Regehr and Roche: We are in perilous times, yet Canada is silent on the proliferation of nuclear weapons

By Ernie Regehr and Douglas Roche*

President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials repeatedly threaten the use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. China is rapidly expanding its arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles. In response, the U.S. is signalling intentions to increase its number of deployed nuclear weapons.

Nuclear disarmament agreements have collapsed and a renewed nuclear arms race is underway (though the “nuclear club” of states in possession of these weapons calls it “modernization”). An existential nuclear crisis of frightening proportions is unfolding.

Nine countries currently possess around 12,000 nuclear weapons, with 90 per cent of these held by Russia and the U.S. All told, some 2,100 nuclear weapons are kept in a state of high operational alert, meaning they could be fired with 15 minutes’ notice. Just one of these weapons would inflict far more damage than the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which together killed an estimated 214,000 people.

In 1970, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) came into existence. Now comprising 191 countries, it obliges states to pursue comprehensive negotiations in “good faith” toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. At the 2000 NPT review conference, all states pledged an “unequivocal undertaking” to accomplish total elimination. But instead of proceeding toward negotiations, the nuclear states reneged on their legal obligations under the treaty and ignored a unanimous ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1996, which determined that the use or threat of the use of nuclear weapons by a state is generally illegal, and that nuclear disarmament negotiations must be concluded.

Two successive meetings of the NPT parties in 2015 and 2022 fell apart. The U.S./Russia New START Treaty, limiting deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 on each side, is the only remaining bilateral nuclear disarmament agreement, and it expires in 2026. Talks to extend the New START Treaty have broken down, with each side blaming the other for the impasse, and so the world enters a nuclear jungle. What do the Canadian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister say about all this?

The answer is nothing. You can search all day, but you will find that neither has made a single speech or substantive statement to Canadians on this, the gravest crisis – the threat of global humanitarian catastrophe – facing the world since the Second World War.

Canada, as a member of the Manhattan Project as well as the NPT, clearly has the credentials and duty to speak on this subject. But Ottawa’s deafening silence is broken only when it affirms NATO’s Orwellian characterization of these weapons of mass destruction as the “supreme guarantee” of our security. Canada refuses to join the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which bans the possession of nuclear weapons for those who sign up (70 states have so far ratified the treaty). And it has ignored the desperate plea made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in March for a concerted drive by all countries to lessen the risk of nuclear Armageddon.

In this desperate global situation, Canada needs to show the same resolve it showed on earlier occasions regarding nuclear weapons. Canada showed its leadership when Lester Pearson sent a UN peacekeeping mission to the Suez crisis in 1957, as Nikita Khrushchev threatened to fire nuclear weapons at Western Europe. We showed leadership when Pierre Trudeau proposed a strategy to “suffocate” the nuclear arms race in 1978; when Brian Mulroney declined, in 1985, to participate in the U.S. “Star Wars” anti-missile space program; and when Jean Chrétien kept Canada out of the Iraq war in 2003 over dubious claims regarding “weapons of mass destruction.”

The current nuclear crisis calls for the bold reassertion of Canadian leadership. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs both have the moral and political duty to speak directly and regularly to Canadians about the nuclear crisis the world faces, to elaborate Canada’s posture in response to that crisis, and to set out the measures and policies it has and will continue to pursue in international settings to mitigate it.

At a minimum, Canada should be a leading voice urging the nuclear powers, including the NATO nuclear alliance, to undertake mutual commitments to never be the first state to use nuclear weapons and to take all nuclear weapons off of high-alert status. Canada should be calling for and monitoring progress toward a New START successor treaty and should promote intensified strategic dialogue among the major powers.

This leadership must start with the Prime Minister. The failure to publicly address the nuclear crisis is a shocking failure of leadership – a failure these perilous times cannot afford.


Originally published in the Globe and Mail, June 27, 2024

* Ernie Regehr is the founding executive director of Project Ploughshares. Douglas Roche is a former senator and Canadian ambassador for disarmament. They are members of Canadian Pugwash Group.

Walter Dorn: Here’s Why Ukraine Should Seek Peace

Published in the New York Times, June 14, 2024
By A. Walter Dorn
Dr. Dorn is a professor of defense studies at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, and the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. He is also a board member of Canadian Pugwash Group. 

After more than two years of death and destruction, neither side in the war in Ukraine appears close to victory: Russia will not achieve its imperial conquest of Ukraine, and Ukraine will most certainly not be able to regain control of all the territory occupied by Russia. Sooner or later, both sides will have to agree to a cease-fire and come up with a peace agreement.

That is a welcome prospect. An accord will not only reduce the killing, suffering and enormous cost of the war but will also, in the long run, make Ukraine stronger and better able to defend itself and its democracy. Crucially, it will reduce the chance of a dangerous escalation.

Many in the West argue that making concessions to Russia for a peace agreement would amount to appeasing an aggressor and only encourage further attacks. But it is not appeasement. Ending the war will allow Ukraine to rearm and integrate further into Europe and the West, actually increasing deterrence. Russia has already failed to achieve its initial war aims and will need to make significant concessions of its own as part of any agreement.

The peace conference in Switzerland this weekend, convened by Ukraine to muster diplomatic support for its cause, can provide a much needed opportunity to examine whether an accord is reasonable and achievable. Russia has expressedwillingness to negotiate, though it has not been invited to the conference because Ukraine suspects that Russia will just use the meeting for show. But the host, Switzerland, envisages that Russia will be at future conferences.

No one will know how peace negotiations will fare unless the process is started. When compared with a never-ending war that is swallowing lives and resources at an alarming rate, even an imperfect settlement would be better. So, what could Ukraine reasonably hope to achieve and what kind of concessions would it have to make?

Ukraine has pledged never to cede territory. This is supported by international law that forbids the seizure of territory by force, and Ukraine should not surrender its lawful claim to its land. But to secure a lasting cease-fire, it may need to recognize that Russia has control, though not sovereignty, over portions of four Ukrainian regions and Crimea — and halt its quest to seize back occupied areas by force.

Admittedly, this would be a difficult and painful concession and should be conditional on Russia not launching any major attacks. If Russia remains peaceful, Ukraine may need to wait for a better opportunity to reclaim all its territory, like the one Germany found in 1989 when the fall of the Berlin Wall opened the way for reunification.

As part of a peace agreement, Ukraine may also have to pause its NATO application and promise not to join for a number of years, say five to 10. This is made easier because NATO members are still far from united on allowing a nation at war into the alliance, especially given fears that membership could result in a NATO war with nuclear-armed Russia. Still, it would be a major concession.

But Ukraine can still sign bilateral treaties with individual NATO members for security support — something it has already started to do, for example, with France, Germany and Britain. Future security guarantees will need to include strong provisions for supplying weapons and intelligence to Ukraine, and help to prevent cyberattacks. That said, Ukraine’s allies would probably not be allowed to place military bases on its soil.

Any peace agreement would also need strong measures to prevent another outbreak of conflict. This could involve a demilitarized zone and mutual notifications of exercises and military maneuvers. Early warning, continuous monitoring and transparency are much easier in the age of satellite surveillance, especially of the type currently provided by the United States. International inspections and a United Nations buffer force, made up of troops from non-NATO countries, would also make future incursions harder to launch.

Admittedly, an armistice or peace agreement would give Russia time to regroup and rearm its forces. But Ukraine could do likewise. It would also mean that all prisoners of war could be returned, not just in the small groups being negotiated by the parties so far. War crimes investigations and trials would proceed, however.

Most important is that a tentative peace, even if interrupted by violations, would finally give the people of Ukraine time to rebuild their lives and their country. Millions of refugees could return home and start to repopulate the depleted country. The United States could sponsor a reconstruction effort much like the Marshall Plan. Europe could lead a rebuilding and integration effort. Peace would make it easier for Ukraine to join the European Union.

There are other benefits, too. Ukraine would continue its fight against corruption, having already put a halt to the dominant role of Ukrainian oligarchs. Democratic life could resume after the end of martial law. Ultimately, successful rebuilding will demonstrate to Russians a better alternative to the dictatorship they are under. That could be Ukraine’s and the West’s greatest victory.

To make a peace deal more acceptable to Russia, it could be offered sanctions relief, contingent on compliance with the agreement. Russia could then trade its oil and gas at market prices, though Western countries could institute mechanisms for the immediate reimposition — the so-called snapback — of sanctions if needed. Russia would regain access to its withheld gold and foreign currency reserves in the West.

Violations of any future agreement can be expected, of course, but the level of violence would still be far less than the current war. And if President Vladimir Putin of Russia does escalate to full war, Ukraine will be better able to respond. Importantly, Mr. Putin has now learned a hard lesson that invading Ukraine is not an easy task and taking over the country appears impossible. In the interim, Ukraine’s allies should maintain a steady flow of arms and increase diplomatic and economic support to strengthen the country’s position at a future bargaining table.

Since Ukraine and Russia will continue to be neighbors for decades and centuries to come, the countries must come to some mutual arrangements for peaceful resolution of disputes. And if the current killing goes on for years before a settlement is reached, people will wonder why so many people had to die first. The best way to honor those killed in war is to secure a sustainable peace so that others need not make the same sacrifice.

Roche/Rauf: How Canada Can Regain Leadership in Nuclear Disarmament

Re: Grave crisis in global nuclear arms control and disarmament: Recommendations for Canadian Action

Linked below is the paper entitled, “How Canada Can Regain Leadership in Nuclear Disarmament,” authored by former Senator Douglas Roche, O.C. and Tariq Rauf, former head of Verification and Security at the International Atomic Energy Agency, and published by the four leading nuclear disarmament organizations in Canada:

Canadian Pugwash Group
Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention
Project Ploughshares

This paper is intended to further Canadian government action in response to the grave crisis in global nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Roche/Rauf: How Canada Can Regain Leadership in Nuclear Disarmament

Collins: Geoengineering versus Natural Climate Solutions

By Robin Collins. Published in Peace Magazine April – June 2024

Many climate researchers now believe keeping our planet below the IPCC warming “limit” is impossible. The Copernicus Climate Change Service has just reported the first 12-month period in which average global surface temperature exceeded the pre-industrial average by 1.5° C. Some climatic “tipping points” – melting of Arctic ice, massive releases of natural methane, irreversible biodiversity damage – appear shockingly close. The situation is dire. Priority now requires innovative interventions and adaptation, not just preventive measures. And as many will argue, ‘net zero’ will now have a limited impact and be insufficient; climate restoration is required for our survival.

To read the full article: here.


Meyer: Space systems are too important to leave unprotected against cyber attack

Canada has not designated space systems as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, even though allies Australia, France, and the United Kingdom have done so.


While it may seem a cliché to say we live in rapidly changing times, this is especially true for our use of outer space. In the span of three years, we have seen a fourfold increase in orbiting satellites to over 9,000 active units. These numbers will continue to grow exponentially as “mega constellations” with tens of thousands of satellites are currently in the pipeline for launch. These satellites provide a wide array of services from broadband internet connectivity to remote sensing to the provision of positioning, navigation, and timing signals on which our societies have become increasingly dependent. It is not hyperbole to say that a “day without space” would be ruinous for national and global well-being.

In addition to the natural hazards satellites face in the challenging operating environment of outer space there are also man-made threats. These have become more prominent as geopolitical tensions have led to antagonism among space powers, and the development of anti-satellite weapons and other so-called “counter space capabilities.”

An attack vector of particular concern is that via cyber means. All elements of satellites—from the ground stations that control their movements to the on-board systems—are potentially vulnerable to cyber attack. A recent demonstration of such an attack was the Russian cyber operation against the Viasat telecommunications system that coincided with their invasion of Ukraine, and which seriously disrupted that country’s communication links (as well as those of neighbouring states).

In defending against malicious cyber activity, governments have tended to focus on damage and disruption to their terrestrial systems. The cyber security incidents that have become all too common and which attract the most attention are those directed against government or corporate entities. Whether perpetrated by states or criminals, these damaging attacks impact all categories of victims. In the face of this assault, the government is moving to enhance the nation’s cyber defences. A key legislative vehicle to upgrade Canada’s cyber resiliency is contained in the Critical Cyber Systems Protection Act, part of Bill C-26, currently under scrutiny in the House of Commons.

The draft legislation aims to enhance cyber security for a selected number of “vital services and vital systems” deemed critically important for national security or public safety. The legislation makes the establishment of a cyber security program mandatory, and requires reporting of cyber security incidents. These measures would help enhance cyber resiliency in the six areas designated as “vital services and vital systems.” These areas overlap to some degree with Canada’s 10 designated areas of “critical infrastructure.” Efforts to enhance our cyber defensive posture in areas of crucial importance are to be commended. However, conspicuous in its absence from these “vital services and vital systems” is the space dimension, the satellites enabling the functioning of many of these crucial systems.

To ensure that the nation’s space systems can benefit from the legislation, coverage should be extended to all space systems engaged in the delivery of these vital services.

Canada has not designated space systems as constituting part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, although several allies such as Australia, France, and the United Kingdom have done so. At present there is a bill in the United States Congress that would designate space as the “critical infrastructure.” There are divided views in the American space industry as to the desirability of having a new regulatory regime apply. The United States has already issued guidance—through the administration’s Space Policy Directive #5—specifically directing a robust cyber defence posture for all space systems. It has also established a government-private sector joint working group on “Space Systems Critical Infrastructure” overseen by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Whether through expanded legislation or focused collaboration between governmental cyber security authorities and the space industry, it is imperative that action is taken to ensure that the highest standards of cyber defence are applied throughout Canada’s space sector. At a time of increasingly sophisticated and potent cyber attacks, we cannot afford to treat our space systems as if they were somehow out of reach of malevolent actors.

Paul Meyer is adjunct professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University, and a fellow of the Outer Space Institute.

The Hill Times