Canada isolated in opposing nuclear weapons ban



Friday January 22, 2021, will be a landmark day in the struggle to abolish nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will enter into force, making weapons that have always been immoral also illegal under international law.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) should be celebrated for its years of work promoting the treaty. Japanese Canadian Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, offered spiritual guidance to this testament to international activism.

Amidst this important step towards abolishing ghastly weapons, humanity continues to live under the cloud of possible nuclear annihilation. Canada’s most intimate military ally, the US, spends over $35 billion annually on nuclear weapons, equal its ‘aid’ budget. The other eight nuclear armed states spend an equal sum on their nukes.

Last January the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight. Created two years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the placement of the clock hand is evaluated each year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. The clock was moved closer to midnight because the limited arms control measures built up over decades have been shredded during the past two years. Washington pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which have mitigated the dangers posed by 13,400 nuclear weapons (over 90 percent held by the US and Russia). Detonating a small share of these nukes could make the planet uninhabitable. The ‘most advanced’ nuclear weapons are 80 times more deadly than what was dropped on Japan 75 years ago.

The Trump administration also withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement. Hopefully, Joe Biden will rejoin the accord. But a preferable solution to concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons would be to impose a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East that includes intensive inspections. While most countries of the region support the idea, the US refuses to accept a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, which exist in a number of other regions. Washington wants to protect Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile and its own ability to deploy nuclear weapons to the area.

Ottawa says it supports a nuclear weapons free Middle East, but has opposed organizing a regional conference on the establishment of such a zone because it would undercut Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity. Additionally, in December Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau in voting against a resolution calling on Israel to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and “renounce possession of nuclear weapons”. 153 countries backed the call.

This is but a small slice of the Trudeau government’s nuclear weapons hypocrisy. Two weeks ago Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rob Oliphant, “reaffirmed Canada’s unwavering support for advancing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament”, declaring “we are committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.” Yet a month earlier Canada voted against 130 UN members that backed a resolution supporting the TPNW. Canada also voted against holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. Ottawa then boycotted the TPNW negotiating meeting, which two-thirds of the world’s countries attended.

The Trudeau government opposes the TPNW while claiming it wants to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It also touts its promotion of an “international rules-based order” and “feminist foreign policy” while ignoring how the treaty advances these principals.

There is far too little discussion of the threat nuclear weapons pose. Leaders across the globe need to be pushed to pursue nuclear disarmament. The TPNW should be at the centre of that effort. Canadians need to press their government to sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty.


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


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