CNANW

The Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | Le Réseau canadien pour l’abolition des armes nucléaires

Reducing the Nuclear Weapons Risks in the Ukraine Conflict

Report on November 29, 2022 Special Meeting of CNANW

In a recent statement, NATO’s Secretary General, a former social-democratic Norwegian Prime Minster, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance will continue to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes”. He added: “We will not back down.” Prominent columnists have challenged the very idea that a ceasefire in the Ukraine crisis is possible or have even suggested that it might lengthen the war on Russian President Putin’s terms. Some press for a “fight to victory” by Kyiv, given recent gains on the battlefield. Sometimes the nuclear weapons threat is seen as blackmail, a bluff, or a risk worth ignoring.

How then can Canada constructively contribute to peace?

Panelists at the CNANW discussion in late November were asked to consider opportunities for reducing the nuclear weapon threat, and prospects for peace. All acknowledged the dire situation in Ukraine following the illegal Russian invasion.

Simpson: Russian-Ukraine war brings nuclear risk to level not seen since Cuban missile crisis

Winter is coming so Russia’s chokehold on European gas, superior tank manoeuvres on snow, and increased mobilization effort foretell a conventional advantage.

The Hill Times, October 10, 2022

The Russian-Ukraine crisis may pose a greater risk of nuclear use than the Cuban missile crisis 60 years ago this month. According to the Ukrainian president’s head office, Andriy Yermak the country’s intelligence agencies believe there is a “very high” risk that Russia might use tactical nuclear weapons. Experts caution that Moscow’s leader is “desperate,” and like a cornered rat, President Vladimir Putin may use nuclear weapons to force the enemy to back down, a part of Russian military doctrine known as escalate to de-escalate.

Last month, Putin’s thinly veiled nuclear threat as he ordered a partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists stated that Russia would “use all the means at our disposal” to defend its territory. But the White House’s warnings have been stark, and U.S. President Joe Biden made it clear at the UN General Assembly that Russia’s threats would be opposed. More recently, he warned the world could face “Armageddon,” assessing the nuclear risk at its highest in 60 years. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview on the sidelines of the assembly, confirmed that the United States sent warnings to Russia to steer clear of nuclear war. Former CIA director and retired four-star army general David Petreus explicitly warned the U.S. and its allies would destroy Russia’s troops and equipment in Ukraine—as well as sink its Black Sea fleet—if the Russian president uses nuclear weapons.

War is folly and assuredly Putin’s inner circle must be questioning the ill-fated decision to attack Kiev to topple Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government. Putin’s attempt to liberate the Donbas region by sheer force, not persuasion, and sham legislation purporting to formally annex four Ukrainian regions—Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia—cannot obscure the reality that Russia’s military does not yet control the war-torn territory and Russia’s reign would be tenuous for generations to come.

Ukrainian troops are retaking more territory in regions illegally annexed by Russia and making breakthroughs in the east and south, recapturing villages and liberating settlements. However, Russian forces struck targets far from the front line last week, purportedly using self-destructing, Iran-supplied drones to hit the city of Bila Tserkva, south of Kiev. The entire Crimean peninsula, annexed in 2014, is also under constant threat due to Ukraine’s sinking of the Russian warship Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet. Russian submarines might not be able to safely harbor there and might have to be redeployed to the Arctic and Baltic Sea.

Winter is coming so Russia’s chokehold on European gas, superior tank manoeuvres on snow, and increased mobilization effort foretell a conventional advantage. However, Ukraine will receive even more sophisticated weapons, in part because the horror of discovering mass graves and tortured Ukrainian bodies lessens the United States’ reluctance to ratchet up the conflict by filling Ukraine’s war chest with billions of dollars of military aid.

Forebodingly, Putin’s speeches are replete with references to the neo-Nazis and the neo-Nazi coup-appointed regime in Ukraine. The leader’s preoccupation with defending the motherland from “Western pseudo-values” may signal a return in his mind to the Siege of Leningrad, where he was born and over a million died. How to defy and reassure a paranoid, violent man who holds all the levers of power and is neither subject to democracy nor beholden to others in his inner cabal?

History is replete with evidence that men fear knives borne by men within the inner circle who stab the strongest in the back. As Thomas Hobbes warns, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest by secret machination or confederacy.” The account of the Last Supper in the King James Bible highlights Jesus’s disciple Judas’s betrayal of him. Former U.S. president Donald Trump was betrayed by close aides, from Steve Bannon to his daughter Ivanka. There are legions of legendary stories of betrayal because, in their pursuit of power, leaders cast aside sycophants who become marginalized, secret enemies.

Irrational, vengeful followers may fully support decisions by autocratic men, like Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, or Trump to use nuclear weapons. But the nuclear taboo has become much stronger since the Cuban missile crisis because so much more is known about the effects of nuclear winter, even from the use of 50 tactical nuclear weapons, merely 0.3 per cent of the world’s arsenal. Russian doctrine allows local commanders to use tactical nuclear weapons to stave off defeat, or loss of Russian territory. But if Russia crosses the line, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser to the White House disclosed the United States will respond decisively.

China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi are preaching caution to Putin directly, not mincing their words. At the same time, opposition is growing in Russian cities and remote villages in far-flung regions to mobilizing untrained men to become more cannon fodder. Putin’s recent claim that the United States created a precedent for the use of nuclear weapons with its bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 seemed to imply that if the West continues to support Kyiv and send weapons to Ukraine, he could resort to the nuclear option.

As each day passes, the nuclear threats Putin has made, veiled in self-pity and grandiosity, make the threat of an above-ground demonstration shot of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine’s east more credible. Putin’s aggressive threats lower the threshold for nuclear use and increase the risk of nuclear conflict and global catastrophe. The likelihood of nuclear use today may be more—or less—than it was back in late February, but unlikely events happen all the time. Nuclear threats are bluffs—until the catastrophic day they are not.

Nevertheless, the norm of non-use can act as a powerful restraint on leaders, just as it did in 1962 during the executive committee’s decision-making process in the United States. Once the Cuban missile crisis ended, significant steps that led to nuclear disarmament were taken, including the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. If this crisis ends safely, frightened world leaders will need to strongly promote stability, peace, and security.

Erika Simpson is a professor of international politics at Western University, the president of the Canadian Peace Research Association, and the co-author of How to De-escalate Dangerous Nuclear Weapons and Force Deployments in Europe.

“NWC Reset: Frameworks for a nuclear-weapon-free world”

Brief comments at the NPT side panels
(by Robin Collins, Co-chair, Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)
August 9, 2022 by Zoom

“Don’t let your reticence with one approach for the sake of alliance solidarity be the excuse of convenience that you use to justify not proceeding with another.

A colleague in Canada recently asked us to imagine that day when “You wake up to the news that the last remaining warhead has been dismantled. The era of nuclear weapons is over.”

We know he wasn’t being overly optimistic, because he then offered a list of many of the hard cases and sticky problems that obstruct us: the nuclear sharing policies of NATO; North Korea; Iran; the nuclear weapons states outside the NPT, and all those NPT obligations and expectations that to a large extent are unfulfilled or are openly violated. 

He was urging us to be realists and to consider the complementarity of options.

The point is that the specific vehicle must defer to the desire and commitment by states to accomplish the abolition. What will inspire the political will to end the existential threat hanging over us all? What are the unnecessary obstacles?

As nuclear weapon abolitionists we can make the project of abolition and the replacement security framework coherent and as palatable as possible so that when the road is cleared, or clearer, things can as easily as possible fall into place. Which package, or options picked, is far less important. What counts is that the goal is pursued in earnest.

As Jackie Cabasso, one of our Abolition 2000 working group members said earlier at the NPT as an NGO representative — considering the ignoring of NPT commitments from 1995, 2000 and 2010, it’s time to refocus our attention on the nuclear-armed states. A time-bound target for abolition is overdue. Jackie said: we “call on the nuclear-armed and nuclear sharing states to commit to a timeframe of no later than 2030 for the adoption of a framework, package of agreements or comprehensive nuclear weapons convention, and no later than 2045 for full implementation”.

The Nuclear Weapon Convention Reset paper that our Abolition 2000 working group constructed, has this approach, which is to highlight the three primary options that are under consideration: Then it is up to the official and unofficial Nuclear Weapon States, NATO members and NATO umbrella states to proceed.

Proceed swiftly. 

Canada, my country, has no nuclear weapons although was involved in the nuclear bomb project from the early days, and is a member of NATO, along with three nuclear-armed states, five others with nuclear-sharing arrangements[i] and seven others that participate in Support of Nuclear Operations With Conventional Air Tactics (known as SNOWCAT).[ii] 

We are fully aware of the pressures on NATO members towards their being compliant and in solidarity with other NATO members, to go along with the prevailing winds – and therefore also the reluctance to push back or be that nuclear nag (once again). This is still the case, particularly in the most delicate of moments, by which I mean the current context of the Russian illegal invasion of Ukraine: the sabre-rattling rhetoric, the references to actual use of nuclear weapons. Not to mention the daily killing and dying. But just as the New START talks need to continue, now more than ever, so is this a good time for states to speed up, not slow down, progress on abolition.

Countries like Canada may have been involved at the Stockholm Initiative, a diplomatic forum that proposes risk reduction measures and a “stepping stones approach” to nuclear disarmament; or attended The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons this last June, but then avoided the TPNW like the plague, despite pressure from disarmament activists and many parliamentarians.

We are here pragmatically advocating for nuclear weapon states and NATO members to consider the options for disarmament that you can stomach. If not the TPNW with protocols, then a nuclear weapons convention or a framework of instruments. Don’t let your reticence with one approach for the sake of alliance solidarity be the excuse of convenience that you use to justify not proceeding with another. 

Some leader or leaders need to step up within NATO to break the silence and expose the illusory consensus, and begin the renewal of the abolition project, because, as the UN Secretary-General said, “Luck is no strategy!”

Our “Nuclear Weapons Convention Reset: Frameworks for a nuclear-weapon-free world” message, therefore, highlights this complementarity of three possibilities towards a time-bound abolition target, for de-escalation of the unhelpful rhetoric, for urgent risk reduction measures, and ultimately for a sustainable peace and common security wherein nuclear threats and nuclear weapons no longer exist. 

Thank you for your time.


[i] Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey

[ii] Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland and Romania

Peace Table for Ukraine and Russia

Canadian Pugwash Group hosted an online peace table panel, as response to a recent CNANW request.

The intent of the Canadian Pugwash Group Peace Table was to fulfill one of the actions recommended during the November 29, 2022 Special Meeting of Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW): To reduce the nuclear weapons risks in the Ukraine conflict, “Civil society can establish an international forum to coordinate an exchange of views towards a peaceful outcome.”

As a community of peace, we felt deeply concerned about the continuing deaths, as well as the physical and environmental destruction occurring due to the Ukraine crisis, and most critically, by the heightened risk of the use of nuclear weapons. We therefore sought to create an opportunity for discussion of a path to a ceasefire and peace negotiations. One ambitious goal is to inspire Presidents Zelensky and Putin, and indeed, all the involved governments as well as civil society.

The Peace Table for Ukraine and Russia was hosted via Zoom on 27 April 2023. Ernie Regehr (a CPG member and author of Disarming Conflict: Why Peace Cannot Be Won on the Battlefield)  was the moderator. Sylvie Lemieux (CPG member and co-chairperson CNANW) was the facilitator of the discussion.

The four guest speakers were:
1. Wolfgang Sporrer, Adjunct Professor- Conflict Management, The Hertie School, Berlin/German (OSCE, Minsk Accords),
2. Sergio Duarte, former UN High Representative for Disarmament,
3. Sergey Batsanov, Russian diplomatic service from 1975 to 1993, former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, currently Director of the Geneva Office of Pugwash Conferences, and
4. Mariia Levchenko, Peacebuilding Officer with Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR).

Peace Table Working Group members: Dr. Sylvie Lemieux, Bev Delong and Robin Collins. With support from Ernie Regehr, Cesar Jaramillo and Adele Buckley.

EN / FR