We are celebrating the entry into force tomorrow of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Why is this treaty necessary?
Let us cast our eyes back fifty years to another treaty entry into force, this time the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT was essentially a bargain: non–nuclear weapons states would forsake any attempt to acquire nuclear weapons in return for the nuclear weapons possessors to negotiate in good faith their elimination.
But the nuclear weapons states have, for fifty years, refused to enter into comprehensive negotiations. In fact, it is worse than that. The nuclear weapons states are all modernizing their nuclear arsenals. The nuclear states spent $72.9 billion in 2019 on maintaining nuclear weapons. Not even the ravages of COVID-19, painfully illustrating the need for huge sums of money to be redirected to health needs, has deterred the nuclear planners.
Perpetual nuclear modernization makes a mockery of the NPT and threatens to extend the nuclear weapons era indefinitely. The never-ending circle of twisted logic drives the nuclear arms race, which is at its highest level of peril since the end of the Cold War. In 2020, the U.N.’s top official on disarmament affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, said that the risk of use of nuclear weapons deliberately, by accident or through miscalculation “is higher than it has been in decades.”
Is it any wonder that a humanitarian movement against the possession of nuclear weapons has sprung up? This movement of conscientious governments and strong civil society advocates produced the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
For the first time, nuclear weapons have been unconditionally stigmatized as standing outside international humanitarian law. Article I is specific: “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 treaty, hailed by the U.N. Secretary-General as “historic,” recognizes the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of any use of nuclear weapons, which would pose grave implications for the environment, for the global economy, for the health of current and future generations, and for human survival itself.
No one thinks the Treaty alone will eliminate nuclear weapons. But it does outlaw them for all who join it, and it directly challenges the military doctrine of nuclear deterrence. The Treaty recognizes that there is not an ounce of morality or law to justify the continued possession, by any state, of weapons that threaten to annihilate humanity. The strength of the Treaty is that it raises the global norm against nuclear weapons and prepares an institutional path toward their elimination. It strengthens the NPT and opens the door to comprehensive negotiations – eventually – between the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and China and the remaining members of the nuclear club
Yet the nuclear weapons states oppose this Treaty. The United States has campaigned against it. NATO, which continues to hold that nuclear weapons are the “supreme guarantee” of security, rejects it. The Government of Canada, caught in the middle between its obligations to the NPT and its fealty to NATO, doesn’t know what to do.
NATO says the Prohibition Treaty will undermine the NPT. This is false. The treaty reaffirms the NPT as the “cornerstone” of nuclear disarmament and it actually reinforces the NPT.
NATO says the Treaty lacks rigorous verification. This is false. The Treaty stipulates that a “competent international authority” shall negotiate and verify the irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons.
NATO says the Treaty will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon. This is false. The Treaty will raise the global norm against nuclear weapons and contribute to the construction of a global security architecture that does not depend on them.
Canada seems paralyzed on this issue. The government is confused. Parliament is silent.
But increasingly, public opinion in support of the Prohibition Treaty is building up in Canada. Two former Canadian prime ministers, three former Canadian foreign ministers, two former Canadian defence ministers have spoken out in favour of the treaty. A coalition of 112 groups and more than 300 individuals want a parliamentary debate and committee hearings. The government must act.
Prime Minister Trudeau, are you listening to the voices of conscience warning of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of any nuclear weapon?
Deputy Prime Minister Freeland, are you listening to your former colleagues, high officials in the Liberal Party, who have openly rebuked NATO’s moribund policies and supported the Prohibition Treaty?
Foreign Minister Garneau, are you listening to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who said, “The existential threat that nuclear weapons pose to humanity must motivate us to accomplish new and decisive action leading to their total elimination”? The Prohibition Treaty has brought us to a turning point in history. It tells us clearly that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. It is time for Canada to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.