Why is Canada opposing global efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons?

Activists at last month's World Social Forum (WSF) in Montreal gathered to assess progress in ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

WSF participants welcomed efforts by banks and insurance companies to divest from companies that profit from nuclear weapons (including Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon, Fluor, etc. -- documented in the Don't Bank on the Bomb report). They discussed the renewal of state-sponsored disarmament efforts, including the December 2014 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and the UN open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The extensive program of events at the WSF also allowed participants to assess risks associated with uranium mining, nuclear wastes and reactor accidents. Japanese civilians displaced by the Fukushima reactor meltdowns came to the Forum to describe how their government is forcing them to return to their homes -- despite continuing unsafe radiation levels -- by increasing "allowable" exposures 20-fold and cutting funds for alternative housing.

With the active involvement of WSF founder Chico Fernandez, participants issued a Montreal Declaration calling for:

"[a] mobilization of civil society around the world to bring about the elimination of all nuclear weapons, to put an end to the continued mass production of all high-level nuclear wastes by phasing out all nuclear reactors, and to bring to a halt all uranium mining worldwide."

On August 19, shortly after the conclusion of the WSF, the UN disarmament working group adopted its final report. It says that only complete elimination of nuclear weapons can eliminate risks of "accidental, mistaken, unauthorized or intentional" use. Most state participants in the working group called for "urgent" negotiations on a UN treaty to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.

Not Canada. Our government voted against the working group report.

In a scathing opinion piece published in the August 24 edition of the Hill Times, former senator and ambassador for disarmament Douglas Roche warns of the dangers of the 15,000-plus nuclear weapons on the planet, and their so-called "modernization" by states such as the U.S. (which is embarking on a new trillion-dollar, 30-year program).

Roche points out that Canada could at least have abstained from the vote, as did several other NATO nations. He characterized Canada's vote as "an insult to all Canadians who do see the humanitarian value of a nuclear weapons-free world." He says that Foreign Minister Stephane Dion seems disinclined to challenge NATO's "strategic concept" doctrine that nuclear weapons are the "supreme guarantee" of security.

One WSF participant recalled the August 31, 1967 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. in which  King identified racism, extreme materialism and economic injustice, and militarism as the three evils of society -- all of which need to be addressed together. Another participant pointed out:

"Nothing better illustrates the concentration of power and money in a limited number of hands as having a president -- one person -- with their hands on the nuclear trigger... nothing could be more fundamentally anti-democratic."

There are as yet no signs that the Trudeau government will rethink its position on nuclear disarmament before the fall UN General Assembly, which will likely vote on the launch of negotiations of a nuclear weapons treaty. Tariq Rauf, the Canadian head of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says that Trudeau seems unwilling to change course: "We don't see any change, it's pretty much the same as it was under the Harper government." Roche agrees, noting the contrast between Justin Trudeau's "disengaged" attitude and Pierre Trudeau's historic championing of nuclear disarmament.

Canada's lack of leadership on nuclear arms control will make other nations question our efforts to obtain a UN Security Council seat, notwithstanding the recent announcement of a revitalized Canadian role in UN peacekeeping.

Peace and security require more than a crisis response capacity. Ongoing concerted efforts are needed to reduce nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons arsenals. A world in which military organizations such as NATO maintain that nuclear bombs bring "supreme" power, and in which multinational corporations profit from their "modernization," is a world of growing insecurity.

Ole Hendrickson is a retired forest ecologist and a founding member of the Ottawa River Institute, a non-profit charitable organization based in the Ottawa Valley.

PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

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