The Current

Canada's absence from UN nuclear weapon ban negotiations unacceptable, says advocate

Canada's absence from the UN nuclear weapon negotiations is being criticized because many see this conference as significant and timely — especially given the tension internationally thanks to America and North Korea.
Why isn't Canada taking part in the U.N. treaty negotiations to create a worldwide nuclear ban worldwide? ( REUTERS/KCNA/Files )

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Canada's absence from the UN nuclear weapon negotiations is being criticized as many see this conference as significant and timely — especially given the recent international news involving the U.S. and North Korea. 

Barack Obama promised in 2009 to work towards a nuclear weapons free world. But on Mar. 27, as the United Nations began talks aimed at doing exactly that — the U.S. and Canada didn't show up.

In fact 40 nation states were not in attendance.

Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, is at the negotiations as a civil society representative. He's really disappointed that Canada is not attending.

"It's really positioning the Canadian government and others that boycotted the conference, on the wrong side of history and humanity," Jaramillo tells The Current's guest host Kelly Crowe.  
A spokesperson for the Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland says 'Canada is actively pursuing inclusive nuclear disarmament initiatives.' (Todd Korol/Canadian Press)

"It's not a matter of of opinion but one of arithmetic to say that they are in a minority — that's a minority position that is out of sync with the prevailing sentiment right now in the international community, that these negotiations are not only necessary but indeed long overdue."

A statement from the office of Canada's minister of foreign affairs Chrystia Freeland says, "Canada is actively pursuing inclusive nuclear disarmament initiatives. However the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban without the participation of states that possess nuclear weapons is certain to be ineffective and will not eliminate any nuclear weapons. If anything, it may make disarmament more difficult."

Jaramillo says this argument is flawed and does not stand scrutiny.

"This notion that the talks are divisive, or that the process has failed to reach consensus is completely specious. I mean these are the same states that are blocking consensus, are criticizing the process for its lack of consensus," Jarmillo argues.

"They have excluded themselves despite repeated requests, calls almost at the urging of the international community, and they are the ones that are resisting having a presence here."
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said during the party congress in Pyongyang, May 2016, the country won't use nuclear arms unless its sovereignty is threatened. (Wong Maye-E/The Associated Press)

Jarmillo suggests the lack of attendance is a testament to the potential impact of the treaty.

"They feel that their reliance on nuclear weapons has been challenged and that is precisely what this process intends to achieve … it's a sign of its effectiveness."

Jarmillo hopes the negotiation process will hopefully lead to a situation where nuclear weapons will be prohibited under international law — regardless of the lack of participation of nuclear weapons states.

"No one here is under the illusion that a treaty alone is tantamount to elimination. But everyone is convinced including again the majority of the world's nations that this is a necessary step and necessary measure … required for maintaining a world without nuclear weapons.

David Welch, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, says judging the success or failure of the conference all depends on expectation.

"If the expectation is that there will be a ban leave with legal teeth and that it will result in the rapid disarmament of nuclear weapons, everybody's going to be disappointed — that's simply not going to happen," he tells Crowe.

"If the marker of success is keeping the moral pressure up, and keeping the public aware that this is a long-term problem that needs to be addressed it will almost certainly be a success because it's in the headlines. People are talking."

Welch says the global nuclear threat is significant and should not be ignored.

"I'm old enough to remember the days of the Cold War when people — myself included — would awake at night sometimes with nightmares about mushroom clouds. And there was a visceral sense that the world could end at any moment," he explains.

"The total level of strategic nuclear weaponry in the world now was lower than the Cold War. But it's not that much lower," Welch says.

"And the Russians and the Americans both have arsenals big enough effectively to destroy civilization."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.​

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins and Idella Sturino.