Two and a half decades after the end of the Cold War, nine countries together continue to possess around 15,000 nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons pose a significant threat to global security as they risk becoming available to more state and non-state entities. A single nuclear warhead could kill millions of people, with the effects lasting decades.
With the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pledged to increase the American nuclear arsenal, and troubling recent actions by North Korea, it is more urgent than ever that the international community work together to ban nuclear weapons.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 21, 2017. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)
One might assume, given the lofty rhetoric of Prime Minister Trudeau that "Canada is back" on the international scene, that Canada would be leading this effort. After all, the Canadian Parliament unanimously voted in favour of nuclear disarmament in 2010. And at their policy convention in 2016, members of the Liberal party followed the NDP's lead and voted in favour of efforts for a nuclear-free world. So it would make sense that Trudeau's government would be a strong supporter of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
If only that were true.
Not only did Canada vote against starting negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty this fall, but now that the international community is moving ahead with the negotiations beginning March 27, Canada is boycotting them.
This is a travesty and a massive failure in Justin Trudeau's foreign policy.
There is no excuse for Canada to be following President Trump's lead on this issue.
I have asked the Canadian government to participate fully in the nuclear weapons ban negotiations no less than five times in Question Period since September, and I still don't understand their reasoning behind their position. The Liberals have given three different excuses, but none of them make much sense.
First, the Liberal response has consistently been to hide behind the fissile material cut-off treaty. It is fine that Canada is working towards an FMCT. But how dare the government use this to distract from the very serious issue of working with others towards a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons for good.
Second, it appears that the Liberals are hiding behind Canada's NATO membership and succumbing to pressure from the United States, who have told their NATO allies to oppose the negotiations. There is no excuse for Canada to be following President Trump's lead on this issue. Nor does Canada's membership in NATO mean we should only vote with nuclear states, most of which are not NATO members. Canada should take a lesson from the Netherlands, also a NATO member, who are attending the negotiations.
Third, the Liberal government seems to think there is no point to the negotiations. As a spokesperson from Global Affairs told the Globe and Mail, "The negotiation of a nuclear-weapon ban without the participation of states that possess nuclear weapons is certain to be ineffective and will not eliminate any nuclear weapons."
This last point may be the most ridiculous of them all. All international negotiations worth their salt are difficult. The Ottawa Treaty on landmines took political will. The creation of the International Criminal Court took political will. Work on the Kimberley Process, which I participated in while a Canadian diplomat, took political will. Not all states participated in these negotiations, but we got results. And in those cases, Canada adopted an ambitious approach and took the lead on the international stage. What on earth has happened to us?
I am ashamed of the Liberal position on nuclear disarmament. We need to be working towards a comprehensive nuclear weapons treaty if we want to achieve significant progress.
A government with ethics would participate in this week's historic negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty. If we truly want nuclear disarmament, we have to work hard for it, along with over 120 countries that are committed to banning the bomb. It's time the Liberals grow a backbone and do what's right. They should get to work and attend the nuclear weapons ban treaty negotiations.
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