Canada has managed the extraordinary feat of presenting its opening statement to the NPT Review Conference without any substantive reference to “disarmament” – one of the three foundational pillars of the Treaty.

Actually, the statement by Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon did make one, and only one, mention of disarmament – a reference to the DPRK’s “complete disregard for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.”

It is fair to describe Canada’s opening speech to the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as extraordinary in the sense of it being starkly out of the ordinary – out of sync with the focus and urgency with which other speeches of the opening day (May 3) spoke of disarmament and of the opportunities now before the international community.

For example, the European Union Statement[i] began by pointing out that the NPT is “based on the three mutually reinforcing pillars of non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” Canada’s 10 paragraph speech devoted 3 paragraphs to pillar one (nonproliferation), one paragraph to pillar three (peaceful uses), and none to pillar two (disarmament). There was one paragraph on North Korea, two on Iran, one on universality (urging the three states outside of the Treaty – India, Israel, and Pakistan – to join the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states, but linking that to the resolution of regional security issues). There was one paragraph on Canada’s important NPT institutional reform proposals, and a final paragraph noting that this is a time of challenge and opportunity. To Mr. Cannon’s credit he added a spoken phrase, not included in the written and distributed document, linking challenge and opportunity to “support of the common goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”

But on the substance of disarmament there was nothing.

The European Union welcomed the new US/Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and called for “its swift ratification.” The EU also “encouraged both States concerned to work towards new agreements for further, comprehensive reductions of their nuclear arsenals, including non-strategic weapons.”

The Indonesian Foreign Minister spoke on behalf of NAM states and called for “full implementation of the Treaty in a balanced [all three pillars] manner.” The Minister acknowledged the new START agreement but said that the obligations of nuclear weapon states under the NPT required further “reductions applying the principles of transparency, irreversibility and verifiability at a significantly faster pace.”

The Dutch Foreign Minister raised the issue of US nuclear weapons in Europe and said “American sub strategic nuclear arms in Europe are going to be subject of arms reduction talks between the United States and Russia.[ii] Nonproliferation and disarmament,” he said, “are mutually reinforcing.”

Brazil’s Minister of External Relations said that “Brazil is convinced that the best guarantee for non-proliferation is the total elimination of nuclear weapons. As long as some states possess nuclear arms, other states will be tempted to acquire or develop them. We may deplore this perverse logic, but we cannot deny it.”

Ireland, through its Foreign Minister, addressed the urgency of nuclear disarmament: “The horrors which nuclear weaponry can unleash on mankind and on the planet we inhabit defy description. In addition to death and destruction on a massive scale, the environmental costs are profound and long-lasting. Scientists tell us about the effects on the Earth's stratosphere of the detonation of nuclear weapons. A ‘nuclear winter’ caused by sunlight being blocked out for months or even years is a nightmare scenario which we must all work to prevent.”

Then he made the key point that perfectly illustrates the failure of vision on the part of the Canadian political leadership: “Selective approaches which stress the urgency of non-proliferation while downplaying the need for progress in relation to disarmament serve merely to weaken the Treaty. The NPT's enduring role as the foundation of the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime requires that it be implemented inall its aspects.”

All of these and other speeches also spoke urgently about nonproliferation, in much the same vein as Canada, but what they managed to convey was the importance of balance – that disarmament and nonproliferation are mutually reinforcing; that the retention of nuclear weapons by some is not irrelevant to efforts of others to acquire them.

To be fair to Canada, the opening statement to the Review Conference is only a brief summary statement. Officials will make additional statements of substance as the three pillars are addressed in greater detail. Canada has submitted a report[iii] to the Review Conference on its actions in support of implementing the NPT, which includes an extensive account of Canada’s support for Article VI (the disarmament Article) and the 13 practical disarmament steps agreed to in 2000. So Canada’s policy commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons is not in doubt, and it is confirmed, as the Canadian report points out, by virtue of Canada’s co-sponsorship of, and vote in favour of, the General Assembly resolution on “Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons” (resolution 64/47).

What is in considerable doubt is the level of enthusiasm within the political leadership of the current Government of Canada for any determined push on nuclear weapons states to accelerate their implementation of the disarmament pillar, while also pressing, of course, for strict implementation of the nonproliferation pillar.

Unfortunately, the statement by Foreign Minister Cannon continues the Harper Government’s unsoiled record of silence in the public and political arenas on the subject of nuclear disarmament. If the objective was to sorely annoy non-nuclear-weapon states in the non-aligned movement, whose support is absolutely essential to any strong action on nonproliferation, then this must be judged a successful speech.

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Notes

[i] All statements are available on the UN’s Website at http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2010/ and the Website of the NGO Reaching Critical Will at http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/revcon2010/statements.html.

[ii] The Minister failed to note, unfortunately, that on April 22 his own Parliament passed a resolution (tabled by the Socialist and Green Parties) requesting the Netherlands government to inform the US that the Netherlands does not regard the presence of American nuclear weapons as essential to the protection of Europe and regards the withdrawal of these nuclear weapons as desirable. Information provided by email by Socialist Party Researcher Karel Koster.

[iii] “Implementation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons,” Report submitted by Canada, 18 March 2010 (NPT/Conf.2010/9). http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/279/58/PDF/N1027958.pdf?OpenElement.

The report includes, in an Annex, the summary of the Project Ploughshares report on NPT Reporting: “Transparency and Accountability.” The full report on reporting is available at  http://www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/Abolish/NPTreporting02-09.pdf.

 

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