea: A New Great Game, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, August 2017).

Photo credit of North Korean Demilitarized Zone: Wikimedia Commons

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