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No nukes here: The challenge is to build on Vancouver’s status as a nuclear weapons-free zone to a similar state for the world
No nukes here: The challenge is to build on Vancouver’s status as a nuclear weapons-free zone to a similar state for the world
Editorial by Ross M. Neil
April 25, 2005
As a newcomer to Vancouver in 2003, I took notice of a message posted at the city gates. In small white letters on a green sign, Vancouver declares itself a ”Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.“

Having worked for many years with Canada’s inconspicuous nuclear watchdog, the thought of this public declaration struck me as odd.

Vancouver’s nuclear weapons free status should be obvious, but in the lead-up to next month’s major international review of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, we should pause to re-think this assumption.

As John Clearwater described in his 1998 book, Canadian Nuclear Weapons, U.S. nuclear warheads armed Canadian weapon systems both here and overseas. Foreign vessels may routinely pass through Canadian waters carrying nuclear armed missiles.

Vancouver’s declaration is thus not a simple statement of the obvious, but a strong reflection of this city’s values — values that need to be reinforced and broadcast loudly.

The NPT, brought into force in 1970, is regarded as the cornerstone of international peace and security and remains the only legally binding global instrument that promotes non-proliferation and disarmament.

Lately the survivability of the treaty has been called into question by continued lack of progress on its full implementation. Too narrow a focus on managing proliferation obscures the reasons why groups might seek nuclear weapons.

The 2005 NPT Review Conference will bring 188 countries together to confront these issues in an attempt to sustain and strengthen the regime. However, prospects for success are not good.

Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Paul Meyer, stated last year that events including North Korean withdrawal from the NPT, Iran’s treaty breaches and the discovery of a Pakistani-based black market for nuclear goods represented an annus horribilis for the treaty.

Israel, India and Pakistan continue to maintain nuclear weapons capacity outside of the almost universally adhered-to treaty, refusing to disarm and subject their nuclear activities to international safeguards and inspection. But nuclear weapons states recognized under the treaty (U.S., Russia, U.K., France and China) must also be held accountable for growing weakness in the non-proliferation regime.

Lack of political will to eliminate reliance on nuclear weapons for strategic security represents nothing more than the validation of weapons of mass destruction as acceptable currency in international politics — a position that is untenable in view of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and morally repugnant considering the indiscriminate destructive threat such weapons pose to all life on Earth.

Focusing narrowly on keeping these technologies out of the wrong hands of ”terrorists“ or ”rogue states“ erodes the fundamental purpose of disarmament, for there should be no legitimate hands possessing WMD.

Canada has been particularly active in the non-proliferation and disarmament regime, being an original signatory to the NPT and a leading supporter of efforts to lock in nuclear armed states to significant nuclear weapons reductions in an accountable, transparent way. Indeed, as a major global supplier of nuclear materials and technology, Canada has a unique responsibility to address the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Despite intense engagement in these matters, Canada delicately balances its obligations to nuclear armed NATO with its disarmament and non-proliferation goals — a position seen by many as contradictory.

In 1983, Vancouver was one of the first cities in the world to declare itself a ”Nuclear Weapons Free Zone“ with signs put in place at the entrances to the city. Even though the declaration provides no jurisdiction for blocking nuclear-armed vessels entering port, the signs go beyond symbolism into the realm of education and support for such events as the World Peace Forum to be held next year in Vancouver.

In addition, similar declarations have spread to dozens of cities across B.C., to several provinces and to cities worldwide increasing the call for a nuclear weapons-free world.

To this end, Vancouver’s leadership role along with the work of groups such as the Vancouver-based Simons Centre for Disarmament and Non-proliferation Research and supporters of the 2006 World Peace Forum go a long way to providing the important signposts that we all need to follow.

Ross M. Neil is a former nuclear nonproliferation officer with Ottawa-based nuclear regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission . He now calls Vancouver his home.

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Ross M. Neil was a recipient of a 2003/04 Graduate Research Award offered by the Simons Centre and the International Security Research and Outreach Program of Foreign Affairs Canada.
 
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