Thank you very much for inviting me to address the committee today on Canada's involvement in NATO.
My comments will relate to the extremely important and very topical issue of NATO's nuclear posture. I bring to these comments my professional expertise in the area of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, including heading the Canadian delegation to international conferences to review the operation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The treaty sets out the international rules and obligations for the 191 states party to that treaty, which the North Atlantic Council in its September 20 statement described as “the heart of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts for almost 50 years”.
Canada, of course, is a non-nuclear-weapon state party to that treaty, as are all of the other NATO members with the exception of the United States, the U.K., and France, who are nuclear-weapon states party to that treaty. The treaty sets up two groups. The vast majority are the non-nuclear, with five declared nuclear-weapon states.
Under article VI of that treaty, as interpreted unanimously by the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, all states party to the NPT, whether non-nuclear or nuclear, are under a legally binding obligation “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”. This legally binding international obligation stands in sharp contrast to the strictly political commitment made by NATO member states to its nuclear posture, and not a legal obligation, there being no reference whatsoever to nuclear weapons in the North Atlantic Treaty.
From the 1970 entry into force of the NPT, there has been a controversy over the self-evident contradiction between the non-nuclear-weapon states party to that treaty, such as Canada, Norway, and the Netherlands, and our participation in a nuclear-armed alliance. The justification has always been that NATO's nuclear posture predates the treaty and therefore is somehow justifiable, although there is no wording in the treaty to that effect or that would support that. Canada in the past has tried very hard to minimize this contradiction in the most productive way—that is, to live up to the NPT's “good faith” nuclear disarmament obligation—by championing measures like a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. Even in the dark days of the Cold War, when the U.S.A. was adamantly against it—in UN meetings of the UN western consultation group that I chaired, they would smash their fist down on the table, accusing NATO test ban co-sponsors like Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands of treason against NATO for doing so—we still supported it. In fact we were a lead co-sponsor of the test ban treaty. Finally, in the end, the U.S. joined it.
At the end of the Cold War, with the resulting huge decreases in the nuclear arsenals of the then Soviet Union and the United States, conditions were such that the 1990 London summit of NATO heads of government even made the following statement: “However, in the transformed Europe, [NATO member states] will be able to adopt a new NATO strategy making nuclear forces truly weapons of last resort.” Such a declaration was totally in keeping with one of the central lessons of the Cold War—very, very relevant for today—that a nuclear war can never be won and so must never be fought. The only possible utility of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others until such time as they are entirely eliminated.
The logical consequence of this summit declaration was a new post-Cold War NATO strategic doctrine adopting a “no first use” policy. Tragically, that was not the result of the NATO 1991 review of its strategic doctrine. Instead, unbelievably, the most powerful conventional military alliance on earth reiterated the need for nuclear weapons as a means to prevent war and not just to deter the use of other nuclear weapons. Every strategic doctrine review since then has reaffirmed the necessity of nuclear weapons, not only to deter their use by others but for the prevention of war. In effect, NATO is saying to all the 162 other non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT outside of NATO, “Don't do as we do, do as we say.”
To go back to the NPT, despite repeated pledges at NPT review conferences held every five years since the 1990 London summit that they would pursue concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament, first the bilateral Russia-U.S.A. negotiations floundered, and then, most recently, all nine nuclear-armed states—five inside the NPT and four outside—began nuclear weapons modernization programs, with the trillion-dollar plus American modernization program dwarfing all the rest, since Trump has raised the amount from a trillion dollars to more than a trillion.
This program is of particular relevance to NATO non-nuclear-weapon states like Canada that are party to the NPT, because it involves the introduction of U.S.A. so-called tactical nuclear weapons into five non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT that are also NATO basing countries—namely, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey—to receive upgraded B61 nuclear weapons with lower yield and greater precision. I say “so-called tactical”—that's a typical term by former disarmament ambassadors—because it is inconceivable that any detonation of nuclear weapons, however precise, would not have strategic effects.
These lower-yield, more precise tactical nukes are the very characteristics that caused the U.S. Congress to ban the development of these weapons in the 1990s. Congress argued that they created, quote, “the illusion of usability,” when the only rational use of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by anyone.
In the meantime, the vast majority of the international community was becoming increasingly frustrated by the failure of the conference on disarmament to agree even on a work program, never mind actual steps towards nuclear disarmament. Despite this, Canada continued to espouse a step-by-step process akin to walking slowly forward on a conveyor belt toward the ever-receding nuclear disarmament horizon while the belt itself hurtled in the other direction towards a world with ever-increasingly lethal nuclear weapons.
This dissatisfaction led ultimately to the majority of UN member states launching a multilateral negotiation for a nuclear prohibition treaty by a majority vote of the UN General Assembly in December 2016. This negotiation culminated in a new treaty text, which was approved by 122 UN member states on July 7 of this year and opened for signature at the UN on September 20, 2017, and which now has 53 signatories. If those 53 signatories ratify, it will come into effect within 90 days after the ratification.
By this point, Canada abandoned all pretext of pursuing meaningful nuclear disarmament measures as required by its article VI obligations under the NPT and instead unequivocally threw its lot in with the western nuclear-weapons states party to the NPT. This spurning of multilateral disarmament negotiations against all our history and tradition culminated in Canada agreeing to an extraordinary statement issued by the North Atlantic Council commenting on the nuclear prohibition treaty on the very day it opened for signature, which I think has to mark one of the lowest points in NATO's history.
The statement contains multiple errors, misinterpretations of international law, and just plain inanities, which would be bad enough if they were only being mouthed by nuclear-weapons states, but which are shockingly inappropriate for a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT like Canada, with its long and proud history of championing nuclear disarmament even in the darkest days of the Cold War. The most egregious assertion in this NAC statement is that the nuclear ban treaty, quote, “risks undermining the NPT”. Precisely the opposite is true. Those states that sought to prevent the ban treaty negotiation and that are now futilely trying to prevent it coming into force are of course the ones that are undermining the NPT. The second blatantly inaccurate statement is that the nuclear ban treaty, quote, “will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here's the treaty. I've attached it to my written statement. I hope everyone reads it.
Article VI of this treaty lays out in detail two methods for nuclear-weapons states to join the treaty, through a destroy-and-join methodology or a join-and-destroy process, with the IAEA, from whom they received advice, as the appropriate international body to take control of all resulting fissile material from deactivated nuclear weapons.
I'll go to my closing point. I'll leave out the inanities listed in my written statement.
The September 20 NAC statement ends with the extraordinary words that “[NATO] would not accept any argument that this [ban] treaty reflects or in any way contributes to the development of customary international law”. Happily for the rest of us, it is not up to NATO but instead is up to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court to determine what constitutes customary international law.
But having raised that issue, perhaps they might want to read once more the International Court of Justice advisory opinion, to which I referred earlier, on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons except in the very narrowest of circumstances where, quote, the “very survival” of a state might be at stake. The court ruled that in every other circumstance, the use of nuclear weapons, and therefore the threat to use them, would be manifestly illegal under international law because of the inability of the use of nuclear weapons to meet the fundamental requirements of international humanitarian law in terms of discrimination between military and civilian targets and proportionality between the military objective and collateral damage. Thus, the statement by the head of the U.S. Air Force at the Halifax security forum last weekend to the effect that he would never follow an order to use nuclear weapons that was illegal under international law was perhaps even more meaningful than he had intended.
So where does all this leave Canada? The answer is clear. It is our legal obligation under article VI of the NPT to begin the process—this of course will take a while—of signing and ratifying the nuclear ban treaty by absenting ourselves from NATO's nuclear doctrine and beginning a dialogue within NATO with the aim of convincing other non-nuclear-weapon states in NATO to similarly renounce NATO's unnecessary, dangerously provocative, and counterproductive nuclear posture. Three NATO member states, by the way, voted in favour of the ban treaty negotiation, so there are allies out there.
How can NATO, the most powerful conventional military alliance on earth, assert that it needs nuclear weapons for its security while we tell North Korea, facing off against the United States and its allies, that it does not?
Thank you very much.