William Geimer: Canada obstructing disarmament talks

Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump was fulminating over what he claims is media failure to report terrorist attacks. There is a far more important story that has been almost ignored. The threat to the world from nuclear weapons is growing. Canada is obstructing efforts to address it.

In a world with its most powerful nation in the hands of an unpredictable amateur, there are 16,300 nuclear weapons, each capable of making Hiroshima look like a backyard fireworks display. Nine nations have them: Russia 8,000, U.S. 7,300, France 300, China 250, U.K. 225, Pakistan 120, India 110, Israel 80, North Korea 10. There are about 180 nuclear weapons in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey. A comforting list, isn’t it?

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The insane justification for this arsenal has been deterrence. Nobody will use nuclear weapons because there would be nuclear retaliation. Bizarre as this is on its face — actually accepting the possibility of incinerating the planet — it ignores a greater danger: accident or miscalculation.

There have been numerous near-misses over the years, including at least two where it appeared that the U.S. had attacked, but Russian officers decided at the last minute not to hit the button.

Today, scientists have moved the doomsday clock measuring the likelihood of nuclear destruction to two and a half minutes to midnight — the closest it has ever been.

I suspect that one factor discouraging news outlets from covering this subject is that destruction on such a scale is unthinkable. It is time to start thinking about the unthinkable and pay attention to the action of the Canadian government.

Lost in all the coverage about whether Canada is paying its “fair share” to NATO is the matter of the direct conflict between NATO nuclear policy and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As Canada is a NATO member and a signatory to the treaty, one would think that if the deteriorating nuclear-weapons situation did not get our attention, some concern for international law would. International treaties impose binding obligations.

NATO policy is to maintain and modernize nuclear weapons indefinitely; to strike first with them if necessary, even against non-nuclear states; to share weapons data with members who are not nuclear states; to station nuclear weapons in Europe.

Only India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and South Sudan are not parties to the treaty.

The rest of the world declared in 1970 its intention to stop the nuclear arms race at the earliest possible date and take effective measures toward disarmament. They pledged to work toward a treaty that would end manufacture and eliminate stockpiles of both weapons and delivery systems.

The treaty contains more than aspirations. The parties made commitments in the form of undertakings. In law, an undertaking is the most serious form of obligation. It does not mean “some day” or even “I will do my best.” It means “I will.”

NATO policy violates the most important treaty undertaking, Article VI: “Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

In 2016, after decades of stagnation, most of the world sought to address this undertaking. They voted in the UN to set up a conference in March 2017 to begin negotiations on a binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination.

Note that this vote was simply to begin negotiations. Support came from 123 nations, opposition from 38. There were 16 abstentions. Hours after the resolution passed, the European Parliament, including representatives from most NATO members and allies, voted overwhelmingly to participate constructively in the negotiations.

The nuclear powers boycotted and applied diplomatic pressure against all the states supporting negotiations. Canada helped in the campaign to discourage support, participated in the process in order to obstruct consensus and cast one of the 38 no votes.

Perhaps readers might contact their MPs. There is still time for Canada to join the process. Perhaps the press might assign someone to this story. In the meantime, all of us might try to remember where our parents put that bomb-shelter blueprint.


William S. Geimer is professor of law emeritus at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He lives in Sooke.

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