Money better spent – Investing in sustainable development and environment may do more for North American security than military increases

By Erika Simpson, Special to Postmedia Network

President Donald Trump is proposing to increase U.S. defence spending to $603 billion annually. The U.S. already spends twice as much as China and Russia put together — $215 billion and $69.2 billion respectively, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which monitors worldwide defence spending based on open sources.

SIPRI estimates the world’s entire military expenditure at US$1.7 trillion last year, equivalent to 2.2 per cent of global GDP or $227 per person.

If Trump’s budget passes, his proposed hike would push the U.S. military budget up by 10 per cent. Last year China, the world’s second-largest military spender, increased its defence budget by 5.4 per cent.

To cover increases to military spending, Trump plans to drastically cut domestic aid programs, foreign aid, medicare and environmental regulations. His budget cuts are already adversely affecting many international organizations.

Americans are more willing to spend government money on defence compared to other priorities,. The U.S. military’s share of government spending hovers around 9.4 per cent, while Canada, Finland, France, Germany, and Hungary earmark 2.4 per cent of government spending for defence.

It’s a classic guns-or-butter debate that tells us a lot about priorities and the kind of society people want to live in.

Now Trump is blasting NATO allies for not spending enough on defence. On his first foreign trip, he pressured many NATO leaders to double their defence spending to two per cent of their country’s GDP.

Canada’s defence spending had been around 1.1 per cent of GDP since 2011 but under the Trudeau government it has fallen to one per cent. During the Cold War, it was at its highest at 7.4 per cent in 1953, but since 1991, has hovered between 1.1 to 1.8 per cent of GDP.

When spending is expressed as a percentage of GDP, we look like laggards, but if we look at per capita defence spending, Canada ranks higher because of our small population. Last year Canadians spent about US$417 per person. Still, Americans spent $1,886 — a four-to-one differential that has stayed fairly constant since 1990.

Canada’s defence budget in 2016-17 is $18 billion, but with the defence review have been made public by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan Wednesday, the Liberals are promising is it will go much higher. Spending would double over the next decade, including new investments to better look after the wellness of armed forces personnel, reduce sexual harassment and modestly increase the number of reservists, intelligence and cyberwarfare specialists.

On his first foreign trip, the U.S. president weakened a long-held commitment to Article 5 of NATO’s 1949 Washington Treaty — which declares an attack against one member-country is considered an attack against all. By seeming not to endorse the alliance’s fundamental premise, he incited widespread confusion and despair.

Europe’s aging population — many of whom suffered through the Second World War and are now pressured by history’s worst humanitarian refugee crisis — do not want to increase defence budgets, purchase more conventional weapons, and modernize NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons.

But the U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its air, land and sea triad of nuclear weapons.

Taken together with Trump’s shocking disavowal of the Paris climate agreement, Trump is acting more like a unilateralist — an isolationist — and a bully.

Countries like Germany, France and Canada must continue to pursue multilateral and co-operative agendas.

Chrystia Freeland, the minister of global affairs, is thinking strategically about how to honour Canada’s multilateral commitments without directly criticizing Trump. As a member of more international organizations than any other country in the world, Canada needs to continue to have a seat at the table during NATO negotiations as well as in other important European forums.

The corridors of NATO and the G-7 are full of diplomats from all over the world who are committed to multilateralism. These international institutions are not obsolete, although NATO’s out-of-area wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya have been expensive and problematic, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pull-out from the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction was a serious setback.

On the same inaugural foreign trip, Trump sealed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth US$350 billion over 10 years. The Saudis are the largest per capita spenders in the world at a rate of $1,978 per person. Canada is also profiting from Saudi profligacy through a C$15-billion deal to build light armoured vehicles for the Saudi government, a deal that negotiated under the Harper regime and was endorsed by the Trudeau government.

Isn’t it time for the U.S. and Canada to consider devoting 0.7 per cent of GDP to development and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals? The noble goal recommended by former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson is being honoured by the Scandinavian countries and the UK. If we were to spend more on development and the environment on an annual basis, North America’s security might be better enhanced and terrorism more effectively fought.

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 Trump and NATO that was featured on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin on June 1, 2017.


Brantford Expositor, “A better use for the money”, available at

Digital and print readership: 12,202


Chatham Daily News

Digital and print readership: 4,932


Kingston-Whig Standard, Money better spent (Monday June 12, 2017

Digital and print readership: 17,085

-see hard copy, page A5, above the fold with large picture


London Free Press

Digital and print readership: 63,348

-see hard copy, Page A5, below the fold without large picture


Pembroke Daily Observer (around Ottawa)

Digital and print readership: 2,784

-above the fold with large picture


Sarnia Observer

Digital and print readership: 8,781

hard copy page A5, above the fold with large picture


Standard (St. Catharine’s)

Digital and print readership: 13,184

Saturday hard copy, below the fold with large picture


Stratford Beacon-Herald

Digital and print readership: 5,899

digital version on Saturday but not hard copy,


St. Thomas Times Journal,

Digital and print readership: 2,930

not in hard copy, in digital Saturday paper


The Sun Times (Owen Sound), “Money better spent”

Digital and print readership: 9,082

Monday, above the fold with large picture


Total readership of this column: 140,227 This is the average in 2015 according to Daily Newspaper Circulation Data, available at this website:

The Agenda with Steve Paikin on NATO, featuring Erika Simpson


Last week, President Trump blasted NATO leaders in Brussels for not paying their fair share and failed to commit to the fundamental pillar of the alliance: Article 5, which states that “an attack against one ally is considered to be an attack against all.” The Agenda examines Trump’s stance on the nearly 70-year-old alliance and what it means for its future. Western University Associate Professor Erika Simpson was a guest on the show.

Lest we forget….Afghanistan

A mission to Mali is already a lost opportunity, so let’s refocus on Afghanistan’s ‘forgotten war’

Erika Simpson and Sakhi Naimpoor, Special to Postmedia Network

Friday, May 12, 2017 6:39:46 EDT PM

The last Canadians involved in the NATO training mission in Afghanistan board an American Chinook helicopter, on March 12, 2014, as they leave the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. (MCpl Patrick

Canada’s chastened defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, should refocus peacekeeping missions on Afghanistan, rather than Mali.

Instead of sending soldiers under the United Nations to destroy ISIS in Mali, he should send professional, combat-capable forces and reservists to help train Afghan soldiers and police forces so that humanitarian and security operations in that war-torn nation successfully continue.

Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 went to Afghanistan in 2001, followed by other Canadian soldiers based in Kandahar. They joined American and British troops already fighting to topple the Taliban regime, eliminate terrorist operations and establish schools and institutions bent on creating lasting peace in the troubled country.

The UN authorized the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2003 and Canada initially contributed more than 700 Canadian Forces members stationed in Kabul and the surrounding area. In 2005, Canada went back to the Kandahar region, coinciding with a resurgence in Taliban activity, and the number of Canadian soldiers increased to approximately 2,300 taking part in large-scale offensives against Taliban forces.

Sajjan has apologized for glorifying his role in one of those offensives. By all accounts, he performed admirably in Afghanistan, and although he was not the “architect” of Operation Medusa, as he claimed, among Trudeau’s choices for cabinet he remains the one with the most impressive wartime, boots-on-the-ground experience.

As the war in Afghanistan became increasingly unpopular, Canada’s combat role ended in 2011 and the focus shifted to training Afghanistan’s army and police force. But Canada’s participation in the UN peacekeeping operation was abruptly abandoned in 2014, under Stephen Harper’s government, due to domestic pressures and political expediency. The last of our service members left the country in March 2014.

For more than 13 years, the Canadian Forces operated in and were well-equipped for a theatre of war in Afghanistan. Now Canada should re-engage with that war-torn country, rather than join another UN operation on a different continent in a primarily French-speaking milieu.

In Mali,Canadian forces would be expected to join with France, which has a permanent 3,000-strong anti-insurgent operation in Africa’s Sahel region. Pockets of extremist militants do exist in the desert and northern provinces of Mali, but these groups have neither targeted nor threatened specific Canadian interests.

Canada’s goal these days should be to attain a seat on the UN’s Security Council, therefore we need to commit UN peacekeeping troops somewhere, and soon.

UN diplomats expected Sajjan to commit to Mali. Instead the Department of National Defence sought to delay the decision until it had a chance to consult the new Trump administration. “We will ensure that our troops have the right mission, mandate, training and equipment in order to mitigate risk and maximize our impact,” said spokesperson Jordan Owens.

Despite reports that the UN is disappointed by the Trudeau government’s decision to postpone a decision on Mali, Canada can still take the initiative on UN peacekeeping.

The UN put out requests to a handful of top-tier countries in mid-December as the term of the Mali mission’s previous commander, Danish Maj.-Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, came to an end. Sajjan said he wanted to talk to his American counterpart, Defence Secretary James Mattis, before Canada sent peacekeepers to Africa because co-ordination with the U.S. was essential. According to reports from the Canadian Press, it now looks like Canada may have missed a chance to provide the commanding officer for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali because Canada wanted to talk first to the Trump administration.

Rather than belabour the missed Mali opportunity, Sajjan should refocus on finishing the UN’s job in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s resiliency and the emergence of ISIS are resulting in significant territorial losses and casualties among Afghan National Security Forces. Since the Canadian withdrawal from Kandahar province, the Taliban and affiliated groups have overrun the districts and villages that our forces secured and rebuilt. Nowadays, it is a common scene to witness Canadian taxpayer-funded school projects in Panjwaii district operate as madrasas — colleges for Islamic instruction — administered by the Taliban.

While Afghanistan has been dubbed “the Forgotten War” by academics and journalists, Sajjan surely has not forgotten the situation will only get worse so long as the Taliban and ISIS are allowed to operate with nearly complete impunity. The withdrawal of NATO coalition forces from Afghanistan has further deteriorated the security situation over the last three years so that the current administration of President Ashraf Ghani only controls 57 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory.

The Canadian government has not completely abandoned Afghanistan from a humanitarian perspective. But given the dire security situation and declining morale of Afghan National Security Forces, providing the Afghan government with a mere $165 million for economic development and reinvigoration of the education sector is a misplaced use of meagre funds.

Sajjan’s approach to Mali should waive the option of military intervention and take a more humanitarian and advisory approach.

But returning to Afghanistan in order to ensure long-term stability will require more direct involvement using Canadian personnel, and possibly increased numbers of reservists, to help train Afghan soldiers and police.

If the defence minister takes the initiative and recommits to Afghanistan, Canada won’t have dissipated 13 years of taxpayers’ money. In the name of the lives of 158 members of the Canadian Forces who were killed serving in the Afghan war, Canada should retake the lead in protecting Afghanistan’s nascent schools and institutions.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations in the department of political science at Western University in London. Sakhi Naimpoor is a PhD candidate in the department and a business executive member of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation.

Here are some links in Postmedia chain


The federal government wants to know so much more about a proposed nuclear waste site near Lake Huron, it seems it will never get the OK

By Erika Simpson, Special to Postmedia Network

Friday, April 21, 2017 6:10:27 EDT PM

One could well wonder whether Ontario Power Generation’s proposal to construct an underground nuclear waste site 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron will ever get the go-ahead from the federal government.

Last fall Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna requested information from OPG about alternative sites to the one it is proposing on the Bruce Power site. On April 5, less than a month after the public commentary on that information ended, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has issued a daunting set of difficult questions for OPG to answer.

The agency chastises OPG for its superficial exploration of alternative locations and for using inconsistent terminology to describe adverse environmental effects. It is still unclear why this deep geologic repository (DGR) so close to a Great Lake is preferred by OPG, so it has now been ordered to use more “systematic” approaches to considering alternate sites in terms of weighting, scoring and other “qualitative lines of reasoning.”

OPG needs to answer many more questions about emissions, construction, gas pressure, greenhouse gases, seismic factors, temporary power generation and the use of fossil fuels.

Since underground facilities must be constructed according to the National Building Code’s seismic regulations, OPG’s statement was deemed “ambiguous” and it has been told mitigation measures need explaining now, not later.

The agency said it had difficulty understanding OPG’s claim there would be no changes above-ground, despite clearing and excavation. So now the government wants to know how the construction could affect the land.

It’s unclear whether the baseline radiation from the existing Bruce Power stations was taken into account. But more information is required about the effects on workers and the potential effects of naturally occurring radioactive materials on non-human life.

OPG must also report on disruptive scenarios, including the potential risk of uncharted and abandoned oil and gas wells and the potential environmental effects of accidents and malfunctions during all phases of the project on site and during transportation.

OPG is even taken to task for not considering less-likely scenarios, such as “inadvertent human intrusion,” “undetected major fracture” and “shaft failure” after the DGR is closed.

Somebody will also need to more precisely figure out the cost and environmental effect of transporting the waste by rail and road and clarify why roads are preferred over railway.

OPG has been told it should have taken into account the risks and environmental effects of acid generation and metal leaching in rock beyond those assessed in the previous environmental impact statement so that it can say how those risks could be mitigated.

The agency emphasizes that indigenous peoples’ perspectives will need much better reporting.

OPG will need to take into account the input provided by indigenous groups, including health, socio-economic conditions, physical and cultural heritage, use of lands and resources for traditional purposes, burial sites and “local enjoyment.” Moreover, OPG must answer all the same sorts of questions about any alternative location.

One perhaps unanswerable question involves smaller, incremental effects. The government states the probability of a hazardous event may be low, but the impact on the environment or human health can still be high. Therefore risk assessments must consider many more types of conceivable accidents, malfunctions and malevolent acts.

If that were not enough, the government wants to know from OPG about the potential effects on the environment and human health of a long-term release of other radioactive nuclides via water sources if the DGR and the Bruce reactor both fail. And what would happen if there was no timely remediation or emergency response?

It is notable the government wants to know more about the potential for cumulative effects from radiation and radioactivity on deep groundwater.

“Radionuclide diffusion from the two repositories could eventually reach more active groundwater systems in the Cambrian sandstone and Guelph Formation, which are connected across the region. The consequences of such movement could have potentially adverse effects,” it says.

It further wants a reassessment of geological and hydrogeological factors, the incremental effects to freshwater species caused by warm water effluent discharging into colder water bodies, and the ecological risks to terrestrial species, such as white-tailed deer and wild turkey. It seems the snapping turtle has been observed in the wetlands around the Bruce site, so the government advises it could be possible for the eastern ribbon snake and the eastern milk snake to move in as well.

Taken all together it will be a long time before OPG can come up with compelling answers to so many complex questions — and certainly well after the next couple of federal and provincial elections.

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

 Here are the links to some newspapers:

Brantford Expositor:

Stratford Beacon Herald

Sarnia Observer

London Free Press


for previous columns on this issue, go to Erika Simpson’s blog


A lot more to be answered


Friday, March 24, 2017 5:49:51 EDT PM

Should Ontario Power Generation be allowed to bury nuclear waste near Lake Huron? The federal government could soon decide whether to give the go-ahead to the proposal to construct an underground disposal site at the Bruce nuclear complex — just 1.6 kilometres from the lakeshore.

Last fall Environment Minister Catherine McKenna requested more information from OPG, including alternative sites. That report, issued in late December, was available for public input until March 8.

Yet next year’s provincial election and possible federal cabinet changes in the summer mean there could be other opportunities to put nuclear waste back on the public radar.

OPG’s plan is to transport intermediate- and low-level nuclear waste (but not fuel waste) from the 20 commercial reactors in the province by truck to the Bruce site and place it in an underground “deep geologic repository”, or DGR.

The December report estimates 22,000 to 24,000 road shipments over 30 years at a cost between $400 million and $1.4 billion: “There will be incremental radiological and conventional transportation risks which are estimated to be between three and 69 road collisions,” it says.

Presumably transporting nuclear waste on Ontario’s highways would need to be kept secret due in part to potential terrorism. Would some roads, like Highway 401, have to be shut down entirely so that there would be no chance of a strike against the trucks?

The report does not consider whether roads and the Bruce site can be made invulnerable to attack. Soft targets are called soft for a reason.

But it’s not just terrorists. No mention is made in the report of countries that have encountered strong public opposition to transporting nuclear waste. German television regularly airs scenes of protesters surrounding trains — many Germans are incensed that the use of a mine to store radiological waste backfired when it flooded and the toxic wastes leaked into groundwater.

The OPG report suggests extensive negotiations will be needed with Canada’s Indigenous People about hosting the nuclear waste site, but it does not delve into the legal issues related to land ownership and sovereignty.

And there is no mention of the possibility that earthquakes, fires, tornados or human error could limit access to the underground chambers. The Japanese are using robots and drones to access the Fukishima nuclear facility that was damaged in an earthquake six years ago, but have admitted defeat at trying to clean up the site, which is leaking into the Pacific. The Bruce site is located in an area where there is little seismic activity but not infrequent tornados.

OPG’s report considers a time frame of a million years. To put that in context, it explains the crystalline rock of the Canadian Shield is more than a billion years old, and the sedimentary rock of southern Ontario is 354 million to 543 million years old. But wasn’t it only 10,000 years ago that retreating ice sheets carved the Great Lakes’ water basin?

The report asserts no less than four times that “the proximity of a water body to the DGR is not relevant because the movement of water or gas, even if it was released from the DGR, would not reach the water body until the radioactivity of such water or gas had diminished to the levels generally found naturally occurring throughout Ontario.”

While the radiological depletion rates are fairly certain, how can humans predict what could happen to a shaft hundreds of thousands of years from now — a shaft that OPG plans to abandon 30 years after it’s built?

Furthermore, no containers have been invented that will with certainty last hundreds of thousands of years. Arguably they might be some time in the future, but that would place an unfair burden on future generations to clean up our generation’s mess.

OPG’s report seems to conclude the waste site could, technically, be situated anywhere in the province’s vast crystalline rock or sedimentary rock formations so long as it is accessible by road. The fact that hundreds of local residents around the Bruce site are supportive of the site locating there is heralded as an important deciding factor.

But what about outside the Kincardine area? By last September, 187 municipal resolutions had passed motions opposing OPG’s plans, and hundreds of thousands of people had signed petitions. Twenty-three members of the U.S. Congress wrote Canada’s foreign affairs minister urging Canada to explore options outside of the Great Lakes basin. Twelve U.S. representatives sent a bipartisan letter asking the Trump administration to stop OPG’s proposal.

While OPG’s report focuses on geological and technical matters, it leaves out a lot. It says nothing about the costs of insurance and emergency planning. It doesn’t consider the temptation for the debt-ridden Ontario government to agree to take other countries’ waste. (The U.S. has no long-term nuclear waste repository since giving up on its Yucca Mountain site in 2011.)

Canada needs a neutral agency that helps citizens both in Canada and the U.S., understandably unfamiliar with the language of nuclear power and the concepts of geology, to analyse the OPG plan. The federal government must ensure fairness, transparency and openness in determining the plan’s acceptability. Right now the federal cabinet has too much unilateral power to decide the issue.

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

Available online and in hard copy in Postmedia Network:

The Barrie Examiner

The Beacon Herald (Stratford)

The Chatham Daily News

The Daily Observer (Pembroke)

The Daily Press (Timmins)

The Expositor (Brantford)

The Intelligencer (Belleville)

Kenora Daily Miner & News

Kingston Whig-Standard

The London Free Press

Niagara Falls Review

North Bay Nugget

Northumberland Today (Cobourg)

Ottawa Sun

Packet & Times (Orillia)

The Observer (Sarnia)

Peterborough Examiner

The Recorder & Times (Brockville)

The Sault Star (Sault Ste. Marie)

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock)

Simcoe Reformer

St. Thomas Times-Journal

Standard Freeholder (Cornwall)

The Standard (St. Catharines)

The Sudbury Star

The Sun Times (Owen Sound)

The Tribune (Welland)

The Windsor Star

Whose finger on the nuclear trigger?

In less than two months Americans will decide whose finger should be on the nuclear trigger, ready to possibly destroy Russia, China or North Korea.

The U.S. relies on a “nuclear first use” strategy and although eliminating nuclear weapons would be the best option for civilization, Americans and Russians are simply not prepared to do that. The next U.S. president must be willing to use nuclear weapons first.

As commander-in-chief, the president is constantly shadowed by an aide carrying the nuclear codes in a suitcase, and the president’s order to launch must be obeyed, even if the secretary of defence, the secretary of state and the nation’s top advisers disagree. As Bruce Blair, a Princeton scholar and former Minuteman missile operator, points out, the president is at the apex of the nuclear chain of command and the arsenal’s operators must respond dutifully to his or her orders, even orders that come out of nowhere. “Everything revolves around this one individual,” he says.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump claim they are temperamentally inclined to make rational decisions during world crises. Because the flight time for a missile fired from a Russian submarine at the U.S. can be less than 12 minutes, she or he has to decide whether to order the launch of land-based U.S. missiles before incoming warheads take them out. Nobody can call back the president’s order to launch based on a false warning or a lack of faith in the president’s power to make such a momentous decision.

In the higher echelons of U.S. decision-making, the time available to weigh in on planned drone strikes varies from 20 minutes to several days, but the time to deliberate during a civilization-ending nuclear crisis is less than the time it takes to make a meal.

Faced with ambiguous information, the president might assume the computer technology is fallible and decide to refrain from using nuclear weapons first. But then he or she risks appearing weak and unsuitable as commander in chief.

The hard lessons of nuclear deterrence were reinforced through the Cuban missile crisis (the closest the world got to nuclear war) and they have come to mean every U.S. president must appear ready and resolved to possibly go to the brink of the nuclear abyss. In his memoirs, Bill Clinton describes a very sobering top-secret briefing on the nuclear codes when he became president.

Hillary Clinton is already under fire for her laxity and disregard for the use of secret lethal force by U.S. drones in Pakistan. The investigation of her emails raised questions about her disregard for U.S. laws that bar officials from discussing drone strikes either publicly or privately outside of secure communication systems. Criticisms have surfaced about her appreciation of classified and security issues, despite her unparallelled understanding of international issues gained as secretary of state.

Debates about whether Trump would behave angrily or with a level head as the U.S. commander-in-chief tend to focus on his vengeful nature and basic understanding of nuclear deterrence. During the primaries, radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump an easy question about the nuclear triad (strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles): “What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” Trump veered off-topic: “Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible, who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important.”

Hewitt pressed him further: “Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority?” Instead of demonstrating an understanding of how deterrence works, Trump answered: “I think, I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

The history of U.S.-Russian crisis decision-making includes incidents of computer glitches, human error, misunderstandings and miscalculations; all these may be compounded by temperamental unsuitability or a blasé attitude toward secrecy.

The world need not end in nuclear cataclysm. Apart from urging Americans to show up on voting day — since only half of Americans are expected to vote in November — we should urge bystanders to take a stronger stand in favour of nuclear arms control and disarmament.

The Hiroshima-based Mayors for Peace, which includes more than 7,000 mayors in 161 countries and regions, has called for major inroads on nuclear disarmament by 2020. As the representative of 1.4 million Roman Catholics, the Pope has strongly denounced these evil weapons of mass destruction, as have Protestant leaders from the World Council of Churches. The worldwide Pugwash movement, the Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament, and Physicians for Global Survival are calling for nuclear abolition.

Asked in April about the possibility of a nuclear-free world, Trump said he would love to see such a world, but “chances are extremely small that will happen, so I think that’s something that in an ideal world is wonderful, but I think it’s not going to happen very easily.”

In October, Canada will vote at the UN on whether to take urgent action to deal with the threat to humanity posed by the existence of nuclear weapons and the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any detonation. Canada could still put its weight behind the resolution mandating negotiations on a legally binding nuclear weapons convention. We could also press for less consensus-based, hamstrung decision-making at the UN’s Disarmament Conference in Geneva.

As a NATO ally and a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Canada could call for emergency meetings on conflicts that could trigger nuclear war.

At the same time there are moves on a northeast Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone, we could take steps to establish an Arctic nuclear-weapon-free zone.

While Canadians can’t cast votes in the American election, we can push for a nuclear-weapon-free world along with many other middle powers, more than 800 members of the Order of Canada, and 44 prominent Canadian non-governmental organizations.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations at Western University active in nuclear non-proliferation work.

Longtime peace activist Murray Thomson is spearheading nearly 900 of his peers in the Order of Canada who endorse a nuclear weapons convention.–and-why-we-continue-to-have-nuclear-weapons-anyway

By Erika Simpson and Murray Thomson, Special to Postmedia Network

Friday, September 16, 2016 5:08:37 EDT PM

How To Melt A Cold War


The stormy relationship between Russia and the West raises questions about whether we are heading into a renewed Cold War.

Russia deployed nuclear-capable missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea last month, and NATO officials are seeking commitments to send 4,000 new troops to the Baltic states and eastern Poland in early 2017.

Angry about Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO plans to station four battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Recently Canada, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. committed to lead, and NATO is asking for more support from its 28 allies along with assistance to defend against cyber attacks in Ukraine.

At the same time, worries are that NATO’s nuclear weapons deployed in Turkey’s Black Sea region are threatened by the terrorist organization ISIL as well as Russia’s military presence. Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are expected to shore up air and naval patrols while the newer NATO allies, like Poland, are demanding NATO allies honour their Article 5 commitment, outlined in the 1949 Washington Treaty, promising that an attack against one NATO member is an attack against all.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently suspended the Global Partnership Program, which was designed to ensure the safety of Russia’s weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. Canada and the United States were paying billions to inspect Russian facilities and pay Russian scientists stipends so they would not sell their knowledge on the black market to terrorists.

ISIL is now the world’s wealthiest terrorist organization, and about US$10 million of its stolen cache might purchase a grapefruit-sized amount of nuclear materials ladened with conventional explosives. An explosive like that could be set off in New York City or Washington, causing millions of Americans, fearing more so-called dirty bombs, to panic and flee the inner cities into the countryside.

Meanwhile the U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its air, land and sea triad of nuclear weapons, including 160 to 200 short-range B-61 warheads deployed in Europe.

And Putin vows to develop new arms systems to neutralize the U.S.’s ballistic missile defence project, which the Russians and the Chinese see as a breach of the now-defunct Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

In the face of nuclear threats and renewed spending on nuclear arms, 50 nations from Austria to Brazil to Ireland — not including Canada — proposed a UN resolution calling for a global conference in 2017 to establish a legally binding process to ban the manufacture, possession, stockpiling and use of these weapons. The draft resolution, known as L41, was put forward on Oct. 28 and won an overwhelming majority of 123 votes in the 193-member General Assembly, paving the way for historic negotiations to begin.

But nuclear-armed states exerted intense diplomatic pressure on their allies to vote against it. The U.S. voted no and is refusing to participate in negotiations. Among its NATO allies, the Netherlands was the only one to abstain, while Canada voted no.

Among the eight other nuclear-armed states, North Korea voted in favour and India and Pakistan abstained.

Canada’s vote against L41 puts us on the wrong side of history. Peggy Mason, former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the UN, says, “Canada was one of only a handful of countries to vote no. In so doing, we joined with most other NATO member states, in blatant contradiction of our legal obligation under the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) Article VI to enter into good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.”

The diplomatic negotiations during the NPT’s review conferences in 2010 and 2015 ended last spring in debacle and deadlock. Parallel negotiations in the UN’s Conference on Disarmament are stalled. In fact, they have not been able to agree on even an agenda for discussion over the last 20 years, so diplomats from all over the world wine and dine themselves at the public’s expense in Geneva, New York and Vienna, while negotiations go nowhere.

But the plucky disarmament movement drew public attention to the humanitarian impact of use of nuclear weapons. Scientific predictions say even a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using about 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons would lead to a drop in the world’s temperature of 1.25 Celsius degrees; a war fought with U.S. and Russian high-alert nuclear weapons would lead to a drop of four Celsius degrees and the detonation of 4,400 strategic nuclear weapons out of the world’s remaining stockpile of 15,500 would lead to a drop of eight Celsius degrees. Such a nuclear winter would endure for decades, effectively decimating the globe’s economic production and killing billions of people.

Growing worries about whose finger could be on the nuclear trigger after Tuesday’s U.S. election also incited renewed calls for the nuclear-armed states to step down from their first-use nuclear postures.

Canada must somehow join the UN negotiations beginning in 2017 in order to prevent a disaster of unimaginable and unprecedented proportions.

Nestling under the United States’ nuclear umbrella should still allow the Trudeau government to spearhead a review of NATO’s reliance on nuclear deterrence during the runup to NATO’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2019.

Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian minister of foreign affairs, wisely called for questioning the untested assumptions of nuclear deterrence by threatening first-use. Similarly the new Liberal government should question American policy that advocates first-use of nuclear weapons against conventional, biological or chemical threats.

Despite opposing the UN resolution, Canada could still participate in the talks. There is no UN dictum preventing abstainers and nay-sayers from participating in negotiations that will assuredly go ahead.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations at Western University and was a speaker at the Building Momentum for Nuclear Disarmament conference in Ottawa on Oct. 24