Democrats regain the Senate fueling hopes of an America that is no longer our biggest problem

The worst and the best of the USA — on the same day

A dark but sadly predictable day for Trump’s America

On January 6th, 2021 the world witnessed “jaw-dropping images” of pro-Trump rioters breaching the U.S. Capitol building for nearly four hours, with at least four deaths reported.

This mayhem was preceded by President Trump having continually urged supporters to come to Washington to protest the formal approval by Congress of president-elect Joe Biden’s election win, which he repeatedly claimed, without evidence, had been “stolen” from him.  He told the crowd:

Our country has had enough, and we will not take it anymore.

In the face of the resulting carnage, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted:

So much for the peaceful transfer of power, for American exceptionalism, for our being a shining city on the hill….

For those of us who have always had a hard time with this vaunted view of America’s place in the world, Ishaan Tharoor, writes a fitting epitaph to the myth of American exceptionalism:

This piety about the American “example” and the apparent inability of prominent Americans to speak of Wednesday’s havoc as if it could happen here — well, it did — are two sides of the same myopia, one that overstates America’s moral influence in the world and underestimates the depth of dysfunction already inherent in the U.S. system. What happened at the Capitol was intrinsically American, bound within a long tradition of right-wing paranoia and nativist racism.

On a more positive note, he writes:

Polling already shows that a younger generation of Americans are less likely to believe in the “exceptional” nature of their country and more likely to want the United States to play a more limited, humble role on the world stage.

And in our final blog of 2020 we previewed what that new direction could entail:

The United States should engage with the world, and the essence of engagement is peaceful cooperation among peoples — not war or domination.

But the opinion piece ends with a darker warning for us all:

“There are Trumps everywhere, so each and everyone should defend their Capitol,” tweeted former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, turning Trump into a metaphor for the perils facing all liberal democracies….

Far from the city on a hill, America had become a harbinger of darker days to come.

For the full (paywalled) article, see: The end of the road for American exceptionalism (, 7 January 2021).

And now for the best of America

But, even as Donald Trump was inciting his supporters to march on Capitol Hill, an extraordinary story of successful grass roots organizing in Georgia, led by equally extraordinary black women, was unfolding, the result of which was a Democrat win, against all odds, in both Senatorial run-off elections.

The importance of the Democrats retaking control of the U.S. Senate simply cannot be overstated. To cite but one example, in the key area of climate policy:

The environment committee would [now] be led by Senator Thomas Carper (D–DE), a vocal advocate of federal action on climate change and strong pollution laws. He has helped write numerous legislative proposals to curb global warming and would likely play a key role in any effort to pass new climate legislation.

But will the Democratic party listen, really listen, to the Georgia voters who have put the Biden Presidency in a position to actually deliver on its agenda?  See, for example, the Brookings Institute analysis of urgent legislative steps needed to restore voter rights, pursue immigration reform and finally put an end to mass incarceration. They conclude on a note of caution that is also applicable to Canada:

In the amorphous networks of influence that dominate political activity today, grassroots organizations have fewer levers to assert themselves.

Nuclear weapons are out of control. But Biden can make the world safer.

This is the title of an article by Joe Cirincione, one of America’s foremost nuclear arms control experts (well-known also to Canadian governmental and non-governmental experts alike). He writes:

Trump made every nuclear danger he inherited worse by the hawkish policies he and Republicans pursued.

Penned before it was clear that the Democrats would retake control of the Senate, Cirincione outlines a programme of action that Biden can immediately undertake, in the first few days and weeks of his presidency, without Congressional action:

  • Reform Nuclear Command and Control to end first use of nuclear weapons, hair-trigger alert and sole authority of the President to order a nuclear strike; and
  • Save Arms Control by quickly agreeing with Russia to extend the New START treaty for five years.

These steps are all the more timely in light of the impending coming into force on 22nd January of the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and the upcoming tenth review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), delayed due to the pandemic and now scheduled for August 2021.

Whither Canada?

Sadly, despite all the indications from President-elect Joe Biden of a radically different approach to nuclear weapons from that of the outgoing Trump administration, Canada seems determined to cling to its retrograde positions.

Just as Canada had done on the opening for signature of the ban treaty, so on the attainment of sufficient signatures for its entry into force (EIF), did our government again join in a deplorable NATO statement denouncing the TPNW in language that misstated the treaty text, Canada’s obligations under the NPT and the impact on international law. RI President Peggy Mason comments:

This action is reminiscent of French President Macron’s November 2019 accusation that NATO was “brain dead”. Why else would its non-nuclear members continue to parrot the Trump administration’s attacks on the ban treaty even as President-elect Biden signals a saner approach?

But this was not all.

Foreign Minister Champagne a no-show for high-level nuclear disarmament meeting

The 3rd Ministerial of the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament took place in hybrid format (in person in Amman, Jordan and by VTC) on 6 January 2021. Yet our Foreign Minister could not even manage to attend virtually. Instead, Canada was represented by a parliamentary secretary.

The Stockholm process is a vital component in building sufficient consensus on concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament to achieve a successful outcome to the above-noted August 2021 NPT Review Conference. Surely, with the presidential election win of Joe Biden, and his oft-stated determination to get American nuclear weapons policy back on track, there would have been much for ministers to consider.

Canada did, however, issue a statement reaffirming the government’s unwavering support for advancing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. It reads in part:

On behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, today reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament during a virtual meeting of foreign ministers of the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament. [emphasis added]

Such assertions surely ring hollow in the face of Foreign Minister Champagne’s no-show which follows hot on the heels of the NATO debacle in response to the Ban Treaty achieving enough ratifications to trigger the countdown to entry into force on 22nd January 2021.

Parliamentary petition calls for Canada to sign the Ban Treaty (TPNW)

Initiated by long-time peace activist and IPPNW Board member Nancy Covington and sponsored by Green Party former leader Elizabeth May, a petition to the Government of Canada was opened for signature on 8 December 2020 calling on Canada to accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Click here for the details and to sign on to this petition. Once 500 signatures are received, the Government of Canada must respond in writing.

There are also civil society efforts underway (stay tuned for more details) to initiate a long-overdue parliamentary debate on the TPNW and, with the support of NDP Foreign Affairs critic Jack Harris, to secure agreement to hearings of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Canada’s role in advancing nuclear disarmament.

We call on the Government of Canada to support both a parliamentary debate and hearings of the Foreign Affairs Committee into facilitating Canada’s accession to the TPNW.

Sir Brian Urquhart: 28 February 1919 – 2 January 2021

In early 2021, when he was just a few weeks shy of 102 years, the world lost a revered UN diplomat across the decades, Brian Urquhart.

Many stirring tributes have been penned from friends and colleagues. We are pleased to include here the contribution of Rideau Institute Senior Advisor Peter Langille, who was a close friend and colleague of this legendary UN figure.

Langille writes:

[Urquhart] will continue to be internationally recognized as a key advisor to five UN Secretary-Generals; a calm arbitrator of crucial conflicts that had the potential to go nuclear; a pioneer of UN peacekeeping, and as a stellar UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs.

Langille worked with Urquhart on developing the concept of a UN rapid reaction capability and both went on to advocate for UNEPS, a UN Emergency Peace Service, with Urquhart stating:

I am convinced that the UN, if it is to be taken seriously in the peace and security field, has to have some capacity to act effectively on the ground within 24 to 48 hours of a decision by the security council.

Sir Brian Urquhart’s assessment of what Langille aptly calls our “survival challenges” is especially relevant today:

The urgent necessity is to give serious thought to the problems of the future, to support constructive change, and to try to make the UN system better able to deal with the new dangers that we will soon have to face. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the reasonable survival of the human race on this planet cannot be taken for granted if, for lack of governmental vision and massive public support, this effort does not succeed.

The full obituary by Peter Langille can be read here .

The Arctic and World Order

We are pleased to end this blog with a comment on a new text on The Arctic and World Order, produced under the aegis of the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

The inscription by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö reads:

This is a matter of global significance. If we lose the Arctic, we lose the world.

The Foreword reads in part:

In this book, scholars and practitioners—from Anchorage to Moscow, from Nuuk to Hong Kong—explore the huge political, legal, social, economic, geostrategic and environmental challenges confronting the Arctic in the face of global warming and a shifting world order, and what this may mean as we look to 2040.

The text includes some outstanding Canadian contributions, including Chapter 8 on military issues by leading peace and security researcher Ernie Regehr and Chapter 14 on “Arctic Exceptionalisms” co-authored by Canada Research Chair in the Study of the Canadian North Professor P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Ryan Dean.

Both these experts will be part of an Arctic Security webinar series in February 2021 co-sponsored by the Canadian Pugwash Group and the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (NAADSN) with support from the Rideau Institute. (More details soon!)

For the full text click on: The Arctic and World Order (Kristina Spohr and Daniel S. Hamilton, Editors, Jason C. Moyer, Associate Editor, 2020).

Photo credit: Wikimedia images (Andy Blumenthal)

Tags: American exceptionalism, ban treaty, Capitol Hill mob, Democrats retake Senate, Joe Cirincione, New START treaty, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), reform nuclear command and control, Sir Brian Urquhart, Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament, The Arctic and World Order, TPNW Entry into Force (EIF), Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)