Ready to read another transcript?
Click here to return to the transcription home page
Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 002
Panelists: The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche; Ambassador Earl Turcotte; and Erin Hunt
Host: Metta Spencer
Date aired: 25 June 2018
Date Transcribed: 11 January 2021
Transcription Review and Edits: Adam Wynne
Welcome. This is Talk About Saving the World. A weekly series of discussions sponsored by Peace Magazine and Project Save the World. Every week, we join some friends and experts at our respective webcams, to talk about how to prevent one or more of the six most serious global threats to humankind: war and weapons, especially nuclear; global warming; famine; pandemics; massive radiation exposure through something like a reactor explosion; and cyber-attacks. Our host is a retired University of Toronto sociology professor, Metta Spencer.
Metta Spencer 00:46
Here we are. I’m Metta Spencer, I’m here in Toronto and we’re going to have a conversation with some of my friends about nuclear weapons and about the effort to disarm all the nuclear weapons in the world, which is something that all of us want to do. I have three friends with me: Douglas Roche – he’s a writer, most of his career has been writing many, many books – and he was Canada’s Disarmament Ambassador when I first met him and then became a Senator of Canada – but has continued, as long as I’ve known him, to work toward nuclear disarmament. There’s nobody that I have more respect for, than a man who’s devoted his whole life to this issue. We also have another very fine Canadian diplomat – Ambassador Earl Turcotte – who is a former diplomat for Canada. He has worked on and especially I think his heart was in working on the Munitions Treaty, to ban cluster mines and things of that kind. And finally, we have Erin Hunt. Erin is a Program Coordinator for Mines Action Canada, which is an NGO based in Ottawa and it’s an organization that works to make sure that the Treaty on the Banning of Land Mines1 is fulfilled. So, we have a civil society organization, but it has a lot of influence in terms of monitoring the compliance with the Treaty on Landmines. So, each of these people know each other, and we will all be chatting. So, I want to start off by, of course, right now, as we all know, we’re in some of the worst period of risk that we can remember, in our lifetime. And Doug Roche has seen plenty of scary things about nuclear weapons. And I think Doug maybe you can give us some sort of a history of how you got… how you got this far. What has gone wrong? Why don’t we have these horrible weapons abolished by now?
The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche 03:33
Well, thank you, Metta. It’s really a sad and dangerous situation for the world that we’ve lived since 1945, with the continued development of nuclear weapons, and there wasn’t time, about 20 years ago, and the Cold War had ended. And states were beginning to cooperate in a better manner and we had some hope that the actual reductions of nuclear weapons which were taking place, would continue on and open up a pathway to comprehensive negotiations for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. But that corner has been turned. And we’re now in a situation where the diplomacy that is necessary for nuclear disarmament to take place is failing miserably. And states, particularly the two major states in this field – the United States and Russia – which puts us at 95% of the 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. These two states instead of cooperating for the good of humanity are hurling invectives at each other. And the leadership of both states – Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin – have animosities that their governments are exacerbating. And so, I feel that the lack of public opinion in the world, the lack of political will, the lack of adherence to the legal obligation that states are under to eliminate nuclear weapons. All of that has set us into a new and very discouraging period in world history and for myself, I feel really quite alarmed at the tenor of the discussions that are taking place today. They’re nowhere near the manner of cooperation that existed some 20 years ago, as I said, so how do we cover this? And how do we cover the hope that people can have and that public civil society exerting a renewed sense of public opinion and pressure on governments, and since we’re all in Canada, here, particularly the Canadian government, to assume its responsibilities on behalf of humanity, that is a great challenge that we’re facing. And I hope that in this discussion, we can probably, we can try to find ways to advance this discussion, rather than giving, giving in to the discouragements that are prevailing.
Metta Spencer 06:34
Exactly. I think there was a time I remember being so thrilled when Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland, and they, they came within a hair’s breadth of actually deciding to eliminate all of the nuclear weapons they owned. And somehow that fell through and we reached the point where we’re in right now – both of the what used to be called superpowers, I don’t know whether you call Russia a superpower anymore – but they’re building more and more intending to increase the armament, rather than diminish them is, as I understand it.
The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche 07:17
Well, you mentioned you mentioned Reykjavik in Iceland, the capital of Iceland, where the two leaders met in 1986. And indeed, they were sort of a spontaneity for a few moments about getting rid of all nuclear weapons, you know, for both sides, but their advisors were horrified and nothing ever came about.
Metta Spencer 07:41
Let’s ask Earl, to chime in here, because … what are your memories of that period, and your sense Earl of the trajectory that we’ve been through during these last decades?
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 07:58
Metta, first of all, qualify my comments by saying that most of my background with both the Government of Canada and the United Nations was with respect to conventional weapons. But I have watched from a distance as colleagues, I’ve been involved in negotiations in various fora over the years. And I can tell you, even absorbing from the sidelines, you got a deep sense of frustration. And that frustration continues, despite the fact that there have been some milestones in a positive direction. I mean, first of all, I would like to just absolutely reinforce the comments that you and Doug have made. I think this is not just I, but many 1000s, if not millions of people around the world believe that there is at least as high a level of risk of a nuclear detonation today as it was at any point during the Cold War, and that includes 1963. So, you know, these are very serious times. And it truly is, in my view, just a matter of time before there is another nuclear event, whether it’s by design, a deliberate attack, or by accident, or human miscalculation. So, we need to act and we need to act fast to prevent it. I’d like to just make reference to a couple of the milestones that gave us a glimmer of hope along the way. Because, you know, the Antarctic Treaty was established in 1959. That prohibits any military measures in Antarctica. We have the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963; the Outer Space Treaty in 1967 that dictated that activities in space should be for peaceful purposes only; then the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970. You know, that includes Article 6: Obligation to pursue good faith measures towards total nuclear disarmament. That has not happened. It may have had some measured success with respect to non-proliferation, but certainly no success to date on actual nuclear disarmament. So, there have been other milestones along the way. But I think the most significant one is the establishment of five nuclear weapons free zones that actually incorporate 115 countries, I believe, in the world. And, you know, a good portion of the population. What we have to do now is to universalize. that and the and the most remarkable development, of all was the establishment of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was just negotiated last year or over the course of about 15 months. And Erin can speak to that for more directly because she participated in some of the negotiations. But I believe that that is a remarkable development. The treaty was endorsed by 122 of 124 participating countries and it includes a legal obligation. In addition to all the prohibitions, it includes a positive obligation on stage parties to universalize the treaty, to try to get all nations to adhere to it. So that I think is going to manifest itself into action with states where we can talk about the support the civil society can offer as well.
Metta Spencer 11:30
Okay, well, certainly that is the only, almost the only positive sign that we have on the horizon, really. And it was, has been a great thrill. Of course, the people who took the initiative and making this treaty happen… ICAN have actually won the Nobel Peace Prize. And I must say, you know, the thing is, that this approach, this was constituted quite a shift in thinking about nuclear weapons. It seems to me that a number of people were frustrated time after time, year after year when the Conference on Disarmament kept meeting and it was supposed to be the place where nuclear disarmament would take place. And there has been no progress. What is it 21 years? Can somebody actually can tell me when that happened?
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 12:31
If I may Metta, it has been over 20 years, without agreement, even on a program of work. And the big problem with a Conference on Disarmament is, first of all, it’s a closed club of 65 countries. Other countries can observe, but it is closed to participation. Secondly, it operates on the basis of consensus decision making, which has been misinterpreted to mean that there must be unanimous agreement before anything is agreed. That is a recipe for paralysis. And that is why, in my view, and in the view of many others, the Conference on Disarmament is a moribund forum.
Metta Spencer 13:10
So, who are the 65 countries and how do you get to be one of them? Was this set up originally, were these countries name to this committee, this conference? And what are they been doing all this time? Obviously, the nuclear powers don’t want to get rid of their weapons, they are the ones I assume that completely stall any kind of effort to, to really begin to disarm. So, with an effective veto power in the Conference on Disarmament, the nuclear powers, the nuclear weapons states can keep things from moving at all, right?
The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche 13:55
Perhaps Erin might tell us a little bit about the Prohibition Treaty? Because it does offer a little bit of hope.
Metta Spencer 14:01
Oh, yes. Yeah. Erin has been going down or was going down throughout the summer to to be party to and witness and engage in with other civil society organizations, as the treaty was being negotiated at the United Nations. So, what was that like, Erin? And what were the issues that were being discussed there?
Erin Hunt 14:28
Yeah, well, I think to start with, I do have to make some apologies. My cat has decided that right now is when he wants to freak out. So, I’m not scratching things or anything like that. That’s just the cat. So, I think where we need to begin is what you’re talking about with the shift in conversation about nuclear weapons. As you guys have all said, the Conference on Disarmament has been moribund… is I think the most common word used to describe it. But what really got us going on this? This treaty was the shift in discussion from a sort of arms control basis to talking about the humanitarian initiative, and the humanitarian impacts of the weapon. And that shift of conversation came out of all the work that had been done on landmines. When that’s how we got the Ottawa Treaty was you started talking about the humanitarian impact of the weapon and stop talking about the military utility. With the cluster munitions convention, same idea, talk about the humanitarian impact, you get progress. So that’s the sort of the framework that brought us to the negotiation.
Metta Spencer 15:54
And there were about three conferences along the way that develop the humanitarian, they focused on the humanitarian impact of, of actually using nuclear weapons, where were those? The big one was in Oslo… was hosted by the Norwegian government or what?
Erin Hunt 16:16
I yeah, so the first one was hosted in Oslo by the Norwegian government. The second was in Nayarit, Mexico. And the third was in Vienna, Austria. And then there was an open-ended working group under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly in 2016. And that open ended working group is what recommended that negotiations start and the UN General Assembly voted to start negotiations in 2017. The negotiations were chaired by the Costa Rican ambassador, and we thought she was really good at letting and making sure civil society was able to participate. So, as you mentioned, I was part of the civil society negotiating team for the treaty. What ICAN had done is we we’ve organized ourselves into regional sort of advocacy teams, as well as some thematic teams, and the team I worked with was the positive obligations team.
Metta Spencer 17:23
So, what is ICAN? Now, was this from the beginning meant to be an organization that would highlight the actual effects on human beings suffering the impact of the weapons? Was that the focus from the outset of ICAN? Or did that orientation toward discussing humanitarian impact arise as time wore on and as the campaign progressed? Do you know how that came about?
Erin Hunt 17:26
So ICAN was founded in 2007 in Australia. It’s the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. So, it’s an international network of civil society organizations campaigning for a nuclear ban treaty. It has a very small staff team. And it has an international steering group of a small number of organizations. And there’s about 400 organizations around the world that are part of ICAN that join the call, work for the ban, and collaborate. And we work together to campaign either at national or international levels. I wasn’t there at the start. But I do know that the inspiration came from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which has always looked at the humanitarian impact of weapons. So that whole idea was definitely on the radar, especially as one of the original organizations was International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. And doctors are very well aware of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. They’re the ones who have to treat them.
Metta Spencer 19:21
So they had these three conferences in about what, a year and a half or so, within that period of time, and they were people, civil society people went, and they testified. I remember, you know, people actually saying, you know, what it felt like to be bombed, and we had this friend Setsuko Thurlow, a Canadian here in Toronto, who was always ready to tell her story as being one of the victims of the Hiroshima bomb as a 13-year-old girl. So that focus on humanitarian impact, I think what it did, didn’t it, was it shifted. it said: “Yes. You guys are always talking about how many bombs can we afford to get rid of and still maintain our supremacy and keep parity with the other side? And, you know, what would? How can we keep ourselves secure if we let go of some of our weapons? We certainly need these to protect ourselves.” That mentality that military orientation simply has dominated the discourse everywhere until this ICAN movement began to shift it toward thinking about, “Oh, you can’t do this against human beings no matter what the condition, this is not an acceptable way to ever behave, and you can never use one of these weapons.” That’s that that kind of focus was, I think, a really refreshing change. And I bet you saw it coming. Did you attend any of these sessions before the negotiations began at the UN, Erin?
Erin Hunt 21:05
Yes, I was in Oslo for the Civil Society Forum before the Oslo meeting. But civil society participation was a little limited there. And I was involved in the Vienna meetings as well, as well as the Open-Ended Working Group in 2016.
Metta Spencer 21:23
I went to one of the open-ended working groups a couple of years before… The first, I guess it was the first one in the series in Geneva. It hadn’t really taken off yet. I didn’t think. But it sounded as if as you got closer, several, many countries began to get on board.
Erin Hunt 21:43
Yeah, so the core group included, Austria, Ireland, South Africa, Costa Rica, Mexico, and I’m sure I’m forgetting somebody right now. And those states were key in getting other countries on board and sort of helping to shape the negotiations as they went forward.
Metta Spencer 22:08
Now this, then the General Assembly, was it that authorized the actual Treaty negotiations, which took place? There were two sessions that were there in New York.
Erin Hunt 22:21
There was a one week session in March (2017). And then there was three weeks session in June and July, ending on July 7 (2017).
Metta Spencer 22:33
Did either of you participate in that? Earl and Doug, were you down there? I know a lot of Canadians went down. I didn’t.
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 22:42
I was not able to.
Metta Spencer 22:44
Have you watched it from afar? But you have a lot of experience in as a negotiator in building treaties. Can you compare what you know about this process, Earl, to the experiences that you have had in working on things like the cluster bombs and so on?
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 23:05
Thanks, Metta. Well, first of all, as Erin has already said, there were parallels in this process to the mine ban treaty. And the mine ban treaty is very interesting, because for many, many years, states, with support from civil society, had tried to get a mandate to negotiate a ban on anti-personnel landmines in what is called the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects or CCW for short. Now, that is the UN body that was charged with responsibility for addressing conventional weapons. The Conference on Disarmament was the UN body originally designated to deal with weapons of mass destruction. Both of them operate on the basis of consensus decision making, and both of them have been painful, painfully slow in producing anything of significance. As a result, we’ve already spoken about the CD. So, in frustration, states, essentially took it outside the traditional UN architecture, and in the case of Canada, that our former Liberal government, Mr. Chrétien was Prime Minister, and Lloyd Axworthy, was Minister of Foreign Affairs, took the initiative in taking and essentially putting a challenge up to states to come together in an ad hoc forum, and to negotiate a ban on anti-personnel landmines. That process or at all, by the way, in very important, they use democratic rules or procedure so that no one state or no small group of states could hold up progress for everyone else. That process was replicated with the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons … pardon me … with the Convention on Cluster Munitions. And in 2007 and 2008, over a 15-month period, very similarly, they negotiated a ban on cluster munitions. The TPNW has followed a similar process by taking the matter to the General Assembly and operating using democratic Rules of Procedure, they got an overwhelming mandate to negotiate. And roughly two thirds of the world States did participate in negotiations. Unfortunately, not our own and not any of the nuclear armed states. But we can we can get to that in a moment. So there are a lot of parallels. But this is a remarkable treaty. It is a categorical prohibition on nuclear weapons. That applies to states parties, of course, and nuclear armed states claim that it has absolutely no bearing or no influence on them or their policies, they do not consider that this will in any way constitute … I’m forgetting the legal term … but international humanitarian law that would apply to states that do not voluntarily become a party to the treaty. So, the challenge for the international community is to use whatever influence we can – positive and negative – to induce them to become party to the treaty. I expect that the 122 states that have already endorsed the treaty, are going to all become signatories, and ratify and become full state parties
Metta Spencer 26:38
Ah, okay. Now, that’s a really important point.
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 26:41
Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist, but I think, I mean, having a bit of experience with the Convention on Cluster Munitions… I think that any state that that participated in the negotiations and endorsed the text, that it is just a matter of time before they do the necessary domestically to put appropriate domestic legislation in place and whatnot, so that they too become party. And I think you will see, I know there are over 50 signatories, I think there are 53 or 54.
The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche 27:11
No, and –
Erin Hunt 27:15
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 27:15
Metta Spencer 27:20
I’m sorry. Are you saying that there are 57 states that have ratified it?
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 27:26
Metta Spencer 27:27
Signed it. Okay. Of the 5 that have ratified it so far – how long does it normally take, Earl, for, for states to move on from, you know, voting for it to signing it and then to ratifying it?
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 27:48
Well, it varies from state to state, it depends on what their domestic legal requirements are. But in the case of Canada, I know that it requires the Canada pass any domestic legislation that is required that will allow it to fulfill its international obligations. And and it takes a fair bit of time, usually a couple of years to get a bill through that, that eventually becomes law. So I suspect that you will see, over the next couple of years, a significant number of those 122 states become, if they haven’t already signed, most of them will probably simply do it in a single process of signing and then ratifying. Then they submit their instruments of ratification to the depositary, which in this case, is the Secretary General of the United Nations.
Metta Spencer 28:39
I’m glad to hear you say that because I was beginning to think maybe, maybe it’s time for us to start being pessimistic. Because I know that of course, the US is going to be twisting arms. They will do all kinds of things to try to keep other countries from signing a document that they don’t want them to sign or ratifying it. And so, having heard that only seven have done it, have ratified it, so far – I was beginning to worry. But you think it takes a long time and don’t? Don’t worry yet, is that it?
Erin Hunt 29:09
A thing to keep in mind when you’re talking about US pressure on this treaty, it’s in some cases, so what we’ve seen is the more pressure that is placed on states, the more likely they are to support the treaty.
Metta Spencer 29:24
Erin Hunt 29:27
At least one instance where we believe there was meeting and they walked out of that meeting and all of a sudden there were more countries supporting it – the resolution for the… the co-sponsoring of the resolution for the negotiations and the negotiations actually owe their best press coverage to US Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Metta Spencer 29:50
Oh yes, I hear you. US Ambassador Haley inadvertently brought people to the side of the treaty by dissing, I guess. Is that what you said?
Erin Hunt 30:08
She held a press conference condemning the negotiations on the day they started, which ensured that there was much more press coverage of the start of negotiations, then there probably would have been, and of course, that meant that ICAN had… people had to get ICAN’s statement as a response to her press conference. So, there is, there is some times when the pressure backfires. But even if you’re looking at countries that are like Canada and NATO, there are ways to engage with the treaty – even if they’re not going to sign and ratify in the next couple of years. There are provisions in the treaty for support to victims of nuclear weapons. And support to countries that need to rehabilitate the environment. There’s, this is the first treaty that has a recognition of the disproportionate impact weapons have on Indigenous populations and recognizing Indigenous rights. The Treaty also talks about the different impact nuclear weapons have on women and girls as opposed to men and boys. And it recognizes the importance of inclusive participation and disarmament. So these are all things that countries like Canada, and states that are maybe a little unsure of whether they want to join the treaty, yet, these are all things they can participate with, they can support, you know, cleaning up the Marshall Islands, they can support survivors of nuclear weapons testing in Kazakhstan. So there’s all these different ways that you can get involved in the treaty. Now, while you’re undergoing discussions of whether or not it works to negotiate, and I think one of the reasons we have these is for because of the involvement of civil society in the treaty. We saw a lot of the ICAN delegation was very diverse, globally. It had large numbers… it was led by women. It had large numbers of young people, I think, at some points, I think our average age might have been 30, maybe 35. We saw LGBTQ campaigners playing a large role. Indigenous organizations from areas that have had nuclear weapons testing were hugely important. So we had a very diverse campaigns, we’ve got all these different voices reflected in the treaty that and these are the kind of voices that Canada is looking to push forward on the international stage. So there’s potential here for Canada to get involved.
Metta Spencer 33:12
Oh, you mean, because of the young people because of indigenous support and so on, that this might even influence Canada’s decision about supporting the treaty? I hadn’t heard that argument before.
Erin Hunt 33:29
The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche 33:30
I think it’s going to be a slow process. But in any event, it is important. It is important that Canada step up and regain its role as a middle power, exerting pressure on a nuclear weapon states to cease and desist the nuclear arms race and to fulfill their obligations. They have, they have very strong, existing legal obligations to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And the reason we have the Prohibition Treaty is because the states, the nuclear power states, have not honored their legal obligations to the Non Proliferation Treaty. And that created an immense amount of frustration among non nuclear states, and it was that frustration, along with the you know, the energy of the ICAN movement and related other movements that led to the development of the Prohibition Treaty. So let us not get too confused for our audience here. Canada should definitely sign the Prohibition Treaty, but sign it recognizing that it has to put pressure on NATO to change its policies, which still to this very day proclaim nuclear weapons as essential, and again, as the supreme guarantee of security. That is an immense falsehood that has been visited upon the world. And Canada, in former years, did step up to the plate. We had the present Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, his father, Pierre Trudeau, when he was the Prime Minister went around the world, to the all the nuclear weapons, major states, calling for them to cease the nuclear arms race, and he did make an impact. And with Mr. Gorbachev who himself told me personally that that the influence of Canada and Pierre Trudeau was very significant in the gains that were made in nuclear disarmament in the 1980s. And so I think that the present government needs to recover some spunk, the same kind of spunk that they had, when they started, as Erin was describing the Landmines Treaty, which came about in 1997. That was a period of hope, and drive and energy, by civil society working with governments, and that has to be recovered. And there’s many, many civil societies, people who do want to recover it. But I do not see the same sense of desire on the part of the government, the government has retreated and reacted against the very pressures that have been that are building up that have led to the prohibition treaty. So, we’re living now in a time of great confusion and danger. And I think that those of us who have some access to this issue and who have access to the Government of Canada, need to maintain the pressure on the politicians, and particularly the parliamentarians in the Canadian Parliament. And bearing in mind that is an election coming in 2019, in a little more than a year from now. And we need to hold their feet to the fire on what they’re going to do about Canada regaining its role in nuclear disarmament.
Metta Spencer 37:11
Absolutely. I think everybody on this panel probably agrees. I would imagine, almost certainly, we agree to it. I think we ought to give a little thought to how to answer the kinds of arguments that the Canadian government or any NATO government, most of the NATO governments, put forward – because, as I understand it, you know, that the US and all the NATO countries or the nuclear weapons countries, justify this in the name of deterrence., that unless you have nuclear weapons to use to deter your enemies, you’re vulnerable and that these are the major source of security.
The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche 38:04
You’re calling for an answer to the Canadian government’s negative position. The answer is that the organization called the Canadian for Nuclear Weapons Convention, which has produced 1000 members of the Order of Canada signing a statement calling for Canada to take vigorous diplomatic action, in line with the Secretary General’s call for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. The Canadians for Nuclear Weapons Convention sent a letter on November the 15th 2017, to the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, in which we answered every one of the arguments that the Canadian government I put forward against the Prohibition Treaty. That is a detailed, full answer of every point. And to this day, the Canadian government has not even responded to the letter sent on behalf of 1000 members of the Order of Canada. This is the most prestigious group in Canada. So, I’m trying to tell you and our audience here that we’re in a very serious situation when the government of Canada thinks that it can ignore the expressed and full opinion of very important people in this country. Why are we allowing them to get away with this? This is a very serious question.
Metta Spencer 39:23
Well, they already had passed… both Houses of Parliament had passed and had endorsed resolution a couple of years before, two or three years before calling for nuclear disarmament.
The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche 39:38
In 2010, the Senate and the House of Commons passed unanimously a motion calling for the Canadian government to take a vigorous worldwide diplomatic initiative on behalf of nuclear disarmament. That unanimous motion of the Canadian Parliament was also ignored by the Government of Canada. I mean, it is really shocking that the government has been has been so dismissive of important expressions of opinion. So, if you can see in the very manner that I’m speaking now, my own frustration, and it’s, it’s a frustration that was felt widely through the humanitarian movement around the world that started the process that led as Erin described, to the, to the Prohibition Treaty. So, it right now I’ll just make one more point in this context. We’re now coming up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is a largest multilateral arms control treaty in the world. it’s signed by 191 states. And it calls under Article 6 for the pursuit of comprehensive negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Now, we’re coming up to the 50th anniversary of the treaty in 2020. And this treaty is slowly… no quickly… eroding in importance because it has been ignored by the main states. And their obligation to pursue negotiations under Article 6 has been reinforced by the International Court of Justice, which 20 years ago issued a statement saying – a unanimous statement saying – that not only states have a duty to pursue it states have a duty to conclude negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons. So, we have a very strong legal base on which to stand. And we need to combine that now with a political will. And you know, 30 years ago now or whatever, in 1982, 1 million people marched in New York City. I was at one I was one of them.
Metta Spencer 42:16
I was too.
The Hon. Ret. Senator Doug Roche 42:16
Well, you and I remember the march from the United Nations to Central Park in New York of 1 million people against nuclear arms and the deployment of crews pushing missiles and what was going on in Europe at the time. And that did lead to action, it led to the to the Reykjavik Summit of 1986, that that almost eliminated nuclear weapons. So we’ve fallen back and a whole lot of things have happened. But we’ve got to recover our sense of purpose, our sense of responsibility, our sense of destiny, to protect humanity from another kind of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that as Earl said a little earlier, this conversation is just waiting to happen.
Metta Spencer 43:08
What bless you and absolutely, I think now we have to think about how we’re going to do it, you know, the concern that I have is, yes, but you’re certainly right, that the government seems… the Canadian government seems to completely ignore public opinion on this. However, you know, unless I once did a little research and I tried to find every poll that I could, where people around the world had been asked whether they want nuclear disarmament, and, you know, Canadians were right up close to the top in terms of almost everybody, every country in the world, except maybe one, I think, at one point, said that the majority of people said they went nuclear disarmament. In Canada, the last one was I think 88% of the Canadian population wants it. And even the Liberal Party, when they have their conference, they decided that this was their official policy, but then they don’t do it. The question is, I think that even though the Canadian population just like the rest of the world, have been rather well, certainly, they say they want nuclear disarmament. It’s like yes, I would wish, you know, Peace on Earth, but I don’t really think it’s possible. I wish for health and wellbeing for everybody, but we know that you can’t really have it, that kind of passivity going along with the right kind of wishes, but simply not the energy that needs to be exercised to make it come true. How do we get people to exercise the passion for getting this thing done? Do we have to wait until one of the things actually goes off and people then say “This is unacceptable!” – when in fact there was this thing in Hawaii a few weeks ago that scared the daylights out of people in Hawaii. But I haven’t heard anything more about it since then, what does it take? What do we have to do to make people aware of the urgency of getting rid of these weapons? Earl and Erin, have you given thought to what our next steps have to be to make this happen?
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 45:27
If I might Metta, I know that we have an audience outside of Canada, an international audience. But if I could just for a moment focus on the Canadian situation, as has been pointed out, I mean, Canada as a NATO state is in a difficult position, on one hand, because we are subject to the bully tactics and whatnot, but the United States and also the United Kingdom and France, the three NATO nuclear armed states have been employing to ensure that their allies support them in the boycott, first of all of the negotiations, and also the continued dismissal of the TPNW. But we’re also in a very good position by virtue of being a NATO state to bring concerns forward to other NATO countries, should we be inclined to do so. And I think we have to keep working on our government. Now, I may be hopelessly optimistic, but I think once the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trade negotiations have been brought to conclusion, Canada might be a little more inclined to be independent minded, or at least publicly so in our foreign policy or in our policies, generally speaking. Right now, that is a major preoccupation for our government. It, no pun intended, but it trumps almost everything else. We are being obedient to the point of obsequiousness with respect to our key trading partner, in my view. I hope that will change when NAFTA is brought, when NAFTA negotiations are brought to conclusion. I do think the pressure that’s being brought to bear by Canadian and international civil society, and now that we have the positive obligations in place with the treaty, states hopefully will bring diplomatic and other pressure to bear on other states, such as our own that fall outside the treaty. And I know from my past experience, and certainly former disarmament Ambassador Roche and knows from firsthand experience, how effective it can be when senior diplomats and political leaders from one nation actually raise an issue in bilateral and multilateral discussions with other states. So, we have to maintain the pressure. And it’s going to take, I think, a momentum that is unprecedented, to get rid of nuclear weapons, as you pointed out, and others pointed out some people naively still believe that they are the supreme guarantee of national and international security instead of the greatest risk to international security. I’ll stop at that point and hand it over to you.
Erin Hunt 48:21
I guess just to sort of start with we are seeing some movement on the Canadian position with regards to the Treaty. Minister Freeland just spoke to the Conference on Disarmament a couple of weeks ago and recognized that the – I have to move our little screen here to find the text – the criticisms that we’ve heard in this call and the criticisms of disarmament, not moving forward, that were a key leader in why this treaty happened are legitimate. Consider criticisms. And she also talked about the importance of all states, especially the nuclear armed states, creating an environment that’s more conducive to disarmament. And a key way that Canada can do this is through the… we’ve been talking about having a feminist foreign policy, and no foreign policy can be considered feminist when you’re supporting nuclear weapons. Those are just contradictory, completely and totally contradictory. So when you’re looking at how Canada, Canada can be bringing these messages to NATO, there are other states in NATO, where their Parliaments are looking at the treaty, and studying it, and that’s something that Canada can do as well. But, you know, as I mentioned earlier with the Indigenous rights and the gender angles in the treaty, these are lovers with this Government. If this is what Canada wants to do, if Canada wants a feminist foreign policy, if Canada wants reconciliation, this is the sort of policy that they need to be supporting on the international stage. And I guess it’s up to Canadians to point that out as much as they can.
Metta Spencer 50:17
Absolutely. Can you also bring us up to date about ICAN? Now that they’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize for their wonderful efforts, and they’ve triumphed by getting this TPNW so far along, what is next for them? Are they, as an organization, moving ahead with further steps towards changing public opinion? What is the game plan for ICAN?
Erin Hunt 50:53
Oh, we’re just getting started. The Treaty is the easy part, getting the Treaty is the easy part. The hard part is universalizing the Treaty and implementing the Treaty provisions. So that’s the focus for the next few years is entry into force of the Treaty, and ensuring that the Treaty provisions are implemented properly. We’re looking at the how to Improve victim assistance; how to start or, you know, continue environmental remediation; how to universalize the Treaty; how to hopefully start how to move US nuclear weapons out of allied countries’ territory; all these sorts of things. We’re just getting started.
Metta Spencer 51:45
Ambassador Earl Turcotte 51:45
Since we only have a couple of minutes left, can I can I make a plea to members of the audience from states that are party or are planning to become a party to the Treaty? Please, encourage: first of all, I as I’m sure you have, congratulate your leadership. We wish we had the kind of visionary leadership that your countries do. Please encourage your political leaders and your diplomats to bring pressure to bear on the holdout countries like ours. It is much more effective when it comes from another government.
This conversation is one of the weekly series Talk About Saving the World produced by Peace Magazine and Project Save the World. Please visit our website at tosavetheworld.ca where you can sign the Platform for Survival – a list of 25 public policy proposals that if enacted, would greatly reduce the risk of 6 global threats to humankind. Come back next week for another discussion of a serious global issue.
1 This is referring to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines, also known as the Ottawa Treaty.