NATO statement decrying nuclear ban treaty full of errors

NATO-NAC Meeting imageOn Wednesday, November 22nd, Rideau Institute President and former Disarmament Ambassador Peggy Mason testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence during its deliberations on Canada’s involvement in NATO. The entirety of her written submission can be accessed by clicking here.

Part of her testimony focused in detail on the extraordinary statement issued in the name of NATO members, commenting negatively on the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on the very day it opened for signature:

“The NATO statement contains multiple errors, misinterpretations of international law and just plain inanities, which would be bad enough if they were only being mouthed by nuclear weapons states but which are shockingly inappropriate for a non-nuclear weapons state …. like Canada, with a long and proud history of championing nuclear disarmament even in the darkest days of the Cold War.”

The most egregious assertion in the September 20th NATO statement is that the new Nuclear Ban Treaty “risks undermining the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)”, which NATO correctly describes as “the heart of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts for almost 50 years”.

Precisely the opposite is true. Those states who sought to abort the nuclear ban treaty negotiation and who are now futilely trying to prevent it coming into force are of course the ones who are undermining the NPT!

“Such a state of affairs is regrettably not that unusual when it comes to the western nuclear weapons states. What is truly unprecedented and unacceptable is that non-nuclear weapons states like Canada have joined in this calumny.”

The second blatantly inaccurate assertion is that the nuclear ban treaty “will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As Mason explained:

“Article 6 of the Nuclear Prohibition Treaty lays out in detail two methods for nuclear weapons states to join the treaty – through a “destroy and join” methodology or a “join and destroy” process, with the IAEA as the appropriate international body to take control of all resulting fissile material from decommissioned nuclear warheads.”

One of the more hilarious parts of the statement – if the issue were not so deadly serious – is the assertion that the nuclear ban treaty “risks… creating divisions and divergences at a time when a unified approach to proliferation and security threats is required more than ever.”

The General Assembly vote launching the ban treaty negotiation (which was then boycotted by all NATO members except the Netherlands) was a vote of 130 in favour (including 3 brave NATO members – Albania, Estonia and Italy), 12 abstentions (including Netherlands, China, India and Pakistan) and 31 against (including Canada and the rest of NATO).

In other words, the MINORITY causing the disunity and lack of consensus is accusing the overwhelming majority of being the ones at fault.

Peggy Mason then went on to suggest that NATO members would be wise to read the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons except in the very narrowest of circumstances where the “very survival of the state” might be at stake:

“The court ruled that in every other circumstance the use of nuclear weapons (and therefore the threat to so use them) would be manifestly illegal under international law because of the inability of the use of nuclear weapons to meet the fundamental requirements of international humanitarian law in terms of discrimination between military and civilian targets and proportionality as between the military objective and the collateral damage.”

Thus, the statement at the 2017 Halifax Security Forum by the Commander of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to the effect that he would never follow an order to use nuclear weapons that was illegal under international law was perhaps even more meaningful than he had intended.

So where does all this leave Canada?

“The answer is clear. It is our legal obligation under Article VI of the NPT to begin the process of signing and ratifying the Nuclear Ban Treaty by absenting ourselves from NATO’s nuclear doctrine[1] and beginning a dialogue with NATO with the aim of convincing other non-nuclear weapons states in NATO to similarly renounce NATO’s unnecessary, dangerously provocative and counterproductive nuclear posture.”

Without such action, NATO, the most powerful conventional military alliance on earth, is on the one hand proclaiming that it needs nuclear weapons for its own security while, on the other hand, telling North Korea, as that country faces off against the United States and its allies, that it does not.

Click here for the  full written presentation by Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason to the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence.


Photo credit: Wikimedia images.



[1] There is a long history in NATO of individual states absenting themselves from particular aspects of nuclear or other doctrine with which they disagree, and signalling their disagreement through a “footnote” in official communiqués. The most famous example is that of France absenting itself from the Nuclear Planning Group.

Tags: 1996 International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion on the threat or use of nuclear weapons, Conference on Disarmament, House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence, ICJ, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), international law, NAC, NATO, NATO nuclear posture, NATO Strategic Doctrine, NDDN, North Atlantic Council, NPT, Nuclear disarmament, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, UN General Assembly, UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)