Canada and the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review

"The Peace and Environment News"
Volume 15, Number 1
February 2000

By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative

The 2000 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in April provides the world with a most crucial opportunity to preserve and strengthen the non-proliferation regime. The history of the NPT shows growing frustration with the nuclear weapons States' promise of "ultimate" nuclear disarmament. Opened for signature in 1968, the NPT entered into force on March 5, 1970. Its objective was to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to further the goal of achieving general and complete disarmament.

There are 187 signatory States, but Cuba, India, Israel, and Pakistan refuse to sign. Differences have centred on whether the declared nuclear weapon States have sufficiently complied with Article VI of the Treaty, which states: "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict international control."

Most of the nuclear weapons States have not lived up to their treaty obligations. Many non-nuclear weapon States feel as though they have been taken for granted, and that the agreements they made for indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 have not been honoured. Treaty signatories have grown frustrated with the intransigence of the nuclear weapons States. Many are not prepared to accept an indefinite monopoly in the possession of nuclear weapons, or to allow the modernization of these weapons in violation of the treaty. Three days after the first preparatory conference in 1997, India warned the United Nations "the stubborn position of the nuclear weapon States has paralysed the debate on nuclear disarmament. The window of opportunity opened at the end of the Cold War is closing." Frustration with what was perceived as the creation of nuclear 'haves' and 'have-nots' culminated with overt nuclear testing by both India and Pakistan in May of 1998, thus further highlighting the failure of world diplomacy in the nuclear sphere. The Chair of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, warned, "If there is naked cynicism on the part of the nuclear weapon States and a total disregard of nuclear disarmament commitments...then we might see not just one or two countries wanting to opt out...but a major threat of an exodus from the treaty."

During the three years of annual preparatory meetings for the 2000 Review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the nuclear weapons situation and the climate of international relations has worsened. The present situation is truly alarming: the U.S. Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; the U.S. is preparing to deploy a missile defence system over the objections of Russia and China; overt nuclear proliferation has spread in South Asia; India is preparing to deploy nuclear weapons in air, land, and sea; Pakistan experienced a coup and is now ruled by the military; NATO has reaffirmed that nuclear weapons are "essential" to its military doctrine; START II is blocked in the Russian Duma in outrage against NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia; and in Russia's latest Concept on National Security, in which the West is openly described as a potential threat, broadens the possible scenarios in which Russia would use nuclear weapons. Gains made in the past decade on reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons are rapidly eroding. Immense dangers to the world lie ahead if the present negative trends are not reversed.

On November 9, 1999, the United Nations First Committee adopted the text of the Resolution "Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: the need for a new agenda" (document A/C.1/54/L.18). Sponsored by a coalition of seven Foreign Ministers, it calls upon the nuclear-weapon 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 were committed under Article VI of the NPT. Known as the New Agenda Coalition, this initiative represents the overwhelming majority of states which have clearly lost patience with the lack of progress towards a nuclear-weapons free world.

Four nuclear weapons States (the U.S., Russia, the U.K., and France) continued to show their defiance of disarmament obligations by voting against the Resolution and China abstained. NATO, now with 19 member states, had 14 abstentions, including Canada, with new members such as Hungary and Poland voting no. Thus the NATO count was 0-5-14. Canada, along with its non-nuclear NATO allies, clearly yielded to pressure from the NATO nuclear weapons States in abstaining from this opportunity to advance nuclear disarmament.

It is an abrogation of governments' responsibility to humanity to stare silently into the abyss of nuclear proliferation. Canada must show greater courage and leadership than was demonstrated by its abstention from the New Agenda Coalition. Canada must consider it a priority to ensure that the NPT survives beyond the 2000 Review Conference as a key instrument of nuclear disarmament. Our first task is to give our complete support to the sponsors of the New Agenda Coalition, demonstrating to them that Canada will not cease its active support for their efforts. Concerned Canadians also need to involve themselves with citizen organizations in order to press their representatives to support disarmament efforts. There is a need to gather more strength among the public so that the most intransigent and skeptical of leaders will feel the will of people who seek the abolition of nuclear weapons. An invigorated fusion of like-minded governments and an advanced wave of civil society can create enormous world pressure that the nuclear weapons States will no longer be able to ignore.

For readers interested in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament, contact Physicians for Global Survival or Project Ploughshares.

Physicians for Global Survival
Suite 208, 145 Spruce Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 6P1
Tel: (613) 233-1982
Fax: (613) 233-9028

Project Ploughshares is a Canadian peace and disarmament organization sponsored by the Canadian Council of Churches and supported by Canadian religious and civic organizations and thousands of individuals.

Project Ploughshares
Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
Conrad Grebel College
Waterloo, ON N2L 3G6
Tel: (519) 888-6541
Fax: (519) 885-0806
Web site:

Concerned Canadians should also be encouraged to write their Member of Parliament in order to express their views.