A Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missiles group formation is seen in Beijing. CNS photo/Weng Qiyu, Reuters

Editorial: Treaty brings hope

  • January 21, 2021

In these days of viral lockdowns and political unease, moments of celebration are hard to come by.

With the dawning of Jan. 22, 2021, we have one such moment, when the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into force, forbidding its signatories to “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

For nations to vow to turn their back on any future involving weapons that could threaten our world is a brave and necessary step if world peace is to truly be attained. It is, unfortunately, also only a small step, since none of the 51 nations who made the vow possess nuclear weapons. It is also noteworthy that none of the nations is named “Canada.”

There’s some pretty simple, if ill-advised, logic to all this. There are nine countries with nuclear weapons: U.S., Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Then there are the countries with no nuclear weapons who depend on their powerful friends to protect them in the event of attack. As the cliché goes, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, or in this case protects you from potential annihilation.

Canada has always defended its stance on the UN treaty by noting that it stands with its NATO partners, a political and military alliance of 30 nations formed 71 years ago. Officially, it has dismissed the treaty as “premature” and concludes it “will not result in the elimination of even a single nuclear weapon.”

That’s not to say Canada is against nuclear disarmament. It supports a wide variety of arms control efforts, but stops short of going all-in on the prohibition side. Petitions from organizations of many political stripes have failed to sway the government. Canada’s bishops have been unequivocal in support of Canada signing and ratifying the treaty.     

Pope Francis could not have been clearer on where he stands when he delivered a message to the UN in 2017: “International peace and stability cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power…. In this context, the ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons becomes both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative.”

With the UN treaty now international law, the gauntlet has been firmly thrown down. “We have an opportunity to move in a different direction now,” said Marie Dennis, the senior advisor to Pax Christi International. “We have to convince the nuclear states to take this seriously, to take this as an opportunity to move to a new conversation in the nuclear age.”

There are about 14,000 nuclear weapons in existence today and the 50-year-old Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has not stopped the threat these weapons pose.

Fifty-one countries have so far declared their allegiance to a new treaty bent on a nuclear-free world and they are to be applauded. Canada should join them.

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