Roche: Canada can’t hide behind NATO in refusal to sign treaty on nuclear weapons prohibition

Douglas Roche: “The Canadian government has said it cannot make such a commitment because of its membership in NATO. But the letter contests this stand, arguing that nothing in the new treaty precludes a NATO state joining, as long as it never assists the use of nuclear weapons.”

EDMONTON—Lloyd Axworthy, Jean-Jacques Blais, Jean Chrétien, Bill Graham, John McCallum, John Manley, and John Turner.

These seven names hardly need an introduction to readers of The Hill Times, and certainly not to the Government of Canada. Two of them are former prime ministers, three are former foreign ministers, and two are former defence ministers, who ran and served Liberal governments.

All of them signed an open letter [en français], released on Sept. 21, that features 53 former high officials of NATO countries expressing support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It is an astonishing rebuke of NATO’s moribund policies on nuclear weapons, and the most serious challenge to NATO’s nuclear orthodoxy in the organization’s 71-year history. Even two former NATO secretaries-general, Javier Solana and Willy Claes, as well as former U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, joined in this protest.

The treaty, which bans the possession of nuclear weapons, was adopted by 122 states at the UN in 2017 and must be ratified by 50 states before it enters into force. To date, 44 states have ratified it, so it won’t be long before the treaty becomes binding law for those who have signed it.

The Canadian government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured Sept. 16, 2020, has said it cannot make such a commitment to sign the treaty because of its membership in NATO. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

But NATO, following the lead of the U.S., the U.K., and France, has vigorously rejected the treaty because it “risks undermining” the Non-Proliferation Treaty and supposedly creates divisions in the international community. It would be harder to find a more pungent example of nuclear hypocrisy. First, the treaty explicitly recognizes the NPT as the “cornerstone” of nuclear disarmament efforts. Second, it is the refusal by the nuclear weapons states to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons, as ordered by the NPT, that led to the development of the Prohibition Treaty.

NATO doesn’t have a leg to stand on in maintaining that nuclear weapons are the “supreme guarantee” of security. It has now been called out by its own strongest supporters—former high officials in 20 NATO countries, Germany, Norway, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, and others, as well as the Canadians—who have signed the letter organized by the Nobel Peace Prize winning-International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.

The letter accuses the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, and China—permanent members of the Security Council that all possess nuclear weapons—of viewing the NPT “as a license to retain their nuclear forces in perpetuity.” They are all flouting the NPT by modernizing their arsenals.

The letter adds: “With close to 14,000 nuclear weapons located at dozens of sites across the globe and on submarines patrolling the oceans at all times, the capacity for destruction is beyond our imagination. … Without doubt, a new nuclear arms race is under way.”

The prohibition treaty is explicit in its condemnation of nuclear weapons, stating: “Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

The Canadian government has said it cannot make such a commitment because of its membership in NATO. But the letter contests this stand, arguing that nothing in the new treaty precludes a NATO state joining, as long as it never assists the use of nuclear weapons. This was the stand taken by Canadian Pugwash, a prominent civil society group, which said that Canada should sign the treaty and argue within NATO councils to get the nuclear policies changed. Indeed, Lloyd Axworthy, one of the signatories of the letter, went to NATO when he was foreign affairs minister to get the policy changed, but was rebuffed.

Pierre Trudeau, the father of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, once told me that NATO’s obsolete policies were one of the biggest thorns he had to endure as prime minister. Justin Trudeau has not yet learned how NATO contravenes the basic idea of nuclear disarmament, for he called the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Prohibition Treaty “useless.” And his government has continued to use NATO membership as a block to the new treaty.

COVID-19 has upended the world order. It has dramatically shown the uselessness of piling up military hardwire to provide human security. Many steps need to be taken to boost cooperative security. One of the most important would be to renounce nuclear weapons. That is what the Prohibition Treaty does. The nuclear weapons states’ plan to spend $1-trillion this decade on nuclear weapons is an outrage to a humanity crying out for resources to survive against the coronavirus.

The seven former Canadian high officials—all of them Liberals—have pulled the rug out from under the Liberal government’s pathetic excuse for not signing the Prohibition Treaty. These seven are not alone among prominent Canadians calling for this action.

Other signatories include: John Polanyi, Ed Broadbent, John English, Gerry Barr, Bruce Kidd, Margaret MacMillan, Stephen Lewis, Ernie Regehr, Jennifer Simons, Clayton Ruby, Jane Urquhart, and many other distinguished recipients of the Order of Canada who have signed a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau by Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, calling for Canada to make nuclear disarmament “a national priority.”

Another civil society organization, the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, representing 16 national organizations, wants Canada “to take a leadership role within NATO” to create the conditions for a nuclear weapons-free world. This was exactly what the House of Commons Committee on National Defence unanimously recommended in 2018.

Justin Trudeau and his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, should now look around and see what important people in the country are saying to them. Not least their own former colleagues.

Former Senator Douglas Roche was also Canadian ambassador for disarmament.

The Hill Times

Link to Hill Times online article.

New York Times article linked here

Co-signed letter is available here

French translation of the letter is available in La Presse: 
https://www.lapresse.ca/debats/opinions/2020-09-21/armes-nucleaires/la-prevention-est-notre-seule-option.php

Canadian Call to Action on Nuclear Disarmament

On the historic occasions of,

The 75th Anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people,

The 75th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations whose stated purpose is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…” and whose first Resolution sought the elimination of atomic weapons, 

And the 50th Anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons that binds almost all of the world’s nations,

The Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons issues to the Government of Canada the following Call to Action on Nuclear Disarmament:

Continue reading “Canadian Call to Action on Nuclear Disarmament”

75 Years Since the Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – We Remember

August 6th and 9th, 2020 marked 75 years since atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people.

The Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons* (CNANW) hosted a virtual event on August 6th from 2:00 to 3:30 Eastern to honour the victims of this unspeakable act, and to consider new action to help rid the world of nuclear weapons. Which can be viewed above.

Continue reading “75 Years Since the Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – We Remember”

How Many Intensive Care Beds Will A Nuclear Weapon Explosion Require?

Tom Sauer and Ramesh Thakur

A novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China late last year, hopping in one way or another from other animals to humans. Initially the rest of the world thought this outbreak was a local problem and then was shocked at the brutality of the lockdown that the Chinese authorities clamped on Wuhan to quarantine the infection cluster. Despite China’s efforts at containment, soon the virus rode the highways and byways of globalisation to quickly circle the world. Other countries realised their hospital systems could be overwhelmed unless they drastically slowed the surge of new infections. No country had the number of beds in its intensive care units (ICUs) to manage patient loads under worst-case scenarios of letting this new coronavirus spread through the community to acquire herd immunity.

To those of us whose primary professional interest lies in nuclear weapons and the dangers they pose, the coronavirus pandemic is a striking validation of the Humanitarian Initiative, which took off 10 years ago with three core propositions: First, no country individually has the capacity to cope with the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear war, and the international system doesn’t have it collectively, either. Second, it is therefore in the interests of all humanity that nuclear weapons never be used again, under any circumstances. And finally: The only guarantee of non-use is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. These precepts were the powerful impetus behind the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty that 122 states at the United Nations adopted in July 2017.

The pandemic speaks to the truth of the first proposition about the power of the bomb. The near-universal response to the panic created by COVID-19 leads us to the conclusion that the number of ICU beds needed to deal with a disaster should become a new norm, and a new way to judge when radical action is needed to respond to a global threat. So what other types of global catastrophes could call for more hospital infrastructure and personnel than is now available? The bomb is one obvious answer. Are the number of ICU beds sufficient to respond to a disaster caused by the explosion of one nuclear weapon or, in a war, many? No, they are not sufficient. Not even close.

A serious threat assessment consists of estimating the size of a threat and its probability. For the nuclear threat, estimating the size is rather straightforward; the probability is more difficult. A nuclear cataclysm is low probability in the short term, almost certain in the long run, and high impact whenever it happens. Let’s put it another way: For nuclear peace to hold, deterrence and fail-safe mechanisms must work every single time. For nuclear catastrophe to occur, either deterrence or fail safe mechanisms need to break down only once. This is not a comforting equation. Moreover, deterrence stability depends on rational decision-makers being always in office in every single nuclear-armed country. The leaders of the nine countries with the bomb today—China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Paki- stan, Russia, the UK, and the United States—do not universally reassure on this score.

So let’s take the number of available intensive care beds as the new measure and apply it to potential nuclear catastrophes. With the help of Stephens Institute of Technology researcher Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap, we can model the approximate results of a hit on a target city by a nuclear warhead of choice. The largest bomb tested by Pakistan—which has a yield equal to 45 kilotons of TNT—would kill 358,350 people and injure 1.28 million, if used in an airburst over Delhi. But there would almost certainly be many more injuries; almost four million people live within the 7 kilometre radius in which the detonation would break glass windows and create other “light” blast effects—which actually are not light and would cause major injuries. If Russia launched one of its nuclear-armed, 800-kiloton Topol missiles against NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 536,180 people would die and 572,830 would be injured. If a 5,000-kiloton Chinese Deng Fong-5 missile reaches Brussels, 839,550 will die and another 876,260 people will be seriously injured. Belgium’s 1,900 ICU beds (minus those of Brussels and surroundings, which would of course be instantly destroyed or rendered unusable) could not begin to cope with a humanitarian disaster of this magnitude. And what if more than one nuclear warhead explodes? What about a nuclear war that produces dozens or hundreds of nuclear explosions?

No society is prepared for such a man-made disaster. Worse, no society can ever be prepared for such a scenario. Nevertheless, many nations (including our home countries of Belgium and Australia) base their defense policies on the threat that the United States will use nuclear weapons in their defense, if necessary.

We cannot predict when and with what ferocity the next global pandemic will hit. But we can be certain that Covid-19 will not be the last pandemic disease to afflict humanity, and we should be making preparations to forestall such a disaster. We also cannot predict when and where nuclear weapons will be used again, and by whom. But we can be grimly confident that a nuclear warhead will be detonated someday, somewhere, if not by choice and design, then inadvertently, through accidental launch, rogue launch, or system failure.

Nuclear deterrence has proven itself to be anything but foolproof. Syria and Egypt attacked Israel in 1973, even though the Jewish state possessed nuclear weapons; in 1991, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein also disregarded Israel’s nuclear arsenal, firing Scud missiles at Tel Aviv. Argentina attacked the nuclear-armed UK in the Falkland Islands war. India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, fought the Kargil war in 1999 (more than 1,000 people died) and had a dog-fight in February last year. We would not call these conflicts—any one of which might have resulted in the use of nuclear weapons—expressions of security or stability. A policy based on hope and luck (as US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara described the conduct of the Cuban Missile Crisis) cannot be the basis of a serious defense policy.

What is the probability of a nuclear war or simply the explosion of a single nuclear weapon? Certainly it is more than zero. And the probability seems to be rising rather than falling. If US President Donald Trump does not extend New START by the end of this year, for the first time in 50 years the world will end up without any bilateral arms control treaty that includes verification. The nuclear-armed countries have not negotiated one new arms control treaty since 2010. North Korea now has nuclear weapons, and Iran may be the next in line.

The world is facing a clear threat of an “outbreak” of nuclear weapons proliferation.

As of now, there are no treatments or preventive measures that work against the new coronavirus circling the world. But a “vaccine” against nuclear weapons use already exists— the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, often known simply as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty. Unfortunately, despite their legal obligations under Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the five nuclear weapon states and their allies, and also the four nuclear armed states outside the NPT, are refusing to take the prophylactic medication the ban treaty prescribes. The nuclear weapon “haves” refuse to give up their nuclear privileges, even though they promised to do so under the NPT. The US alone will spend $50 billion this year on the maintenance and modernisation of nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles.

Doctors know better. They know that they won’t be of any help in a nuclear war. That is why the World Medical Association stands behind the Nuclear Ban Treaty since 2018. The same for the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the International Council of Nurses, and International Red Cross.

The world has experienced epidemics and pandemics before. It suffered but endured. The coronavirus pandemic too shall pass, and life will go on. But the world is unlikely to return to the pre-pandemic state of affairs. Countries will rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity for critical medical supplies and equipment and create institutional structures to manage a surge in ICU capacity for future epidemiological crises. They will rebuild some vital border protections. And they will build functional redundancy into global supply chains to reduce exposure to single points of critical supply.

But such measures will not work as preparations against a nuclear war; no infrastructure, no matter how sophisticated or extensive, could cope with the horrible injury toll. Using ICU beds as a new norm informs us that no after-the-fact response to a nuclear bomb explosion can work. So prevention in the form of the Ban Treaty vaccine must be universally administered. In the post-pandemic world, therefore, eliminating nuclear weapons must be a top priority of the utmost urgency.

  The Authors      

Tom Sauer is an Associate Professor in international politics at the Universiteit Antwerpen in Belgium. Sauer is a former fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He received the 2019 Rotary International Alumni Global Service Award.

Ramesh Thakur is Emeritus Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy and Director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Australian National University; Senior Research Fellow with the Toda Peace Institute; and a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General.

  Toda Peace Institute    

The Toda Peace Institute is an independent, nonpartisan institute committed to advancing a more just and peaceful world through policy-oriented peace research and practice. The Institute commissions evidence-based research, convenes multi-track and multi-disciplinary problem-solving workshops and seminars, and promotes dialogue across ethnic, cultural, religious and political divides. It catalyses practical, policy-oriented conversations between theoretical experts, practitioners, policymakers and civil society leaders in order to discern innovative and creative solutions to the major problems confronting the world in the twenty-first century (see www.toda.org for more information).

Notes: 1. This article was first published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 28 April 2010 https://thebulletin.org/2020/04/how-many-intensive-care-beds-will-a-nuclear-weapon-explosion-require/

Contact Us

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3-1 Samon-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0017, Japan Email: contact@toda.org

CNWC Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau: “Make nuclear arms control and disarmament a national priority”

Dear Prime Minister:
Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, supported by more than 1,000 recipients of the Order of Canada, write once again to urge you and your Government to make nuclear arms control and disarmament a national priority. In this letter, we make specific suggestions, notably that Canada work diligently toward achieving an international consensus to save the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at its Review Conference in 2020….. [continue reading: CNWC Letter to Prime Minister.Jan22-2020]

Project Save the World

Project Save the World is sponsored by Peace Magazine. PStW posts a new hour-long video discussion every Monday at 8:00 pm EDT on Peace Magazine’s Facebook page, YouTube, and at their website, http://tosavetheworld.ca. You can endorse the Platform for Survival, 25 public policy proposals to reduce the risk of six threats to humankind. Each soundtrack is available as an audio podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and other sites, as well as on their website.  PStW has 82 talk shows, as of October 2019:  PDF list of shows with links

Below you can find the episodes that relate to Nuclear Weapons and disarmament.  Please follow the above links to see what content is available.

Continue reading “Project Save the World”

Peggy Mason: Canada — From nuclear disarmament stalwart to nuclear weapons apologist

“To understand the extent of Canada’s retreat from staunch defender of meaningful steps towards increased nuclear restraint and eventual disarmament to the shocking role of U.S. nuclear weapons apologist, it is necessary to review the position of Canada in the context of the NPT and NATO.” (Peggy Mason is President of the Rideau Institute.)

Download pdf here: From nuclear disarmament stalwart to nuclear weapons apologist

Oped in Hill Times by Earl Turcotte: U.S. joint chiefs release alarming nuclear operations document

Opinion: Earl Turcotte,
Chair, Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

On June 19th, The Guardian and a host of other media reported that on June 11th the U.S. Joint Chiefs released a document simply entitled “Nuclear Operations”… Continued

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