30 Years later, has treaty bombed?

PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2000.03.12

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

Non-proliferation pact is nowhere near its goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons

ON MARCH 5, the Non-Proliferation Treaty observed its 30th anniversary. It wasn't much of a birthday party.

The NPT, whose 187 members make it the largest disarmament treaty in the world, was supposed to rid the world of nuclear weapons. When it came into existence, there were 38,526 nuclear weapons. Today, there are about 35,000.

So much for nuclear disarmament.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Americans and Russians started reducing their nuclear arms, most people thought the nuclear weapons problem would evaporate. But, despite fewer numbers than at the height of the Cold War, the threat today posed by nuclear weapons is rated by some analysts as worse than during the Cold War. Consider:

The gains made in the past decade on reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons are being wiped out.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently warned that the non-proliferation agenda is in "deplorable stagnation."

"It is even more disheartening," he said, "to hear nuclear weapon states reiterate their nuclear doctrines, postures and plans that envisage reliance on nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future."

Since the only uses 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 destroy the natural environment that sustains humanity. 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 on life itself that nuclear weapons represent.

The recognition of such dangers has produced a world movement, embracing legal, military, political, religious and community leaders, calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Prodded by 12 organizations that have formed the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Canadian government secured from NATO a commitment to review the alliance's nuclear policies. Throughout the '90s, NATO insisted that nuclear policies are "essential" and has them in several European countries.

NATO's nuclear policies are driven by its three nuclear powers, the United States, Britain and France, but the U.S. position is of overwhelming importance.

In the past decade, the United States has eliminated 47 per cent of its deployed strategic (long-range) warheads and 80 per cent of its tactical (short-range) nuclear warheads.

On the other hand, the U.S. has reiterated that nuclear weapons remain the "cornerstone" of its security policy and, with Britain and France, refuses to enter into any comprehensive negotiations with the Russians and Chinese to eliminate, over time, all nuclear weapons. In a remarkably frank article in the Washington Post, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter warned that "the non-proliferation system may not survive" without U.S. leadership to move toward elimination.

This brings us back to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which will undergo a critical five-year review at the U.N., April 24 to May 19. At the last review, in 1995, the NPT was made permanent in a package deal that called for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, negotiations to cut off the production of fissile material, and "determined pursuit of systematic and progressive efforts" to eliminate nuclear weapons. The leading non-nuclear weapon states charge that, despite these promises, nuclear weapons development continues. The heart of the NPT is Article VI, which obliges states "to pursue negotiations in good faith." India and Pakistan openly scorn the NPT because Article VI has never been lived up to, and they take the position that as long as the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council maintain power through nuclear weapons, then they will join the "club." Israel also has nuclear weapons, but tries to stay quiet about it. The fissures in the international community have been exposed by a group of nations, Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden, calling themselves the New Agenda Coalition.

Warning that the non-proliferation system is in tatters, the coalition wants the nuclear weapon states to make an "unequivocal commitment" to begin negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons. This demand is hardly anything more than what the NPT signatories have already committed themselves to.

But so serious is the current setback in implementing the NPT that just an agreement to restate the commitment at the NPT review would be considered a victory by the pro-elimination forces.

Canada, torn between its belief in the importance of the NPT and its allegiance to NATO, has not yet given its support to the New Agenda Coalition. But it has worked to get other NATO states to signal their displeasure at the intransigence of the nuclear powers by at least not opposing the coalition. Thus, Canada and 13 other NATO states abstained on the coalition's resolution at the U.N. last fall.

The ambiguity in Canada's approach will not hold up much longer. As a result of the weakness of the NPT, the spread of nuclear weapons is looming. And the use of nuclear weapons anywhere would shatter Canada's foreign policy goals.

Douglas Roche is a senator, and a former chair of the U.N. disarmament committee.