On 75th anniversary, UN’s chief diplomat issues urgent call to action


In his centrepiece address to the historic and unprecedented 75th session of the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “today we face our own 1945 moment”, and like the post-war generation that sought to build a new world order, we too must summon the “collective will” to address the “world of challenges to come”. The Secretary-General added that the COVID-19 crisis is a “wake-up call” and a “dress rehearsal” for those challenges.

COVID-19 is not only a wake-up call, it is a dress rehearsal for the world of challenges to come.

Following the delivery of these remarks to an almost empty chamber, Guterres tweeted:

For the full text as delivered by the UN Secretary-General, click here.


The UN Secretary-General also addressed one of the oldest goals of the United Nations — achieving global nuclear disarmament:

We need a strengthened, inclusive and renewed multilateralism built on trust and based on international law that can guide us to our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

To focus the attention of world leaders on the urgent need for progress toward this goal, the UN General Assembly will host a High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament on 26 September, the day dedicated to the total elimination of nuclear weapons:

This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a priority.

Non-governmental organizations also take action

Global, regional and national non-governmental organizations dedicated to the total elimination of nuclear weapons will mark the occasion with appeals, calls to action and open letters to world leaders. None is more important than the letter signed by 56 former leaders and ministers of US allies urging states to join the nuclear weapon ban treaty (TPNW). The letter, which was released on 21 September, reads in part:

The prohibition treaty adopted in 2017 can help end decades of paralysis in disarmament. It is a beacon of hope in a time of darkness. It enables countries to subscribe to the highest available multilateral norm against nuclear weapons and build international pressure for action.

Among those leaders were Lloyd Axworthy, Jean-Jacques Blais, Jean Chrétien, Bill Graham, John McCallum, John Manley, and John Turner* — two former prime ministers, three former foreign ministers and two former defence ministers — all Liberal.

Doug Roche, former Canadian Disarmament Ambassador, former Parliamentarian in both the House of Commons and the Senate, and lifelong campaigner for nuclear disarmament, penned a September 21 article for the Hill Times where he laid out the full significance of these Liberal icons joining in this remarkable letter. Entitled Canada can’t hide behind NATO in refusal to sign treaty on nuclear weapons prohibition, Roche’s article highlights the importance of the letter:

It is an astonishing rebuke of NATO’s moribund policies on nuclear weapons, and the most serious challenge to NATO’s nuclear orthodoxy in the organization’s 71-year history. Even two former NATO secretaries-general, Javier Solana and Willy Claes, as well as former U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, joined in this protest.

In a separate email statement to the Rideau Institute, Ambassador Roche added:

The seven prominent Canadian names on this important Open Letter give Canadian nuclear disarmament advocates a base and even an imperative to launch a Canadian campaign to get Canada to be (among) the first NATO country to sign and ratify the TPNW and work with NATO to change its obsolete nuclear weapons policies.

For those who are not subscribers to the Hill Times, the article is reprinted on the website of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Whither Canada?

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Foreign Minister since 2019, has taken a moderately greater interest in measures to advance nuclear disarmament than his hawkish predecessor, Chrystia Freeland.

Notably, he has voiced support for a key initiative by his Swedish counterpart, Foreign Minister Ann Linde, stating in a letter to the Group of 78:

Canada is also engaged in the ministerial-level Stockholm Initiative on Nuclear Disarmament, which on February 25, 2020, issued the “Berlin Declaration” and a list of “stepping stones”—short-term, achievable and meaningful actions—to advance nuclear disarmament.

However, on the issue of the utility of the nuclear prohibition treaty, Champagne repeats the outrageous NATO argument that:

Canada acknowledges that the negotiation and signature of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons speak to the desire of countries, activists and communities to accelerate the pace of nuclear disarmament. The Government of Canada shares this sentiment and recognizes the legitimacy of criticisms regarding progress toward realizing a world without nuclear weapons.

However, we must consider that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has further exacerbated divisions within the international community, at a time of already heightened global tensions. To make progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons, united action is needed. [emphasis added]

Ambassador Roche makes clear the true source of these divisions in his Hill Times article, writing:

… it is the refusal by the nuclear weapons states to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons, as ordered by the NPT, that led to the development of the Prohibition Treaty.

In light of the position taken by prominent former Canadian and international leaders, including two former NATO Secretaries-General, we reiterate our call, as unanimously recommended by the Standing Committee on National Defence, for Canada — on an urgent basis — to take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (UN General Assembly)

* The Right Honourable John Turner passed away on 19 September 2020, two days before the release of the Open Letter.

Tags: Ambassador Douglas Roche, FM François-Philippe Champagne, International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, NATO, NATO nuclear policy, September 21 Open Letter on NATO nuclear policy and TPNW, Swedish FM Ann Linde, UN 75th Anniversary High Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary-General, UN Secretary-General António Guterres