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Letter: High hopes dashed at UN conference on nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty

‘Some initiatives discussed… could pave the way for action in other forums.’
Discussions took place throughout August 2022 at the United Nations in New York to review the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons treaty. (United Nations Web TV)

Despite high hopes for the success of the recent United Nations Review Conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the conference ended in failure to agree on a final document outlining steps towards reducing the risk of nuclear weapons use, and eliminating nuclear weapons.

The conference took place amid a deteriorating international security environment, with the war in Ukraine, a complete cutoff of nuclear arms control negotiations between Washington and Moscow, and Russia and the U.S. exchanging thinly-veiled threats of nuclear weapons use.

In the end, it was Russia that refused to agree to the final draft document. But as one observer put it, the ugly truth is that all nine nuclear weapon nations have no intention of taking action towards implementing the NPT obligation on all nations, the obligation to begin, and to conclude negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Read more: Letter: Negotiations lacking in review of Nuclear Weapons Non-proliferation Treaty

Read more: Salmon Arm mayor writes to prime minister about nuclear weapons

A group of 145 nations tried to rally the conscience of the international community with a humanitarian appeal expressing deep concern about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

Canada, like all NATO countries, did not sign this statement on the grounds that it also called for nuclear weapons never to be used again “under any circumstances.” Former Canadian Senator Douglas Roche says that it degrades the moral standards of Canada that the government believes there are circumstances when a nuclear weapon could be legitimately used.

The failure of the NPT Review Conference to adopt a final document does not necessarily mean a failed conference. Some initiatives discussed at the conference could pave the way for action in other forums, e.g., nuclear risk reduction, non-use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict, the adoption of no-first-use policies and negative security assurances.

The Canadian government currently does not support any of these initiatives. Thus, Canadians have an important role in persuading the government to change its mind.

Anne Morris
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