Speeding towards the Abyss: Contemporary Arms Racing and Global Security

Event Date: September 26, 2019 – 09:00am to 5:45pm
Location: FSS4007, 120 University, Ottawa
Presented by CIPS and the Canadian Pugwash Group 

The ‘arms race’ is a concept associated with the Cold War and often assumed to have ended with it. The current international security situation has led to a revival of arms racing amongst an expanded grouping of rival states. The breakdown of the strategic relationship between Russia and the US has prompted a resurgence of an arms competition that is affecting all the nuclear weapon powers and that places new stress on the global nuclear restraint regime embodied in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  Technological advances have also led to the initiation of arms racing in entirely new domains such as cyber, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and outer space.

This one-day conference offers a unique opportunity to hear the views of experts on the implications of this new round of arms racing for global security and  what countries like Canada can do about it.

Date: Thursday, September 26 – 9:00 am – 5:45 pm

Venue: Social Sciences Building, Room 4007, University of Ottawa

Admission: Free for students, Canadian Pugwash members and University of Ottawa faculty and staff. All others: $25 (a light luncheon is included). Registration and tickets are available here. For all payment inquiries, please contact Anna Bogic at abogic@uottawa.ca.

Conference program is available here.

Eliminating Hidden Killers: How Can Technology Help Humanitarian Demining?

Originally published in Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, 8(1): 5, pp. 1–17. (html) (pdf) DOI: https:/doi.org/10.5334/sta.743. For tables see pdf.

Despite twenty-first-century technological advances by Western militaries for demining and the removal of improvised explosive devices, humanitarian demining relies mostly on mid-twentieth-century technology. While international legal efforts to curb the global use of landmines have been quite successful, constraints on humanitarian demining technology mean that unfortunate and preventable deaths of both civilians and deminers continue to occur. Developing devices and technologies to help human deminers successfully and safely carry out their work is a major challenge. Each phase of the physical demining process (i.e., vegetation clearance, mine detection, and removal) can benefit from the development of demining technologies. However, even with the prospect of “smart” demining technology, the human aspect of supervision remains a crucial challenge. Although current research and development hold promise for the future of humanitarian demining, the barriers to progress in the field are more than technical. The prioritization of military operations, a lack of coordination between governments and humanitarian actors, a tendency towards secrecy, and an underlying lack of funding are just some of the roadblocks to eliminating the yearly death toll associated with humanitarian demining, in addition to other impacts on post-conflict societies. This paper calls for new ideas, renewed innovation, and new sources of governmental and non-governmental support for this often-neglected aspect of international security.

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Lament for a Treaty (INF Treaty 1987-2019)

Originally published in the Cape Breton Observer

I did not weep, I turned to stone inside … Dante, Inferno

I rarely cry, but on the evening of 8 December 1987, glued to radio coverage of the signing of a nuclear arms control treaty between the United States and Soviet Union, I wept with a relief I had never felt before, an ecstatic conviction that the Cold War, and with it the nuclear arms race, was ending.

It wasn’t so much the number of warheads the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, would scrap: over 2,500, tens of thousands of Hiroshimas but a small fraction of the Superpower’s gargantuan arsenals.

It wasn’t even that, for the first time in nuclear arms control history, an entire class of weapon would be banned – land-based missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers, capable of hitting their targets (cities) in minutes, and thus the cause of a major war scare in Europe since their deployment, first by Moscow, in the late 1970s.

It was more the doors the Treaty opened to further cuts, so deep and wide the goal set by the United Nations in its first-ever resolution in 1946 would finally seem within reach: Global Zero, a nuclear-weapon-free world.

In 1985, Reagan and Gorbachev had stated bluntly that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.” In 1986, Gorbachev unveiled a plan of phased multilateral reductions, counting down to ‘Zero’ by the year 2000. With the signing of the INF Treaty, his proposal – technically viable, demonstrably verifiable – became politically realistic: a “sapling,” as he said, had been planted “which may one day grow into a mighty tree of peace”:

//May December 8, 1987, become a date that will be inscribed in the history books, a date that will mark the watershed separating the era of a mounting risk of nuclear war from the era of a demilitarisation of human life.//

As I listened, I cried, in part because I had spent much of the previous year following the negotiations for my undergraduate dissertation at the only Peace Studies Department (University of Bradford) in the United Kingdom, a nuclear-weapon state which ‘boasted’ its own ‘independent deterrent’ (missiles leased from America) and which had – inviting its own self-destruction – hosted US INF weapons at Greenham Common, site of a truly heroic, routinely reviled Women’s Peace Camp, backed by millions of supporters in an antinuclear ‘Extinction Rebellion’ movement spanning Western Europe and North America.
Embracing the base, Greenham Common December 1982 At noon on December 12th 1982, 30,000 women held hands around the 6 mile perimeter fence of the former USAF base, in protest against the UK government’s decision to site American cruise missiles here. The installation went ahead but so did the protest – for 19 years women maintained their presence at the Greenham Common peace camp.

Embracing the base, Greenham Common December 1982: At noon on 12 December 1982, 30,000 women held hands around the 6-mile perimeter fence of the former USAF base, in protest against the UK government’s decision to site American cruise missiles here. The installation went ahead but so did the protest – for 19 years women maintained their presence at the Greenham Common peace camp.

And I cried, too, listening to the chat and music of the students in the University residence – most of whom had not been part of that movement and would never know what ‘INF’ stood for – for the dramatically saner, less menaced and more humane future they could now enjoy and explore.

I have more than once subjected Spectator readers to dense analysis of the post-Cold War decline of nuclear arms control in general, and the INF Treaty in particular.

In sum, with the fall of the Soviet Union the ‘Countdown’ Plan was consigned to oblivion by a NATO Alliance – suddenly the world’s only nuclear-armed alliance – determined not to disarm but expand, deep into former Warsaw Pact and Soviet territory, triggering a predictably nationalistic, we-love-our-nukes response in Moscow.

In 2002, US President Bush, to the delight of influential State Department official John Bolton, withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, radically limiting missile defenses to remove any temptation to ‘win’ a nuclear war by striking first and shooting down most of whatever missiles the obliterated enemy could still unleash. Not only, Russia believed, could American missile defenses in eastern Europe be used to intercept second-strike weapons, they could themselves be converted to offensive, first-strike weapons – with a range of, well, between 500-5,500 kilometers.

Bush’s move, allied to his illegal regime-change invasion of Iraq, eroded Russia’s faith in the INF Treaty, while both Moscow and Washington expressed alarm at a build-up of Chinese nuclear forces in the INF range. President Obama, while still trying to save the Treaty, accused Russia of at least flirting with non-compliance by researching and developing, if not deploying, new medium-range systems. President Trump, determined – at the urging of National Security Adviser Bolton – to scrap the Treaty, claimed the ‘red line’ of deployment had been crossed, giving Russia a deadline of August 2 this year to return to compliance. Compliance, that is, as adjudged by a US administration now itching for a justification to research, develop and deploy some of the new medium-range weapons lustfully eyed by Defense Secretary Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis in his hair-raising 2018 ‘Nuclear Posture Review.’

Just how dangerous this ‘new nuclear age’ now is was revealed by the brief, inadvertent posting (!) by the Pentagon this summer of its updated ‘Nuclear Operations’ manual (still available on the website of the Federation of American Scientists, thanks to the quick thinking of researcher Steven Aftergood ) which states confidently that:

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability.”

Wow, talk about an invitation to proliferate: who wouldn’t want such a magic wand? Indeed, given this impressive up-side to ‘going nuclear,’ it’s hardly surprising, to quote Obama’s Under Secretary of State Thomas Countryman, that “sadly, no US official today is able to repeat” the Reagan-Gorbachev ‘must never fight, can never win’ formula.

And so, on August 2, the INF Treaty was formally pronounced dead, leaving just one bilateral US-Russia arms control agreement still standing: the 2010 New START (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty, limiting long-range warheads to 1,550 each side. Due to expire in 2021, New START could be extended to 2026 by mutual consent. Bolton, though, has told Trump New START – an Obama achievement, after all, like the Iran nuclear deal – is old hat, tired thinking, tying America’s hands, etc. And even though Trump recently said of Bolton that “if it was up to him, he’d take on the whole world at one time,” the President agrees.

No Treaty, of course, can really ‘die’. But the demise of the INF Treaty is sure to impact the lives, even help seal the fate, of millions of people. Including, perhaps, the children of the students I listened to that unforgettable night, 32 years ago, as the ‘sapling’ was planted.

But this time, I couldn’t cry.

Sean Howard

Sean Howard is adjunct professor of political science at Cape Breton University and member of Peace Quest Cape Breton.

Setsuko Thurlow video interview

Setsuko Thurlow, in a conversation with Canadian Pugwash members, June 2019:

(1) she takes us through her experiences in Oslo, receiving the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of ICAN, and
(2) she describes the occasion of receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto.

You can follow the discussion in the 22-minute video on this page (YouTube, embedded):

Conference on “Global Markets, Inequality and the Future of Democracy”

The Canadian Pugwash Group is sponsoring the Group of 78 (G78) Annual Policy Conference on “Global Markets, Inequality and the Future of Democracy” to be held at the University of Ottawa on September 27-28 2019. Members of the Canadian Pugwash Global Issues Project participated in the research and planning of this Conference. You can find a brief background on the Global Issues Project at https://pugwashgroup.ca/global-issues-project,

The focus of the G78 Conference is on the proposition that the roots of the current nightmare of economic inequality and economic insecurity in democracies around the world can be traced to three interrelated causes: a) the rise of a global financial system that is no longer regulated in the public interest; b) the rise of an international trading system that has dramatically undercut the ability of labour to share in productivity gains; c) the enshrinement of a deeply individualistic ideology that has weakened democracies and thereby greatly increased the power of corporate capital to act with virtual impunity. The conference objective is to explore the most promising avenues for resistance to the powerful interests that have poisoned efforts to address these causes in an informed and free public debate.

The G78 is an informal association of Canadians seeking to promote global priorities for peace and disarmament, equitable and sustainable development and a strong and revitalized United Nations System. You can see the G78 Conference outline, program and registration forms at https://group78.org/event/2019-g78-annual-policy-conference/