Canada's Policies on Nuclear Weapons

Report/Analysis by Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative
April, 1999

The Government of Canada on April 19, 1999 issued its response tothe Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs' report on nuclear weapons.It is available at government'sresponse constitutes official government policy. First, a report; second,an analysis.


In a 27-page response, and seven accompanying documents, to 15recommendations of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs andInternational Trade, the Government of Canada has:At the same time, the Government of Canada did not accept certainrecommendations made by the Committee. The Government:At the heart of the Government's policy statement is the "balance" Canadahas customarily sought between achieving nuclear disarmament goals andloyalty to NATO. The policy statement contained this key passage:"The Government agrees that Canada intensify its efforts to advance theglobaldisarmament and non-proliferation regime... . The United Nations continuesto be the key vehicle for pursuing Canada's global security objectives... . Asanactive member of NATO and a net contributor to overall Alliance Security,as a friend and neighbour of the United States and its partner in NORAD...Canada balances its Alliance obligations with its disarmament and non-proliferation goals."


The Standing Committee's two-year study of nuclear weapons policiesbegan as the result of a recommendation to the Government by ProjectPloughshares, which had conducted Roundtables attended by 400 Canadiancommunity leaders in 18 cities in all 10 provinces.

After the Parliamentary Committee started its work, ProjectPloughshares held a second set of Roundtables, which recommended theseactions:

Measured against these standards, the Government's updated nuclear policy isonly a modest step forward.Measured against the opposition of the United States not only to any changesin nuclear policy but to the very review itself (an opposition the Chairmanof the Standing Committee, Bill Graham, M.P., publicly complained about),the Government's policy is asignificant step forward.

For the Government of Canada to state formally that it wants NATO to reviewits nuclear weapons policy is to challenge a key element of NATO's doctrineand one which has been upheld many times by the U.S. Government. TheCanadian action sends a signal to other NATO countries that they, too, canpress for a review, which many NATO countries want but have been afraid topublicly express. Germany, which had been particularly vocal in this areauntil a few weeks ago, now has a new opening.

While the words "No First Use" do not appear in the Canadian policy, it isevident in a discussion of NATO's overwhelming conventional strength thatCanada doubts the military or political value of NATO's First-Use policy.Canada said: "The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons mighthave to be contemplated by the Alliance are now extremely remote and evenmore difficult to envisage."

Still, Canada did not go so far as to disown the nuclear deterrencedoctrine, which undergirds the NWS determination to maintain their nucleararsenals. There was no reference to an essential point that is repeatedlymade by NGOs: nuclear weapons have no moral legitimacy or justification andshould be completely stripped of any political legitimacy.

To the Committee's specific recommendation that Canada press the NWS todemonstrate an "unequivocal commitment" to conclude negotiations leading tothe elimination of nuclear weapons (language that draws on the well-knownstatements of the Canberra Commission, the International Court of Justice,and the New Agenda Coalition), Canada said only that the NWS shouldnegotiate further reductions through an expanded START process.

"Canada's objective remains the complete elimination of nuclear weapons,"the Government said. But with respect to joining the New Agenda Coalitionor even voting for the NAC resolution at the U.N., Canada shyly contenteditself with saying: "Canada will continue to engage the members of the NewAgenda Coalition in pursuing shared nuclear disarmament andnon-proliferation objectives."

However, the fact that Canada has so formally boosted the New AgendaCoalition gives added strength to that new organization (Brazil, Egypt,Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden), one of whose original members, Slovenia, dropped off asthe result of Western NWS pressure. Canada has signaled that it will workwith NAC in the construction of a new resolution at the 1999 UNGA. Together with the continued work of the NATO NNWS core, which abstained onthe NAC 1998 resolution, the possibility of new gains on a global resolutionbringing the weight of virtually all the NNWS world against the NWS holdoutsis on the horizon.

If such a clear cut global expression about negotiations toeliminate nuclear weapons is actually reached as the result of the combinedwork of the NAC and newly brave NATO NNWS, the diplomacy of the Canadianpolicy may one day be viewed as a triumph. For the moment, even the factthat the Canadian policy went as far as it did is sure to elicit negativereaction from the U.S. Whether coincident or not, it was reported this week that the U.S. StateDepartment has removed Canada's favoured status as a defence and aerospacetrading partner, a move that could put $5 billion a year worth of Canadianexports in jeopardy. And the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Gordon Giffin, haspublicly warned Canada not to tamper with NATO doctrines. Perhaps Canadahas tried to sweeten its relationship with the U.S. by offering to considerusing U.S. excess plutonium in Canadian reactors (a move sure to becondemned by many anti-nuclear energy activists in Canada).

It is a long way from a statement of one country's policy to NATOaction.

How the current global crisis surrounding Kosovo will play intoanyNATO review of nuclear weapons policies remains to be seen. Kosovo hasshown already that any escalation of the present conflict will inducenuclear saber-rattling. The danger to the world of maintaining nuclearweapons amidst such continuing global volatility is unnerving.

This unstable situation is a continuing concern of the MiddlePowersInitiative, which sent a delegation of senior U.S. figures (General LeeButler, Robert McNamara, Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., Dr. Tom Graham) tomeet with senior Canadian government officials in March. The MPI delegationsent a strong signal to Canadian leaders that there is an important body ofthought in the U.S. that wants immediate progress on nuclear disarmament.

MPI should now ensure that the new Canadian policy, which at least opensdoors, is circulated widely to government and key non-governmentalorganizations. The object of this MPI exercise, in concert with NGOs aroundthe world, should be to provide assistance to the NAC and the NNWS of NATO.