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It’s time for Canada to sign the United Nations Nuclear Ban Treaty

Nuclear weapons remain a serious threat to humanity and the TPNW represents an important step toward abolishing them

Canadian Politics

Protest against investments in nuclear weapons, Melbourne, April 2012. Photo by Tim Wright/Flickr.

It’s time to nuke the nukes. The Trudeau government needs to live up to its rhetoric and sign the United Nations Nuclear Ban Treaty. Doing so would be a meaningful contribution to creating a world without the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Ten days ago, Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said, “we are committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.” In October, Global Affairs Canada declared, “Canada unequivocally supports global nuclear disarmament.”

Still, the government has refused to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which enters into force on Friday. Canada opposed holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. Ottawa also boycotted the TPNW negotiating meeting, which two-thirds of all countries attended. Last month, Canada voted against a resolution supporting the TPNW backed by 130 UN member states.

As Japanese Canadian atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow has noted, the TPNW makes weapons that have always been immoral also illegal. The TPNW requires the 51 countries that have already ratified it to “never under any circumstances… develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

While this country does not possess nuclear weapons, by adding its signature to the TPNW, Canada would benefit humanity as much as any other non-nuclear armed state. Canada is a founding member of the nuclear-armed North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and steps toward denuclearizing that alliance are crucial for reducing the danger of conflict between leading nuclear powers, particularly the United States and Russia.

Canada also has a unique military relationship with the world’s foremost nuclear armed state. The US and Canada have hundreds of joint military agreements. The most important of these bi-national accords, NORAD, puts Canadians in various positions of influence within the US military.

The new Joe Biden administration has said it wants to shift gears on nuclear disarmament. It is expected to extend the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement, which Trump looked set to exit next month. Biden’s team has also suggested the government may reverse Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, the Open Skies Treaty, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. These agreements have mitigated the danger of nuclear obliteration. Their demise is part of why the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight last year, and why the UN Institute for Disarmament Research says the risk of nuclear weapons use is at its greatest since the Second World War.

The new Biden administration should be pressed to meaningfully lessen the nuclear threat and Ottawa signing the TPNW would embolden the more sober elements within Washington. Irrespective of its impact in the US or within NATO, a government claiming to want to rid the world of nuclear weapons should sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty (the TPNW also advances the Trudeau government’s much touted “international rules-based order” and “feminist foreign policy”).

Nuclear weapons remain a serious threat to humanity and the TPNW represents an important step toward abolishing them. Canadians of conscience must press the Trudeau government to sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty. Simply put, it’s time for the Liberals to put up or shut up. Their action, or lack thereof, will prove if their anti-nuclear talk is empty rhetoric or principled opposition to one of the great scourges of humanity.

On the day the treaty enters into force, the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will be presenting a webinar with Noam Chomsky called “The Threat of Nuclear Weapons: Why Canada Should Sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty.” The event will be livestreamed on the Canadian Dimension Facebook page.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.


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