British Columbia

Nuclear war still threatens world, experts say; disarmament only solution

Can Canada help lead the world to nuclear disarmament? An Order of Canada winner says yes — but people need to speak up and politicians need to listen.

Murray Thomson has over 800 Order of Canada winners supporting disarmament in new book

The mushroom cloud of the first test of a hydrogen bomb, "Ivy Mike" looms over the Pacific Ocean in 1952. (Reuters)

Could we be entering a new phase of activism surrounding nuclear disarmament?

Ninety-three-year-old peace activist Murray Thomson hopes so.

Thomson, a long-time activist, is former executive director of Cuso, and a recipient of the Pearson Medal of Peace and the Order of Canada.

"We see the Russians and the Americans playing nuclear chicken with one another up and down each other's borders," Thomson told B.C. Almanac host Gloria Macarenko.

Peace activist Murray Thomson's new book is Minutes to Midnight: Why More Than 800 Order of Canada Recipients Call for Nuclear Disarmament. (CBC)

"We see India and Pakistan, with over 1 billion people between them, insulting each other along a 1,500-mile border, not seeming to care whether or not they get into a nuclear war, which would essentially wipe out both countries."

Earlier this month, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament, Kim Won-Soo, said Canada is uniquely placed to play a catalytic role between the nuclear weapons states and the non-nuclear states in promoting nuclear disarmament.

Thomson has recruited some prominent voices to back up Kim's call, in his new book, Minutes to Midnight: Why More Than 800 Order of Canada Recipients Call for Nuclear Disarmament, which features short essays from luminaries like Chris Hadfield, Romeo Dallaire, Margaret Atwood and Jane Urquhart.

Threat still real

Paul Meyer, former ambassador to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, agrees the threat of nuclear conflict is still a real one.

"Many felt [with] the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union back in the early '90s that this problem vanished, and unfortunately, this was not the case," Meyer said. "We still have 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world, and, unfortunately, the geopolitical climate has deteriorated in recent years. This is a cause for real concern."

Meyer says of particular concern is the strained relationship between Russia and the U.S., who, between them, have 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.

Paul Meyer says strained relations between Russia and the U.S. are making the world less safe from nuclear war.

He says for meaningful change to take place, it's up to members of civil society to speak up and make their voices heard. When that happens, he says, politicians often follow.

Thomson agrees now is the time to speak up, and now is the time for government to act — but a major obstacle remains in NATO's position that nuclear weapons are "a core component of the Alliance's overall capabilities for deterrence and defence."

"Thousands of people believe that, of course, and it's a believable position. It just doesn't happen to be the right one," he said.

Thomson will launch his book at an event at St. John's Shaughnessy Church in Vancouver on May 17 at 7:30 p.m., and will have a follow-up event in Victoria on May 19 at the University of Victoria at 7 p.m.

With files from CBC Radio One's B.C. Almanac

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Peace activist says it's time to speak up about nuclear disarmament