Can a rules-based international order survive without nuclear arms control?

Since President Trump’s precipitous announcement in October 2018 of his intention to “terminate” the landmark INF Treaty, we have written a number of blog posts on the dire implications of this reckless move.

But perhaps the most powerful commentary yet comes in a deeply personal article written by Canadian Professor Sean Howard for the Cape Breton Spectator.

It begins:

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.

He goes on to identify the true promise of the treaty, beyond even the astonishing elimination of an entire category of nuclear weapons:

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.

And for a time, steady progress was made toward that goal, with the USA and Russia agreeing to substantial reductions in both their strategic and non-strategic nuclear forces.

But then came the many betrayals that doomed that bright hope, from an ever-eastward expanding NATO to American abandonment of a cornerstone of nuclear disarmament, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

And now, just weeks after the INF Treaty’s dissolution, the USA has begun testing new versions of these once prohibited missiles, prompting entirely realistic fears of a renewed nuclear arms race.

Sean Howard concludes in part:

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.

For the full article see: Lament for a treaty (INF Treaty 1987 – 2019), (Sean Howard,, 23 August 2019)

Whither Canada?

For another impassioned plea, this time from a young graduate student working on nuclear disarmament, see: Can Canada play a part in averting the collapse of arms control? (Emily Enright and M.V. Ramana,, 20 August 2019).

The very fact that this question has to be asked, instead of it being taken for granted that Canada would play an important role, underscores the current dismal lack of Canadian leadership on multilateral arms control efforts.

What can be more important to the “rules based international order” that Canada’s Foreign Minister purports to champion than binding nuclear arms control agreements?

We call on Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland to inject new energy and urgency into Canada’s nuclear disarmament diplomacy.


Photo credit: U.S. State Department



Tags: 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, ABM Treaty, arms control, Cape Breton Spectator, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, Global Zero, INF Treaty, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, non-strategic nuclear forces, nuclear arms control, nuclear-weapon-free world, President Gorbachev, President Putin, President Reagan, President Trump, Professor Sean Howard, Russia, Soviet Union, Start Treaty, strategic nuclear forces, UN, USA