NATO: New headquarters, new threats

An academic hears about new threats alongside old from officials at NATO new headquarters

NATO has opened new headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

The NATO headquarters in Brussels are in an impressive new structure with sky-high windows, long imposing wings, gleaming marble floors and ancient Grecian sculptures. It features an array of 29 allied flags, flanked by an imposing piece of the Berlin Wall and a wroughtiron sculpture soldered from remnants of the Twin Towers.

But the atmosphere is a lot less friendly than the former NATO headquarters, which I visited six times since 1989.

I was there as part of my university-funded research on NATO’s nuclear weapons and UN disarmament, conducting interviews with diplomats just prior to the meetings of NATO’s defence ministers this week.

It is difficult for Canadians to appreciate how threatened some NATO allies feel about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s underlying intentions. Poland has just announced a new bilateral arrangement with the United States to co-station a permanent brigade, approximately 10,000 armed soldiers, on Polish territory.

Canada is contributing 250 soldiers to protect Latvia, which is more like a trip-wire than a deterrent.

When will Canada get out of Europe, some American air force members asked me during a reception. “Probably never,” I answered, “in part because we don’t want to be entrapped in NORAD, and become a junior partner to a behemoth.”

My quick retort made them laugh, so I added: “Not many know we proposed the original NATO agreement in 1949, nearly 70 years ago. It’s seen as better to stay in NATO, with a seat at the table during high-level negotiations, like those with defence ministers from all over Europe that begin this week.”

One reason I was at NATO was to interview, for the third time, one of its highest-ranking diplomats, Jamie Shea. He would officially retire one hour after he spoke to me because he planned to use his doctorate from Oxford University as a professor at Exeter University in the U.K.

Shea was his usual ebullient and loquacious self, full of pithy eloquence about NATO’s Strategic Concept — what he calls the “sacred” document — that outlines why the alliance’s nuclear weapons remain essential, despite the UN’s new Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, which scores of nonNATO allies and non-nuclear weapon states have signed.

In other meetings, I discussed whether the ban treaty would undermine or undergird the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with Guy B. Roberts, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, William Alberque, director of NATO’s Arms Control, Disarmament and Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre, and its deputy director Eirini Lemos-Maniati.

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Roberts was NATO’s deputy assistant secretary general for weapons of mass destruction policy and director for nuclear deterrence policy. Armed with long experience in the U.S. Marines, a law degree and master’s degrees in international and strategic studies, he leads the enterprise responsible for ensuring the U.S. nuclear deterrent is safe, secure and effective.

Now that he is also in charge of overseeing medical defences against biological weapons, I can appreciate his responsibilities are even more worrisome.

I have seen my fair share of proposals to develop vaccines against biological threats, such as new variations of smallpox, and I can appreciate we are vastly underequipped against new types of microbes. Hundreds of thousands of North Americans could die horrible deaths in a biological attack.

I am not being melodramatic – the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission surmised in 2006 that terrorist use of biological weapons is more dangerous and likely than nuclear use, in part because pharmaceutical instruments and ingredients are readily available compared to plutonium and uranium sold on the black market.

Some people worry about the so-called dark web and cyberattacks that could take down satellites and cellphones, but I worry about worldwide biological threats, nuclear winter and radiological plumes, all of which NATO’s nuclear and conventional weapons can do little about.

Once preoccupied with “outof-area” conflicts like Afghanistan and Kosovo, experienced diplomats at NATO headquarters are now talking about biohazard suits, nuclear deterrence, tactical nuclear weapons, as well as nuclear weapons modernization, as dictated by the U.S. nuclear posture review recently issued under Roberts’ experienced guidance.

Soon I’ll be back in Canada, which seems like a safe island across the Atlantic, far away from European preoccupation with the possible antics of the Russian bear.

During our talk, Roberts explained reassuringly we were seated in the most secure and possibly safest place in Europe, which was why he was unaccompanied by a phalanx of bodyguards.

I looked around the Starbucks cafeteria in NATO’s huge new glass structure, gleaming in the late fall sunshine, and wondered why I felt so gloomy – and somehow not safe at all.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations at Western University, author of NATO and the Bomb, and reviewer in the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health College of Peer Reviewers. Her Faculty Research Development Fund is awarded by the dean and the associate dean of research in social science and funded by the Office of the Vice President Research, the President’s Office, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council endowment fund.

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The Prime Minister’s dilemma

prime minister's dilemmaThe strategies for the game Prisoner’s Dilemma contain useful lessons for those playing the diplomatic game, including our prime minister


August 24, 2018

What happens if we play Prisoner’s Dilemma over and over again? In other words, what happens if two players — like Canada and Saudi Arabia — know that they will interact repeatedly?

In game theory, this is referred to as an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.

To answer this question, political scientist Robert Axelrod invited experts to submit programs for a computer Prisoner’s Dilemma tournament. He wrote about the results in a 1981 article and a 1984 book with the same title, The Evolution of Co-operation. Decades later, the article is still one of the most cited articles ever published in the journal Science. Scores of game theoreticians continue to test his findings under various computer, human and laboratory conditions.

Axelrod set up the tournament so that each computer program would interact with other programs, and each program would be matched against itself, as well as against a program that randomly co-operated and defected (betrayed) with equal probability.

The strategy that won the tournament with the highest average score was the simplest of all the submitted programs. It was formulated by Prof. Anatol Rapoport at the University of Toronto. His strategy, called Tit for Tat (TFT), began with a co-operative choice and then did whatever the other player did on the previous move. It succeeded because:

  • It was nice by starting off with co-operation
  • It was retaliatory immediately in the case of defection (betrayal), but it was forgiving if the adversary co-operated again
  • It was not too clever, but it was very clear; consequently, it was easy for other programs to figure out its strategy.

Then Axelrod ran another tournament. This time all the participants knew TFT had won the first round so many tried to design entries to beat it. Strategies such as Stab in the Back defected on the last move, while others such as Tester defected immediately and Tranquillizer lulled the other player into co-operation and then tried to get away with defection.

Only one person submitted TFT again — Anatol Rapoport. To everyone’s surprise, TFT won the tournament again.

The success of TFT leads to some simple but powerful advice:

  • Be nice
  • Practice reciprocity: co-operate if the other player co-operates; retaliate if they defect
  • Forgive
  • Be as clear as possible.

How might TFT be applied to international relations?

First, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be around for a long time, so it would be worthwhile to improve their long-term relationship. In game theoretical language, “the shadow of the future” looms larger in an iterated game.

Adopting a TFT strategy could be fruitful in the wake of the crown prince’s extreme response to a tweet by Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. The Canadian government has often said it would take every opportunity to raise human rights concerns with Saudi Arabia. It promised to do so throughout the debate surrounding the $15-billion deal to supply Saudi Arabia with light armoured vehicles.

Freeland’s tweet was a routine expression of concern by Global Affairs Canada about more human rights violations. Her tweet was not “nice,” but Saudi Arabia’s heavy-handed “defection” was disproportionate. To withdraw the Saudi ambassador would have sent a strong enough message in diplomatic parlance; to withdraw all Saudi students stabs them in the back.

TFT could also be useful when dealing with U.S. President Donald Trump and the NAFTA negotiations. We saw from Trump’s one-on-one summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin that he prefers two-party negotiations; therefore, we should ally more, not less, with Mexico in negotiations.

Rapoport used alliances and different parties in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game to neatly demonstrate how humans and nations can get into threatening situations — and how the structure of a situation can force everyone to continue to endure insecurity. We can be caught in a dilemma not because of evil or stupid leaders or because of stupid or irrational calculations, but because of structural imperatives and thinking patterns that dictate choices where, in order to avoid the worst-case scenario, we end up in a less-than-optimal situation. Each player is unwilling to risk the costs of co-operating if the other player also does not co-operate.

The winning strategy of TFT, however, indicates it is in our shared, long-term and enlightened self-interest to reciprocate with forgiveness and co-operation.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor in the department of political science at Western University and the author of Game Theory and Peace Research: Professor Anatol Rapoport’s Contributions”in the latest issue of In Factis Pax: Journal of Peace Education and Social Justice.


Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. Prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge, but they have enough to convict both on a lesser charge. Prosecutors give each prisoner the opportunity either to betray the other by testifying the other committed the more serious crime or to co-operate with the other by remaining silent. The offer is:

  • If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves two years in prison
  • If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve three years in prison (and vice versa)
  • If A and B both remain silent, both of them will serve one year on the lesser charge.

Gloom and doom in Europe

I have just returned from a post-NATO Summit conference governed by “Chatham House rules” (secrecy, no attribution or quotation) in a not-to-be-disclosed location on Lake Como in Italy. Let’s just say it was not a hardship to stay at an Italian villa for so long.

Some diplomats arrived late from the summit in Brussels and were visibly irate or amused about U.S. President Donald Trump’s admonitions to other NATO members to spend more on defence.

I was the only Canadian at the post-summit conference, and while I did not represent the Canadian government, it was difficult not to speak up, stoutly, for Canada in the days of discussion – in part because the European allies give no thought to defending Canada’s territory. All talk centred around spending more to defend Europe’s eastern flank (mainly the Baltic countries, Poland and Ukraine), and southern flank (mainly Turkey and Italy).

I was scheduled to speak at a session with a top NATO military official, a longtime U.S. marine with the broadest shoulders I’d ever seen. The Americans are tired of carrying the European allies on their shoulders, and expect the Europeans to pay up on defence, and soon.

Canada is somewhat in the good graces of the U.S., mainly for our 13-year commitment of highly trained professional forces to Afghanistan, and our sacrifice of 158 soldiers killed and 1,800 visibly injured.

I emphasized all our NATO commitments, although others more often lauded the French for taking on dangerous commitments in Afghanistan and Mali, as well as offering their nuclear deterrent to NATO, albeit under their own command.

Without the alliance’s surfeit of 100 smaller nuclear weapons – their use controlled by the U.S president – many believe Russia would have overrun Europe already. Their fear of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions is palpable.

My main impression was of some deeply shaken senior officials who tried to belie their anxiety by talking about how they will invest in military personnel, spend more on conventional equipment, eventually but assuredly replace the dual-capable carriers for the U.S. B-61 nuclear bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Turkey, and investigate how to hire younger people to defend the allies against cyberwarfare.

The possibility of cyberwarfare was disturbing enough. When I talked about Trump’s desire for a “Space Force” and its implications for the militarization of space, I got the distinct impression the prospect of fighting Russia in yet another domain was overwhelming to contemplate.

Europeans will spend a lot more on offensive and defensive capabilities in the coming decade, but going above the target of two per cent of GDP will be very difficult for their populations of aging taxpayers. Such spending could become more of a burden given the prospect of Britain exiting the EU and a plummet in EU prosperity as more countries express disaffection with the European Commission’s overarching control over their pocketbooks.

The Italians are particularly overburdened with economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and they know the human wave of refugees from Syria will continue to hit their shores, tearing holes in their social fabric and upending their political landscape.

I delivered my speech reviewing Canada’s strong support of NATO, as illustrated by its new commitment to military training in Iraq under Canada’s command, its soldiers in Latvia and its training commitment to Ukraine’s soldiers. Canada’s list of commitments is long, highlighted by its exemplary record in Afghanistan and before that in Germany at Baden-Soellingen and Lahr.

Canada is nuclear-weapon-free, but the lesson of that strategy fell on deaf ears. Like the Canadian delegation at NATO headquarters in Brussels, those attending the post-summit conference were disinterested in supporting a new treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. The concept of an Arctic nuclear-weapon-free zone that is percolating in other forums also met with no interest. How Canada defends its shores is of no interest to frightened Europeans who sense Trump has taken a sledge hammer to European unity and transatlantic values.

While the wily real enemy, in their view, is Putin. Trump’s positions and tactics have undermined the confidence of many. For savvy Europeans, the only option is to smile politely at the Americans and hope Trump’s Republicans lose their congressional majority in the mid-term election, or Trump has a heart attack.

I suppose it wouldn’t be divulging secrets if I write that a couple of times I was asked for my thoughts about Mike Pence as president and about who could win the Democratic nomination for president next election.

One high-ranking U.S. diplomat under President Barack Obama gave us the lowdown on the Democrats’ fruitless search for someone able to beat Trump, but this led to only deeper melancholy that was countered by more Italian wine and grappa and German beer than should be imbibed over just a few days.

As I sat in the Milan airport – surrounded by happy Italians in festive dresses and dashing hats – my main feeling was Europe is marching into war again. A huge arms buildup will begin anew, augmented by newer types of weapons including armed drones, lasers and robots.

And far away across the ocean, Canada will need to think more seriously about more peaceful means to defend itself – given that one NATO ally disparages longtime friends and the others have little interest in this corner of the alliance.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor in the department of political science at Western University and the author of NATO and the Bomb and other scholarly publications.

Up in arms about the global arms trade

Simpson: Up in arms about the global arms trade

In May, Dr. Tarek Loubani of London was shot in the leg by a sniper on the Gaza border with Israel. According to reports, he was shot by a professional sniper deployed by the Israeli defence force while he was wearing an outfit that identified him as an emergency surgeon helping injured Palestinians during their protest at the border.

The media and pundits were quick to blame Israel’s Netananyu government for deploying snipers and Gaza’s Hamas rulers for fomenting protests along the border. But if we examine the broader international picture, the global arms trade in weapons should be mainly to blame.

Murray Thomson, the 96-year-old co-founder of Waterloo-based Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organization that opposes the arms trade, laments that the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries held a trade show in Ottawa this week for companies that manufacture and promote the export and sale of weapons designed to maim or kill.

“Weapons are the most versatile form of currency,” says Samantha Nutt, another medical doctor and founder of the international humanitarian organization War Child. She recently travelled to Somalia where she saw abject poverty, rampant lawlessness and irascible young men with automatic rifles who sabotage progress at every turn.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than three million Congolese have been forced to leave their homes by armed militia, and thousands of women have been gang-raped. Guns fuel the violence in that resource-rich country and other conflicts in Africa.

Michael Simpson, executive director of the British Columbia International Co-operation Council (and my brother), has witnessed child soldiers under the age of 12 in Sierra Leone equipped with illegal guns. Combined with drugs to fuel their anger, it’s led to atrocities that nobody, including the children, could later recall or believe.

In Syria, millions of people are trapped by armed militias. At least four distinct fighting groups in Syria are armed with small arms and light weapons.

In Honduras, thousands denounced the fraudulent elections last November but were repressed by security forces using lethal weapons. Dozens were killed and many more injured.

Many people (especially in the United States) argue guns do not kill people, people that kill each other, and if people can’t obtain guns easily, they will slaughter each other with swords, machetes and knives. It’s true that swords, machetes and knives can wreak havoc, but guns are far more dangerous when placed in the wrong hands.

In Pakistan, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was determined to go to school despite warnings that girls should not attend. Her bus was halted by two Taliban gunmen who deliberately shot her in the head. She miraculously recovered and went onto champion education for children and young people. But in 2014, when it was announced Yousafzai was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, she identified guns as part of the problem. “My goal,” she said, “was not to get the Nobel Peace Prize but to end the gun violence and ensure that all children have the opportunity of learning.”

Like the slave trade, the arms trade is immoral – yet Canada has soared in global rankings to become the second biggest arms dealer to the Middle East on the strength of its massive sale of combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia. General Dynamics’ $15-billion contract for light armoured vehicles manufactured in London is the largest arms sale in Canadian history.

The federal government is continuing to endorse the export of the LAVs, despite the oppressive Saudi regime’s support for wars in the Middle East, including a brutal war in Yemen.

Officials at the Department of Global Affairs have tried to deflect ongoing criticisms of the Saudi deal by retorting that Canada will soon agree to the international Arms Trade Treaty.

But the treaty obligations will not apply to arms exports to the United States, including in cases where those weapons may be further transferred to other governments and armed groups.

Indeed, the value of Canada’s arms exports to the U.S. exceeds the worth of all other Canadian arms exports. The exclusion of the Saudi arms sale, as well as Canada’s arms exports to the U.S., are major gaps in Canada’s proposed treaty implementation.

The treaty is the first international legal instrument to establish robust global rules to stop the flow of weapons, munitions and related items. It would be used to stop people from committing or facilitating genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or serious human rights violations.

The Canadian government needs to act more transparently and meaningfully to achieve the full intent of athe treaty. All Canadians must take stronger action to prevent grave human rights abuses from taking place abroad using guns and tanks.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor in the department of political science at Western University.

The security of Ontario’s nuclear plants should be an election priority, not the salaries of top Hydro One execs

Hydro One owns and manages Ontario’s electricity-transmission facilities and it is the largest provider of local electricity.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford would like voters to believe firing its chief executive would lead to lower electricity bills.

But CEO Mayo Schmidt’s annual salary of $6 million is justifiably competitive, says Katherine Wynne.

And, according to Hydro One: “The board believes the compensation paid to Mr. Schmidt and other senior executives is appropriate for their roles in overseeing an enterprise with $25 billion of assets, annual revenue of almost $6 billion and a strategy to expand our capabilities.”

What might happen to those costs if a serious nuclear accident, similar to what took place in Fukushima, Japan, were to happen at Hydro One’s Pickering Nuclear Generating Station?

A new report released by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance in March and written by Dr. Ian Fairlie, a radiation expert from the U.K., calculates the immense costs for Ontario Power Generation (OPG), which is 100 per cent owned by the province of Ontario and was established as part of Hydro One’s restructuring in 1999 as a commercial company.

Pickering is surrounded by more people than any other nuclear station in North America; 2.2 million people live within 30 kilometres of the plant. According to the OCAA report, more than 650,000 people and 154,000 homes would have to be evacuated for 30 to 100 years in the Greater Toronto Area.

All of Pickering and parts of Aurora, Markham, Newmarket, Scarborough and Richmond Hill would need evacuation.

Low-level fallout would reach from west of London to the southwestern corner of Algonquin Park. Contaminated areas, including “no-go zones” would encompass major highways, including highways 401, 407 and 404, and major rail lines, like the CN, CP and Go Transit rails.

A Fukushima-type disaster at Pickering could lead to 26,000 cancer diagnoses, half of which would be fatal.

In 2014, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ordered that potassium iodide (KI) pills be distributed to all Canadians living or working within 10 km of a nuclear facility. The mass mailing of KI tablets by the Durham Regional Health Department and Ontario Power Generation in 2015 resulted in more than 200,000 homes and businesses near the plants receiving kits containing the pills and brochures explaining how and when to use them. People living within 50 kilometres of the facilities still may order the tablets from

However, these pills would only protect against one type of cancer, thyroid tumours, and radiation is known to cause many types of cancers.

In the event of a major leak or accident, residents living in the path of the expected plume of radioactive gases would be asked to swallow the tablets and evacuate the relevant areas as quickly as possible. If this isn’t possible, the provincial emergency authority recommends people stay indoors and await instructions via TV and radio.

The OCAA report on the risks of a radioactive release at Pickering also suggests $125 billion in lost home values. Home insurance policies would not protect homeowners in the case of a nuclear accident, and private insurers do not offer coverage for nuclear accidents. However, OPG’s liability is capped at $1 billion, leaving most property losses unrecoverable.

At 47 years, Pickering is a very old facility. The aging plant’s licence expires Aug. 31, unless extended by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for another 10 years, and CNSC has never rejected an application for renewal. From 2018 until 2023 the plant would operate as usual, then be closed for good, and from 2024 to 2028, decommissioned.

The ancient facility runs on 1960s and ’70s technology but OPG claims it has invested more than $200 million on maintenance and repairs since 2010. In 2016, it took the plant out of service to conduct maintenance at a cost of $75 million.

Could an accident happen before 2028? There is some seismic activity in the Toronto area.

The plant remains vulnerable to a severe accident, freak weather event, plane crash, or cyberattack.

For example, Russia conducted a cyberattack on Estonia’s parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters in 2007. The United States and Israel also developed the Stuxnet computer virus in 2007 in order to thwart the Iranian nuclear enterprise. And although neither country has admitted its involvement, the virus unexpectedly and aggressively spread around the world, in the course of which it attacked American computer networks and infrastructure.

Moreover, the biggest North Korean cyberattack to date, a ransomware attack in May 2017, brought down hundreds of thousands of computers across dozens of countries.

While an earthquake and tsunami in Lake Ontario are thought unlikely, human-caused accidents, cyberwarfare, computer failures and ransomware are burgeoning possibilities.

The province would have little room to respond to an accident, disaster or shock. This March, two credit-rating agencies, Moody’s and DBRS, stopped short of downgrading Ontario’s debt.

Ontario was the world’s most indebted sub-sovereign borrower in 2015, with twice the debt of California, the biggest U.S. state.

Pickering provides about 14 per cent of Ontario’s electricity but experts at OCAA point out Pickering’s electricity could easily be replaced with hydro electricity supplied from Quebec. There would be enormous cost savings because approximately two-thirds of Hydro Quebec’s electricity exports are sold at an average price of only three cents a kilowatt-hour.

In October 2016, Ontario concluded an agreement with Hydro Quebec to purchase two billion kWh of water power a year at a price of five cents a kWh for seven years; Hydro Quebec is now generating wind power at an average cost of 6.3 cents a kWh. If Ontario voters want to save money on their electricity bills, it would be cost effective to co-operate with Quebec.

No matter what, nuclear waste from the decommissioned Pickering and Darlington plants will need to be disposed of somewhere, at great cost. Perhaps the low-level and intermediate-level waste will be buried under the Bruce station, the largest-operating nuclear station in the world.

OPG is proposing the construction of a deep geologic repository in limestone caverns 1.2 km from the shores of Lake Huron.

Estimates are it will cost between $1.5 billion and $13 billion to construct a site to bury all Ontario’s decommissioned waste from its 20 nuclear reactors, adding to the rising cost of Ontario’s nuclear electricity.

Taken altogether, the costs, safety and security of the province’s nuclear plants should be a top election issue for any party or government.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations at Western University and the vice-president of the Canadian Peace Research Association.

Reckless and Ruthless

Given their personalities, don’t expect much rational from the Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit

U.S. President Donald Trump has offered to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in face-to-face negotiations. Is it possible for both these leaders to engage under duress in rational decision-making?

Kim will come to the bargaining table as the commander of a million-strong conventional army. He controls operational and test-fired missiles that can credibly range thousands of kilometres through space. Trump is promising to develop a new branch of the U.S. military he calls Space Force specifically for war efforts in space.

Kim knows Trump could make up information, as he did in a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump says he insisted the U.S. runs a deficit with its neighbour to the north without knowing whether that was true. If Trump lied to his country’s closest military ally, and boasted about it later, he may tell Kim more untruths.

Trump is a seasoned negotiator, but Kim may be more ruthless. After all, he has to negotiate his own regime’s survival.

Kim was born to one of three mistresses of his father and predecessor as leader, Kim Jong-Il, sometime between 1982 and 1984. Donald Trump, born in 1946, is twice his age.

Kim is the cut-throat leader of a dynasty that has ruled North Korea for decades. He presided over a meeting of the politburo during which his uncle was publicly stripped of his posts and the nephew had him executed.

Kim also ordered the execution of his former girlfriend, along with 11 other state entertainers, for allegedly making sex tapes and possessing Bibles. His girlfriend’s family, along with singers and dancers in her orchestra, were forced to watch as she was killed by machine gun before a firing squad. Strangely, a year later, his ex-lover turned up alive and well on state TV.

Kim’s older brother, Kim Jong Nam, died last year in a Malaysian airport, the result of what authorities determined was an assassination conducted by North Korean agents using nerve gas.

Will Kim be open to negotiation and compromise? When he became the supreme commander of the People’s Army, with the military rank equivalent to a general, experts hoped his Swiss schooling and nonmilitary training in computer science would soften him. But refugees have reported thousands of spectators were forced to watch the hangings of more than 80 people in stadiums.

We have learned a lot more about Trump’s negotiating style. Trump likes to appear tough — this week he is calling for the death penalty for drug dealers — but in North Korea, estimates are that from one million to 3.5 million people have been deliberately murdered out of a total population of approximately 22 million, and another possibly 3.5 million have died from starvation or hunger-related illness.

From Trump’s perspective, the greatest threat from the brash young leader stems from his outspoken threats against the United States. Kim has repeatedly threatened to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and the regime has proved its nuclear weapons capability with many underground nuclear detonations, including a possible hydrogen bomb.

The Americans could threaten their own pre-emptive strike, but the actual size and location of the North Korean arsenal is unknown. The intelligence community puts North Korea’s stockpile somewhere between six and 20 nuclear bombs, possibly spread around the country in hardened underground silos.

North Korea test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017, the second of which had sufficient range to reach the continental United States. Last fall, the country announced its further perfection of a hydrogen bomb.

Once Trump hinted about withdrawing the 28,500 American soldiers stationed in South Korea. Adm. Harry Harris, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the U.S. Senate armed services committee last week that he believed Kim would do a “victory dance” if Trump followed through.

Such a move would also abrogate the United States’ defence agreement with South Korea. The U.S. soldiers are armed with land mines that serve as a credible deterrent to an invasion by North Korea and are also one of the principal reasons why the U.S. continues not to sign and ratify the international land mines treaty.

It is evident China — not so much the United States — could exert the upper hand in any peaceful negotiations so as to ensure a soft landing for North Korea. Ensuring stability in the Korean peninsula is important for China since a North Korean regime collapse would result in an unmanageable influx of emaciated refugees into China.

Instead of hoping leaders remain rational under all circumstances, diplomats need to take rapid steps to denuclearize the peninsula. The first-ever UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament takes place May 14-16 at UN headquarters in New York. The conference will draw attention to the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, already signed by 122 nations (but not the U.S. or North Korea), and it will exert positive influence for dialling down the Korean situation. Erika Simpson teaches international politics in the department of political science at Western University and is the author of NATO and the Bomb. These comments are based on her contribution to a panel on May 15 during the UN disarmament conference.

On the defensive

Simpson, E. (2018b, Jan. 7) On the defensive. Syndicated Opinion Piece (Op.Ed) in the Postmedia Network, Canada’s largest chain of online and hard copy newspapers [hereafter Postmedia Network Op Ed.].

Just before Christmas, the U.S. Congress rushed through the Pentagon’s request for US$4 billion to detect, defeat and defend against ballistic missiles.

“We are ordering $4 billion worth of missile defence equipment and missiles themselves. Very important,” President Donald Trump said at the White House. “Top of the line. Best in the world. We make the best military product in the world, and nobody is even close.”

There are few details about what the money will be spent on, but $2.1 billion is earmarked for 20 missiles that will attempt to intercept incoming ballistic missiles above Earth’s atmosphere, along with a network of radars and ground-based interceptors.

Now that Trump has made nuclear modernization his highest national defence priority, concerns have arisen that the U.S. administration will again ask Canada to participate in the U.S. ballistic missile defence (BMD) project.

Despite widespread fears about militarizing outer space, the U.S. has long sought the co-operation of its NATO allies in BMD. But concerns are widespread that America plans to dominate space militarily, including possibly place deadly lasers and nuclear weapons in orbit.

The last time a U.S. president requested Canada’s co-operation in BMD, George W. Bush made a high-profile public plea on Canadian soil. Prime Minister Paul Martin decided no. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper promised that, if elected, he would reverse the Liberal decision and put the question before Parliament for a free vote. But as prime minister from 2006 to 2015, he didn’t and the issue lay dormant.

The development of a safe and successful BMD system remains far off, Most U.S. tests have failed.

The U.S. BMD system would need the capability of conducting a first strike from space. If U.S. nuclear weapons were deployed in space, they would be hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Joining in BMD could make Canada more insecure, especially if nuclear debris from errant or colliding ballistic missiles rained over Canada.

In the 1950s, top-secret U.S. plans were for nuclear-armed American Bomarc missiles based in Canada to intercept Soviet bombers carrying nuclear payloads over Canadian air space, thus raining nuclear fallout over southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. But Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and his minister of external affairs Howard Green ultimately decided not to equip the Bomarcs with nuclear warheads.

Now Kim Jong-Un, among the world’s youngest and most inexperienced leaders, is supreme commander of a formidable (albeit malnourished and pitifully underequipped) million-member conventional army. In his new year’s address, he said, “The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table” and “The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range. . . . The United States can never start a war against me and our country.”

The next day, Trump tweeted in reply, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works.”

Will Trump’s newly-confirmed security advisers refrain from reigning him in because his threats serve a wider purpose of full nuclear capabilities? Are they trying to frighten North Americans into pinning their hopes on a space-based missile defence system?

It’s a system not yet feasible. It is unlikely any nation will be able to 100 per cent reliably shoot down an adversary’s nuclear rockets in space. And just one miss means nuclear devastation below.

Canadians in “Fortress America” should ask themselves what is the use of walls without a roof? Will America, Russia and China engage in an arms race in outer space? Could the Canadian government be stuck with a mounting tab as costs of developing a BMD rapidly escalate? And how might Canadian firms benefit from research and development on space-based weapons of war?

In the 2000s, U.S. deputy defence secretary John Hamre told Canadians our involvement in missile defence would be pivotal but not integral to a missile defence success, while the deputy commander of U.S. Space Command, Vice Admiral Herbert Browne, made headlines when he warned the U.S. would have no obligation to defend Ottawa from attack if Canada is not part of a missile defence system.

During the last round of debate, polls showed more than 60 per cent of Canadians opposed participation. That figure was even higher in Quebec, a province where every party needs support to win an election.

The U.S. and Canada will co-host a major international meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the North Korean crisis on Jan. 16 in Vancouver.

American moves to build a more robust nuclear enterprise will also undergo diplomatic scrutiny when the UN holds the first High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament from May 14-16. Many delegates will feel more comfortable with a push for disarmament than with joining the Trump administration in setting up systems to destabilize arms control. Wary of Trump’s aggressive tweets and unilateral threats to destroy North Korea, as well as tear up the arms control agreement with Iran, diplomats will share an interest in keeping Earth’s orbit a demilitarized zone.

Associate Prof. Erika Simpson is the author of NATO and the Bomb and other scholarly publications. This is an excerpt from her Feb. 8 address to the Women’s Canadian Club in London, Ont.