Why Canada needs a cyber security foreign policy

Following is an op-ed inspired by the May 24 conference “War or Peace in Cyberspace: Whither International Cyber Security?” in Waterloo for which CPG was a co-sponsor.

Hill Times | June 14, 2018

War or peace in cyberspace? This basic question was the theme of a recent gathering of cyber security experts held at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ont. Unlike many such meetings, the focus was on international policy and the status to be accorded this vital, if vulnerable, environment.

There has been a steady “militarization” of cyberspace in recent years, with states moving from an exclusive focus on cyber defence to an open acknowledgement of offensive cyber capabilities.

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Canadian Action for Nuclear Disarmament

Address to “How to Save the World in a Hurry” Conference | Toronto | May 30, 2018

Metta Spencer, that valiant champion of how to save the world in a hurry, has urged us to speak briefly when addressing the immense question of planetary survival. In focusing on nuclear weapons, which are the paramount threat to global security, I can think of no more succinct warning than the operating principle agreed to by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev while the Cold war still raged:

A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.

Those twelve words need to be driven into the minds of every political leader in the world. If they cannot yet agree on what, exactly, constitutes nuclear disarmament, they surely can agree on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences resulting from any use of nuclear weapons and the consequent need to completely eliminate such weapons.

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How to save our planet from nuclear annihilation

Toronto Star | May 29, 2018
Keynote speech at University College, U of T | May 30, 2018 | video of lecture

In an open letter last week, the president of the United States addressed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: “We greatly appreciate your time, patience and effort with respect to a summit [meeting] long sought by both parties …”

Then in the same paragraph, Donald Trump cancelled the summit and threatened obliteration: “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”

Seldom are the alternatives of meeting, or killing, so baldly stated. It is something new, that millions live with these threats in mind.

This awareness dates from the time, nearly a half a century ago, when perhaps the most reproduced photograph in history showed our planet as seen from space. This was a milestone in human history.

There had been earlier milestones, some in secrecy. One such took place, in December 1949, in a committee room in Washington. The advisory group to the U.S. Atomic Energy Authority was meeting to determine the advisability of a crash program to build a hydrogen bomb — a weapon 1,000 times more powerful than the ones that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Eleven of the 13 committee members were scientists from the previous A-bomb project. Ten voted against the H-bomb, one abstained. The two non-scientists voted for it.

U.S. President Truman accepted the advice of the non-scientists. The U.S.S.R. had just shocked the world by testing its first A-bomb. The U.S. was determined to keep its lead.

The lead, however, proved illusory. The new U.S. H-bomb was tested three years later. The U.S.S.R. took one year to catch up.

The majority of the scientists close to this project were conscious of the important divide being crossed. A decision was being made, in secret, that would affect the entire future of mankind.

The last major milepost, in my view, was reached in 1983. Computation had by then made it clear a nuclear war would give rise to firestorms, hence nuclear winter and global famine. This had till then been overlooked.

My milestones comprised a photograph, a committee, and a calculation. Where do they leave us? How can we save the world?
There is a hint of the direction in which hope lies, in the first sentence of Trump’s recent letter to Kim Jong Un. It lies in restraint.

I witnessed attempted international negotiation of restraint when attending a Pugwash conference in Moscow in 1960. The participants argued the best hope for stability in a nuclear world lay in “minimal deterrence,” guaranteed by one bomb under Moscow, one under Washington.

The existence today of 10,000 weapons in the hands of nine nations, with plans far advanced to modernize them, make a mockery of restraint. If I could turn the clock back to Moscow in 1960, I would say that two nuclear weapons were too many.

The reason is simple. Peace is ascribed to the awesome power of nuclear weapons. Why, then do we always need more?

It is because deterrence, to be effective, must be capable of failing. Only then will it be seen as real. The nuclear powers have ensured that the threat is indeed real. But this sets us on the path to disaster.

Is there an alternative?

There is. It is embodied in a treaty agreed to this past summer at the U.N., making illegal the possession of nuclear weapons. This is already the case for all other weapons of mass extermination (chemical and biological weapons, cluster bombs and landmines).

There is, of course, an obstacle. Existing nuclear powers and their allies, such as Canada, reject the ban. Earlier, others have opposed bans on dueling, on slavery and on the burning of witches. But their views have not been allowed to prevail.

We have reached a turning point in history. The implications go beyond nuclear weapons. Military force can no longer arbitrate differences between nations. That new truth is becoming discernible.

What will take its place?

Economic force, no doubt. But beyond that, the force of opinion. It can be seen when world leaders resort to writing open letters. They appeal to the court of public opinion.

Simply stated, we have become too good at killing. This obliges us to use our vast new powers for caring.

John Polanyi is a Nobel laureate at the University of Toronto who has written widely on the dangers of nuclear war.

Sleepwalking towards the 2020 review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

First published in opencanada.org | 8 May 2018

If ensuring smooth proceedings was your chief criterion for judging the second preparatory committee for the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference that concluded May 4, then the meeting was a clear success.

This was the second of three preparatory committee meetings held in the run-up to review conferences, which are held every five years to review implementation of the treaty and decide on future action. With 191 state parties, the NPT embodies the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime. Some 105 of these states participated in the recent two-week session in Geneva, alongside many NGO representatives.

Key procedural decisions were taken, such as the selection of the chair of next year’s preparatory committee, or PrepCom (Malaysian Ambassador to the United Nations in New York Muhammad Yaakob), and the setting of dates for the 2020 Review Conference (April 27 to May 22).

This year’s PrepCom chair, Polish Ambassador to the UN in Vienna Adam Bugajski, also duly produced a 19-page factual summary of the proceedings issued under his personal authority, which avoided the difficulties that would be attendant on any effort to have the meeting adopt such a summary as its own. (This did not spare the chair from numerous expressions of disappointment by delegates, however.)

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Trump’s Terrible Nuclear Posture: More weapons, higher spending, lower threshold, less control

Published in Cape Breton Observer, 7 March 2018

On February 2, the United States released its first Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) since the 2010 study commissioned by President Barack Obama. The Obama NPR disappointed many disarmament advocates in its doctrinal timidity – its failure to declare the US would never use nuclear weapons first, and only ever use them in response to a nuclear attack on itself or its allies – and its strategic conservatism – its recommitment to a ‘triad’ of land-, sea- and air-launched long-range weapons. It did, though, seek to both diminish the number of warheads in the American arsenal (and, through arms control negotiations, the arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states) and limit the role of such monstrously indiscriminate ‘weapons’ to always and only deterring war.

In stark contrast, the Trump NPR seeks, at immense cost, new ways to make nuclear war more thinkable, ‘practical’, and ‘winnable’, including deploying new, ‘low-yield’ systems blurring the lines between conventional and nuclear conflict, and lowering the ‘threshold’ at which their use becomes ‘acceptable’. While building on Obama’s ill-conceived, 30-year $1.2 trillion modernization of the triad, the Trump blueprint has been widely denounced (by both champions and critics of deterrence) as a defence of the indefensible, nuclear war as a legitimate exercise of military power, at a time of heightened nuclear danger in the Korean peninsula and beyond.

Read More (external link, Cape Breton Spectator, 7 Mar 2018)