t’s fitting — although worrisome — to learn at near year’s end that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) has set its Doomsday Clock
to two-and-a-half minutes before midnight. That’s closer to potential nuclear calamity than at any time since the 1980s. BAS points out North Korea’s continued efforts to develop nuclear weapons and the bellicose counter-threats being made by U.S. President Donald Trump, as well as the escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Russia. “Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink,” the atomic scientists say. “If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”
In recent years, one such group has stepped forward and was even awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize
, which will be presented in Stockholm on Dec. 10. The International Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of civil society organizations from more than 100 countries. ICAN’s 15 Canadian partners include the Anglican Church of Canada, Physicians for Global Survival, the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Quakers. Since its founding in 2007, it has worked to convince UN member states to create a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, arguing that there has been two decades of “paralysis” in multilateral efforts toward nuclear disarmament.
Today, there are an estimated 15,000 nuclear weapons in arsenals around the world, with various states continuing to modernize their stockpiles rather than eliminating them altogether. Despite this, ICAN’s campaign led to the July 2017 adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by 122 countries. Of course, the so-called “big five” states on the UN Security Council — the U.S., Russia, China, France and Great Britain — all possess nuclear weapons and apparently want to control the agenda. The U.S., for instance, once placed pressure on its NATO allies to boycott the UN’s entire treaty-making enterprise. And unfortunately, that’s what the Canadian government has elected to do. In 2016, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion claimed that a ban on nuclear weapons
— without the support of nuclear-weapons states — was a foolish and utopian dream. But ICAN and other campaigners point to earlier initiatives whose success appeared unlikely but, ultimately, were accepted — even by the big powers. These include treaties to ban biological weapons (1972), chemical weapons (1993), landmines (1997) and cluster bombs (2008).
Belied by its opposition to the UN’s historic treaty, the Canadian government continues to declare its support for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Along with its nuclear-armed allies, Canada insists on an incremental approach to abolition — one that has failed for nearly half a century. The government also ignores a House of Commons resolution, passed unanimously in 2010, calling for Canadian leadership on nuclear disarmament.
So as the Doomsday Clock seemingly ticks down to midnight, it seems that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — while claiming to “be back” at the UN — is backpedalling on this increasingly pressing nuclear question.