This Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, will be a landmark day in the struggle to abolish nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will enter into force, making weapons that have always been immoral also illegal under international law.
For years, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons worked to promote the treaty, and they deserve to be celebrated. Japanese Canadian Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, offered spiritual guidance to this testament to international activism.
Amid this important step towards abolishing ghastly weapons, humanity continues to live under the cloud of possible nuclear annihilation. Canada’s most intimate military ally, the U.S., spends over $35 billion annually on nuclear weapons, equal to its “aid” budget. The other eight nuclear-armed states collectively spend an equal sum on their nukes.
A year ago the Doomsday Clock maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was set to 100 seconds to midnight. Created after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the clock’s hand placement is evaluated each year. The clock was moved closer to midnight because the limited arms control measures built up over decades have been shredded over the past two years.
Washington pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which have mitigated the dangers posed by 13,400 nuclear weapons (over 90 per cent of which are held by the U.S. and Russia). Detonating a small share of these nukes could make the planet uninhabitable. The “most advanced” nuclear weapons are 80 times more deadly than those dropped on Japan 75 years ago.
The Trump administration also withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement. Hopefully, Joe Biden will rejoin the accord. But a preferable solution to concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons would be to impose a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East that includes intensive inspections. Such zones exist in a number of other regions, and while most countries of the Middle East support the idea, the U.S. refuses to accept the proposal: Washington wants to protect Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile and its own ability to deploy nuclear weapons to the area.
Ottawa says it supports a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East, but has opposed organizing a regional conference on the establishment of such a zone because it would undercut Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity. Additionally, in December Canada joined the U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau in voting against a resolution calling on Israel to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and “renounce possession of nuclear weapons,” while 153 countries backed the call.
This is but a small slice of the Trudeau government’s nuclear weapons hypocrisy. A week ago in a government release, Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, “reaffirmed Canada’s unwavering support for advancing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament,” declaring “we are committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Yet a month earlier Canada voted against 130 UN members who backed a resolution supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Canada also voted against holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. Ottawa then boycotted the negotiating meeting for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which two-thirds of the world’s countries attended.
The Trudeau government opposes the treaty while claiming it wants to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It also touts its promotion of an “international rules-based order” and “feminist foreign policy” while ignoring how the treaty advances these principles.
There is far too little discussion of the threat nuclear weapons pose. Leaders across the globe need to be pushed to pursue nuclear disarmament. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons should be at the centre of that effort. Canadians need to press their government to sign it.