Canada: Time to play a leadership role in nuclear disarmament

Last month Canada assumed the presidency of the UN’s main disarmament body, the Conference on Disarmament (CD), which meets in Geneva. Unfortunately, the CD has been unable to agree on a functioning program of work since 1998. Paul Meyer, who served as Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament in Geneva from 2003 to 2007, argues that Canada needs to look outside the CD if it is to help advance the non-proliferation and disarmament cause (Paul Meyer, “A path to nuclear disarmament leadership,” Embassy Magazine, 2 February 2011).

The reason the CD has been unable to act is that it operates on a strict consensus basis. In other words, no substantive or procedural decision can proceed without the approval of all member states.

Pakistan…opposes the initiation of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the chief element of a proposed work program that also includes discussion of nuclear disarmament, outer space security and security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states. Without taking this first step of turning off the tap for producing the essential substance of nuclear weapons, the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world will remain just a mirage.

It is Canada’s job, as first president of the new year, to seek approval of a working program and build the momentum to move the conference forward. According to Meyer, alternative approaches should be sought to break the deadlock.

Canada can lead the way to counter the spoilers in the conference by seeking action under other auspices, such as the UN General Assembly, which operates on a majority vote basis. On Dec. 7, the House of Commons adopted a unanimous resolution calling on the government to launch a major diplomatic initiative to advance nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament goals. The government could implement this resolution by seizing the opportunity of our Conference on Disarmament presidency to help lead the international community out of the deadlock and on to a more productive path. Such leadership is not beyond Ottawa’s capacity if there is a will to exercise it.

Photo by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

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