The Dissent of a 90-Year-Old

Douglas Roche (right), with Reiner Braun (co-President International Peace Bureau) and Steven Staples (left)

Address by Hon. Douglas Roche, O.C.
Presentation of Sean MacBride Peace Prize, Toronto, April 25, 2019

“A 90-year-old man appears before you, sighing not for the past but crying for the future. It is not my lost youth that I pine for but a lost future for my grandchildren and their children. Nuclear weapons and climate change threaten their very existence. I dissent from public policies today that will lead to their world being blown up or burned up.

“Much of my public career, which started nearly a half-century ago, has been marked by dissent, and I’m not stopping my protest now. I dissent from the anti-humanitarian policies of war for peace. I dissent from the perpetuation of poverty through the greed of the rich. I dissent from the despoliation of the planet by short-sighted industrialism. Most of all, I dissent from the fabric of lies spun by the proponents of nuclear weapons who would have us believe that these heinous instruments of mass murder make us safer.

“Governments go on pretending that the military doctrine of nuclear deterrence will bring security and that the half measures of a carbon tax will curb global warming. But these policies are failing. We are in a climate emergency and continued global warming threatens to make huge areas of earth uninhabitable. Likewise, a new nuclear arms race is underway and the current modernization of the 15,000 nuclear weapons held by nine states increases the chances of a nuclear war that would wreck the environment and trigger global famine.

“It is not hard to predict that nuclear weapons will one day be used if they continue to proliferate among countries, to foresee rising terrorism that exploits discrimination and inhuman living conditions, to anticipate that rising temperatures and waters will forces the dislocation of millions of people who will swamp already overcrowded systems.

“These threats to humanity ought to spark outrage, for they are caused by human folly.

“We in Canada, this land blessed beyond belief with natural resources of land, minerals, forests and water, bear a special responsibility in building humane global policies. We used to be a world leader in implementing the broad U.N. agenda for peace. Now our silence is deafening.

“It isn’t that globalization is just too much for us to figure out, that we lack the brainpower or international instruments to bring stability to the world in the midst of change. Far from it. We have immense stores of knowledge and, in the United Nations, the essential machinery to address the problems of armaments, poverty, pollution, and human rights violations. But the captains of our society — the politicians, the diplomats, the media and the corporate structures — cannot, do not, will not, all to varying degrees, lift up their vision and work together to make Canada a driver in preserving the world as a fitting habitat for all humanity.

“I want a world that is human-centred and genuinely democratic, a world that builds and protects peace, equality, justice and development. I want a world in which human security as envisioned in the principles of the U.N. Charter, replaces armaments, violent conflict and wars. I want a world in which everyone lives in a clean environment with a fair distribution of the earth’s resources. and international law protects human rights.

“Since governments have shown that they cannot muster the political will to build true human security, civil society must step in. In fact, it is the leading edge of civil society that is today advancing the ideas of nonviolence that are at the core of the human right to peace. In the great world transformation we are living through — moving from a culture of war to a culture of peace —the real creativity is found in civil society movements. The International Peace Bureau, the Pugwash movement, Public Response and Peace Magazine, all represented here tonight, provide us with the hope we need to go on working for peace.

“I have found that, for me, personal creativity is the best way to express my dissent. The two groups that I have led, Parliamentarians for Global Action and the Middle Powers Initiative, provided outlets for me to inject energy into the political systems. Dissent can become creative when we care enough about failed public policies to do something to move forward. Out of our griefs and anxieties, we build a new basis of hope.

“What I feel most is that the human journey cannot be stopped. We are often, in spite of ourselves, raising up our civilization. An alliance of civilizations lies ahead — if we can avoid blowing up or burning up the earth. The photograph of Earth taken from space by the astronauts reveals our wholeness and, street fighting notwithstanding, our unity as a human family. Our vulnerability is apparent, but so is our strength — in knowledge, technology and creativity.

“I suppose I won’t see the world of my dreams. Time is running out for me. But I am not unhappy about that. I have had a marvellous life and I know how blessed I am. To have had such opportunities as a journalist, educator, Member of Parliament, ambassador and senator is a rare privilege. To have participated in the struggles of our time to advance human security has developed me as a person. To have been sustained by the love and support of my family has enriched me in countless ways.

“Even though I am often in dissent at the news of the day, I am at peace with the world, and I think I have found peace within myself. This is perhaps another paradox, like the world going in two directions at the same time. Because I want peace in the world so much, I feel it, and this, in turn, makes me want to keep working for it. I could not stand up and lecture about peace or write books about it if I did not feel peace within me. The words of the prophet Isaiah guide me: ‘Peace, peace to the far and near, says the Lord, and I will guide them.’

“Though relinquishing positions of responsibility, I’ll go on working for peace until God decides otherwise. The grandstand has no appeal for me. I’ll never quit this work. There’s too much to do.”

Bleak prospects for the ‘cornerstone’ Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

OpenCanada.org | May 16, 2019

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is set to mark the 50th anniversary of its coming into force at its 2020 review conference. Whether this will be an occasion for celebration or lamentation is an open question: Will the progress made in global nuclear governance over half a century be jeopardized by irresponsible state action now?

The 190 states that are party to this cornerstone of the global security order met in New York recently, between April 27 and May 10, for the final preparatory session before the May 2020 review conference. The mood was decidedly downbeat at the session and “external events,” as a senior UN official present said, weighed “heavily on these proceedings.” Strong disagreements among participating states prevented a consensus endorsement of the chair’s concluding recommendations, which had to be issued under his personal authority.

The failure of the last review conference in 2015 will put additional pressure on the 2020 gathering to produce some form of agreement that will demonstrate that the three “pillars” of the NPT — nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy — are being implemented in a balanced fashion. However, without a radical re-prioritization of the NPT on the part of key states, the current foreign policy context suggests that the prospects for success are bleak. In the absence of such remedial action, the threat to the continued viability and authority of the treaty is great.

This list of problems the NPT faces is lengthy, varied and growing. Among the most prominent: the failure of the five nuclear weapon states to fulfill their nuclear disarmament commitments set out in Article VI of the treaty and their unchecked engagement in what can only be described as a new nuclear arms race; the recent US and Russian withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; and lack of apparent interest to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which would mean the end of any legally-binding constraints on their nuclear arsenals.

In addition, what had been heralded as a successful multilateral diplomatic effort to curtail the Iranian nuclear program, the so-called JCPOA agreement, is now imperiled by the US withdrawal. Its aggressive imposition of sanctions on other states trading with Iran has now prompted an Iranian reaction that threatens to kill the deal entirely.

There are several other serious problems including the defection of North Korea from the NPT and its overt development of nuclear weapons., and the rift between supporters and opponents of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which the former say complements the NPT and the latter says undermines it.

Combine these with the continued lack of progress to universalize the NPT (India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea with their nuclear weapons remain outside), and it is a wonder that the NPT retains any credibility as a framework for global nuclear governance.

Abandoning the step-by-step approach for…the impossible?

At this critical juncture for the NPT, the United States has decided to turn its back on implementation of commitments agreed to at past review conferences in favour of a re-imagining of the enterprise as one of “let’s pretend we can fashion a better world.”

Using its leverage as a sort of hegemon for the NPT, the US has set out a future course of action for the treaty parties that constitutes a major departure from previous nuclear policy orthodoxy. The new US approach was unveiled initially in a working paper entitled “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament,” submitted to the April 2018 NPT preparatory gathering. Its contents were elaborated on by its author, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation Christopher Ford, in remarks delivered on April 30 at a side-event during the recent NPT proceedings.

Ford essentially argued that the traditional “step-by-step” approach with a focus on nuclear arms reduction between the US and Russia had failed in that bilateral context, and had also ignored the nuclear build-ups of China, India and Pakistan. A new discourse was necessary that would be more realistic than the old in addressing the “conditions” that would be conducive to further disarmament.

These conditions, as detailed in the 2018 working paper, range from relatively modest measures such as adoption of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s additional protocol to strengthen international safeguards agreements, to fundamental transformations of inter-state relations until they are no longer “driven by assumptions of zero-sum geopolitical competition but are instead cooperative and free of conflict.”

To put it in other terms, when the lion lays down with the lamb, and milk and honey flow, we might hope to see some disarmament.

The fact that the Article VI commitment on cessation of the arms race and the negotiation in good faith of nuclear disarmament is not conditioned in this or in any other way does not seem to have concerned Ford. Nor did the fact that the US approach is at odds with the successive, specific steps towards nuclear disarmament agreed to at the 2000 and 2010 review conferences. The NPT’s legal and political commitments on nuclear disarmament, agreed to by all states parties, is apparently only so much “old think” to Washington. Ford also presented another paper outlining how the US initiative — now renamed “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (an example of “green washing” perhaps) — was to be implemented.

Although lip service was paid to establishing a “diverse” international working group to pursue the initiative, the US clearly wishes to remain in the driver seat and will be the one to decide which states are invited to the inaugural meeting to be held in Washington this summer. The limited number to be included will be asked for their views on the US ideas, but with a secretariat from the State Department and clear control of the agenda, this will likely produce a “Made in America” process, with participation limited to suitably deferential allies and partners. It will serve US interests in providing a distraction from the deeply disturbing deterioration in implementation of NPT-originated commitments and will enable the US to point to a “process” and “fresh thinking” in the runup to the 2020 review conference.

Some shiny tinsel in the window, however, doesn’t hide the fact that the US initiative, with its dismissal of the “step-by-step” approach as unrealistic and ineffectual, pulls the rug out from underneath its nuclear-dependent allies, including Canada, who have dutifully argued that “step-by-step” is the only practical way to make progress on nuclear disarmament. What contortions are they now going to have to go through to align themselves with the new gospel from Washington? Having been supporters of an NPT-centric approach to global nuclear governance, rooted in treaty obligations and the political commitments made at successive review conferences, these non-nuclear weapon states will be hard pressed to acknowledge that this focus was misguided. Which among them will be brave enough to speak truth to power and point out that if the US wishes to improve the current security environment, it could start by returning to compliance with existing international commitments?

Ignoring this diplomatic legacy to embrace a discussion group on remedying the ills of the world, before realization of nuclear disarmament can be contemplated, will expose participating states to domestic criticism and deflect from more relevant preparatory work. Such side-shows, alas, will also further erode the credibility of the NPT as the central framework for global nuclear affairs.

True friends of the NPT will, in the leadup to 2020, need to decide whether to keep the focus on implementation of the goals and commitments endorsed by the treaty, or to turn their back on this and embrace the new faith of “environment” creation. The NPT’s future viability could largely depend on their choice.

The NPT: A Make or Break Review Conference in 2020?

Remarks by Paul Meyer, Strategies for Advancing towards a World Without Nuclear Weapons, Canadian Pugwash Group side-event, NPT PrepCom, May 1, 2019, New York

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is set to mark the 50th anniversary of its coming into force at its 2020 Review Conference. Whether this will be an occasion for celebration or lamentation is a real question. While there have been numerous challenges for the NPT over the course of the last 50 years and since the treaty’s indefinite extension in 1995, I believe it is fair to say that the current context is the most threatening one ever faced with the potential to strike at the continued viability and authority of the treaty.

This list of problems is lengthy, varied and growing. Among the most prominent: the deep failure of the NWS to fulfill their Article VI disarmament commitments and their unchecked engagement in a new nuclear arms race under the guise of “force modernization” ; the US and Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty, and lack of apparent interest to extend the New START accord; the US withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran threatening the viability of that promising multilateral effort to limit the Iranian nuclear program; the defection of North Korea from the NPT, its overt development of nuclear weapons and delivery system and the failure of a US-led effort to negotiate Korean denuclearization; the rift within NPT members between NWS and their allies on one hand and non-nuclear weapon states on the other that has opened up with the conclusion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the failure to bring the CTBT into force and the more brazen failure to even begin negotiation of an FMCT despite decade long commitments to achieve this, and last if not least, the perennial failure to convene a conference on a Middle East WMD-free zone despite repeated promises to do so. Combine this was the continued failure to universalize the treaty and indeed the effort by several NWS to reward India for its rejection of the treaty via nuclear cooperation agreements, and it is a wonder that the NPT retains any credibility as a framework for global nuclear governance.

While the TPNW has enabled many non-nuclear weapon states to regain a sense of agency in defining a new route to achieve the Art VI goal of nuclear disarmament, it has also sparked some action on the part of the NWS. After a couple year break the P5 resumed their annual meetings with a session in Beijing at the end of January. Their commitment to transparency had degenerated further as no public statement was released, reflecting the extent of disagreement amongst them. They weren’t even able to trumpet some further additions to their celebrated glossary of nuclear terms.

The United States has for its part set out a proposed future course of action for the NPT that constituted a major departure from previous orthodoxy. Unveiled initially in a working paper entitled “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament” submitted to the 2018 NPT PrepCom, its contents were elaborated on by its evident author, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, Christopher Ford in remarks made at a Wilton Park conference in December.

Ford essentially argued that the traditional “step-by-step” approach with a focus on nuclear arms reduction between the US and Russia had failed and it had also ignored the nuclear build-ups of China, India and Pakistan. A new discourse was necessary that would be more realistic than the old in addressing the “conditions” that would be conducive to further disarmament.
These conditions as enumerated in the working paper range from specific measures such as adoption of the Additional Protocol for safeguard, to fundamental transformations of inter-state relations until they are no longer “driven by assumptions of zero-sum geopolitical competition but are instead cooperative and free of conflict”. That is, when the lion lays down with the lamb and milk and honey flow in the land, we might hope to see some disarmament.

The fact that the Art VI commitment is not conditioned in this or any way, does not seem to have concerned Ford. Nor did the fact that the US approach is incompatible with the successive, specific steps towards nuclear disarmament agreed to at the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences. The NPT’s legal and political commitments on nuclear disarmament, agreed to by all states parties, is apparently only so much “old think” to Washington.

Ford also in his December remarks outlined the process that would be utilized to undertake the new “conditions” endeavor. It would mirror that employed in the earlier US-led International Program on Nuclear Disarmament Verification, with an international working group whose members would be chosen by the US on the basis of their commitment to the new approach and capacity “to provide constructive contributions”. This WG would be overseen by a US secretariat and should be fully operational by the 2020 RevCon. Ford was here yesterday at the PrepCom presenting a new Working Paper #43 entitled “Operationalizing the CEND Initiative”. In did not provide much new information beyond stating that the initial plenary of the CEND will be held in Washington this summer. Despite the reference to diversity it still seems that the US will make the decisions on who to invite to this meeting which would have “limited participation”.

It appears that in subsequent test marketing of the new approach with the P5 and allies there was opposition to using the term “conditions” and so the initiative has been re-branded as “Creating the Environment for Nuclear Disarmament”. The evident risk that the nuclear club apparently saw was that if one specifies conditions there is a remote chance that they can be fulfilled, and one would then be obligated to do something on nuclear disarmament. Much preferable is the completely vague and subjective term “environment”. Any NWS can then stick their hand out the window and conclude that the “environment” is not conducive for nuclear disarmament.

Fudge factor aside, the US initiative with its dismissal of the “step-by-step” approach as unrealistic and ineffectual pulls the rug out from underneath its nuclear-dependent allies who have dutifully argued that “step-by-step” is the only practical way to make progress on nuclear disarmament. What contortions are they now going to have to go through to align themselves with the new gospel from the Washington? Having been supporters of a NPT-centric approach to global nuclear governance, rooted in treaty obligations and the collective political commitments made at successive Review Conferences, these NNWS will be hard pressed to acknowledge that this focus was misguided and they had been mired in a “sterile discourse” on implementation. Jettisoning all this to embrace an open-ended discussion group on remedying the ills of the world, before realization of nuclear disarmament can be contemplated, will certainly expose them to domestic criticism and further erode the credibility of the NPT as the framework for global nuclear affairs.

Friends of the NPT will, in the leadup to 2020, need to decide whether to work within the goals and commitments endorsed by the treaty, or to turn their back on this and embrace the new faith of “environment” creation. The NPT’s future viability will depend on their choice.

Move the Nuclear Weapons Money

Report on the conference held in Basel, Switzerland 12-13 April 2019

The conference entitled “Move the Nuclear Weapons Money” that took place in Basel, 12-13 April, was a particularly encouraging experience. Many possible new avenues for discouraging the arms trade and even nuclear weapons were introduced, and a most impressive list of invited participants was present. It would be hard to determine whether listening to the speakers, or interacting with them between and after sessions was the more valuable. Two German ex-parliamentarians and one from Norway were present, as well as Margaret Kiener Nellen, MP in the Swiss National Council and Fabian Hamilton, British MP for Leeds North since 1997; and many others from a great variety of backgrounds. As well as significant others who came simply to listen to the proceedings. Today I received the official conference report (click or tap to open).

The report speaks very well for itself and for the speakers, though any emphasis was of course that of the writers. In this sense, the conference deserves some additional comment on the specifics of divestment.

One can divest for more than one reason. Divestment is important for reasons of conscience, and it can be important strategically. An example of the former reason was exemplified by the talk of the Quaker, Chayley Collis, of Huddersfield, England. A paper by Rudolf Rechsteiner, President of the Ethos Foundation, dealt with the strategic aspects of divestment. Rechsteiner’s thorough investigation of the effects of divestment—where it might or is unlikely to succeed—was for me the highlight of the conference. So far, only his ppt presentation is available—see website given near the end of this report.

Other outstanding presentations were by Robert Smith, Jürgen Grässlin, and Bärbel Höhn, to mention only three of the many. Höhn’s activism for the Green Party in Germany includes many successes both within and outside of parliament.

Pugwash members will also be interested in the participation of Marzhan Nurzhan from Kazakhstan, who is a member of Young Pugwash and not only gave one of the talks but chaired one of the sessions, and was part of the staff organizing the conference.

As a general comment on the conference, I felt that it was a meeting of fine heads, all or almost all of whom are stuck in the current style of economy, in which money or its absence determines what happens. And that is not unreasonable, because it is the status quo. But I remember the words of economist Mary Kaldor1 in 1981, when she said “You will never get disarmament as long as we have the current form of economy.” It took me years to learn that lesson, but, today, nobody could be more convinced than I am of the truth of what she said. The traditional economy demands arms manufacture, because it doesn’t include a healthy ecosphere as part of its domain, and without arms manufacture, one cannot maximize production and the throughput of raw materials from extraction to their final resting place—a constant economic objective. I intervened after Alyn Ware’s paper, the last on the second day. Alyn had said how good it would be to have the money now used for military production in order to carry out peaceful programs for addressing climate change and achieving sustainability—a sentiment that has often been expressed and is agreeable to peace-loving people. I pointed out that addressing climate change is so urgent that we must not wait until military budgets decline hugely. The necessary funds must be produced by new means, such as issuance of new money from publicly-owned banks at zero interest.

Notes

Some papers (speeches) and a few PowerPoint presentations from the conference can be read at website: Move the nuclear weapons money: Investing in a Sustainable Future 

I am currently urging the conference organizers to increase the number of such “speeches” on their website, but it looks as if most of those likely to arrive are already on the website.

What’s at stake when restraints on nuclear powers go out the window?

First published in opencanada.org

With disappearing restraints on the nuclear systems of Russia and the United States, the atmosphere at a recent nuclear policy conference in Washington was unsurprisingly a mix of gloom and dismay.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has hosted a major conference in Washington devoted to issues of nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament every two years since its inaugural gathering in 1989, drawing diplomats and security experts from around the world. This year’s version, which took place on March 11-12, had 800 attendees plus another 400 participating remotely (and, as the convenors proudly proclaimed, was the first to achieve full gender parity in terms of speakers and moderators.)

The conference provides an unrivalled platform for policy wonks to take the pulse of current strategic postures and programs. However, this year the pulse of arms control was hard to detect. The gloomy atmosphere reflected the mood of most participants. With a background of the withdrawal in February of the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia and the lack of any evident commitment to an extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which limits strategic nuclear systems and which expires in February 2021, it seems likely that the last remaining treaty restraints on the nuclear systems of these opposing powers will disappear.

Combine this with the failure at the February Hanoi Summit to conclude any agreement on North Korean denuclearization, the recent resumption of military clashes across the Line of Control between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, a major rift within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) community and last year’s US rejection of the Iran JCPOA nuclear deal; it is no wonder that pessimism on the future of cooperative security and nuclear restraint was pouring out faster than the coffee during the conference breaks.

One seasoned European diplomat described the situation as “worse than the Cold War,” with strategic dialogue suspended and nuclear powers moving away from pure deterrence postures and engaging again in arms racing (aka “modernization”) and sabre-rattling.

Having last attended the Carnegie conference in 2013, the contrast between the relatively upbeat mood under the Obama administration and the sense the arms control community now has of being under siege with the duo of Donald Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton in the White House was striking. I came away with particular concerns over four areas: the breakdown of the US-Russian strategic relationship, the current impasse in denuclearization talks with North Korea, the bleak prospects for the NPT, and Canada’s silence on the issues.

US-Russian relations

The breakdown of the bilateral strategic relationship between the two leading nuclear powers was a salient theme, with many participants urging a revival of the strategic stability talks that had been the vehicle for developing and sustaining the strategic arms control framework over decades.

The few Trump administration officials in attendance were of a different view — gamely suggesting that their policy line was the only correct one. A senior State Department speaker defended the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty as an exercise to “uphold standards” and was non-committal on an extension of New START, noting simply that an inter-agency dialogue was underway on this issue. A senior Department of Defense official from the Obama administration stressed that maintaining New START (and the verification and data exchange provisions that go with it) was very much in US interests. Former US Senator Sam Nunn, now the co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, decried that there seemed to be no political will in Washington to save the treaties.

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov reiterated Russia’s stance, saying that although the US claim of violation of the INF Treaty was a “fairy tale,” President Vladimir Putin had stated that Russia would not deploy ground-based missiles anywhere in the prohibited range unless the US had done so first. Antonov said that Russia would not get drawn into an expensive arms race with the US and dismissed allegations that Russia had adopted an “escalate to de-escalate” early use of nuclear weapons doctrine as “fake news” promoted by American interests behind development of “low-yield” warheads and new missile systems.

If these developments were not disturbing enough, a session on “Nuclear Command and Control Vulnerability” raised the spectre of cyber attacks on early warning or command and control (C2) systems which might prompt a “use it or lose it” reaction and put further pressure on crisis decision-making. A Chinese expert warned that when combined with shortened flight times of new hypersonic missiles and the conflation of conventional and nuclear systems the strategic situation was “more risky than ever before.”

Antonov and other Russian experts argued for a revival of the strategic stability talks for managing the increasingly complicated relationship. This call for resumed dialogue was supported by many participants who criticized the downgrading of diplomatic approaches to addressing the geopolitical tensions and sustaining strategic stability in favour of military buildups.

One supportive voice on the US side was Democratic Representative Adam Smith, the new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who called for restarting the arms control process and re-opening strategic communication channels. He also suggested that the US can achieve nuclear deterrence with far fewer warheads. Echoing some of the concerns of the cyber experts, Smith said his priorities included securing nuclear command and control and developing US capacities for cyber and information warfare. He emphasized the need to work with allies rather than “badger them,” characterizing Trump’s “America First” posture as “a moronic foreign policy.”

The failed Hanoi Summit and the elusive goal of denuclearization

Steve Biegun, Trump’s Special Representative for North Korea, gave a keynote speech that downplayed the failure of last month’s Hanoi Summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to yield an agreement on denuclearization, suggesting that the US was playing a long game and that Trump had set no timeline for negotiations.

Biegun defended not agreeing to any partial easing of UN sanctions, saying that this would only allow for new funds to be directed into weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. He said the US was seeking the comprehensive elimination of all WMD arsenals and facilities including all dimensions of the nuclear fuel cycle. This would require intrusive verification to ensure that a North Korean declaration was accurate, and that disarmament would be irreversible. He noted in this regard that the establishment of permanent liaison offices in the North would be essential in support of this effort.

Biegun expressed support for confidence-building measures (CBMs) underway in the demilitarized zone that had been developed between North and South Korea and indicated that certain CBMs were being discussed in the US-North Korean track as well. When challenged as to why North Korea would put any faith in an eventual agreement with the US, given the latter’s withdrawal from the JCPOA despite Iran’s compliance with its terms, Biegun side-stepped the question by asserting that the US was engaged in a much broader endeavour with North Korea, not merely a nuclear deal. Biegun defended the current approach of the Trump administration, saying that it was the only one that had succeeded in directly engaging the North’s “main decision maker.”

The Non-Proliferation Treaty under threat

How the current bleak prospects for nuclear arms control and disarmament would impact the NPT (the global treaty governing nuclear affairs with 190 states parties) and its 2020 Review Conference was an underlying concern at the conference.

Trump administration officials took a “not to worry” stance, pointing to resumed talks amongst the P5 nuclear weapon states in Beijing in January (although disagreement amongst them prevented the issuance of any statement).

The US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation trotted out the old figures of an 88 percent reduction in the nuclear arsenal since the peak of the Cold War without any reference to the current build-up or the absence of any arms reduction negotiations. He championed the US proposal for a “creating the conditions for nuclear disarmament” working group, although this terminology has now been changed to “creating the environment for” (an even vaguer term).

The Russian ambassador was much blunter in his assessment, stating that if the strategic arms control framework is allowed to collapse, the NPT Review Conference will be “a disaster.” If the present trends continue, what results on nuclear disarmament will the nuclear powers be able to present to the NPT membership, he asked, noting that the NPT regime would be easy to destroy and difficult to rebuild.

The significance for the NPT of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (which currently has 70 signatories and 22 ratifications en route to the 50 required for the treaty’s entry into force) was fiercely debated at one panel. The French Foreign Ministry’s director of strategic affairs decried the treaty for its “divisive effects” and supposed weaknesses, while supporters argued that it was the failure of the nuclear weapon states to deliver on their nuclear disarmament commitments that had prompted the prohibition treaty. The upcoming NPT PrepCom in New York (April 29-May 10) will provide further evidence as to whether the NPT membership will be able to transcend the failure of the 2015 Review Conference and find some common ground at the 2020 meeting.
Canada’s silence

It is perhaps reflective of the decline of Canadian engagement in the arena of nuclear affairs that, to my knowledge, no Canadians figured amongst the panellists at the Carnegie conference. What the Canadian view of these developments consisted of was not a matter of concern for the organizers. Indeed, official Canadian statements on the key nuclear challenges facing the international community are few and far between. Despite urging from several Canadian NGOs, the government has not spoken out in favour of maintaining the strategic restraint regime represented by the INF and New START treaties.

Concerns over the deteriorating strategic situation had prompted the House of Commons Committee on National Defence to recommend unanimously last summer that the government take a leadership role at NATO to initiate discussion of these risks and what can be done to counter them. Specifically, the Committee’s recommendation #21 reads in part “That the Government of Canada take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons. That this initiative be undertaken on an urgent basis in view of the increasing threat of nuclear conflict…”. The government essentially ignored this operational direction in its response to the Committee’s report, offering up only boiler plate text on existing positions. Leadership on these issues within NATO, it seems, would have to come from some other member state.

Ostrich-like evasive postures are not appropriate at this point in time, when the risks of nuclear weapon use, be it from calculation or miscalculation, are elevated and the cooperative restraint regimes of the past are rapidly fraying. If some of the destructive consequences of the current impasse, outlined at the conference, come to pass, Canada will not be immune from their effects, and people may well ask: what did Canada do to prevent them?