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Nuclear Weapons: Just Say "No"!

Speech to the DPI Conference, April 8, 2008

Last October I wrote to our Foreign Minister to ask for Canada to vote at the UN General Assembly for a resolution for action to ensure that all nuclear weapons are taken off high alert and the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems reduced. We are all at risk for our lives with thousands of nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert – bad judgement under pressure or even a computer glitch could bring nuclear catastrophe. Canada abstained on that vote. Why? Foreign Affairs explained: Canada is a member of NATO and deterrence remains an important element of NATO’s defence strategy. “NATO’s nuclear weapons,” they claimed, “make a contribution to the security of allies through deterrence, a strategy that is entirely defensive in nature.”1

Shame on the government! NATO’s deterrence strategy is not defensive. NATO policies include the possible first use of nuclear weapons. Several hundred US tactical weapons are deployed in five NATO states that signed on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear weapons states [Belgium, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, and Turkey] and they maintain aircraft and pilots ready to deliver them – illicit nuclear sharing arrangements, and possible first strike. Mega-terrorism?

Nuclear weapons contribute to your security? A Canadian parliamentary report a decade or so ago pointed out they make us all more insecure. Four US former cold warriors who wrote two articles in the Wall Street Journal in January 2007 and 2008, William Perry, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn – all long familiar with nuclear policies – pointed out that reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.”2

The Government of Canada recognized in 1999 that elimination of nuclear weapons is the only sustainable strategy for the future. But its NATO allies – the UK, France, the US, are all modernizing their nuclear arsenals to make them more usable and planning to retain them into the far future. The US, with its goal of “fewer but newer nukes forever” and its promised counter-proliferation preventive wars against any country alleged to have weapons of mass destruction, shows the claim that nuclear weapons are for security is a lie.3 The Empire strikes for power.

The two-tier world – nuclear have and have-not states – is untenable. Up to 40 more states might get nuclear weapons for their ‘security’ and the ability to fight back. Nuclear chaos and far greater danger loom.

We need to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves,”4 to speak truth to power. Nuclear weapons threaten all of us, indeed life on a planetary scale, as does climate change. It is not just that today’s nuclear weapons are, on average, 20 times as powerful as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. Computer modeling suggests use of even a small number could trigger nuclear winter, crop failure, starvation, mass die-off of the human race. Nuclear weapons technology can put an end to human life. Therefore abolishing nuclear weapons is the crucial need, if there is to be a human future.

We must persuade Canada to take leadership to get NATO policies changed. Failing that, we must get Canada out of NATO because NATO policies contravene both NPT commitments and international humanitarian law. Never forget, the International Court of Justice advised in July 1996 that in general the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal. For human survival, we must get the nuclear weapons states to carry out the unequivocal commitment they made at the 2000 NPT Review Conference to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. Jonathan Schell, in his new book The Seventh Decade: the new shape of nuclear danger, says that abolition “must and will be the first and most important step along the path of securing the integrity of the ecosphere.”5

But the problem is more profound, Sir Joseph Rotblat, the UK scientist instrumental in founding the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, observed that though we can and must abolish nuclear weapons, we cannot disinvent them, nor can we guarantee that science will not invent an even more diabolical weapon, and therefore it is war itself that we must put an end to.6

Thus nuclear weapons and a Department of Peace are inextricably interconnected, and we have a huge, daunting agenda.

I take heart remembering …

  1. My own church, the Anglican Church of Canada’s long faith witness, from 1955 and all through the Cold War, against nuclear weapons

  2. An evening at a World Council of Churches’ major conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology nearly 30 years ago during the Cold War of public witness against nuclear weapons by US scientists who had helped develop them and people from the far corners of the world

  3. The wish of the majority of people in both nuclear and non-nuclear nations, as many polls over many years show, to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

I have a hard time recognizing my country now, with its grotesque military budget and pride in combat. People say there will always be wars, aggression is inborn. There may be an aggressive instinct, but we would not be here on Earth if cooperation, forgiveness, mercy, and love were not much stronger. Far deeper than aggressiveness is the universal human desire and need to create … to create art, music … and children. Without the love that impels creation, and the capacity to bond so helpless infants are nurtured to sturdy childhood, there would be no human race at all. That love will create peace.

Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the hell on earth unleashed on August 6th and 9th, 1945… People vapourized into the mushroom cloud, children, their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters burnt like charred logs, dealt a death not even human. People fleeing the cities, walking like ghosts, skin and flesh dripping from their hands, eyes popped out, crying “water! water!”, many of them throwing themselves into the river to escape the agony. Remember that any one of us could become a hibakusha — a nuclear bomb victim – bearing the pain and scars, the genetic damage from radiation to taint offspring. Think about the submarines silently cruising, whose nuclear missiles could destroy all the cities in the world many times over.

And then act. Shake public apathy, spread the word, build awareness. Ask the politicians what they will do to resolve the contradiction between Canada’s complicity in NATO’s nuclearism and its commitment to the NPT. Ask them to press the government to take leadership in working for a ban on nuclear weapons.

And remember abolition is possible. We can push back the nuclear wall. 113 countries — most of the southern hemisphere and central Asia are nuclear-weapon-free. Why not Canada too? 2,195 cities in 128 countries are members of Mayors for Peace, a body headed by Hiroshima’s mayor that has an agenda – the 2020 Vision, of a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020. Experts in this field agree there are no physical or financial obstacles to dismantling all nuclear weapons by 2020 as well as degrading the fissile material to make them, and strict international controls are technically possible. Get your mayor to be a Mayor for Peace! We need to get the mayors to challenge the federal government to work for abolition. Consider using the sample resolution on the Mayors for Peace website for city councils, to educate councillors and mobilize them to work, perhaps even to organize a financial contribution to the work of Mayors for Peace, as 59 Belgian cities have done. Support the ICAN campaign – Physicians for Global Survival’s International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.

We can and must put an end to these barbarous weapons before they destroy civilization. Einstein, from whose concepts this hideous evil sprang, marked the way: “Remember your humanity and forget the rest!”7


1 My email was dated 23 Oct. 2007; Maxime Bernier’s response 21 Feb. 2008, email from ^

2 George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “Toward a nuclear-free world,” Wall Street Journal, 15 Jan. 2008, p.A13 ^

3 Jacqueline Cabasso in Nuclear disorder or cooperative security? U.S. weapons of terror, the global proliferation crisis, and paths to peace (New York: Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, 2007), p.91 ^

4 New Testament Matt. 10:16 ^

5 The seventh decade… (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007), p.217 ^

6 Sir Joseph Rotblat, “A world without war: is it feasible?” Annual Remembrance Day Lecture at the Imperial War Museum, November 2002, published by the Abingdon Peace Group, pp.4,5 ^

7 Russell-Einstein Manifesto, 9 July 1955, accessed 24 April 2008 ^

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