The order that kept us reasonably stable for many years is clearly fragile, as we struggle, not only with new rules, but with old challenges such as nuclear disarmament.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media as she arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday. Canada, this past week, “refused to take part in a new round of disarmament negotiations at the UN,” writes Penny Collenette. (VIRGINIA MAYO / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
One is too many. Nevertheless, there are 14,900 nuclear warheads in the world. Russia has approximately 7,000. The U.S. is not far behind at 6,800. The U.K., France and China each have between 200 and 300 warheads, while India and Pakistan have roughly 120 each. Israel has 80. N. Korea has 10.
Canada has a different history. We halted uranium exports for weapons production in 1965 under Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s leadership and we were the “first country with significant nuclear capability to reject nuclear weapons.”
While not a nuclear nation, Canada is however, a member of NATO, whose purpose, deterrence, is based on both nuclear and conventional warfare. Membership has its responsibilities. Canada was among 35 countries, including the U.K, France and the U.S., that voted against a 2016 UN resolution to create a legally binding instrument to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Rather than attempting to fashion a new treaty, the Trudeau government prefers an incremental, pragmatic step-by-step approach by pushing for a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, which would ban bomb-making components. Again, this past week, we refused to take part in a new round of disarmament negotiations at the UN.
The NDP has rightly raised Canada’s abstention as a concern. In 2010, when Stephen Harper was prime minister, the Canadian parliament voted unanimously in favour of nuclear disarmament. So why are we not holding to those same principles now?
Not only is the government’s decision raising political eyebrows, but the timing is awkward. Canada pauses this coming week for the 100th anniversary of Vimy, the First World War battle that began on Easter weekend of 1917. Sadly, there are no longer living veterans, but remembering and honouring the 3,598 Canadians who died and the 10,602 who were wounded during those four awful days, is part of Canada’s DNA, as is a search for peace.
In the years following the world wars, we struggled to find institutional organizations that would never allow the world a slide back into the slippery slope of warfare. But the twin threats of the rise of populism and the election of Donald Trump, are threatening the building blocks of stability.
Yet, the Trudeau government campaigned on restoring the glory of Canadian peacekeeping tradition, as originally conceived by former PM Lester Pearson.
The carnage Pearson witnessed as a soldier in the First World War shaped his views on the futility of war. His peacekeeping focus influenced Canada’s participation in subsequent UN missions and strongly shaped our foreign policy for many years. While the nature of peacekeeping has changed to peacemaking, the Trudeau government has once again committed $450 million over three years, 150 police and up to 600 soldiers to a still undefined UN mission.
The two world wars, the UN and military alliances, such as NATO, helped to restrain conflict, in particular, in Europe where armed conflict has virtually been eliminated for 70 years.
However, like the UN, the EU and the NATO military alliance are under threat; the EU from British exit and NATO from a Russian threat and apparent American lack of resolve under Donald Trump to backstop the alliance.
The order that kept us reasonably stable for many years is clearly fragile, as we struggle, not only with new rules, but with old challenges — challenges such as nuclear disarmament.
Given the sabre rattling between the U.S. and North Korea; given the spread of chemical weapons use; given the evolution of rogues states and terrorist alliances, now is the time to “be back” and to become deeply involved in nuclear deterrence.
Those Canadian soldiers who sacrificed their lives at Vimy have been gone 100 years yet the dark shadows of war loom once again. We should be mindful of those shadows, still there — a century after the war to end all wars, is being commemorated.
Penny Collenette is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa and was a senior director of the Prime Minister’s Office for Jean Chrétien.