Paul Meyer

The NPT Turns 50: a mid-life crisis?

originally published at Centre for International Policy Studies

On March 5, the (Nuclear) Non-proliferation Treaty will turn 50 years old. Whether this will be an occasion for celebration or lamentation is an open question. The NPT’s once-in-five-year review conference will take place at UN HQ, April 27-May 22, and coming after a failed 2015 review conference many observers view the upcoming meeting as crucial for The Treaty’s future.

With 190 states parties, the NPT is the preeminent international security agreement, the “cornerstone” of the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime. Yet this treaty is currently facing the most serious challenge to its authority since its inception.

The problems facing the NPT are legion. The re-emergence of great power rivalry is undermining its foundations of international cooperation in managing global nuclear affairs.

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A new Canadian peace centre could make a world of difference

The Hill Times | 29/01/2020

Who isn’t concerned about our shared global challenges? It’s hard to miss overlapping crises, many fuelled by militarism, marginalization, and inequality.

Canada provided pivotal leadership and ideas in the past and it could definitely help again. The recently announced Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government therefore is a much-needed step in the right direction.

The details have yet to be finalized, but this much is clear: the new Canadian Centre is part of an effort to “lead by example and help make the world a safe, just, prosperous, and sustainable place.” Mandate letters to cabinet ministers suggest an interdepartmental centre (i.e., within government) is proposed “to expand the availability of Canadian expertise and assistance to those seeking to build peace, advance justice, promote human rights and democracy, and deliver good governance.”

While this is promising, three concerns need attention: is the scope sufficiently broad to address our urgent global challenges; should the centre be within government or independent; and is there a better Canadian model?

The mandate needs to reference peace and security, disarmament and sustainable development, defence and foreign policy, and the deeper co-operation required to address these shared global challenges.

Further, a centre within government will be inclined to represent government policy and priorities without providing independent analysis, constructive criticism, and innovative policy options now needed.

This is not how issues of peace and conflict are approached in other highly recognized national centres in Sweden (SIPRI), the United States (USIP), Norway (PRIO), Switzerland (GCSP), Japan (JCCP), Austria (IIPS), etc. Being independent and at arm’s length from government is crucial for the credibility and the capacity of the centre. Canada once led in this respect, too.

In 1984, the late Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau provided a very good model in the Canadian Institute of International Peace and Security (CIIPS). Bill C-32, at that time stated:

“The Purpose of the Institute is to increase knowledge and understanding of the issues relating to international peace and security from a Canadian perspective, with particular emphasis on arms control, disarmament, defence and conflict resolution, and to: a) foster, fund and conduct research on matters relating to international peace and security; b) promote scholarship in matters relating to international peace and security; c) study and propose ideas and policies for the enhancement of international peace and security, and; d) collect and disseminate information on, and encourage public discussion of, issues of international peace and security.”

When initially proposed, the throne speech noted: “Reflecting Canada’s concern about current international tensions, the government will create a publicly funded centre… Fresh ideas and new proposals, regardless of source, will be studied and promoted.”

CIIPS initially focused on four priority areas: arms control, disarmament, defence, and conflict resolution. As new needs arose, it responded with projects on UN peace operations, internal conflicts, confidence building, and conflict prevention.

The approach of creative and innovative research, education, outreach and policy proposals targeted four priority audiences: the public, the scholarly community, the government, and the international audience.

Within just two years, CIIPS was widely recognized and central to collaborative projects with other national institutes and international organizations, as well as numerous universities and centres of expertise. In providing support for civil society and academia, it was also appreciated on the home front.

CIIPS helped elevate discussions on international peace and security in a period of high-risk and high anxiety. As the late Geoffrey Pearson and Nancy Gordon wrote, CIIPS’ demise in 1992 was effectively “shooting oneself in the head.”

The underlying rationale for the former CIIPS remains relevant. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau recognized the growing risks to global security and the lack of independent analysis, facts, and policy options available to the Canadian government.

Twenty-five years of austerity has drained and depleted much of Canada’s independent expertise on peace and security. Most of our foreign and defence policy think tanks rely heavily on funding from DND and the defence industry.

There is also considerably less institutional memory and enthusiasm to explore what might be doable on the key global issues of peace, security, and sustainable development. These include the prevention of armed conflict and its peaceful resolution, protection of civilians, and UN peace operations—all of which should be central to a feminist foreign policy. Instead, we see a focus on new means and methods of warfare from “hybrid conflicts” to offensive cyber operations to space war.

Canada had a positive model in CIIPS; one that may now be emulated and modified in support of a new 21st Century Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government.

The Rideau Institute and other leading Canadian NGOs, in the context of the 2016 Defence Policy Review, recommended: “As one of the few leading OECD members without such an institution, Canada should establish an expert, arm’s length, non-partisan, domestic institute for sustainable common security, with long-term financial viability… Its Board of Directors should be diverse and include academic, non-governmental, and international expertise.”

In light of the new CPOGG proposal, the Rideau Institute went on to say that first and foremost, the focus must be on enhancing Canadian capacity for analysis and policy development on international peace and security, as the only solid basis for “lending expertise to others.” It also suggested that to be credible and sustainable, the mandate must ensure the centre’s independence, diversity, and long term-financial viability.

Finally, the work of the Centre must be firmly grounded in the principles of international co-operation; peaceful conflict resolution; and inclusive, sustainable common security that underpin the United Nations Charter. Canada cannot help to build international peace and security by seeking to impose on others an inward-looking version of “Canadian values”. Instead, our work must be fully and transparently grounded in global principles as reflected in international law and in respect of which Canada has played a key role in developing and strengthening.

In short, for this recently proposed peace centre to be worthwhile, let’s reflect on what is now urgent so we can aim higher.

Peggy Mason is the president of the Rideau Institute and a former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament to the United Nations. Dr. Peter Langille specializes in peace research, conflict resolution, and initiatives to improve UN peace operations.

Statement by the Canadian Pugwash Group on the USA-Iran Confrontation

The deaths of 176 passengers on a jetliner struck by an Iranian missile (apparently in error) is a tragedy of immense proportions felt intensely in Canada because 57 of the persons on board were Canadians. Canadian Pugwash Group extends condolences to the families, loved ones and friends of all who died. We also fully support the Government of Canada in its efforts to ensure a full, transparent and independent investigation of the circumstances that led to the strike, and to obtain adequate support and redress for the victims’ families.

But this is not only an unimaginable tragedy for all those with loved ones and friends on the Ukrainian airline.

Peace in the world is threatened by the USA-Iran stand-off following mutual attacks on each other, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres has made a passionate appeal for action in capitals across the world. The UN chief has presented a clear four-point message for what needs to happen now:

“Stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Re-start dialogue. Renew international cooperation. …

“It is our common duty to make every effort to avoid a war in the Gulf that the world cannot afford,” the Secretary-General said. “We must not forget the terrible human suffering caused by war. As always, ordinary people pay the highest price.”

This is a message the Government of Canada, which wants to join the United Nations Security Council, should take to heart.

Canada should immediately step up its efforts to promote the rule of law as set down in the United Nations Charter by giving practical support to the new Alliance for Multilateralism. The Alliance, formed in 2019 and led by Germany, is a group of nations working to boost international cooperation, strengthen the United Nations, and reform international institutions.

Closer to home, Canada should revive the process of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran. We simply cannot continue to rely on other nations to provide the consular services and diplomatic interactions that are fundamental prerequisites for addressing any issue we might need to discuss with Iran.

At the same time, Canada should make it clear to NATO partners that the only appropriate role for the collective defence organization is one of counselling mutual restraint, and providing diplomatic support for a negotiated solution to the current USA-Iran crisis, in full accordance with the UN Charter and international law, to which all NATO members are bound.

All nations must re-commit to the UN Charter, which places the primary responsibility for peace and security with the Security Council, but which also gives the General Assembly a role, should the Security Council fail to act.

The extraordinarily serious environmental and security challenges facing the world today require extraordinary measures by governments large and small. Canadian Pugwash urges the government of Canada to put the common good of humanity as its first consideration in policy-making in international affairs.

[ signed: Paul Meyer, chair; Peggy Mason, vice-chair ]

We must do more to prevent nuclear war

Times Educational Supplement | December 9, 2019

When Greta Thunberg gives a speech, she wastes no time getting to the point.

“You come to young people for hope,” she told the United Nations General Assembly in September. “You say you understand the urgency…How dare you then pretend that this can be solved by ‘business as usual’?…Change is coming, whether you like it, or not.”

What Greta said is no less true of the most serious danger we face today: nuclear war.

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Cyberpeacekeeping: New Ways to Prevent and Manage Cyberattacks

Published in International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism (IJCWT) 9(1) (2019) | (pdf)


Cybersecurity is coming to the forefront of the concerns of nations, organizations and individuals. Government agencies, banking systems and businesses have been crippled by criminal and malicious cyberattacks. There are many examples of cyberattacks in regions of tensions and armed conflict. There are no impartial international means to investigate the claims and counter-claims about cyberattacks. The international community more broadly lacks a way to deal with cyberattacks in a concerted manner. A new approach and capability should be considered for certain circumstances: cyberpeacekeeping. Peacekeeping has proven effective in physical space, and many of the same principles and methods could also be applied in cyberspace, with some adjustments. It could help prevent global attacks, and if an attack were to be successful, it could assist with recovery and conduct impartial investigations to uncover the perpetrators. The possibilities of a cyberpeacekeeping team at the United Nations to make cyberspace more secure are well worth exploring.

Cyber Operations, Cyberpeacekeeping, Cyberterrorism, Peacekeeping, Tallinn Manual


1.1. The Challenge

The world is ever increasingly reliant on internet-connective technology. Computers permeate almost every facet of human life in most parts of the world, connecting people in ways that could not have been imagined, with the developing world becoming connected at the fastest rate. The level of technology and global integration is staggering even compared to just 20 years ago. This interconnectivity is a cause not only of celebration but also of deep concern for security, as what makes human life easier and more efficient also gives rise to significant vulnerabilities and threats, even the potential for a massive downfall.

Attacks on global interconnectivity have become a reality. Deliberate attacks are conducted by states or state-sponsored entities or groups or non-state and criminal actors who seek to infiltrate and bring down sites and alter the instructions that computers give to industrial machinery, such as centrifuges, dams and even electric power grids (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, 2018; Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, 2016). Already we have seen the internet, including the parts of the deep/dark web, used to incite riots and even to influence the course of national elections. For instance, new evidence is continually emerging of Russian attempts to interfere in numerous elections, including those of the United States and France (Greenburg, 2017; Pope, 2018). Shortly before Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008, it launched a barrage of Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack, making Georgian military movements and operations so much more difficult and dangerous (Markoff, 2008). The United States and Israel likely introduced malware to cause breakdown in Iranian centrifuges at Natanz. These examples show how cyberattacks have translated into kinetic damage. One problem is that, despite the effects, attribution is difficult and international means for impartial investigation are lacking. Examples of attacks are plenty, but effective responses are few and modest.

At present, the world relies on national security services and commercial companies to handle national cybersecurity, and there is no international body to provide some form of international cybersecurity. While a few countries are developing advanced cybersecurity measures, they still remain vulnerable and most countries of the world have limited capacity to respond to cyber threats. Moreover, there has not been a coordinated international effort to address cybersecurity or create measures of common or collective security in global cyberspace. With many cases of international and intranational conflict, cyberattacks have the potential of unsettling an already fragile peace. This paper seeks to explore new means of addressing cybersecurity, building on the characteristics and successes of peacekeeping in physical space. The paper proposes that the establishment and activities of a UN cyberpeacekeeping unit could lessen the threat of conflicts, help recovery, maintain balance and improve cyber relations in a wide range of scenarios. Examples from the past threats can help illustrate the threats and the types of cases where cyberpeacekeeping could help.


In 2007, the Estonia case demonstrated how extensively cyberattacks could affect an entire country. The attack was likely in response to the removal of a Soviet-Era statue of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn. This showed how actions in physical space can have ramifications in cyberspace. The removal of the statue represented the shift away from Estonia’s recent Russian history and domination. Russia not only protested but, in all likelihood, supported a massive cyberattack. An impartial determination of responsibility was lacking, and Russia could easily dismiss and ignore the allegations. But it could increase its threatening power from the suspicions while also punishing Estonia severely.

The widespread and large-scale DDOS attack campaign was unleashed. Banks were shut down, government employees were unable to send emails to one another and the media found it difficult to publish stories. Regular life in Estonia turned to confusion, probably with a few final strokes of a keyboard far away. Only after much effort were computer services restored.

In consequence Estonia, which had joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004, offered to host a new NATO cyber defence centre. The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (NATO CCD COE) was established in 2008 as a multinational and interdisciplinary hub of cyber defence expertise based in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn.1 Although the centre was created to help meet the collective defence needs for its NATO members, the NATO CCD COE developed the world’s first, and most in-depth, analysis on the international law applicable to cyberattacks in an armed conflict situation.2 Despite the important commentary in the Tallinn Manual on International Law Applicable to Cyberwarfare (henceforth Tallinn Manual, currently in version 2.0), the legalities of what constitutes a cyberattack and appropriate responses have not been fully flushed out yet. And the NATO COE cannot be considered an impartial investigator or upholder of any international cyber law, especially since it is biased in favour of NATO and Western countries.

A small but more important legal step had been made earlier in Europe. The Council of Europe drew up in 2001 the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, the first international treaty regarding cybercrime. The Budapest Convention was the first international attempt of outlining the legal definitions concerning cybercrimes, which included illegal access, interception of data, data interference, computer-related fraud and forgery and other offences. An Additional Protocol to the Convention entered into force in 2003, adding the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material to the list of cybercrimes (Council of Europe, 2003). The glaring criticism with the Budapest Convention is that it has not been continually updated to keep up with evolving threats and technology (Celik, 2017, p. 106). In order for the Convention to be effective, there needs to be an evaluation schedule so new threats and technology can be added.

The Tallinn Manual does not have the legal stature of the Budapest Convention but it does deal with a wider range of cyberattacks and cyberwarfare issues. It is an authoritative but not a unanimous legal interpretation when it comes to the definitions and limitations on cyberwarfare. Within five years of the Tallinn Manual 1.0, a second version was published and addressed some concerns raised after the publication of the first Manual (Jensen, 2017, p. 738). Eventually many of the rules explored in the manual will need to be translated into precise legal instruments.

The consequences of cyberattacks can be dire, even crippling for an attacked state. And they are happening against NATO member states. But because of the lack of an immediate physical threat, NATO is wary of triggering the organization’s Article 5, which calls for NATO members to come to the collective defence of one or more members when are under attack. So, cyberattacks on NATO countries and more generally have become a more subtle way of causing havoc without much chance of retaliation (Mustonen, 2015). This, of course, is the challenge of maintaining, or building, peace and law enforcement between to states. Impartial investigation and prosecution followed by enforcement is lacking.

Other regional organizations are wrestling with means to secure the cyber domain, and small steps have been taken. In 2004, the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution titled “The Inter-American Integral Strategy to Combat Threats to Cyber Security,” which placed cybersecurity under the realm of the OAS’ Inter-American Committee against Terrorism and called for greater regional cooperation (Organization of American States, 2004). The OAS created Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs) that handle “alert, watch, and warning” responsibilities in each member state (OAS, 2018). Similarly, for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is comprised of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan, aims to improve the political, economic and security relations, including cyber security, amongst its members. In 2009, the SCO came to an “Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of International Information Security” (Shanghai Cooperation Organization, 2008). This Agreement lays the foundations for the SCO to counter destructive cyberattacks on one of its member states. Once again, it is not an impartial international body but a grouping of states, heavily influenced by regional political agendas and seeking some measures for cyber defence.

Though not approaching the problem globally or impartially, the incorporation of cyber defence in such multilateral alliances highlights the seriousness of cyberthreats. In fact, small cyberattacks might even cause wider cyberwars, if the attacks escalate to alliance-level responses. There is also the real possibility that a major cyberattack could incite a conventional military response in the physical world, particularly in cases where cyber-kinetic weapons like Stuxnet (W32.Stuxnet, 2017) are deployed. Means and models for cyber-de-escalation need to be considered. Undoubtedly, some of the lessons and practices from conflict management between nations and between armed parties can apply in cyberspace. One proposal to explore is peace operations in cyberspace or cyberpeacekeeping.


Cyberpeackeepers, possibly working for the United Nations or mandated by it, could patrol and act in cyberspace in a similar fashion as current UN peacekeepers patrol and act in selected conflict zones of the world. Cyberpeacekeepers could investigate major attacks and hacking events in accordance with their specific mandates –– narrow or broad. Like their current physical counterparts, they could be tasked to reduce tensions between specific nations or other conflicting parties, prevent escalation of cyberwars, and help catch global cybercriminals. They could even assist with rebuilding governmental computer systems or critical infrastructure, such as financial and media services, after a damaging attack. Eventually, international action could be taken to help enforce new cyber rules after impartial determinations of the sources or modes of an attack are made. All these means are currently lacking in the weakly protected cyberspace.

The proposal is relatively new (Dorn, 2017)3 but there was already some movement in this direction at UN headquarters. In 2013, the UN General Assembly examined the increasing security risk of information and communication technologies (ICT) affecting the security environment (United Nations General Assembly, 2013). Also in 2013, the Chief Executives Board for Coordination adopted seven principles to help member states “respond to cybercrime and cybersecurity needs in the Member States” and “focus on assisting the Member States to take evidence-based action” (Chief Executives Board for Coordination, 2014).4

The UN’s Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) created in 2016 a “Digital Blue Helmets” (DBH) unit to “enhance cybersecurity preparedness, resilience and response,” mostly for protection of the United Nations and its agencies (United Nations, 2017a). The OICT conducted research into possible cyber threats to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It has envisioned DBH centres to provide the necessary “interdisciplinary cyber-security support and teaching centres [to] bring together specialists from around the globe to address a variety of IT-related issues” (United Nations, 2017b). With the DBH name incorporating the term “Blue Helmets” (i.e., an informal name for peacekeepers), it foretells of possibility that the unit could possibly prevent, mitigate and deal with global cyberattacks in the future.

The DBH has not yet assisted governments to investigate cyberattacks or help prevent attacks but it has helped make UN peacekeeping operations more secure and helped certain UN agencies, such as UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Establishing an international cyber forensics team is necessary for the cyberpeacekeeping concept. It could be based on the DBH team that is now gradually developing more expertise. Many attacks are done through hackers who may or may not have formal affiliations with governments and those hackers often mask or change their IP address, which makes it harder to identify them. As Brenner (2007, p. 420) asserts, determining where cyberattacks originate “can take months or even years when digital evidence is fragile and can disappear by the time the investigators obtain the assistance they need.” The DBH team could undertake a role that would help with the investigation of a cyberattack when requested. This could follow the example of other governmental organizations such as the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSG) in the UK, or Europol’s EC3. The newly formed Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (CCCS) may also be a potential model where the CCCS collaborates not only with the private sector, but also those in academia (Communications Security Establishment, 2018). These governmental organizations provide support for cybercrime investigations.

As outlined by Robinson, et al (2018, p.3), a future DBH team could be comprised of personnel assigned by Cyber-Contributing Countries (CCCs), Cyber-Contributing Organizations (CCOs), volunteer experts and UN cyber staff. This mix of cyber staff loaned and vetted from various countries, international organizations, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia could engage in selected projects according to their expertise and impartiality. Although the pool of potential personnel may appear large, finding well trained, and specialised staff from countries and organizations may be a challenge. However, the United Nations has overcome such problems in the past when assembling peacekeeping operations, fact-finding missions and inspection bodies.

In the future, as cyberpeacekeepers gain experience and help from advanced cyber nations (including experts on loan, as is done in physical peacekeeping), they could help in real-time to stop cyberattacks, mitigate the impact of such attacks and assist in re-establishing normalcy by reversing the effects of the attacks. Cyberpeacekeepers could also monitor their cyber area of responsibility to the extent possible to promote a lasting cyber peace between two countries (Robinson, et al., 2018, p. 6). The UN cyber rescue crew could help members of the international community in times of urgent need.

The UN would have to define the parameters of the cyberpeacekeeping force and its cyber areas of responsibility, which could change with demand. It would have to define the how the cyberpeacekeeping unit “could operate in conflict and non-conflict areas in cyberspace” (Akatyev & James, 2017, p. 33). The UN cyberpeacekeeping force could be expanded to investigate mass botgenerated propaganda. In any case, the force would need the cooperation of key UN member states and national organizations.

There could also be a research and development dimension. Exploits and malware seek weaknesses within code and even with human nature — for instance, simple cases of not updating software and website plugins, or even clicking on an attachment in an e-mail without thinking of the risks. One possibility would be to assist in the development of cyber protocols for government, and other sectors. This could start simply with seminars on straightforward measures in ensuring that a potential outbreak can be contained. It will take time for the UN and the international community to create binding global standards and rules, starting though declarations and resolutions and moving on to treaties, to make certain cyberattacks illegal globally.5 In addition, cyber security measures could be taken between states bilaterally or in small groups, with cyberpeacekeepers playing a role in the implementation.

Of course, one of the limitations of the international order, and an avenue that needs to be developed further, is enforcement. A defensive cyber force would require rules of engagement that may or may not be limited to the digital realm. A defensive action could be to simply block attacks coming from a certain IP address or groups of IP addresses, but it could also mean dealing with the attackers in cyberspace or even the physical seizure of their computer equipment through national law enforcement agencies after determining the attack’s point of origin. An overview of the potential range of cyberpeacekeeping tasks is given in Figure 1.

A cyberpeacekeeping operation could be approved by the Security Council, just as the Council approves a peacekeeping operation in the physical domain. In addition, a cyber operation can be approved alongside a physical operation or be a part of it, particularly if the physical conflict includes cyberattacks. If the conflict is entirely in the cyber realm, a purely cyber mission could be instituted. While UN action against major powers is unlikely, due to their veto, there have been important cases where they have called for UN assistance to resolve disputes between them, e.g., the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (Dorn and Pauk, 2009). Moreover, there are cases in conflict regions and even current peacekeeping operations where a cyberpeacekeeping initiative is needed. The prevalence of these cyberattacks in the present-day world also provides incentive for the affected countries to seek out assistance from a cyberpeacekeeping third party.

Figure 1. Possible UN cyberpeacekeeping activities [see original publication (pdf)]


If we look at the attacks of the past, we can see cases where a cyberpeacekeeping capability would have been useful. For instance, North Korea is believed to be behind cyberattacks directed at banks in at least 18 countries, according to the Russian firm Kaspersky (Pagliery, 2017), which itself is suspected of being under the influence, if not control, of an authoritarian state (Robertson & Riley, 2017). So, once again, an impartial means of investigation would be helpful to examine the preliminary data and investigate further. Just as physical peacekeeping uses soldiers borrowed from nations, the cyberpeacekeeper teams could consist of cyber-warriors and experts draw together from nation states for a particular mission or time period.

A UN cyberpeacekeeping force can assist in tracking down the vectors of attack and even point of origin and create the framework for legal or diplomatic action. The threat, and reality of, cyberattacks are a global threat and reality. States should bear a degree of responsibility if an international cyberattack, like any attack, originates from their state (Couzigou, 2018). But great expertise is needed to pinpoint the course of attacks.

Israel was targeted in a cyberattack in 2009 during its offensive in the Gaza Strip. It is believed that it was carried out “by a criminal organization from the former Soviet Union, and paid for by Hamas or Hezbollah” (Pfeffer, 2009). But these are simply allegations, ones that need to be investigated and verified. Particularly, if the allegations are used to launch military attacks, it is important to have some international verification process. Such a verification process needs to be independently run by an impartial body, such as the United Nations, even if it relies of inputs from member nations.

Cyber incidents can also affect countries that host UN peacekeeping missions. For instance, cyberattacks started in the late 1990s between India and Pakistan, which host in Kashmir a UN observer mission (Vatis, 2001), which itself must be protected. The attacks between the nations in the 1990s may be simple and crude compared to what is happening now globally, but Indian and Pakistani hackers have continued to hone their skills. In January 2017, Indian hackers are believed to have attacked Multan International and Karachi airport websites and even installed ransomware, a malware that encrypts a computer’s hard drive until a ransom is paid, usually in bitcoins or other digital currency (Shekhar, 2017). This should cause concern, because if an international airport were to be locked out of their computer servers it would cause havoc and increase significantly the chance of casualties. Then both the physical and the cyber peacekeeping force would need to act in a concerted fashion. In addition, a peacekeeping mission could also find itself subject to attack, so a staunch cyber defence will be needed.

One of the main concerns of politicians and security officials is a major cyberattack that cripples the country’s power grid, causing many additional catastrophes. A glimpse of this was seen in December 2015, when a cyberattack on Ukrainian utilities resulted in a power outage that affected more than 225,000 customers. The US government later concluded that the power grid shutdown was a cyberattack. iSight partners, now FireEye, concluded that it was carried out by a Russian group, Advanced Persistent Threat, referred to by the cybersecurity community as “Sandworm” (Volz, 2016). A study done by the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (2016, p. 5) concluded that the perpetrators “perform[ed] long-term reconnaissance operations required to learn the environment and execute a highly synchronized, multistage, multisite attack.” This attack was planned for some time before it was executed. Regardless, the verification process of which actor carries out these, or future, cyberattacks is essential.

As mentioned, the verification of the attack’s point of origin can be a starting point for the local and international authorities to act against such perpetrators—provided it was not sanctioned by a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council. But even that state’s veto of a cyber investigation could point to its involvement or patronage. And if the cyberattack was sanctioned by another state or a non-state actor, such as a terrorist group, additional actions can be taken to mitigate or punish this activity.

Unfortunately, the global cyber threat is unlikely to diminish, but will increase with time in both the quantity and complexity of attacks, unless some means are found to prevent it. This is especially true for the volatile Middle East and for the ongoing (and deepening) conflict with Iran.


Many became aware of the cyber threats against nations after the attack on Estonia in 2007. The world’s attention was refocused in 2010 on targeted attacks by what would otherwise seem to be an inert virus – Stuxnet that targeted Iran’s nuclear programme at the Natanz facility. This virus spread itself to several countries, but if an infected computer was not the target, it would do nothing. Stuxnet targeted Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) which are usually used for industrial purposes (W32.Stuxnet, 2017). The prevalence of the concentration of the malware in Iran and how the malware targeted PLCs built by the German company Siemens demonstrated that this malware was a surgical weapon to cripple Iran’s nuclear program by going after the centrifuges at one of the country’s nuclear facilities. Stuxnet can be seen as an improvement or complement to conventional attacks due to the precision and reduction of human casualties. After hundreds of Uranium centrifuges were damaged, suspicions arose that the United States and Israel were behind the Stuxnet attack (Katz, 2010). In any case, forces from within Iran initiated attacks of their own.

In 2012 and 2013, two major attacks seem to have originated from Iran, signalling that the country developed its own cyberwarfare capability in the wake of the Stuxnet attacks. In 2012, over 35,000 computers of Saudi Arabia’s Armaco company had their data partially wiped or destroyed (Mount, 2012). Then in a separate attack in 2012, half a dozen American banks were targeted, and their customers were unable to log into their accounts online (Perlroth, 2012). In 2013, hackers were able to gain access to command and control system of a 20-foot flood-control dam on the Blind Brook in Rye Brook, New York (Thompson, 2016). The hacking of this dam would not have caused sizeable damage if the dam waters were to have been released, but it did raise concerns in the United States government about the potential ramifications if a hacker were to seize control of a larger, more critical infrastructure – something similar to what occurred in Ukraine two years later, when a sizeable portion of Ukraine’s power grid was shut down because of successful hacking.

Although nations rarely admit to carrying out cyberattacks, the above gives a glimpse of what a full cyberwar could entail. When the sources of attacks can be identified, or at least evidence gathered, by an impartial actor, the chances of an attack and of escalation would be less. And the possibilities for international intervention would be greater. There may be situations where intervention is essential, such as a full-scale cyberattack on a country’s cyber-linked infrastructure, e.g., power plants, air and road traffic controls, flood defence controls and the financial sector.

Cyberattacks carried out in the Middle East could possibly escalate to a possible point of no return. The United States and Israel, with Iran in opposition, could have targeted sensitive and critical infrastructure in a series of additional cyberattack exchanges. The mitigating force in this was the restraint demonstrated by the three countries. However, what happens if the states involved in the next exchange of cyberattacks do not demonstrate the same level of restraint? A future exchange could become the cyber equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In that crisis, the intervention of the United Nations proved crucial to non-violent conflict resolution (Dorn & Pauk, 2009).

Unfortunately, it is not just state actors that can drag two or more states into a cyber conflict; hacker groups can destabilize the international cyber order by carrying out attacks on infrastructure during times of heightened tensions between two states. This might be mitigated by a cyberpeacekeeping force as it will provide assurances to the international system that there is a check and balance to these attacks and an avenue to pursue, and help for victims of cyber attacks. It can provide mechanisms that can identify a threat and possibly mitigate, and repair, damage that was done.


The UN cyberpeacekeeping force must be malleable and be able to solve a variety of the world’s cyber defence issues, not merely one malware or virus at a time. Especially when UN member states further codify a legal set of rules that clearly define what a cyberattack looks like, cyberpeacekeeping could help enforce those rules. For example, the cyberpeacekeepers could help verify that, in times of peace, no state attacks the infrastructure of another and that national enforcement measures are taken by a state if a citizen within the state is found to be the culprit hacker. To further the point: if a Russian hacker is found to be attacking the US government, the Russian government could provide verifiable assurances to the United Nations that the culprit would be arrested and duly processed through the legal system. The United Nations could then verify if this has occurred. This will, at least, put more pressure on governments to hold hackers accountable. Of course, it will need the support of many other governments to apply pressure, as the United Nations seeks to do in many areas, such as human rights, democracy and support of peace processes.

Cyberpeacekeeping can be done in conjunction with regional groups that have cyber defence initiatives. Through the cooperation of these regional initiatives, such as those done by regional organizations, the United Nations can outline what an aggressive cyberattack in peacetime is on a global level. This would assist the international legal framework to define a cyberattack and then help implement international responses.


The prospect for a UN cyber defence initiative depends on UN member states. They must ask for it. But national cyber defence and offence are closely guarded domains of intelligence and military agencies. By sharing cyber defensive strategies and codes with other members of the international community, the United Nations might make perpetrators more aware of those measures. The same goes for identifying attacks: there will be adaptation. Some member states might not want the United Nations to have the power to launch investigations into cyberattacks and espionage activities as they
would be at risk of being uncovered.

One of the fundamental problems is that there are millions of cyberattacks a month and it would be difficult to prevent many of those attacks because of the sheer number. However, the UN cyber defence initiative would only be one actor to serve as a watchful guardian in cyberspace. There could be partnerships with other cyber defenders, though this might face obstacles. For one, a partnership with certain states may not be fruitful since for instance, China, Russia and the United States would be hesitant to share cyber secrets or even alert the UN of cyberattacks that they carry out in most circumstances. However, the UN cyber defence initiative could seek out partnerships with multilateral organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or the response teams created by the OAS. When it comes to partnerships with industry, this also may be fraught with concerns over state influence as we have seen with Kaspersky Labs (Robertson & Riley, 2017). Still, there would be plenty of opportunities to explore partnerships with the wide range of actors and nations, gradually building a network of trusted expertise.

The United Nations has attempted to define what cyber norms should be for the world stage, but those efforts have not been entirely fruitful. For years, the United States hoped that the efforts that it had put in place would be sufficient as a set of norms for the governance of the cyber domain (Grigsby 2017, pp. 111-112). Russia argued that new technology, such as the internet, should require a new treaty, but the United States opposed that position (p. 112). Neither country trusts the other with their cyber intentions. In 2013, the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (GGE) put forward a number of cyber norms, for example that in peacetime no country should carry out cyberattacks on another and that such activity should be reported (GGE, 2015, p. 2). It is obvious that a body needs to be created to whom such reports can at least be sent.

The creation of a cyberpeacekeeping unit at the United Nations would mean that countries seeking ways to de-escalate a cyber conflict would have a means to verify an agreement or international standards. The GGE, after several landmark reports, was unable to reach consensus in June 2017 but, in 2018, the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation was established (United Nations, 2018). This panel also aims to improve digital cooperation amongst countries, private enterprise and other stakeholders. Cyberattacks will undoubtedly be an issue for this panel and cyber peace operations could serve as part of the solution.

More generally, nations have ceded part of their sovereignty to the United Nations when they signed the UN Charter. The Security Council has been given the legal right and responsibility to maintain international peace and security. The Security Council, and to a lesser extent the UN General Assembly, has often responded to world crises with various types of peace operations. The first peacekeeping force, the United Nations Emergency Force, was created to respond to the 1956 Suez Crisis, which it helped resolve. Already for many years previously, the international community and the proposers of UNEF had wrestled with how to apply military force under international control. Similarly, deliberations for a cyberpeacekeeping role can allow the avenues to be explored before the crisis or conflict cries out for a UN role. A cyber peace operation (cyberpeacekeeping) may serve as the tool in a world increasingly defined by cyber interactions.

As we have seen with the creation of regional cybersecurity initiatives in regional organizations, cybersecurity is recognized. But they are regional attempts, not global ones. Having a UN cybersecurity peacekeeping force may seem to be a huge leap, but can easily be a simple step toward ensuring international peace and cyber security.


There are numerous avenues for the nations of the world to collectively engage in cyber defence. The United Nations, as the world organization responsible for international peace and security, could be pivotal. Even though the concept of digital peacekeeping is new and not fully developed, the United Nations can have a role to motivate member states to look at collective cyber action through the world organization. Cyberattacks are not going away, but they will continue and evolve in sophistication and damage. These attacks have already crippled Estonia in 2007 and a litany of widely ranging attacks have occurred in India, Israel, and Pakistan, to name only a few. Similarly, the United Nations will need to evolve its approach to current and near-future cyberattacks. No longer can peacekeeping operations in the physical space ignore cyber threats against the missions or against the conflicting parties on the ground whom the United Nations seeks to moderate. The safety of the international personnel in foreign lands could be at stake as these cyberattacks become more sophisticated. Similarly, the nations of the world would be wise to explore UN action in cyberspace to protect themselves collectively and thus make the peoples of the world safer.


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1 Estonia was a willing host after it suffered a massive cyberattack in 2007 on its websites and cyber infrastructure. The NATO COE was set up to “provide a capability to assist allied nations, upon request, to counter a cyber attack” (NATO summit communique, Bucharest, April 2008). The COE role is to: improve cyber defence interoperability; develop policies, concepts, doctrine, and standards; enhance information security and cyber defence education; provide cyber defence support for experimentation. It also provides cyber defence subject matter experts (SMEs) to NATO, especially for cyber defence testing and validating.

2 The COE led and facilitated the drafting of the influential Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations (version 2.0, Cambridge University Press, 2017). For more information, see: NATO COE CCD. “Tallinn Manual Process.” Accessed February 8, 2017.

3 See: Nikolay Akatyev and Joshua I. James, “Cyber Peacekeeping,” in Digital Forensics and Cyber Crime, ed. Joshua L. James and Frank Breitinger (Cham: Springer, 2015), 126-39. Michael Robinson, Helge Janicke, and Kevin Jones, “An Introduction to Cyber Peacekeeping,” Computers and Society, October 2017. Accessed at Dorn, A. W. 2017. Cyberpeacekeeping: A New Role for the United Nations?. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 18(3), 138-146. doi: 10.1353/gia.2017.0046

4 The seven principles can be paraphrased as follows: (1) Cyberincidents should be dealt with in a holistic manner through criminal justice and international cooperation; (2) UN entities should aim to respond to cybercrime and cybersecurity needs in Member States within their respective mandates. (3). All UN programming should respect the principles of the rule of law and human rights; (4) UN programming should focus on assisting Member States to take evidence-based action; (5) Programming should foster a “whole-of-government” response. (6). Support to Member States should aim to strengthen international cooperation; (7) Programming should include efforts to strengthen cooperation between government institutions and private-sector enterprises.

5 The 2001 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime is the first international treaty on crimes committed via the Internet and other computer networks. It deals with things like “infringements of copyright, computer-related fraud, child pornography and violations of network security.” It has some early indications of
enforcement power through and search procedures of computer networks and interception. See: Council of Europe. “Details of Treaty No. 185 – Convention on Cybercrime.” accessed June 12, 2017


Canada, the Bomb and Minority Government

Cape Breton Spectator | 6 November 2019

It’s not open by much, and it might shut soon, but the diminished return of the Trudeau Liberals has created a ‘window’ to review The Incredible Shrinking Issue of the 2019 election: Canada’s foreign and defense priorities in an age of grave and growing nuclear peril.

Though domestic politics naturally dominated the campaign, and will largely determine the longevity and effectiveness of the new government, the ghostly presence of the wider world in 40 days of often desultory ‘debate’ was dismaying. One half of the global climate crisis, the accelerated warming of the planet caused by greenhouse-gas emissions, was indeed present, mobilizing millions and clearly emerging — “It’s the Environment, Stupid!” — as a preeminent ‘ballot box question.’

The other half — the spectre of grievous planetary harm from even a so-called ‘limited’ nuclear war — went generally undetected and entirely undebated, as dangerously invisible as, well, radiation…

The sickening silence rang loudest in the platforms of the two traditionally governing parties, both of which once paid routine close attention to ‘the Bomb.’ The Conservatives, however, have now been sidelined, and the Liberals reduced to an unpredictable degree of dependence on three parties – the New Democrats, Greens and the Bloc Quebecois – far more aware (though they could hardly be less!) of the double danger we now face: of the need to denuclearize as well as decarbonize.

Peggy Mason

Ten days before election day, Peggy Mason, Canada’s former Ambassador for Disarmament (serving both Conservative and Liberal leaders from 1989-1995), made a valiant attempt to call attention to the Grim Nuclear Reaper tapping his scythe on the dark glass of the campaign. In a presentation, itself grimly-entitled ‘From Nuclear Disarmament Stalwart to Nuclear Weapons Apologist,’ Mason argued that to “understand the extent of Canada’s retreat from staunch defender of meaningful steps towards increased nuclear restraint and eventual disarmament to the shocking role of U.S. nuclear apologist, it is necessary to review the position of Canada in the context of the NPT,” the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty mandating “good faith negotiations” on nuclear disarmament, “and NATO,” the world’s only nuclear-armed alliance, which since Mason’s time as ambassador has expanded beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union while insisting (as, in response, has Russia) on its ‘right’ to ‘go nuclear’ first in any conflict.

In the 1990s, Canada was known in NATO as ‘the nuclear nag,’ pressing for a general review of alliance doctrine and questioning, in particular, the continued deployment of ‘tactical’ nuclear bombs in the air forces of five ‘non-nuclear’ NATO states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey). Canada also played, Mason notes, “a significant bridging role in the indefinite extension in 1995 of the NPT, from its original 20-year term.” Such pro-disarmament ambitions, however, were thwarted by the strategic calamity of NATO expansion, which Canada enthusiastically championed — and even managed to approve, in 1998, without a vote or debate in parliament!

Twenty years later, NATO’s nuclear ‘dagger’ is still there, but the Canadian ‘nagger’ is gone. Under the Harper Conservatives, writes Mason:

[A]s the need for nuclear restraint and reassurance measures became more pressing, Canadian nuclear disarmament diplomacy was increasingly eclipsed by rote support for NATO’s nuclear posture and not its NPT disarmament obligations.

And while “it is precisely this unbalanced approach that should have been rectified by the Justin Trudeau government, with its lofty promises of Canadian leadership in defence of multilateralism and a rules-based international order,” incredibly it “did not seem to even occur to the government that nuclear arms control is a key cornerstone of that order.”

Trudeau, indeed, seemed as certain as Harper that Canada could continue to honor its increasingly irreconcilable obligations to the NPT and NATO. But when a large majority of NPT states rose in revolt against the nuclear-armed powers and their Bomb-friendly friends, the ‘game’ and its rules changed forever. In July 2017 – after negotiations “shamefully boycotted,” as Mason laments, by Canada – 122 states adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the ‘Ban Treaty’ described by Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow, a Canadian citizen since the 1950s, as “the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”
Final UN vote count, Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons 7 July: 122 states, two thirds of the UN General Assembly, voted in favor.

Final UN vote count, Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons 7 July: 122 states, two thirds of the UN General Assembly, voted in favor.

Perhaps: but whether or not her prophecy comes true, the new accord is surely more than “sort of useless,” as Trudeau infamously sneered in the House of Commons on 7 June 2017, shortly after declining an invitation to meet Thurlow when she visited Parliament Hill.

The Sneer and Snub came amid three ‘Liberal doses’ of ostensibly ‘new’ policy. On June 6, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered a major address on global priorities, promoting Canada as “an essential country” while omitting all mention of disarmament (of any kind) and describing armed conflict as not only “part of our history” but something which “must be part of our future.”

The table was thus set for Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, unveiling on June 7 a plan to “grow annual defense spending from $18.9 billion in 2016/2017 to $32.7 billion in 2026/27 – on a cash basis, an increase of over 70 percent,” with the bulk of the investment in major offensive systems such as warships, armed drones and a mere 88 fighter jets.

And on June 9 – “to add insult to injury,” as put it at the time – Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, announced a new “feminist aid policy” involving, to be exact, no new funding at all.

Over two years later, how many of these missteps tripped up the government at the polls? How many candidates expressed, or heard, concerns about nuclear weapons, or the need to prevent ‘nuclear climate change?’ And though I shudder at the likely answer, how many Canadians have even heard of the Ban Treaty, let alone their government`s glib hostility towards it?

In the two Cape Breton ridings, two of eight candidates responded to a Peace Quest Cape Breton Questionnaire on ‘Canada and Nuclear Weapons’: both – Lois Foster (Green, Sydney-Victoria) and Jodi McDavid (NDP, Sydney-Victoria) – said they supported Canada signing the Ban Treaty; would sign the pro-Ban Parliamentary Pledge organized by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which Setsuko Thurlow is a proud and prominent member; and acknowledged that nuclear weapons posed a threat to the planet’s climate matched only by global warming. The NDP platform, however, refers only to the party’s support for “nuclear disarmament,” without (unlike the Greens) explicitly embracing the Ban Treaty.

On the issue of NATO’s nuclear weapons, McDavid argued cautiously that while she “can see how NATO can argue that at this point in time it needs nuclear weapons for its defense and security,” she disagrees with the Alliance’s First-Use doctrine and hopes “that if more countries signed the TPNW…we can work towards a point where NATO does not feel it needs nuclear weapons.”

Peace Quest, however, also received the unexpected bonus of a fulsome reply from NDP head office in Ottawa (see below) stating more strongly that:

[W]e do not agree that NATO needs nuclear weapons for its defense and security. We must never forget that a single nuclear weapon can kill millions of people, making these weapons among the most dangerous threats to international peace and security. New Democrats believe Canada must play a leadership role within NATO in order to move away from the nuclear deterrence policy…

This is, of course, the essential point: the impossibility of reconciling ‘deterrence’ with international humanitarian law, international environmental law, or the laws and rules of war. In her June 2017 speech, Freeland insisted Canada would only ever support “the principled use of force…governed by international law”. But to build on that platform can mean only one thing: to begin to dismantle NATO as a nuclear alliance.

Setsuko Thurlow (Photo by Michael Swan,  CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

On the question of whether “nuclear disarmament is a priority on par with reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the national NDP response was even more suggestive of the potential of this ‘minority moment’ to awaken a sleeping giant of an issue:

Yes, we agree wholeheartedly. Climate change and the threat of nuclear weapons are the two largest threats to international peace and security… The government must treat both of them with the urgency that they deserve…Our safety and survival, and those of our children and grandchildren, are at stake.

I’d put it slightly differently, and say “global warming and nuclear weapons pose the two greatest threats to the planet’s climate.” But there is surely enough common ground here (shared certainly with the Greens, and probably the Bloc) to revisit nuclear disarmament as an integral component – a crucial but currently missing dimension – of Canada’s climate crisis strategy.

Sitting just 13 seats short of a majority, and with no appetite for a quick return to the polls, the chances of the ‘Trudeau: Take Two’ Liberals agreeing to sign the Ban, and urging others in NATO to do the same, are slim to nil. But would they be as sure to ignore a request for public consultations on ‘Canada and the Bomb in the 21st Century’ – a process, itself helping repair Canada’s tattered NPT reputation, ideally generating the kind of ‘back to basics’ review urged by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1969:

Look, go back to first questions – we don’t want to know first if aircraft A is better than aircraft B, we want to know if we should have aircraft, and if neutrality isn’t better than entanglement in a defense alliance and so on.

Fifty years later, as a fitting curtain-raiser to a ‘First Nuclear Questions’ National Roadshow, I’d like to propose a respectful dialogue between two people with very different experiences of being human in the atomic age: Justin Trudeau and Setsuko Thurlow.