We need diplomatic leadership from Canada at NATO and in Ukraine


We have often referenced in our blogs the unanimous recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on National Defence in its June 2018 NATO report as follows:

Recommendation 21

That the Government of Canada 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. That this initiative be undertaken on an urgent basis in view of the increasing threat of nuclear conflict flowing from the renewed risk of nuclear proliferation, the deployment of so-called tactical nuclear weapons, and changes in nuclear doctrines regarding lowering the threshold for first use of nuclear weapons by Russia and the US.

As former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and former diplomat Paul Meyer contend in a tour de force entitled: NATO, nukes, and a time to act (hilltimes.com, 24 Nov 2021), now that NATO is engaged in its decennial review of the Alliance Strategic Concept, this recommendation, agreed and accepted by the government, but not acted on to date, is even more timely.

In the view of Axworthy and Meyer:

Canada should mobilize like-minded allies to push the strategic concept in a new direction that emphasizes diplomacy and cooperative security measures.

We can advocate for “No First Use” declarations, de-alerting of intercontinental ballistic missiles and removal of tactical nuclear weapons.

Such advocacy is all the more important in the face of retrograde moves by certain NATO members  and other allies to counter efforts by President Biden, as they did with a similar Obama initiative, to move to a doctrine of “no first use” or “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons.

Axworthy and Meyer conclude in part:

Actions speak louder than words, and the current NATO policy review is a great opportunity for Canada to act, proudly reclaim the mantle of “nuclear nag” and represent the vast majority of Canadians who want to see the end of nuclear weapons.

For the full article on the Hill Times website, click here (subscribers only). For a PDF version for non-subscribers, click here.

Canadian leadership in NATO on reducing nuclear risks may find new allies

Shortly after the penning of the Axworthy/Meyer article, we learned of the apparent decision by Germany to attend – as an Observer – the first TPNW Meeting of States Parties (MSP) in March along with fellow NATO member Norway (and also non-NATO European nations Finland, Sweden and Switzerland). Many of us have been urging Canada do the same for some time now.

The President of the MSP is Amb Alexander Kmentt of Austria, which is a party to the treaty along with fellow “neutral” European state – Ireland. Among western and “likeminded” states, New Zealand is also a party to the treaty, despite its membership in ANZUS, a defence treaty with the USA and Australia, which has also not prevented New Zealand from prohibiting nuclear propelled, as well as nuclear armed, vessels in its territorial waters.

NATO nuclear sharing and the NPT

A glaring problem with the global nuclear non-proliferation regime – and its cornerstone, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) –  is one that is not apparent from the text of the treaty, which begins as follows:

      Article I: Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices. 

     Article II: Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. 

So one might well ask:

How is it then that an NPT non-nuclear weapons state party (NNWS) like Canada can be part of a nuclear armed military alliance, NATO, and participate in its Nuclear Planning Group?

Even more problematic are the arrangements for U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to be “based” on the territory of five non-nuclear members of the Alliance, namely, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. (Greece withdrew as a basing nation in 2001. For the more complicated Spanish story, see: Weapons of Mass Debate – Spain: A Dispassionate Supporter of Nuclear Deterrence, July 2021).

Paul Meyer, writing for UNIDIR in 2017 on The Mirage of Nuclear Deterrence – Lessons for Allies,”succinctly explains the manifest contradiction:

….United States successfully argued that its nuclear sharing arrangements within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance were “grandfathered” and did not represent a violation of Article I [of the NPT] as American “control” of the weapons was maintained.

For more on this point and how it is conclusively addressed in the TPNW, see our Jan 2021 blog here and the referenced presentation by RI President Peggy Mason in the section entitled “Grandfathering of NATO nuclear arrangements”, available here.

Debates in Germany and Belgium over NATO “nuclear sharing”

Continued German participation in the NATO-nuclear-weapons-sharing role is apparently justified in the new government’s agreement with its coalition partners as follows:

As long as nuclear weapons play a role in NATO’s strategic concept, Germany has an interest in participating in strategic discussions and planning processes”, the coalition document said, referring to Berlin’s seat on NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG).

However, here is what NATO has to say about membership in this group:

Irrespective of whether or not they have nuclear weapons, all Allies are members of the NPG with the exception of France, which has decided not to participate.

Such obfuscation on a policy as important as this one, and from a new “politically mixed” but decidedly left-leaning German government, highlights the democratic deficit at the heart of nuclear policy setting by non-nuclear NATO members, anxious to maintain the nuclear status quo by keeping public debate and scrutiny to a minimum.

At least the Belgium coalition government (sworn in 2 Oct 2020), which is also apparently leaning towards attendance at the TPNW inaugural Meeting of States Parties, had a parliamentary (and therefore public) debate about whether to continue the nuclear basing role.  See: Belgium narrowly rejects removal of US nuclear weapons (brusselstimes.com, 17 Jan 2020).

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

This is an astounding turn around in a country where the longstanding position of Belgium governments has been to “neither confirm nor deny” that Belgium had American nuclear weapons on its soil, destined to be flown on Belgium planes with Belgium pilots.

For an excellent review of the coalition dynamics behind the German decision and why it ultimately may not hold (to the dismay of the article’s “realist” author), see: Germany’s New Government Settles the Nuclear Debate – for now (gmfus.org, 29 Nov 2021).

We draw particular attention to the discussion of moves by European allies to derail President Biden’s effort to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in American strategy. Author Ronja Ganster writes:

While past U.S. nuclear strategies were intentionally vague regarding the scenarios in which the United States would use nuclear weapons, a “sole purpose” strategy would restrict the purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons to the deterrence of or retaliation against another nuclear attack. Such a policy is believed to decrease the risk of nuclear escalation because it effectively excludes preemptive nuclear strikes and resembles a “no first use policy.”

Why would there be objection to such a rationale policy change?

The author states baldly without further explanation or indeed justification:

Limiting the purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in Europe would decrease their deterrent effect.

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

The bigger question, surely, is how a policy that includes the right to strike first is not the opposite of deterrence – and a spur to the other side, in times of crisis – to act before being pre-empted?

Whither Canada?

In their article discussed at the outset of this blog, after highlighting the dangers of “global power competitions, a destabilizing arms race, nuclear sabre rattling and the weaponization of emerging technologies such as AI”, Axworthy and Meyer go on to say:

Canada has a long history of pushing for nuclear restraint and progress on nuclear disarmament. In the leadup to [the] NATO 50th anniversary summit in 1999, Canada espoused a “No First Use” policy for the Alliance. Canada was even willing to challenge NATO’s nuclear position to the point of being labelled “a nuclear nag.

But this issue has been on the back burner in Ottawa.

We reiterate our call on Canada to use the opportunity of the NATO decennial review of its Strategic Concept, now ongoing, to ensure that nuclear de-escalation and arms control measures are an essential part of the dialogue, and to engage with Belgium, Germany and Norway to that end,

And further, to join with them as Observers at the first Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in March 2022.


Recall in last week’s blog update on Ukraine we focused on the further military commitment being sought by Ukraine from Canada and our plea that the new Defence Minister exercise extreme caution regarding this request and that our new Foreign Minister finally get Canada fully behind the Minsk peace process.

On the plus side, the now-confirmed Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Wayne Eyre, while on a visit to Kyiv, has forthrightly asserted what the revolving door of Canadian Foreign Ministers has yet to even utter:

In a case like this, diplomacy absolutely has to lead.

Admiral Eyre also verified that Canada has “no plans” to send additional troops to Ukraine amid its escalating crisis, fearing that an “expanded NATO presence” in Ukraine could “provoke, rather than deter” Russia.

Commenting on Canada’s current military role in Ukraine, Eyre stated:

What we’re doing with Operation Unifier … shows long-term commitment [to Ukraine]. But we’ve got to be very careful about the balance between deterrence and escalation, and what is the perception from the other side as well.

The emphasis on diplomacy was evident from the “readout” of the 2 Dec 2021 meeting in Stockholm between U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and Russian FM Lavrov, which characterized Blinken’s words as follows:

He underscored that the best path forward is diplomacy in conjunction with the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, a process the United States is willing and ready to support.

The readout from Secretary of State Blinken’s meeting with the Ukrainian FM had the same emphasis:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met today with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Stockholm on the margins of the OSCE Ministerial. Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Kuleba discussed the need for a diplomatic, peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Donbas and the full restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty over its internationally recognized borders, including Crimea, in the face of ongoing Russian aggression. The Secretary reconfirmed the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity and stressed the full implementation of the Minsk agreements as the best path forward. The Secretary and the Foreign Minister also discussed ways to deepen the bilateral relationship. [emphasis added]

And Ukrainian FM Kuleba is quoted as saying:

Ukraine is committed to the peaceful resolution of the conflict….

No reference to diplomacy from Canadian FM or Global Affairs Canada (GAC)

Contrast all of the above with the statement issued by fledgling Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, available here, on the occasion of her 1 Dec meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart, which includes no reference to the peace process or the role of diplomacy:

Following their introductory call last week, the ministers reaffirmed the significance of the Canada-Ukraine relationship, and they emphasized the importance of continuing close bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, such as security, prosperity and the rules-based international order.

The ministers also discussed Russia’s current military buildup in and around Ukraine and Russia’s ongoing destabilization activities. They exchanged views on the concerning security situation in Ukraine and how Canada and the international community can support de-escalation….

Minister Joly highlighted that Canada continues to call on Russia to reduce tensions and to be transparent in its military activities. Further, the Minister underscored that Canada remains a steadfast ally of the Ukrainian people and strongly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

And see also the Global Affairs website page entitled: Canada’s engagement in Ukraine, which outlines the considerable support, civilian and military, that Canada is providing to Ukraine, which also fails to reference the Minsk peace process.

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

There is simply no excuse for our Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly to continue the egregious policy established by then FM Freeland of choosing pandering to extremist Ukrainian nationalists in Canada above the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine, that continues to cause so much suffering.

For a detailed – and brilliant – assessment of  how Minsk II can be implemented – and of the catastrophic consequences of a direct US-Russian military clash in Ukraine- see: Ukraine: The Most Dangerous Problem in the World (Anatol Lieven, thenation.com) 15 Nov 2021.

The by-line says it all:

But there’s already a [diplomatic] solution.

The article is particularly relevant to Canada in its skewering of opposition to the Minsk II peace agreement by Ukrainian nationalists and their supporters in the West. Lieven writes:

Such opponents … have a duty to say what they themselves are proposing as an alternative to a settlement based on the Minsk II Protocol.

Is it remotely likely that the West can bring enough economic pressure to bear on Russia to force it to abandon the Donbas without guarantees of autonomy? If not, can Ukraine win a war against Russia to force Russia to do so? If this is impossible, will the United States ever deliberately go to war with Russia to compel it to abandon the Donbas? Without a solution to the Donbas conflict, can Ukraine ever hope to join the EU?

Since the answer to all of these questions is no, the only basis for a settlement is that of the Minsk II Protocol.

Whither Canada?

We urge the new Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly to heed the wise words of Canada’s new Chief of Defence Staff and use our considerable influence in Ukraine to further the Minsk II peace process.


In what is surely a first in the entire world, Canada’s Minister of Defence and the shadow Cabinet members for National Defence from all parties in the House are female:

The Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence (Liberal Party)

Hon. Kerry-Lynne Findlay (Conservative Party)


Christine Normandin (BQ)


Lindsay Mathyssen (NDP)


Elizabeth May (Green Party)

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

Let us fervently hope that this coterie of extraordinary women bring to bear all the celebrated “feminist” leadership qualities of consensus building, cooperation and compromise – in a world currently imperilled by hyper “masculine” paradigms of dominance and confrontation.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (UN General Assembly)


Tags: BQ National Defence critic Christine Normandin, CPC National Defence critic Hon. Kery-Lynne Findlay, Minister of National Defence Hon. Anita Anand, Minsk II Agreement, NATO nuclear sharing, NATO Strategic Concept 2022, NDP National Defence critic Lindsay Mathyssen, The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), TPNW Meeting of States Parties, Ukraine, Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba