Motion to Urge Nuclear Weapon States to Reaffirm Commitment Adopted (includes News Release)

Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
2nd Session, 36th Parliament,
Volume 138, Issue 39
Tuesday, March 28, 2000
The Honourable Rose-Marie Losier-Cool, Speaker pro tempore

News Release

The Senate of Canada on March 28th adopted a Motion urging the Nuclear Weapon States to move to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons, as called for by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Motion, introduced by Douglas Roche, O.C., Independent Senator from Alberta, was adopted without a vote.

Senator Roche, speaking as Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative, urged the Government of Canada to work alongside the New Agenda Coalition at the NPT Review Conference (April 24-May 19) to obtain the Nuclear Weapon States' reaffirmation of their NPT Article VI commitment "and ensure that governments make new commitments to accelerate the nuclear disarmament process."

Speaking as a Government member in the Senate debate, Senator Sheila Finestone, calling the NPT Review Conference "crucial," said: "The future course of nuclear weapons, attitudes, policies, and arsenals is at stake." She said Canada would seek an updated action program with new, concrete objectives for disarmament and non-proliferation, advance a more robust review process, and promote universal adherence to the NPT.

Senator Noel Kinsella, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, said the time has come for governments to approach the elimination of nuclear weapons in terms of "a new generation of rights," which would include the right to peace for all peoples. He quoted the words of Martin Luther King who said: "I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation."

Senator Roche referred to the Middle Powers Initiative's call for the Nuclear Weapon States to "affirm unequivocally that there are legally binding obligations to engage in good faith negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons and to commence these negotiations as a matter of utmost urgency." He also called for nuclear weapons to be taken off alert status, a No-First-Use pledge, and legal assurances that nuclear weapons would never be used against non-nuclear weapon states.

He added that the Nuclear Weapon States "should also acknowledge that the NPT regime cannot endure indefinitely if a few States insist that nuclear weapons provide them with unique security benefits while denying these alleged benefits to others."

The text of the Senate Motion reads:

"That the Senate recommends that the Government of Canada urge the Nuclear Weapon States to reaffirm their unequivocal commitment to take action towards the total elimination of their nuclear weapons, as called for by the Non-proliferation Treaty, which will be reviewed April 24-May 19, 2000".

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Review of Non-Proliferation Treaty:
Motion to Urge Nuclear Weapon States to Reaffirm Commitment Adopted

Hon. Douglas Roche, pursuant to notice of March 21, 2000, moved: That the Senate recommends that the Government of Canada urge the Nuclear Weapon States to reaffirm their unequivocal commitment to take action towards the total elimination of their nuclear weapons, as called for by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which will be reviewed April 24 to May 19, 2000. He said: Honourable senators, in this presentation, I wish to make three points: first, why the issue is urgent; second, what the NPT review conference should do; and third, Canada's role in advancing the nuclear disarmament agenda.

First, the urgency. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Americans and Russians started reducing their nuclear arms, most people thought the nuclear weapons problem had evaporated with the Cold War. However, the problem did not go away. In fact, today, despite the lesser numbers than at the height of the Cold War, the threat to humanity posed by the existing 35,000 nuclear weapons is rated by many experts as worse than during the Cold War.

The U.S. Senate has rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The U.S. is preparing to deploy a missile defence system over the objections of Russia and China, who protest that this will start a new arms race. India is preparing to deploy nuclear weapons in the air, on land and at sea. Pakistan, which has successfully tested nuclear weapons, is now ruled by the military. Meaningful discussions at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva are deadlocked. The Russian Duma has not ratified START II, and Russia has published a revised national security doctrine that broadens the possible scenarios in which Russia would use nuclear weapons.

Honourable senators, the gains made in the past decade on reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons are being wiped out. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the non-proliferation agenda is in, in his words, "deplorable stagnation." He said:

It is even more disheartening to hear Nuclear Weapon States reiterate their nuclear doctrines, postures and plans which envisage reliance on nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.
Since the only use of a nuclear weapon occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 55 years ago, most of the world has no memory of what nuclear weapons do. They are not just an advanced form of ordinary weaponry. They have the power to decimate the natural environment which has sustained humanity from the beginning of time. Nuclear weapons produce lethal levels of heat and blast, produce radiation and radioactive fallout, exterminate civilian populations, produce social disintegration, contaminate and destroy the food chain, and continue for decades after their use to induce health-related problems. This is a staggering compilation of damage that no amount of obfuscation, such as referring to unintended collateral damage, can cover up. This is why the former president of the World Court, Mohammed Bedjaoui of Algeria, called nuclear weapons "the ultimate evil." In fact, he added that the existence of nuclear weapons challenges "the very existence of humanitarian law."

During the acrimonious years of the Cold War, with the emphasis on the military doctrine of nuclear deterrence as a constant justification for the nuclear arms buildup, the public seemed blinded to the horror of what nuclear weapons were all about; but now, in the post-Cold War era characterized by an East-West partnership, there is no excuse for shielding the public from the assault upon life itself that nuclear weapons represent.

Second, the NPT review conference. The Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into existence in 1970, is the largest arms control and disarmament treaty in the world, with 187 nations as signatories. Its central provision, Article VI, calls for good faith negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament and to general disarmament under strict and effective international control. In fact, the NPT was constituted as a bargain between the five nuclear weapons states of the day - the U.S., the Soviet Union, now Russia, the U.K., France and China - and with the non-nuclear weapon states. In return for the nuclear weapon states giving up their nuclear weapons, the non-nuclear weapon states promised not to acquire them.

As the years mounted and the nuclear weapon states refused to negotiate going to zero, India and Pakistan charged that the NPT was a discriminatory treaty and refused to sign it. Now, with their tests of 1998, India and Pakistan have openly joined the nuclear weapons club. Israel has also not signed the NPT and has become nuclear-weapons capable. Thus, there are now eight nuclear weapons states, the five principal ones being the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.


The International Court of Justice, in its landmark 1996 advisory opinion, said this was unacceptable and too dangerous to tolerate, and unanimously called for the conclusion of negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

At the forthcoming NPT review conference, the records of the nuclear weapon states will be carefully examined. It will be shown that the United States and the United Kingdom have made some reductions. Russia, France and China have not.

Moreover, efforts to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons have regressed since 1995. The U.S. indicated, in its 1997 Presidential Decision Directive 60, that nuclear weapons remain the cornerstone of its security policy. NATO, at its Washington summit in April 1999, reaffirmed that nuclear weapons "will continue to fulfil an essential role" in its strategic concept, although, at the urging of Canada, Germany and Norway, the alliance agreed in principle last December to an internal review of its nuclear policy.

We must remember that the NPT, which was indefinitely extended in 1995, legally obliges its signatories to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons, not merely their reduction. This legal point has also been made in a political manner by the New Agenda Coalition of seven middle-power nations - Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden - whose resolution at the United Nations last fall: Calls upon the Nuclear Weapons States to make an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and to engage without delay in an accelerated process of negotiations, thus achieving nuclear disarmament, to which they are committed under Article VI of the NPT.

This resolution was adopted by a vote of 111 for, 13 against, and 39 abstentions, with seven of the eight nuclear weapon states voting against it. China abstained. Moreover, the western nuclear weapons states campaigned against it and have intimidated their NATO partners not to support it. To their credit, Canada and 13 other NATO members last fall at least abstained on the resolution.

Honourable senators, it is critical to global security that the NPT survive until a comprehensive plan for eliminating all nuclear weapons is negotiated. This means that the nuclear weapon states, recognizing the importance of the NPT to their own security, must be committed, without equivocation, to fulfilling their Article VI obligations.

To this end, the Middle Powers Initiative calls upon the nuclear weapon states to take the following main steps.

First, they should affirm unequivocally that there are legally binding obligations to engage in good faith negotiations, to eliminate nuclear weapons and to commence these negotiations as a matter of utmost urgency. Then they should take clear steps to diminish the salience of nuclear weapons by reducing national and allied reliance on them by, for example, taking them off hair-trigger alert, pledging never to use them first, negotiating a legally binding agreement which assures non-nuclear weapon states that nuclear weapons will not be used against them, and committing to a prohibition on the design or development of new nuclear weapons. Then they should also acknowledge that the NPT regime cannot endure indefinitely if a few states insist that nuclear weapons provide them with unique security benefits while denying these alleged benefits to others. Finally, honourable senators, let me speak of Canada's role. In recent weeks, two important conferences of NGO experts have been held in Canada, designed to assist the Government of Canada to play the important role it is capable of at the NPT review conference.

A government consultation with civil society, held on February 3 and 4, heard calls for Canada to throw its support unreservedly behind the New Agenda Coalition. Some nations in NATO, observing Canada's efforts to get a meaningful review in NATO of the alliance's nuclear weapons policies, have taken to calling Canada a "nuclear nag". "More power to Canada", the participants said at the conference, and then they posed this urgent question: "How long will Canada keep the New Agenda Coalition at arm's length in the interest of working to change NATO from within?"

A second meeting, this one a joint seminar on March 18 of the Canadian Pugwash Group and Science for Peace, emphasized that Canada should work alongside the New Agenda Coalition at the NPT review conference, seek reaffirmation of the NPT Article VI commitment, and ensure that governments make new commitments to accelerate the nuclear disarmament process. Canadian Pugwash and Science for Peace believe that Canada can, and must, provide sustained diplomatic representation to the nuclear weapon states to carry out an unequivocal commitment to nuclear disarmament. Accountability on commitments must be demonstrated by specific, concrete measures. Honourable senators, I have discussed the urgency of the situation, the importance of the NPT review and what Canada should do. The spread of nuclear weapons is one of the most terrible threats faced by the human race. The non-proliferation treaty must be saved from unravelling. Canada, as a strong adherent of the NPT, has an opportunity and an obligation to protect this vital treaty.

I commend this motion to you.

Hon. Sheila Finestone: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise in support of the motion from our colleague who, as we all know, was a very respected member of the Canadian team, Ambassador for Disarmament for the Canadian government, and led them to the UN 1985 conference on the non-proliferation treaty with respect to nuclear weapons. We are very fortunate to have this gentleman in our midst as a senator. That he would ring the alarm bells is very much in keeping with the kind of role he has played as a conscience for Canada and the world in these areas.

Senator Roche has asked: Why is this issue urgent? Is it a major concern? Is it a major issue for Canada? I may be enlarging his thought, but I believe that the thought was there, and I am sure one of his questions is: Since Canada holds that seat at the Security Council in the United Nations, what is the government doing to address that role?

Honourable senators, there are many issues and many threats that are very wide-ranging in this world, whether we are discussing the victimization, one-by-one, of people in civil conflict, or the spectre of mass annihilation from nuclear weapons, and they are all of serious concern. These threats with respect to nuclear weapons, at their most basic, imperil all humanity. Our human security is at risk.

Often, people say that the answer is to build walls, because the threat does not really affect us, those nuclear arms are not so close by. Well, honourable senators, they are. They are just beyond our border, as Senator Roche pointed out, and it is a very important issue. We cannot turn away, ignore, retreat or shut the world out. It is not possible.

The forces of globalization are another matter. The advances in technology, the entire question of transportation and communications, rule out any form of isolation for us as Canadians. They should be an incentive for us to support the work that has been undertaken by our government and by our leadership.

I sat on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other House. We were directed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to undertake an in-depth study on nuclear proliferation and the role that Canada could play before achieving a seat on the Security Council.

I recall joining a group of parliamentarians who were invited to Germany to discuss issues of nuclear non-proliferation and Canada's role. There was very serious concern about the position our standing committee had taken at that time. One of the things I learned from that experience is that isolation is not desirable, nor possible, and the forces that make those issues problems for others also make them problems for us. They highlight our common humanity and connect us in a common destiny.

We have sought, in a sense, to project Canadian values about caring on to the world stage. It was T.S. Eliot who said that April is the cruelest month. If you are a minister of foreign affairs right now, and if you were about to move into the hot seat or chair of the Security Council on April 1, I think you would find that April is a crucial month. Next month, an entire confluence of events will take place: Canada's presidency of the UN Security Council and the West African Conference on War-Affected Children that Canada is co-sponsoring with Ghana. One of our honourable senators, Senator Pearson, is very involved in that the latter. Also, the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is about to take place, which the Honourable Senator Roche has brought to your attention. All eyes will be focused on all these issues. However, I do not think any of us realizes how vitally important this Non-Proliferation Treaty is with respect to human security. (1740)

Honourable senators, it is impossible for us not to recognize that we must promote human security at the UN Security Council. That is the way we can best address the threats to our own safety, to the safety of our families, to the safety of our society and to the safety of humanity worldwide. We cannot live in isolated ignorance and lack of understanding concerning the things that we must do.

Honourable senators, we can derive little satisfaction from the progress we have made thus far. Do not think there has not been progress, because there has; however, there is no satisfaction while the risk of nuclear annihilation looms over our collective safety. There is, quite frankly, no greater potential menace to human security.

The risks associated with nuclear arms appear to have faded from the radar screen. Do we hear anyone talking about it? Have we listened to the debates in the United States and to those men who think that they can lead the world by becoming president of the United States? Did they say one word about international affairs of any consequence? Certainly there was not a word about nuclear disarmament or the potential impact of nuclear arms.

The Honourable Senator Roche said that there are 35,000 active bombs out there, all of which are stronger than the bomb that detonated over Hiroshima. We must be concerned about this.

The risks associated with nuclear arms seem to have faded from international concern. The urgency for action has ebbed, and the structures that we have built to manage the threats are increasingly on shaky ground. We seem to have lost our way. I find it quite incredible that there are strong lobby groups out there who have not lost their way, who have seen the light and who were referred to by the honourable senator in his speech. We must encompass that will and that energy to move ahead and to ensure, by acting resolutely and together, that nuclear arms control and disarmament takes place.

Honourable senators, I do not think it can be accomplished overnight. Let us be under no illusion about that. However, the dangers are real enough. The threat to horizontal proliferation is evident. Nuclear testing in India and Pakistan has added a frightening new dimension to political instability in that region. Vertical proliferation, however, remains a challenge. There has been undeniable progress in nuclear disarmament, but the trend by some to justify retaining nuclear arsenals as a defence against other weapons or on economic grounds is a real worry.

Those of us who were at the conference of the IPU in Brussels will remember the discussion about why we cannot expect all the holders of nuclear weapons and missiles to get rid of them in a hurry. It is hard just to get rid of them. The prospect of the illicit transfer of nuclear weapons is very disturbing.

Honourable senators, I hope that, wherever possible, we will raise the issue and that we will raise it with members of the other place. It will involve a sensitive undertaking, once again, of the population so that we can develop the political will to move our people forward.

I should like to remind honourable senators that Canada remains firmly committed to the role of nuclear non-proliferation. An effective NPT is the centrepiece of a non-proliferation regime. There are only four states that have not signed it. It is the most widely adhered to international security court in history. In a month's time, we will go to an NPT review conference, the first since its extension in 1995. The success of this conference is crucial. The future course of nuclear weapons, attitudes, policies and arsenals is at stake. I suggest, however, that the outlook is quite clouded. There is a sense that the fundamental deal at the heart of the treaty - a promise by those without nuclear weapons not to acquire them in exchange for an undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to eventually get rid of them - is not being respected by some on either side. There is, likewise, a feeling that the commitment by the nuclear weapon states to the concept of "permanence with accountability" - that is, extending the NPT indefinitely in exchange for greater accountability by others - is not being met. In response to the third point made by the Honourable Senator Roche, which is about Canada's role in the entire area, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has said there is a three-fold response: securing agreement to an updated five-year action program with new, concrete objectives for disarmament and non-proliferation; seeking a more robust review and assessment process to give full meaning to the principle of permanence with accountability; and promoting universal adherence to the NPT, with renewed commitment by treaty member states to live up to their obligations. A strengthened NPT is indispensable; so is reinforcing other parts of the non-proliferation regime.

Honourable senators, there are other issues that we will not deal with today, but Canada is pressing in all these areas. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that there should be concern. Canada fully concurs and shares in the worries expressed and the point of view you have raised today. I suggest, however, that unilateral efforts to build defences against these dangers are unlikely to provide a lasting security and might possibly increase insecurity with what is happening around the world.

The other crucial factor in all these efforts is the role of individual citizens and civil society. Political will and energy are required to restore vital momentum to raise the issue of nuclear weapons control and reduction that is not generated in the stale basements of the United Nations or certainly in the closed council chambers in Geneva. In democracies such as ours, there is a vital and important role to be played by citizens. In order to capture the minds and the hearts of people, we must work collaboratively with the NGOs. They are a vital and important force. I would commend the NGOs to continue their effort. In discussion with Senator Roche earlier, I asked how we can tackle the notion that we should be moving forward with great energy. Perhaps we could all face the cabinet and tell them that this has to stop now. He said that the only way we will move this forward is to ensure that the NGOs gather 10,000 to 20,000 people, line them up on Parliament Hill and yell. I do not think that will get us very far now, but I do think that tens of thousands of people need to get out there and let MPs know that this is where we want to go. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs certainly knows. He has provided an undertaking to make things work well at the UN Security Council, and we wish him well in trying to meet the goals and aspirations of Canadians.

An important comment was made at the UN General Assembly in its Declaration on the Prevention of Nuclear Catastrophe in 1981, which summarized all the foregoing facts. A senator brought that to our attention. It stated that: All the horrors of past wars and other calamities that have befallen people would pale in comparison with what is inherent in the use of nuclear weapons capable of destroying civilization on earth.

This is the ultimate evil.


Honourable senators, I hope we will move on this motion. It is well founded and most fortuitous at this particular time. I hope the discussions go well on April 24 and afterwards.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Hon. Nol A. Kinsella (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, on behalf of the opposition, I commend our colleague Senator Roche for continuing with an initiative in this field in which he has already distinguished himself and in which he has brought credit to his country. We certainly support the recommendations that the Senate would give to the Government of Canada urging that the nuclear weapons states give their unequivocal commitment to take action towards the total elimination of their nuclear weapons, as called for by the Non-Proliferation Treaty which, as already mentioned, will be reviewed this April and May.

In addressing this motion and the recommendation that it makes to the Government of Canada, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King who once stated: "I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation."

Those words came to mind as I reflected during these two excellent interventions this afternoon. I wondered about the frame of reference, the model of analysis at the beginning of the 21st century within which the question of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons ought to be cast. The question I ask is whether the paradigm of the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s is the appropriate paradigm for framing international action to achieve the objective of a world that is free of nuclear arms.

It seems to me that there are some very important principles but, effectively, the international community did develop during that era. On the one hand, the dynamics of international politics then demonstrated a step-by-step approach to dealing with the early attempts to limit nuclear arms. On the other hand, it was facilitated perhaps in more recent times by the geo-political change in the world community, particularly with the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Perhaps we should review what was happening then. That might be helpful as our government and other governments attempt to deal with eradication from the world community of nuclear arms.

We have perceived in the human rights field a move from a first generation of human rights dealing with civil and political rights issues, to a second generation of rights dealing with economic, social and cultural rights. Now a new generation of rights has been achieved by the world community in recent times and it has been referred to as solidarity rights, environmental rights and rights to peace. In the world community, our international culture in the year 2000 is the culture, to use the jargon, of "the global village." It may be jargon but it is true.

Not only is there a political restructuring, an economic structuring of which we often speak, there is a world cultural restructuring which is taking place.

Perhaps our government and other governments can attempt to conceptualize new world policy and the elimination of nuclear weapons in terms of this new generation of rights which speaks to the solidarity of all people. These weapons of mass destruction can affect each and every one of us on planet Earth. This is why it is a solidarity issue. I simply submit that proposition.

The non-governmental organizations which have been referenced obviously play a critical role, not only in this area but in so many other areas. Sometimes it would appear that non-governmental organizations are ahead of governments. We need not be surprised by that. Although some policy-makers resist the pressures which are brought to bear on public issues by non-governmental organizations, generally speaking, all governments attend quite judiciously to non-governmental organizations' comments. We should remind ourselves of one of the things which most impressed Alexis de Tocqueville upon his visit to America in the last century. He wrote of it in his book on America and he stated his belief that the key to American democracy and freedom was the existence and the activity of so many non-governmental organizations.

I should like to underscore Senator Finestone's comments, not simply because it is the politically correct thing to say, but rather because the role of the non-governmental organizations speaks directly to international solidarity.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt this motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Motion agreed to.