Remarks to Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and Canadian Pugwash Group

“The Hiroshima Declaration”

Thomas S. Axworthy
Secretary General of the InterAction Council

November 14, 2014

“Nuclear weapons should be stigmatized, banned and eliminated before they abolish us”

- Federal President of Austria, Heinz Fischer, High Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament, New York, September 26, 2013

I want to applaud Murray Thomson for taking the initiative to encourage Order of Canada members to support a convention to outlaw these terrible weapons. The Canadian Pugwash Group has laboured long to educate Canadians about the importance of nuclear disarmament. Their presence here at the Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention reception is a great plus. I want to recognize too, Douglas Roche, who as an MP, ambassador and senator, has done so much to try and make a more peaceful world.

It is lonely work to promote an important idea when few are listening. As the world’s eyes turn to a host of other issues – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the barbarians of ISIS and China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, to mention only a few – we have stalled in making progress on nuclear disarmament.

My task tonight, however, is a pleasant one of bringing news that you are not alone. The InterAction Council  (IAC) – initiated in the mid-1980s by Chancellor Schmidt of Germany and Prime Minister Fukuda of Japan – and currently co-chaired by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada and former Chancellor Franz Vranitzky of Austria – has made nuclear disarmament a central mission. In 2010, the Council met in Hiroshima, Japan, with survivors of that terrible day on August 6, 1945 and subsequently issued the “Hiroshima Declaration: A plea for zero nuclear weapons.”

This Declaration has relevance for our campaign to persuade Canada to join a nuclear weapons convention. The Council made the point that smuggling of fissile materials is now extensive and materials remain inadequately secured in many locales. Pakistan is a particular worry. Therefore, nuclear dangers may be even greater today than in the Cold War because theories of deterrence do not apply to groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS. If deterrence no longer deters, then disarmament is our only true path to real security.

The Council, too, approached the issue of nuclear disarmament from a humanitarian perspective. Rebecca Johnson in her contribution to the recent IAC volume, Global Agenda 2013, describes well the pillars of a humanitarian-centred framework. She writes that humanitarian law seeks to prohibit weapon systems that are disproportionate, inhumane, and incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets. Certainly, this criterion applies to nuclear weapons. Most importantly, a humanitarian perspective welcomes the contributions of non-nuclear states because in a humanitarian crisis, all have a stake in the urgency of the solution. In 1983-84, when Pierre Trudeau launched his peace mission to urge a resumption of arms control negotiations, many in the nuclear camps sniffed that Canada had no might to influence the nuclear security calculus because we were not part of the club. That type of retrograde thinking must cease. A humanitarian approach to nuclear weapons implies that we all have a stake and therefore a responsibility to take action.

The Hiroshima Declaration explicitly urges, “a resolution of the UN General Assembly and Security Council declaring that uses of nuclear weapons would constitute a crime against humanity.” Since nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity, the InterAction Council, therefore, advocates “A comprehensive nuclear treaty architecture aiming at the elimination of nuclear weapons.” And on the road towards zero nuclear weapons, the Council also advocates the immediate steps of states committing to a no-first-use policy and prohibiting the modernization of existing weapons capabilities as the U.S. has done in its recent Nuclear Posture Review. Nuclear weapons must be stigmatized, not modernized.

So Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention must continue its good work: it must remind Canadians that in 2010 both the Senate and House of Commons passed a unanimous motion to embrace the statement signed by hundreds of members of the Order of Canada to promote nuclear disarmament. Parliament recognized that as long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will seek them so our real security requires a world free of nuclear weapons, not a world dependent on the accountants of deterrence theory. Our road is long but the direction is clear. Pierre Trudeau’s statement to the House of Commons at the conclusion of his peace mission is as relevant today as it was in February 1984.

“Let it be said of Canada, and of Canadians, that we saw the crisis, that we did act, that we took risks, that we were loyal to our friends and open with our adversaries, that we lived up to our ideals and that we have done what we could to lift the shadow of war.