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Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

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Because of an electronic transmission problem, this letter, sent to Mr. Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada, February 18, appears only today on our site. Regardless of the delay, the Communications Service of the CCCB deems it important for visitors to read it.

The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

c.c. The Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dear Prime Minister Chrétien,

We write in deep appreciation of your government's persistent and courageous leadership in the ongoing effort to rid the world of the scourge of anti-personnel landmines, and to challenge you to bring that same visionary dedication to bear upon efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Our church communities rejoiced with all Canadians, and especially with people in mine- affected countries, in that proud moment in Ottawa last December when Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy signed the landmines treaty on behalf of Canada and when you handed to the UN Secretary-General a copy of the legislation confirming Canada as the first country to ratify the treaty. It was truly a milestone event, showing the world what can be achieved when governments and citizen movements work together, and particularly, when leaders step forward to challenge and encourage others.

We are grateful for your personal commitment to the effort to ban landmines and for the key role played by Mr. Axworthy and many officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Our gratitude and congratulations to you and your colleagues also extend to the many thousands of Canadians, individuals and organizations, who provided energy and expertise to make this achievement possible.

Canadian church communities, responding to God's call to all people to be agents of love and healing in a world that still knows great pain, participated in the movement to ban landmines. As church leaders, we believe that obedience to that same call of God requires us now to raise our voices in urgent appeal to our own communities, to all Canadians, and to you and your government, to bring a new commitment to what we believe to be one of the most profound spiritual challenges of our era -- the challenge to rid the world of the plans and the means to nuclear annihilation.

The willingness, indeed the intent, to launch a nuclear attack in certain circumstances bespeaks spiritual and moral bankruptcy. We believe it be an extraordinary affront to humanity for nuclear weapon states and their allies, including Canada, to persist in claiming that nuclear weapons are required for their security. Nuclear weapons do not, cannot, deliver security – they deliver only insecurity and peril through their promise to annihilate that which is most precious, life itself and the global ecosystem upon which all life depends. Nuclear weapons have no moral legitimacy, they lack military utility, and, in light of the recent judgement of the World Court, their legality is in serious question. The spiritual, human and ecological holocaust of a nuclear attack can be prevented only by the abolition of nuclear weapons -- it is our common duty to pursue that goal as an urgent priority.

The Canadian churches have long worked for the elimination of nuclear weapons. In 1982, we leaders wrote to, and met with, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to affirm that "nuclear weapons in any form and in any number cannot ultimately be accepted as legitimate components of national armed forces." In 1988, we sent the same message to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, stating that "nuclear weapons have no place in national defence policies."

Since then we have welcomed the substantial progress that has been made to end the nuclear arms race and reduce the size of the superpowers' nuclear arsenals. But these steps, important as they are, are not nearly enough. The end of the Cold War has created an unprecedented opportunity to start the process toward the final elimination of nuclear weapons – and the World Court has confirmed that it is a legal obligation.

We are therefore especially disturbed by the refusal of nuclear weapons states to even begin negotiations on the abolition of nuclear weapons and to set clear time frames and objectives -- and we are profoundly disappointed that Canada has to date chosen to publicly accept that refusal. Indeed, nuclear weapon states continue to take steps to maintain and "improve" or "modernize" their nuclear arsenals for the indefinite future.

It is our sincere belief that Canada has much to contribute to the effort to make nuclear abolition a reality. In this regard, we are heartened by your pledge in Securing Our Future Together (the second "Red Book") that "a re-elected Liberal government will... work vigorously to eliminate nuclear and chemical weapons and anti-personnel mines from the planet." We are compelled to note, however, that Canada continues to support, and to seek the illusory protection of, nuclear weapons in a number of ways (see the Appendix, pp.3-4). Canada's position as an advocate of nuclear disarmament in the UN General Assembly, the Conference on Disarmament, and other forums is compromised by this fact.

The time has come for Canada to take a strong, principled stand against the continued possession of nuclear weapons by any state, affirming abolition as the central goal of Canadian nuclear weapons policy and adding Canada's voice to the call to immediately begin negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

In support of this goal, Canada should immediately take the following actions:

  • Urge all states to negotiate by the year 2000 an agreement for the elimination of nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework;
  • Urge all nuclear weapons states, as interim measures and as a sign of good faith in such negotiations, to take all their nuclear forces off alert status and to commit themselves to no-first-use of nuclear weapons.
  • Renounce any role for nuclear weapons in Canadian defence policy, and call on other countries, including Russia and Canada's NATO allies, to do likewise;
  • Review the legality of all of Canada's nuclear-weapons-related activities in the light of the International Court of Justice ruling of 8 July 1996, and move quickly upon the completion of this review to end all activities determined to be of questionable legality; and
  • Embrace publicly the conclusions of the Canberra Commission report of 14 August 1996, including in particular its recommendations that the nuclear weapons states "commit themselves unequivocally to the elimination of nuclear weapons and agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement" and that the non-nuclear states support this commitment and join in cooperative international action to implement it.

As it approaches the dawn of a new millennium, Canada could offer no finer demonstration of its commitment to being a constructive and healing presence in the international community than to deploy some of its considerable diplomatic skill and political capital to ensure that the world enters the next millennium with a formal treaty commitment to rid the world of the scourge of nuclear weapons.

The Canadian churches which we represent are committed to continuing their work toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, in cooperation with other Canadian and international nuclear abolition efforts. In this spirit of co-operation and common cause, we respectfully request the opportunity to meet with you at the earliest possible date to explore ways in which Canadian churches can further support the government in taking bold new steps to make nuclear weapons abolition an urgent priority.

We look forward to your early response. Please know that you and your colleagues in the Government of Canada are supported by the prayers and good wishes of Canadians.

Yours sincerely,

His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Sotiros
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto

Fr. Anthony Nikolic
Polish National Catholic Church of Canada

Mr. M. L. Bailey
Moderator
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Canada

The Rev. Arie G. Van Eek
Council of Christian Reformed Churches in Canada

Fr. Marcos Marcos
St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church

Jim Moerman
Reformed Church in America

The Very Rev. Bill Phipps
United Church of Canada

The Most Rev. Michael G. Peers
Primate
The Anglican Church of Canada

The Rev. Messale Engeda
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Bishop Telmor Sartison
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

Archbishop H. Derderian
Primate
Canadian Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church

Marvin Frey
Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee Canada

Donald V. Kerr
Commissioner
The Salvation Army

John Congram
Moderator
Presbyterian Church in Canada

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth W. Bellous
Executive Minister
Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec

Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Rupwate
General Superintendent
British Methodist Episcopal Church

The Right Rev. Seraphim
Bishop of Ottawa and Canada
Orthodox Church in America

Gale Willis
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Canada

Most Rev. François Thibodeau, c.j.m.
President of the Episcopal Commission on Social Affairs
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Appendix

Background Notes to the Canadian Church Leaders' 1997 Statement on Nuclear Weapons

The historical commitment to nuclear abolition:

  1. From the beginning of the nuclear age, the world community has recognized the necessity of abolishing nuclear weapons. Governments, including the Canadian government, have long acknowledged their obligation to work for the elimination of these weapons.

    • In 1946, the United Nations General Assembly established the UN Atomic Energy Commission and mandated it, inter alia, to make proposals for "the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction."1
    • In 1968, the Non-Proliferation Treaty established a legal obligation 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..."2
    • In 1978, the first Special Session on Disarmament of the United Nations reaffirmed that "nuclear weapons pose the greatest danger to mankind and to the survival of civilization. It is essential to halt and reverse the nuclear arms race in all its aspects in order to avert the danger of war involving nuclear weapons. The ultimate goal in this context is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons."3

      The end of the Cold War did not reduce the need to eliminate these weapons.

    • In 1992, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali issued a report on arms control and disarmament priorities in the post-Cold War world, reaffirming that "The international community can aim for no less a goal than the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons."4
    • In July 1996, the International Court of Justice confirmed that all countries are obligated under international law "to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."5
    • In August 1996, the Australian government-sponsored Canberra Commission also concluded that "immediate and determined efforts need to be made to rid the world of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to it."6
  2. Welcome progress toward the reduction of nuclear weapons:
  3. Significant progress has been made in recent years to end the nuclear arms race and reduce the size of the superpowers' nuclear arsenals. There also have been encouraging developments in other parts of the world. In the last decade we have seen the signing of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) I Treaty, the START II Treaty, the beginning of co-operative American-Russian nuclear weapon dismantlement and security efforts, and a significant series of unilateral stand-downs, reductions, cancellations, and production halts by both countries.

    There also have been heartening developments in the rest of the world, including South Africa's decision in 1991 to unilaterally eliminate its nuclear arsenal, the permanent extension of the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995, the accession in recent years of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states, the continued strengthening of the Latin American and South Pacific nuclear weapon free zones, and the creation of new nuclear weapon free zones in Africa and South East Asia. The completion in 1996 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting all further tests of nuclear weapons, was a major step forward, even though the treaty's formal entry into force is likely to be delayed for many years. In addition, progress continues to be made towards a ban on the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes and measures to eliminate other weapons of mass destruction, including the recent entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention and on-going talks to improve the Biological Weapons Convention.

    Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), institutions, and individuals have played an important role in focusing increased attention on abolition. The World Court Project, a coalition of NGOs and individuals from around the world, was instrumental in bringing the issue of the legality of nuclear weapons before the International Court of Justice.The Abolition 2000 network, an international coalition of more than 700 NGOs, was created in 1995 to co-ordinate political work for the abolition of nuclear weapons. A similar Canada-focused network, the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), was created in 1996. Project Ploughshares is a member of both networks. Another important example of citizen advocacy took place in December 1996 when some 60 former Generals and Admirals from around the world signed a statement calling on governments to eliminate nuclear weapons.

    These various developments have combined to make this an opportune moment for a review of Canada's nuclear weapons policies. In September 1996 Project Ploughshares sponsored a cross- Canada series of community roundtables led by former Ambassador for Disarmament Doug Roche to help focus Canadian attention on the importance of working for abolition. One month later, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy asked the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT) to review Canada's nuclear weapons policies, citing, among other developments, the final report of the roundtables, Canada and the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.

    The SCFAIT began its review in March 1997, but all work was adjourned almost immediately as a result of the federal election. The committee is currently considering whether it will resume the review.

  4. Nuclear strategies and nuclear weapons development continue:
  5. Nuclear weapon states continue to resist efforts at the United Nations to begin taking, or even conceptualizing, the concrete steps required to move to nuclear abolition. Instead, these states and their allies persist in claiming that nuclear weapons are required for their security.

    The NATO Nuclear Planning Group, for example, still maintains that the "supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance."7 The nuclear weapons states have resisted all attempts to begin negotiations on the abolition of nuclear weapons and they continue to take steps to maintain the viability of their nuclear arsenals for the indefinite future.

    The three nuclear weapon states that are members of NATO, the US, the UK, and France, are deliberately pursuing new deployments of nuclear weapons, despite their assurances that they stand for "ultimate" nuclear disarmament:

    • In 1997 the United States deployed the new B61-11 bomb (known as a "bunker-busting" nuclear weapon) designed to strike command bunkers buried hundreds of metres below the ground and other deeply buried targets. Despite the new Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was supposed to end all nuclear testing in all environments for all time, the US continues to conduct underground "subcritical" tests to learn how to design more reliable and survivable nuclear weapons.
    • The UK is currently in the process of deploying four Trident missile submarines to replace its retired Polaris missile subs. Each UK Trident submarine has a killing capacity equivalent to 640 Hiroshima bombs.
    • France has two new nuclear weapons programs underway: the M-5 submarine-launched strategic nuclear missile, and a more powerful version of the Air-Sol Moyenne Portee (ASMP) air-launched nuclear missile.

    Russia and China, the other acknowledged nuclear weapon states, also continue to maintain and modernize their nuclear forces.

  6. Canada's position:
  7. More than fifty years after the advent of the nuclear age, Canada still maintains a fundamentally ambiguous policy toward nuclear weapons. The Canadian government rules out acquiring its own nuclear weapons, opposes nuclear proliferation, and supports, at least in principle, the abolition of all nuclear weapons. But it also supports the continued possession of nuclear weapons by its allies, participates in a nuclear-armed alliance, and "[does] not foresee any future need" to change "any aspect" of NATO's nuclear posture or policy. Canada is a non-nuclear-weapon-state signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but the Canadian government continues to believe that the defence of Canada relies on the "nuclear umbrella" that the United States and other NATO allies have unfurled above this country, and it continues to provide both physical and political support for those weapons in a variety of ways. In short, while the Canadian government condemns any reliance on nuclear weapons by non-allied countries, it continues to treat those same weapons as a useful even necessary element of Canada's defences and those of its allies.

    Among other forms of nuclear co-operation, Canada:

    • provides airspace and facilities for nuclear bomber training;
    • hosts visits by nuclear-armed submarines;
    • maintains communications sites for nuclear forces;
    • has agreed to permit the deployment of nuclear-armed bombers and support forces to Canadian airfields during nuclear crises;
    • produces and exports components for nuclear weapon delivery vehicles, such as bombers and submarines; and
    • provides political and diplomatic support for American and NATO nuclear policies.

    In its 1995 foreign policy statement, Canada in the World, the Government stated that "[Canadian security] is increasingly dependent on the security of others. More than ever, the forces of globalization, technological development and the scale of human activity reinforce our fundamental interdependence with the rest of the world... As the Special Joint Committee stated: ‘We will have shared security, shared prosperity and a healthy environment for all or none will have any in the long-term.'"8 Nuclear weapons provide not shared security, but shared insecurity. They cannot exist indefinitely without being used, some day, in a moment of desperation, madness, miscalculation, or accident. In May 1994 Canada decided to end the testing of air- launched cruise missiles in Canadian airspace, but Canada continues to support, and to seek the illusory protection of, nuclear weapons in a number of ways. Unlike earlier statements, the current statement of Canadian defence policy, the 1994 Defence White Paper, is silent on the role of nuclear weapons in Canada's defence.9 Nonetheless, it is evident that nuclear weapons continue to play a role in Canadian defence policy, and that Canada's position as an advocate of nuclear disarmament in the UN General Assembly, the Conference on Disarmament, and other forums is compromised by this fact.

    Canada in the World affirms that "nuclear weapons still threaten us,"10 but the "highest priority" for Canadian action identified in that statement is the indefinite extension of the NPT. Now that this immediate objective has been achieved, Canada should affirm abolition as the central goal of Canadian nuclear weapons policy and add its voice to the call to begin negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention as soon as possible.

    Securing Our Future Together (the second Liberal Party "Red Book") contained a dramatic, although little-noticed, promise that may herald a shift in the government's nuclear policies in this direction: "a re-elected Liberal government will... work vigorously to eliminate nuclear and chemical weapons and anti-personnel mines from the planet."11 The government has done outstanding work on the elimination of chemical weapons and landmines; the time has come to put its commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons into action.

  8. A Canadian program of action:
  9. Canada should take the following actions in support of the goal of initiating firm negotiations toward the elimination of nuclear weapons:

    • Renounce any role for nuclear weapons in Canadian defence policy, and call on other countries, including Canada's NATO allies, to do likewise;
    • Review the legality of all of Canada's nuclear-weapons-related activities in the light of the International Court of Justice ruling of 8 July 1996, and move quickly upon the completion of this review to end all activities determined to be of questionable legality;
    • Embrace publicly the conclusions of the Canberra Commission report of 14 August 1996, including in particular its recommendations that the nuclear weapons states "commit themselves unequivocally to the elimination of nuclear weapons and agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement" and that the non-nuclear states support this commitment and join in cooperative international action to implement it; and
    • Urge all states to negotiate by the year 2000 an agreement for the elimination of nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework.

Notes

  1. Resolution 1 (I), United Nations General Assembly, 24 January 1946.
  2. Article VI, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 1 July 1968.
  3. Final Document, United Nations first Special Session on Disarmament, para. 47.
  4. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, New Dimensions of Arms Regulations and Disarmament in the Post-Cold War World, 28 October 1992.
  5. Advisory opinion: Legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, International Court of Justice, 8 July 1996.
  6. Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, August 1996.
  7. NATO communiqué M-DPC/NPG-2(95)117, 29 November 1995.
  8. Canada in the World, Government of Canada, February 1995, pp. 10-11.
  9. 1994 Defence White Paper, December 1994; compare to, e.g., Challenge and Commitment: A Defence Policy for Canada, 1987, pp. 17-19; Canadian Defence Policy, April 1992, p. 6.
  10. Canada in the World, p. 32.
  11. Securing Our Future Together, Liberal Party of Canada, 1997, p. 98.

 


For More Information Contact:
Deacon William Kokesch
Director, Communications Service

 

 

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