Member Publications: Member views not necessarily those of CPG.

Polanyi: We cannot give up on the dream of nuclear disarmament

November 6, 2023
Globe and Mail, OPINION

John Polanyi is Professor emeritus at the University of Toronto who won the 1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry. This text is adapted from remarks he gave last month at Revitalizing Nuclear Disarmament After the Ukraine War, a round-table discussion in Ottawa.

When I was a young chemist at the University of Toronto in 1961, I found myself drawn into the central debate of the age. The Globe and Mail’s pages were discussing nuclear war, asking “if war comes, would we survive?” The question is as valid today as 62 years ago, but we have learned a little in the interim.

In March, 1961, John Gellner, The Globe’s military commentator, wrote these surprising words on the defeatism that marked the mood of the time: “That humanity can survive a nuclear war, and carry on after it, has been established not by the sort of freewheeling speculation that the proponents of surrender generally indulge, but by a thorough scientific enquiry conducted by the U.S. RAND Corporation.” Basing his remarks on his reading of the 1961 RAND report, On Thermonuclear War, by Herman Kahn, Mr. Gellner went on to say, “If certain basic preparations have been made, economic recovery would be 60 per cent complete within one year of a nuclear attack launched against the U.S. in the early 1960s.” The population, he conceded, would have had to “rough it for a time, but could definitely pick themselves up.”

I responded to Mr. Gellner in the Globe of April 5, 1961, arguing that he had taken from Mr. Kahn’s book the absurdly optimistic and hazardous assumption that the victims of a nuclear attack would respond by evacuating all our sizable cities, thus (in my view) precipitating the greatest panic in history. This alarming debate in a respected newspaper did not pass unnoticed. I found myself invited to the office of the minister of foreign affairs at the time, Paul Martin Sr., in Ottawa. He seized his phone and asked to be connected to the House of Commons library. I heard the librarian explaining, apologetically, that Mr. Kahn’s book was presently unavailable since it had been borrowed by Lester Pearson, the prime minister.

My modest excursion into scientific activism had already led to an invitation to participate in a Pugwash Conference, a global disarmament meeting held in Moscow in 1960. On arrival in Moscow, I was handed a message from my host, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was confident, he said, that his demand for “universal and complete disarmament” would be accorded the meeting’s unanimous approval.

This was a worthy goal. I regarded it then as pie in the sky. But today I consider it the very best hope for mankind. This desired outcome, as Mr. Khrushchev stated it, was not to be achieved without incident. Two years later, the world was faced with unmistakable evidence of the secret emplacement of nuclear weapons in Cuba by the USSR. The contending nations had been plunged into what we know today as the Cuban Missile Crisis – 13 days in which the world teetered on the brink of all-out nuclear war.

What had happened to the unanimous desire for peace that Mr. Khrushchev anticipated? Had it become a casualty to the foolish complacency of the RAND report? Surely not. It derived from something more real than that. Despite the heartening embrace today by world leaders of the dictum that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” we continue to plan for nuclear war. This is the source of our peril.

It remains evident today in the sustained ambition of states to modernize every branch of nuclear weaponry, whether on land, sea or in the air. The reasoning behind this is simple; these weapons have the purpose of deterring an attack by an opponent who will then cease to be a threat. They exist, therefore, to do the thing that is avowed to be impossible, namely to win a nuclear war.

Last week, Vladimir Putin signed a law revoking Russia’s ratification of the global treaty banning nuclear testing. This is bad news, but fortunately, the 2011 New START Treaty is still in effect. Under that deal, the U.S. and Russia agreed to limit the number of nuclear warheads to 1,550. Each weapon is, however, a city-destroyer. Moreover, the accord is in the process of being weakened by pressure to increase the number of missiles to counter a rising China and to offset an increased pace of warfare anticipated in a world of AI.

For U.S. president John F. Kennedy, the possibility of the destruction of mankind was constantly on his mind. “If we err we do so not only for ourselves … but also for young people all over the world, who would have no say.”

Are we ready to assume that responsibility?

CNWC Award Lecture by Tariq Rauf: Ending the Perpetual Menace of Nuclear Weapons

“Following the Trinity nuclear test detonation of 16 th July 1945, nuclear scientist Leó Szilárd observed that, “Almost without exception, all the creative physicists had misgivings about the use of the bomb” and further that “Truman did not understand at all what was involved regarding nuclear weapons”. These days, the movie Oppenheimer has been the rage based on a noteworthy biography of Robert Oppenheimer entitled American Prometheus written by historians Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. Though the movie spares its viewers the horrors of the atomic bombing of Japan, it does reflect the warnings of the early nuclear weapon scientists about the long-term or permanent dangers of a nuclear arms race and associated risks of further nuclear weapons use. On the other hand, the film overlooks other historical works including A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and its Legacies also by Martin Sherwin, that disputes and negates the US government’s narrative about the necessity of using nuclear weapons twice over civilian targets in Japan and suggests that the decisions were driven mainly by geostrategic and prestige considerations – criteria still in operation today to justify continuing retention of nuclear weapons.”

October 23, 2023, University of Ottawa

Read on: Tariq Rauf: Ending Perpetual Menace of NW

Video of Tariq Rauf’s Presentation at CIPS

Walter Dorn: Canada is letting other nations do the heavy lifting on peacekeeping

Canada is letting other nations do the heavy lifting on peacekeeping,
published in the Globe and Mail, September 15, 2023

Walter Dorn is a Canadian Pugwash Group board member, and professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College. He is also a UN consultant and has deployed as a civilian to several peacekeeping operations.

Thirty years ago this month, Canadian forces engaged in combat with an unlikely opponent: Croatian forces violating a UN ceasefire and engaging in ethnic cleansing. The Battle of Medak Pocket included a 16-hour firefight, which was at the time Canada’s largest military battle since the Korean War. More surprising at that moment was that the Canadians were using force as part of UN peacekeeping. Up until that time, peacekeepers had almost never engaged in combat. This story of the use of force was so unusual for traditional peacekeeping that it was kept under wraps for 10 years by the Canadian government, which only started to publicly recognize the valour of the peacekeepers in December, 2002.

Fortunately, UN peacekeeping has become much more robust in the 21st century. This followed a groundbreaking Canadian-sponsored resolution on the protection of civilians at the UN Security Council in 1999, when Canada was last on the council. After that, the UN used armed force in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Central African Republic, South Sudan and in several other missions. It even deployed armed helicopters to some of the operations, saving cities, rescuing hostages and freeing citizens from gang lords.

Certainly, the use of armed force remains a dilemma for peacekeepers who seek to de-escalate conflict in war-torn areas of the world. But when civilians are about to be slaughtered or the peacekeepers themselves are under attack, force is absolutely justified. And it is essential that the UN responds effectively to save lives, alleviate more suffering and maintain its credibility.

The United Nations needs countries to provide combat-capable forces to its missions. Unfortunately, Canada is not among those nations any more. It promised a “quick reaction force” in 2017 but it has failed to deliver on that promise. In fact, Canada has only provided troops on two occasions in the past 20 years and these were brief deployments where Canadian soldiers never fired a shot for self-defence or the protection of civilians.

Over time, the Canadian Armed Forces has become much more risk-averse in UN peacekeeping. Other nations are doing the heavy lifting. The United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and Portugal, as well as many developing countries, have shown a willingness to use force to protect civilians and enforce peace in conflict-ridden lands.

Current Canadian political leaders are not requesting the Canadian forces to deploy in peacekeeping, even though the Liberal government has promised to re-engage in UN peacekeeping in the past three elections. In fact, the number of uniformed peacekeepers deployed as a monthly average under the Liberal government is half the number deployed by the previous Conservative government.

Currently Canada deploys only 35 military personnel to peacekeeping, out of the 68,000 that the UN has in the field. At the time of the Battle of Medak Pocket, Canada had 3,300 personnel in UN operations. Since 1956, when Canada proposed the first peacekeeping force, Canada deployed 1,000 peacekeepers or more at any given time over the following 40 years. But those days are long gone.

Canada still seeks to build a rules-based international order, but it must do much more to support the centre of that order, the United Nations. Peacekeeping is one of the world organization’s key instruments in alleviating human suffering and promoting peace.

What will it take for Canada to become a prolific peacekeeper again? It will need political leadership and growing practice, with military leaders willing and eager to learn the ins and outs of the UN. Most importantly, it will require that Canada summon the courage, commitment and tenacity that the Canadian soldiers once showed in Medak Pocket.

Sean Howard: Silencing the pacifists, rather than the guns

 Sean Howard’s essay is due to appear in The Cape Breton Spectator.


[M]embers of the Ukrainian Security Service, the SBU, break down the door of the Kyiv apartment of Yurii Sheliazhenko, Executive Secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, seizing his computer, smartphone, and other materials, informing him he is being charged with ‘justifying Russian aggression’.

The basis of the charge, Sheliazhenko was told, was the ‘Peace Agenda for Ukraine and the World’ adopted by the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement on September 21, 2022 – UN International Day of Peace – which indeed makes its position on Russia’s invasion clear:

Condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine, the UN General Assembly called for an immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and emphasized that parties to the conflict must respect human rights and international humanitarian law. We share this position.

For the complete article: 

CPG contributions to: Regional Security in the North, Nuclear Risks and Possible Solutions

Conference Proceedings from the webinar Regional Security in the North, Nuclear Risks and Possible Solutions are published on the Journal of Autonomy and Security Studies’ website, see .  The full text of eight articles is available on the website, and in pdf format.

Two articles by CPG members.  

Strategic Nuclear Patrols and an Arctic Military Code of Conduct:
Ernie Regehr

Destabilization of the Arctic:
Adele Buckley