Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss our government's position and actions on nuclear disarmament. This is a vitally important issue that affects both Canada and the world. It also comes at a critical juncture for the international community, where our diverging views about the path forward.
Before going any further, I had the great privilege of meeting Mrs. Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor and wonderful Canadian who has dedicated her entire life toward bettering the world and ridding it of nuclear weapons systems.
In that context, let me assure the Canadians that advancing nuclear disarmament in a meaningful way remains a priority for the Government of Canada. Canada strongly supports concrete efforts toward nuclear disarmament. That is why we are taking meaningful steps to achieve nuclear disarmament, which in turn means doing the hard work in real and meaningful results. Members will note that I have used the term “meaningful” three times in two sentences.
We absolutely recognize the great consequences of even an accidental nuclear detonation, which could have catastrophic human impacts that transcends borders, harms the environment, the global economy, and even the health of future generations. Nuclear disarmament should be the goal of every country and of every government. It is certainly Canada's goal. That is why our government is fully committed to pursuing pragmatic initiatives that will lead to a world without nuclear weapons. We owe it our children and to future generations.
Let me remind the House that Canada gave up its nuclear weapons capability, which, in essence, acts as a role model for the rest of the world.
In 2016, for the first time ever, Canada rallied 159 states to support and pass a resolution calling for the fissile material cut-off treaty. With the support of nuclear and non-nuclear countries, Canada is chairing this high-level group to help phase out nuclear weapons, a meaningful contribution.
Recognizing the important work that has been done on the path towards nuclear disarmament, it is more important than ever that we make these pragmatic approaches to this very complex international issue as clear as possible. During the late 1980s and 1990s, the world witnessed a dramatic, almost 80%, reduction to the numbers of nuclear weapons, those primarily held by the United States and the former Soviet Union. A number of countries abandoned their nuclear weapon development programs and joined the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, NPT. The NPT is now almost universal, with only four countries remaining outside of its obligations, which aim at achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
The 1990s also saw the signing of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, CTBT, which prohibits the testing of nuclear weapons. Although still not yet in force, it is being partially implemented. Obviously there are some exceptions. Countries around the world, including those that have not ratified, have already built 116 monitoring stations to quickly identify a nuclear detonation anywhere in the world. While the treaty may not yet be in force, it has effectively established, in essence, a taboo on such testing. Only one country in this century, North Korea, has dared to break this taboo and faced global condemnation.
In terms of international security, the world does not become a safer place, unfortunately. Crises in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and I could go on for quite some time, continue to undermine regional and global stability. Irresponsible and reckless acts by North Korea, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions and its own international obligations, leaves the global community struggling to contain its behaviour and to assure their populations of their continued security. This is why Canada is taking meaningful steps that will deliver tangible results for all.
Many countries, including Canada, believe that this uncertain environment is not conducive to expediting disarmament. Historically, non-proliferation efforts and disarmament, or arms reduction, only occurred when the main stakeholders participated in the discussion. That was true in the case of the negotiations regarding landmines and cluster munitions, to give just two examples.
Significant progress requires a good dialogue and trust between the governments involved in the negotiations. Unfortunately, since that is currently not the case, we need to focus on measures that rebuild that trust and make it possible to open a dialogue.
Other countries believe that the current context warrants a more radical approach to total nuclear disarmament, but such an approach has very little chance of success in the near future. I am thinking of the initiative to negotiate an agreement to ban nuclear weapons. While we obviously appreciate the good intentions behind that initiative, unfortunately, it is not the right approach. We believe that the current negotiations are premature and ineffective, and that they could create divisions and complicate the path to nuclear disarmament.
Let me explain this further.
First, we believe the negotiations are premature because, in the current security climate, countries with nuclear weapons regard them as essential for their security. That is their point of view, and they are the ones that possess the nuclear weapons. It is unrealistic to expect countries to disarm when they face very real threats, including from nuclear weapon proliferators like North Korea. Only when these countries have the confidence in their security, without the need for nuclear deterrence, will they be ready to reduce and ultimately eliminate their nuclear weapon stockpiles. This is a pragmatic and realistic approach.
Second, we expect that the draft convention will be ineffective. Without the participation of states possessing nuclear weapons, it is certain that not a single nuclear weapon will be eliminated through this process. In this context, these negotiations will provide nothing else than a declaratory ban, as the countries participating in them are already prohibited from possessing these nuclear weapons through their obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. In other words, any additional prohibitions that apply only to states party to the ban will not help to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.
Further, we are concerned that the treaty does not include credible provisions for monitoring and verification. Countries that are expected to give up their reliance on nuclear weapons will want to be assured that others are not able to cheat. We have already seen, in the very recent past, a nation that has cheated repeatedly. Unfortunately, the current discussions do not encompass such verification measures. As well, much technical work remains to be done in order for disarmament verification to be credible and effective, and Canada is currently actively engaged in advancing some of this work.
Finally, the proposed treaty is likely to be very divisive. Without any meaningful disarmament or verification measures, it will stigmatize nuclear weapons, with the aim of establishing customary international law prohibiting their use. In order to prevent this, countries with nuclear arms will become persistent objectors.
We all abhor nuclear weapons and their potential to be used. However, if it is going to create a divisive wedge, then it should be thought through extraordinarily carefully. Quite frankly, this is already creating an adversarial dynamic. Instead of striving to seek common ground on mutually agreed objectives, like happened between the former Soviet Union and the United States 20 years ago, this process will only reinforce the differences between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, making further progress on nuclear disarmament even more difficult because there will be no continuation of the dialogue.
These concerns are not new. Indeed, Canada participated extensively and constructively in the process leading up to the current ban treaty negotiations. This included active involvement in the three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the United Nations open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament. Throughout these processes, Canada worked to shape the dialogue and arrive at recommendations that addressed the security interests and disarmament objectives of all countries. We even hosted our mission in Geneva, a framework forum round table, to facilitate the work of the open-ended working group, with great results. Unfortunately, despite considerable efforts by Canada and others, the working group could not come to a consensus on its final report, and instead established the basis for the United Nations resolution of last fall, which authorized the current negotiations.
It is a long and complicated tale, but the bottom line is that the concerns raised by Canada and many of our like-minded partners were not addressed in the recommendations of the final report from the open-ended working group. We could not therefore support the UN resolution establishing these negotiations. Moreover, as we expect their outcome to be a merely declaratory document targeting important elements of our collective security obligations under NATO, we cannot participate in these negotiations in good faith.
Canada's approach recognizes that despite a problematic international security environment, there is great opportunity to pursue effective nuclear disarmament efforts over the longer term. The current ban treaty negotiations pit nuclear weapon states against non-nuclear weapon states, forcing both sides to entrench their positions. Leadership on nuclear disarmament demands the opposite, bringing actors together to realize concrete progress where it is possible and not merely driving groups of them apart. This is where Canada has its focus, as do our allies, 41 of which did not participate in the ban treaty negotiations.
What marks real, tangible action? In contrast to ban treaty proponents as suggested by the members opposite, Canada and her allies maintain that nuclear disarmament can only realistically be achieved through an approach that takes into account the views and security interests of all states. Our position is that the most effective approach is a step-by-step process, which includes the universalization of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a fully enforced comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, a negotiated fissile material cut-off treaty, and only as the ultimate step, a credible and enforceable convention or ban on nuclear weapons. We must act in a systematic, logical, progressive fashion to tackle this complex and hideously dangerous issue.
In keeping with the 2010 motion adopted unanimously in both Houses of Parliament here in Canada, encouraging the Government of Canada to deploy a major worldwide Canadian diplomatic initiative in support of nuclear disarmament, I am proud to say that is precisely what Canada is doing.
As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said a few days ago, in December 2016, Canada rallied 159 states, including those with nuclear weapons, to adopt a United Nations resolution calling for a fissile material cut-off treaty. Banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear explosives is almost universally recognized as the logical next step.
This resolution establishes for the first time an expert preparatory group, which will develop aspects of an eventual treaty. This group will enjoy input from open-ended, informal consultative meetings with all UN member states. Canada is chairing this process. Under our leadership, the success of the process will be a major step toward nuclear disarmament. The vast majority of countries with nuclear weapons are participating in the preparatory group, which is key to its success.
In addition to our work in this regard, Canada is supporting work on the technical issues that will need to be addressed in order to establish a credible nuclear weapons disarmament regime. This includes engagement with the international partnership for nuclear disarmament verification, which aims to develop measures for the verification of nuclear disarmament, of which I spoke earlier.
Verification systems and methods are crucial to managing risks and mitigating threats related to weapons of mass destruction, and these, especially for nuclear weapons, are essential for providing assurance that all parties are in compliance with their obligations under the regime. Doubts and mistrust can and have stalled non-proliferation, arms control, and disarmament talks in the past. Transparency and confidence provided by independent verification can be a true motivator, as seen by the 116 stations of which I have spoken.
Understandably, the global skills and knowledge base for nuclear disarmament verification is limited, resulting in significant capacity gaps. Through, however, a cross-regional partnership of over two dozen countries, including the United States, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, France, and the People's Republic of China, countries are now working collaboratively to develop in detail the measures required to address the technical challenges related to the monitoring of nuclear disarmament and to ensure that disarmament commitments are being faithfully implemented. This is progress.
In addition to providing a nuclear disarmament policy and technical expertise, Canada is finalizing a project, through its weapons of mass destruction threat reduction program, that contributes to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization that is hosting and facilitating a variety of meetings. This financial contribution will help the important work being undertaken through this initiative. Through this financial contribution, we will help the international partnership for nuclear disarmament verification continue its critical work.
We also support Norway's initiative to create a group of government experts on nuclear disarmament verification, one of the most challenging obstacles to nuclear disarmament. Concerted and inclusive action is necessary if we are to make genuine progress.
To conclude, let me reiterate that Canada is firmly committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about it. However, rather than symbolic gestures, which can and will be divisive, Canada is staying focused on the pragmatic and on what will actually achieve concrete results toward global nuclear disarmament, emphasizing efforts that have broad support.
Canada and our allies are supporting practical efforts that will require time and effort, of course, but the outcomes are much more likely to be meaningful, enduring, and effective. Canada's determined leadership on nuclear disarmament initiatives, including on several panels, and on technical issues, such as verification, will achieve the results that will best serve all countries.
Once again, let me be clear. We strongly support concrete efforts toward nuclear disarmament. We welcome them, but we are taking meaningful steps to achieve this, and that means doing the hard technical work to deliver real and lasting results. The work we are currently doing will have a positive impact toward nuclear disarmament worldwide, and it is something to be proud of.