Author:

Canadian Pugwash Group

The politics of assured destruction

Interview with Tom Cirincione, Ottawa, 1 October 2018 | Published in The Hill Times, October 10, 2018 | pp 14-15

Tom Cirincione understands the problems of nuclear weapons better than most. He has worked on nuclear weapons policy in Washington, D.C., for more than 35 years. He also understands how political power works in the United States from the inside. He spent nine years as a professional staffer on the U.S. House of Representatives committees on Armed Services and Government Operations. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former member of the International Security Advisory Board for secretaries of state John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. Today, he heads the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, and teaches at the Georgetown University Graduate School of Foreign Service.

There are reasons why his classes at Georgetown attract guest speakers like former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers. One of them might have to do with his contagious optimism despite his daily work to politically disarm a weapons system that has the potential to destroy the world.

On a visit to Ottawa, Joe Cirincione stopped by The Hill Times’ newsroom and sat down for an interview Oct. 1 with publisher Jim Creskey. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

The Obama administration promised to take action on nuclear disarmament but, through Inertia or other reasons, lost the battle. What happened?

“No one has yet done the autopsy on what went wrong, but clearly this is not what (former U.S. president Barack) Obama intended, what his senior staff intended.

“One of those staffers, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, is now on our board of directors at the Ploughshares Fund. He and I want to conduct such a post-mortem.

“[We already know about] the reluctance of Russia to pass a relatively modest New START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty]. They began to drag their heels. It is very hard to make progress when your partner won’t co-operate with you.”

What role did Congress play during the Obama administration?

“The role the Republican opposition placed in Congress: they waged a huge fight over the New START programs, which were a modest reduction in the U.S. arsenal that was supported by the joint chiefs, supported by the military, supported by the Department of Defense. They fought it tooth and nail. And in that process, [they] forced the president to use up a lot of his political capital, a lot of his time, and a lot of his resources.

“Instead of getting this simple treaty approved at the beginning 2010 and then queuing up the Comprehensive [Nuclear] Test-Ban Treaty for ratification and then moving on to another treaty with Russia for really deep cuts, everything got bogged down until the end of 2010.”

Who benefits from the weapons program?

“Here we are now with a $1.7 trillion bill. I’m convinced that money is the factor that is driving U.S. nuclear policy now. The U.S. government spends about $52-billion a year on nuclear programs, and that included the missile defence program which is about $10-billion a year and growing. It’s concentrated in a very few corporations who make most of our weapons.”

How does the money and power behind nuclear weapons reach into Congress?

“There is in the U.S. Congress something called the ICBM Caucus. This is real. It’s made up of those Senators from states where there are ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] bases or strategic bomber bases. We’re talking about Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, and Louisiana. It turns out that totals about 12 Senators, Democrats and Republicans.”

What kind of Influence do they have?

“They, for example, told President Obama that they would not support the New START Treaty if it cut the number of ICBMs. Instead of having a treaty that went down to 1,000 strategic deployed warheads, we had one that went down to 1,550. The president needed the votes. You need 67 votes to pass a treaty. If you have 12 Senators saying no right away, that practically eliminates the possibility.”

Are there many American Jobs behind this?

“There are only a handful of jobs. For example in Montana, at the ICBM bases, we’re talking about 2,000 jobs. That tells you something about what you have to do to change nuclear policy. It’s not just having an agreement with the Russians.

You have got to have an agreement with Montana! That means you’re going to have to find a way to keep the base, provide a revenue stream, but change the mission. You do that and you get the Senators’ votes.”

Doesn’t Ellsberg, author of the book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, make it clear that the ICBMs are the most dangerous part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal?

“We no longer need the ICBMs for several reasons. One is the increased accuracy of our submarine-launched force and the invulnerability of that force.

“A submarine-launched missile can do everything a land-based one can do. What keeps this vulnerable, redundant force around? It’s one that’s a target for the enemy. it threatens the people whose states the bases are in.

“The Air Force sees the ICBMs as a ‘nuclear sponge.’ Their main justification is that it complicates the enemy attack plan. I wonder how the people of North Dakota and Montana would feel if you put up a billboard that said, ‘Welcome to Montana and North Dakota: America’s Nuclear Sponge!'”

What are the chances that the midterm election will make for change in these policies?

“If the Democrats take control of the House in November, you will see rise to the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee of Representative Adam Smith from Washington state. He has serious doubts about the necessity of keeping our ICBM force.”

Where does the Trump administration fit into this?

“Nuclear threats are back big time. Donald Trump has taken every nuclear challenge we have and made it worse.”

Which challenges?

“Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. It was a deal that was working, that almost all of our allies, particularly the Europeans, wanted us to keep as well as the Russians and the Chinese. This had slashed Iran’s nuclear program to a fraction of what it was before the deal and froze it in place for at least 15 years. It put it under a microscope so that we could observe everything that was going on with a certainty and a precision that we never had before. He threw it out under the illusion that we could get a new deal. There is no new deal.

“Instead of using that engagement to address the other serious problems we have with Iran, we have adopted a policy of regime change. Every week there are elements of the Trump administration that are making the risk of war in the Middle East more likely.”

What is Canada to do in the face of these problems?

“Never underestimate the power of example and of moral leadership. We saw a previous Prime Minister Trudeau mobilize world public opinion around nuclear policy in the ’80s.

“Pierre Trudeau’s Canada was the first nuclear-weapons state to voluntarily give up nuclear weapons. Canada had effective control of about 450 U.S.-supplied nuclear weapons. Deciding that it wasn’t in Canada’s interest to have these weapons—that it wasn’t in the world’s interest to have these weapons—he gave them up. He led the way.”

And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?

“His son could learn from that example, particularly at a time when you have a president of the United States who doesn’t see himself as the leader of the Western world, who sees his closest allies as economic rivals.

‘We are coming to a time when European leaders and maybe Canadian leaders can no longer rely on the United States nor wait for U.S. leadership.

“You hear Angela Merkel and [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron speaking directly to this issue. They see the rise of white nationalist movements in Europe and America along with a powerful Russia that has disruptive tools. They don’t see their chief ally standing up to combat those threats.

“If you think the allied leadership can’t affect this president what it can do is pave the way for the next.”

Where do you see Canada in the UN treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons?

“This is a long game. It’s not going to be decided this year. It’s very difficult for Canada to sign on to it but one of the positions that Canada could take would be to express its support for the treaty and look forward to the day when NATO nations can sign the treaty. There are things you can do between yes and no. Diplomats are excellent at finding those ways “

Do you think that the American and Canadian public cares about these things?

“I think that most people care strongly about economic domestic issues: their jobs, health care, race relations.

“But more people are talking about nuclear weapons since President Trump assumed office. More people than we have seen since the worst days of the Cold War in the 1980s.Those fears pop up in all public opinion polls. In fact, it even popped up among Trump voters. But these threat issues come in waves. We know the Iran crisis is going to get worse. North Korea will jump up in the news.°

Do you think Prime Minister Trudeau has anything to gain politically by taking a strong stand on nuclear weapons?

“The kind of popular support that Mr. Trudeau might experience if he were to become more assertive on his nuclear policy goals, long-standing Canadian policies, that he can more forcefully articulate is worth considering.”

Is there any doubt in your mind that the Canadian public would support those policies? That it would welcome those policies and that Trudeau would be praised for these policies?

“I think this is a winning political issue for most politicians in most countries around the world.”

Jim Creskey is a publisher of The Hill Times.

Trudeau Liberals ditch their party’s moral high ground on nuclear disarmament

The Hill Times, October 10 | Page 16

There I was, at the microphone reading the official policy of the Liberal majority government of Canada on nuclear disarmament to a rather perplexed seminar audience. Why was Doug Roche, a severe critic of this policy, pronouncing it from the podium? The answer is: not one Liberal Member of Parliament would come forward to speak on their own party’s policies on a paramount issue that affects the safety of every Canadian.

The Liberal Party is running away from one of the great issues of our time. It hasn’t always been like this. Thirty-five years ago, the Liberal prime minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau, stuck his neck out by journeying to the capitals of the major nuclear-weapons states to plead with them to come down from their nuclear mountains. Two decades ago, the Liberal foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, pushed NATO to change its nuclear policies and align them with the goals of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So why the reticence today?

The empty Liberal chair last week was at a seminar sponsored by the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which embraces 16 civil society organizations across Canada, and Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a nongovernmental organization that signed up more than 1,000 members of the Order of Canada calling on the government to take major diplomatic action for nuclear disarmament.

The seminar, titled Canadian Leadership on Nuclear Disarmament, featured Joe Cirincione, a renowned American nuclear security expert; a panel on NATO with Ernie Regehr, Peggy Mason, and Tom Sauer, all of them distinguished experts on nuclear disarmament issues; and it tried to have a panel of representatives from all the major political parties to give their parties’ policies. The process of lining up speakers started last June. We were sent from one Liberal official to another, and finally were told that Andrew Leslie, parliamentary secretary to the foreign minister, could not leave the Parliamentary Precinct on a Monday (the day of our seminar). I wondered: could he not go eight blocks for a 20-minute presentation at the Cartier Place Suite Hotel?

We thought the government’s policy on nuclear disarmament should at least be read into the record of our meeting (the result of which will be an informed letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on policy proposals). So I read Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s statement filed in the House of Commons Sept. 17.

It said Canada “does not intend to sign” the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted at the United Nations in 2017 by 122 states, because the major nuclear-weapons states oppose it and, “without the participation of nuclear-weapons states it will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon.” Rather, Canada wants more work done to build a treaty that would end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

NDP MP Alistair MacGregor personally contributed his party’s position and the Green Party sent a statement. The Conservative Party, like the Liberals, was nowhere to be found. It had also sent us on a merry-go-round chase to find a speaker. It was the absence of the Liberals—the government—that was most revealing of the dire situation Canada has descended to from the days of Axworthy and Pierre Trudeau.

In 2016, during the run-up to the negotiations at the United Nations that produced the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty, the United States government sent a letter to all its NATO partners demanding that they oppose such negotiations. The U.S. feared the stigmatization of nuclear weapons and a legal challenge to the military doctrine of nuclear deterrence—which is precisely what the framers of the prohibition treaty want. The treaty, when it arrived a year later, prohibited the possession of nuclear weapons. This went further than the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which enjoins state parties to negotiate “in good faith” the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Blustering, Washington (along with London and Paris) said it would never sign. Prime Minister Trudeau got some very bad advice and, in the House of Commons, called the negotiations “useless.” That is not what UN secretary general Antonio Guterres thinks: he has called the treaty “historic.” Pope Francis went public in “firmly condemning” the “very possession” of nuclear weapons, and the Holy See was one of the first to sign and ratify the treaty. Now, nearly 70 states have signed and close to 20 have ratified. When the number of ratifications reaches 50, it will enter into force. What will Canada do then?

Canada’s Liberal government is pretending that this historical shift to the moral and legal stigmatization of nuclear weapons isn’t happening. But it is. Maybe the big powers will hold onto their modernized nuclear weapons for a long time to come, but they will do that without a shred of moral or legal standing.

Nobody thinks we can get to a nuclear-weapons-free world overnight. But shouldn’t Canada keep standing up for the principles involved? Is there not one Liberal MP who will do so?

When I read the government’s policies at the seminar, I did so without comment. My job, at that moment, was to be a bland spokesperson.

But now I am back to my regular life, dissenting and stating as clearly as I can that the present Canadian Liberal government has abandoned the valued moral and legal policies of the past, which were aimed at saving Canadians from the spectre of nuclear warfare.

Douglas Roche, a former Independent Senator, Progressive Conservative MP, and former ambassador for disarmament, is author of Hope Not Fear: Building Peace in a Fractured World.

NATO: Canada in or out?

Prepared for the Canadian Pugwash Group 2018 Research Roundtable

Canada was an early advocate for NATO and a founding member of the Alliance in 1949. The military organization was perceived as an “all for one, one for all” solidarity pact (NATO’s core collective defence principle in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty), to (in the famous quip) “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in and the Germans down”. Canada pressed for inclusion of democratic and economic goals within NATO although these were secondary to defence and military security priorities. At the end of the Cold War, many saw the Alliance raison d’être as having expired along with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.

Whether seen as legitimate or problematic at its founding, some now believe NATO encourages an arms race, empowers the “Military Industrial Complex” and enables solo US global dominance, while marginalizing the United Nations. NATO nuclear weapon advocacy within its strategic concept is problematic. The USA or USA/UK appear to dominate the alliance. They push for interoperability (therefore also escalation, perpetual weapons modernization, forces integration, higher military spending). Contrary to promises made, NATO expanded into Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. NATO also widened its purview outside the North Atlantic and has directed the controversial (“illegal but legitimate”) Kosovo campaign and unrestrained R2P intervention into Libya. And yet NATO survives, despite the criticism. Canada seems to go along.

Read more

Letter to Hon. Chrystia Freeland re Recommendation 21

The Honourable Chrystia Freeland,
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
125 Sussex Drive, |
Ottawa ON K1A 0G2
Email: chrystia.freeland@international.gc.ca

9 October 2018.

Dear Minister Freeland,

As President of the Rideau Institute and on behalf of the civil society organizations listed below, I am writing today in regards to Recommendation 21 of the unanimous report1 on Canada and NATO, tabled by the Standing Committee on National Defence on 18 June 2018. That recommendation reads:

Recommendation 21

That the Government of Canada take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons. That this initiative be undertaken on an urgent basis in view of the increasing threat of nuclear conflict flowing from the renewed risk of nuclear proliferation, the deployment of so-called tactical nuclear weapons, and changes in nuclear doctrines regarding lowering the threshold for first use of nuclear weapons by Russia and the US.

The National Defence Committee has identified a constructive and timely approach for Canada to begin a long-overdue conversation within NATO on how to move away from the nightmare of mutually-assured destruction toward the vision of sustainable common security grounded in the UN Charter.

As we conveyed in a separate letter to the NDDN Committee Chair, Stephen Fuhr, this pragmatic and forward-looking recommendation also reflects a proud, but too-long neglected, tradition of collaborative parliamentary work in support of Canadian leadership in global efforts for nuclear disarmament.

The ball is now in your court, Madame Minister, to ensure that our government rises to the challenge.

Accordingly, through you, we call upon the Government of Canada to respond positively and promptly to this recommendation, including sharing its vision for realizing this work within NATO. This could include, in our view, identifying which NATO body should be tasked and which other NATO members Canada might cooperate with in advancing this important and urgent work.

Very sincerely,
Peggy Mason,
President, Rideau Institute

Alphabetical List of Supporting National Organizations

  • Canadian Peace Initiative, Chairperson Saul Arbess
  • Canadian Pugwash Group, Chair Paul Meyer
  • Group of 78, Chair Roy Culpeper
  • Project Ploughshares, Exec Director Cesar Jaramillo
  • Religions for Peace Canada, President Pascale Frémond
  • Rideau Institute, President Peggy Mason
  • Science for Peace, Rob Acheson
  • Soka Gakkai International Association of Canada (SGI), General Director Tony Meers
  • World Federalist Movement – Canada, Exec Director Fergus Watt

1 Please note that the focus of this letter is only Recommendation 21. We take issue with other aspects of the report, such as the regrettable failure to call for NATO to adopt an unequivocal No First Use of nuclear weapons policy, but that is not the subject of this letter.

Letter to the Standing Committee on National Defence, re Recommendation 21

Stephen Fuhr Chair,
House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence,
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6;
email: NDDN@parl.gc.ca

Attn: Stephen Fuhr, Chair, Stephen.Fuhr@parl.gc.ca
cc. Vice-Chair James Bezan, james.bezan@parl.gc.ca
and Vice-Chair Randall Garrison, Randall.Garrison@parl.gc.ca

9 October 2018.

Dear Chairman Fuhr,

In my role as President of the Rideau Institute and on behalf of the civil society organizations listed below, I wish to congratulate the Standing Committee on National Defence for Recommendation 21 of your report1 on Canada and NATO, tabled in the House of Commons on 18 June 2018, quoted herewith:

Recommendation 21

That the Government of Canada take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons. That this initiative be undertaken on an urgent basis in view of the increasing threat of nuclear conflict flowing from the renewed risk of nuclear proliferation, the deployment of so-called tactical nuclear weapons, and changes in nuclear doctrines regarding lowering the threshold for first use of nuclear weapons by Russia and the US.

This pragmatic and forward-looking recommendation reflects a proud, but too-long neglected, tradition of collaborative parliamentary work in support of Canadian leadership in global efforts for nuclear disarmament.

We have today also written to Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, encouraging the Government of Canada to respond positively and promptly to the Committee’s recommendation including sharing its vision for realizing this work within NATO. This could include, in our view, identifying which NATO body should be tasked and which other NATO members Canada might cooperate with in advancing this important and urgent work.

Once again, we thank you and the Committee you chair for your important and timely contribution to global efforts, both at the government and non-governmental level, to begin to move us back from the nuclear brink onto the firmer ground of negotiated reductions, mutual confidence building and, ultimately, the realization of verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament.

Very sincerely,
Peggy Mason
President, Rideau Institute

Alphabetical List of Supporting National Organizations

  • Canadian Peace Initiative, Chairperson Saul Arbess
  • Canadian Pugwash Group, Chair Paul Meyer
  • Group of 78, Chair Roy Culpeper
  • Project Ploughshares, Exec Director Cesar Jaramillo
  • Religions for Peace Canada, President Pascale Frémond
  • Rideau Institute, President Peggy Mason
  • Science for Peace, Rob Acheson
  • Soka Gakkai International Association of Canada (SGI), General Director Tony Meers
  • World Federalist Movement – Canada, Exec Director Fergus Watt

1 Please note that the focus of this letter is only Recommendation 21. We take issue with other aspects of the report, such as the regrettable failure to call for NATO to adopt an unequivocal No First Use of nuclear weapons policy, but that is not the subject of this letter.