UN Disarmament Chief visits Ottawa

On 19 and 20 February the UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, spent two days in Ottawa. Sponsored (and funded) by the NGO, Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, and facilitated by two of Canada’s nuclear disarmament heavyweights, Doug Roche and Ernie Regehr, her programme included:

A planned meeting with Foreign Minister Champagne was cancelled when he had to fly to Barbados for a summit with Caribbean leaders instead of the Prime Minister who stayed in Canada to lead the Government of Canada’s response to the rail shutdown and land rights protests.

In her CIPS presentation Ms. Nakamitsu decried the “militarization of international affairs”, the grave dangers of nuclear weapons and the pressing need for “diplomatic and political measures” to address these dangers:

What the Secretary-General has termed “the nuclear menace” is growing. The norm against the use of nuclear weapons and the collective goal of a nuclear weapon-free world are threatened in ways not seen since the height of the Cold War.

Emphasizing that these are “negative trends, but they are not irreversible”, the High Representative went on to discuss the vision set out by the UN Secretary-General in his agenda for disarmament: Securing our Common Future :

…the agenda seeks to reinsert disarmament into its historic position as an integral component of conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution.

Two of the urgent steps highlighted by the High Representative are:

  • For all countries to help reinforce the norm against the use of nuclear weapon by reaffirming the Reagan-Gorbachev statement that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
  • Practical measures to reduce the risk of accidental or inadvertent use of nuclear weapons (bearing in mind the only way to “eliminate” those risks is to eliminate the weapons).

For the full statement by the High Representative see: Securing Our Common Future: Why Disarmament Matters Today as Much as Ever.

On the matter of the organization and funding of this important trip, RI President Peggy Mason noted:

Nuclear disarmament is the UN’s highest disarmament priority. Yet even in the context of our Security Council election campaign, a visit by the UN’s disarmament chief had to be entirely funded by NGO’s.

Reinforcing the norm against nuclear use: the Stockholm Disarmament Initiative

In a June 2019 blog  we highlighted the Stockholm Initiative on Nuclear Disarmament, launched by a Ministerial-level meeting, hosted by the then Foreign Minister of Sweden Margot Wallström, in order “to elevate political attention to nuclear risks, and to inject new life into the nuclear disarmament commitments made by States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Canada is one of 16 participating countries (although most regrettably not represented by then Foreign Minister Freeland at that inaugural meeting).

Participants released a joint declaration in which they highlighted their shared goal of ‘a world free of nuclear weapons’, gave support to the ‘United Nations Secretary General’s call to bring disarmament and non-proliferation back to the top of the international political agenda,’ and highlighted concrete disarmament measures that could be advanced with the nuclear-armed States.

The new Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde took the occasion of a recent debate on foreign policy in the Swedish parliament to underscore the priority Sweden attaches to disarmament and to advise of the next step in relation to the Stockholm Initiative:

Disarmament and non-proliferation are central foreign and security policy priorities for the Government.

Through the Stockholm Initiative on Nuclear Disarmament, the Government is contributing to the upcoming Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This work is now being advanced at a new ministerial meeting [on 25 February] in Germany.

A call to nuclear-armed and allied States including Canada

The background paper to the Swedish initiative goes well beyond the Ministerial declaration and specifically calls for nuclear-armed and allied States at the NPT Review Conference to agree to a number of measures including to:

  1. Strengthen the norm against nuclear weapons use through an unequivocal expression against the notion of any nuclear use, for example through affirming that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”;
  2. Prevent the outbreak of nuclear war by adopting sole-purpose and/or no-first use policies;
  3. Ratify all outstanding protocols to the regional nuclear-weapon-free-zones (NWFZs), and by doing so affirm that they would not threaten or use nuclear weapons against the states parties to NWFZs;
  4. Create a clear distinction between conventional and nuclear delivery systems, so as to avoid nuclear war by misunderstanding or mission creep;
  5. Increase the decision-making time for launching nuclear weapons to avoid launches by mistake, and consider de-alerting all weapons and rescinding ‘launch on warning’ policies.

President Macron rejects “battlefield” nuclear weapons

In light of the Swedish initiative and against the alarming backdrop of an American nuclear posture under President Trump that increases, rather than reduces, the role of nuclear weapons, it is instructive to consider a recent speech by French President Macron on Defence and Deterrence Strategy.

Albeit, in parallel with a call for increased European defence spending, he urged Europeans to be at the forefront of a “renewed international arms control agenda”.

He emphasized that the independent French nuclear deterrent was “a last resort” and further stated:

Our nuclear forces are not directed towards any specific country and France has always refused that nuclear weapons be considered as …battlefield weapons. I hereby reaffirm that France will never engage into a nuclear battle or any forms of graduated response.

The fundamental point here is that NATO’s strategic doctrine, to which Canada adheres, is not a policy of “last resort” and includes the presence of “tactical” (or battlefield) nuclear weapons on the territory of five non-nuclear members of NATO.

Whither Canada?

We call on Canada to participate in the Stockholm Disarmament initiative at the Foreign Minister level and to redouble  efforts to promote a serious dialogue on how NATO members can begin to close the gap between the Alliance nuclear doctrine and the disarmament obligations of its members under the NPT.


Photo credit: UN photos


Tags: "battlefield nuclear weapons", 2018 American Nuclear Posture Review, 2020 NPT Review Conference, Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS), NATO, NATO Strategic Doctrine, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Parliamentarians for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), President Macron, Securing our Common Future, so-called "tactical nuclear weapons", Stockholm Disarmament Initiative, UN Security Council campaign, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu