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The United Nations and Canada:
What Canada has done
and should be doing at the UN
Canada’s Role in Banning Nuclear Weapons
Douglas Roche
When the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in its 2013 Yearbook
that the nuclear weapons states “appear determined to retain their nuclear arsenals
indefinitely,” the crisis of the non‐proliferation regime was bluntly revealed. While the
international spotlight has been on
Iran’s nuclear program and North Korea’s testing of
nuclear weapons, the heart of the nuclear weapons problem remains the intransigence of
the five permanent members of the Security Council to enter into comprehensive
negotiations to eliminate the 17,000 nuclear weapons still in existence.
Despite cuts to superfluous systems, nuclear arsenals have become normalized as an
integral part of security systems. In the next decade, the chief nuclear weapons
possessors – Russia, the US, the UK, France and China ‐‐ will spend $1 trillion modernizing
these nuclear systems. They are clearly planning for a future with nuclear weapons rather
than their elimination. So serious is the stalemate in nuclear disarmament that the UN
General Assembly has called an unprecedented High‐Level Meeting on September 26 to
unblock the impasse.
What will Canada’s position be at this extraordinary meeting?
For many years, the Canadian government has joined in the “step‐by‐step” approach in
which different components of non‐proliferation are addressed, such as a ban on the
production of fissile material and a comprehensive test ban treaty. Neither has been
fulfilled. Five years ago, UN Secretary‐General Ban Ki‐moon presented a Five‐Point Plan
for Nuclear Weapons, which called for work to start on a Nuclear Weapons Convention or a
framework of instruments that would effectively ban all nuclear weapons. If the step‐by‐
step approach or the Secretary‐General’s plan were working, the extraordinary meeting
on September 26 would surely not have been called.
Many states want to end the unproductive “business‐as‐usual” approach to nuclear
disarmament. They have issued a statement calling attention to the “catastrophic
consequences” of the use of nuclear weapons. They have voted at the UN to start work
leading to negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention. The Canadian government’s
resistance to this forward‐minded thinking is shocking.
Three years ago, the organization Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention was
established comprising members of the Order of Canada who have called on the Canadian
government to support Ban Ki‐Moon’s plan for comprehensive nuclear negotiations. The
number of Order of Canada signers has now swelled to nearly 700. Their action led to a
motion, which passed unanimously in the Senate and then unanimously in the House of
Commons. The motion called on the government to support the Secretary‐General and
launch a world‐wide diplomatic initiative for nuclear disarmament.
Subsequently, two parliamentary forums were held on Parliament Hill at which members
from all political parties expressed a common desire for the Canadian government to host
a meeting of like‐minded governments to continue preparatory work for a global ban on
nuclear weapons. It was recalled that just this kind of action by the Canadian
government led to the 1997 Anti‐Personnel Landmines Treaty. The Middle Powers
Initiative, a consortium of eight civil society organizations specializing in nuclear
disarmament issues, would like to hold such a meeting in Ottawa, as was done earlier this
year in Berlin at a meeting hosted by the government of Germany.
What is standing in the way of Canadian action?
Two former Canadian prime ministers have told me that NATO is a principal obstacle to
substantive work on nuclear disarmament. A double standard has deeply conflicted NATO,
which continues to claim that the possession of nuclear weapons provides the “supreme
guarantee” of the security of its 26 member states. At one and the same time, the NATO
states reaffirm their commitment to the Non‐Proliferation Treaty (NPT) goal of nuclear
disarmament and their NATO dependence on nuclear weapons. The policies are
Canada should join with Germany and several other NATO states that want to change this
adherence to Cold War policies. The Canadian voice standing up for meaningful progress
in nuclear disarmament needs to be recovered. Bringing like‐minded states to Parliament
Hill would respond to the distinguished Canadians who want action and send a message to
the world community that nuclear weapons must be relegated to the ashbins of history.
It’s time for Canada to put into practice the statement it signed onto at the 2010 NPT
Review Conference: “All states need to make special efforts to establish the necessary
framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.”
The Hon. Douglas Roche, O.C., is an author, parliamentarian and diplomat, who has
specialized throughout his 40‐year public career in peace and human security issues. Mr.
Roche was a Senator, Member of Parliament, Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament, and
Visiting Professor at the University of Alberta. He was elected Chairman of the United
Nations Disarmament Committee at the 43rd General Assembly in 1988. In 2009, he
received the Distinguished Service Award of the Canadian Association of Former
Parliamentarians for his “promotion of human welfare, human rights and parliamentary
democracy in Canada and abroad."
He is an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2011, the International Peace Bureau
nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
This volume has been compiled and published as a project of the World Federalist Movement – Canada
( The views and opinions expressed in each of the articles are the sole
responsibility of the authors. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Unported License. To
order additional printed copies, contact World Federalist Movement – Canada (613 232‐0647, or by email:
[email protected]).