Open letter 22-01-2022 : Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons When will Canada ratify it?

Open Letter

22 January 2022

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
When will Canada ratify it?

Original French text Traité sur l’interdiction des armes nucléaires – À quand sa ratification par le Canada?

Translated by Michel A. Duguay and revised by Collectif Échec à la guerre

Adopted at the UN on July 7, 2017, by 122 out of 193 countries and entered into force on January 22, 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has so far been ratified by 59 countries. Following US instructions to NATO countries, Canada boycotted the entire process and has neither signed nor ratified this Treaty. In April 2021, a Nanos poll revealed that three quarters of the Canadian population – and 82% of Quebecers – are in favor of ratifying the Treaty, even if it is necessary to resist possible pressure from the United States. When will Canadian politicians have the courage to take that first step towards removing the nuclear sword of Damocles above our heads?

Nuclear disarmament remains insignificant and the nuclear peril undiminished

Since 1986, the 80% reduction in the total number of nuclear warheads in the world, apparently very significant, has in no way reduced the risk of annihilation of humanity by nuclear weapons. We may have the ability to destroy humanity 15 or 20 times, but it can only disappear once. Indeed, even a very small fraction of today’s roughly 13,080 nuclear weapons would be enough – for example in a war between India and Pakistan – to instantly kill tens of millions of people there, but also cause climate change for the entire planet resulting in a famine that could kill 1 or 2 billion people. An all-out nuclear war between the United States and Russia would result in a « nuclear winter » for a good decade, leading to the mass extinction of most human and animal populations. We have come close to disaster many times before. We can’t always be lucky. Nuclear disarmament is urgent!

Two major treaties: the NPT and the TPNW

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) entered into force in 1970. All states parties were committing « to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” (our emphasis). But it is clear that the nuclear powers have never really fulfilled their commitment to disarm and are even currently engaged in the opposite direction: they are all implementing programs to modernize or even increase their arsenals and to create new nuclear weapons and new means of delivery for them.

The five “nuclear states” of the NPT (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France) adopted a rare joint declaration on January 3, 2022. They repeated their customary slogan that “nuclear weapons—for as long as they continue to exist—should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war”. And they pledged to « prevent an arms race that would benefit none and endanger all » even though they are already fully committed to it!

Confronted with this blatant lack of will, an international group of governments, NGOs, United Nations agencies, etc. was formed in 2010 in view of arriving at a treaty that would make the very possession of nuclear weapons illegal and aim at their total prohibition. Their work culminated in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW, 2021). Despite its limitations – no nuclear state having signed or ratified it – the TPNW has the merit of reaffirming the urgency of nuclear disarmament, of offering a framework for its achievement and of implicitly denouncing the lack of good faith of nuclear states regarding this vital objective for humanity. These countries are turning a deaf ear to the TPNW and intend to « preserve the authority and primacy » of the NPT… forever.

Two weights, two measures

The United States and NATO are increasingly antagonizing Russia and China in a new cold war that increases the risks of intentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons.

It is striking to see – as much in the discourse of the United States and NATO on nuclear disarmament as in their discourse in the face of the threats posed by Russia and China – that the arguments are without possible reciprocity. Thus, it is asserted that nuclear weapons are essential to OUR security, but that it is totally unacceptable for other countries to acquire them. It is decreed that the presence of the Russian army on the Ukrainian border is threatening. But what about NATO’s military presence and major exercises on Russia’s doorstep, even though Russia had been given assurances in the past that this would never happen?

When what is good for us is not permitted for others, there is no fair international order. Instead, we are subjected to “might makes right”. Let us recall that in terms of military spending, the United States alone is responsible for 39% of the world total, almost as much as the next 12 countries taken together in the ranking of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Obviously, in their case, it is for the good. Only the weapons of others are threatening!

The urgency to act

In the face of this threatening spiral, we must demand that Canada break with the New Cold War rhetoric launched by the United States against China and Russia, that it stop pouring oil on the fire with its declarations and military deployments. And to help lessen the nuclear peril, Canada must stop defending NATO’s nuclear policy and commit to signing and ratifying the TPNW.

In September 2020, 56 former Prime Ministers, Ministers of Defense or Foreign Affairs of 20 NATO member countries (including Canada), plus Japan and South Korea, called on the current leaders of their countries to « show courage and audacity » and to sign and ratify the TPNW. Among the signatories were Canadians Jean Chretien, Lloyd Axworthy, John Manley, Bill Graham and Jean-Jacques Blais.

Whether on NATO, nuclear weapons, Russia or China, Canada’s foreign policy is more than ever modeled on that of the United States. Trudeau, Joly and Anand may also sign a « courageous » letter ten years from now … when they will no longer be in a position to act on their call.

As with the climate emergency, it is up to us, citizens, to pressure elected officials now to take action in the face of the nuclear danger.

Judith Berlyn
Martine Eloy
Raymond Legault
Suzanne Loiselle

for the Collectif Échec à la guerre