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The Existential Challenge of our Time


It is both tragic and astounding that 71 years after atomic horror was visited upon the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of people, the world has still not yet eliminated the most deadly weapon of mass destruction ever conceived. Although events of the past year have moved the global campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons incrementally forward, success is far from assured and failure could result in the end of the world as we know it.

Nine of the world’s 195 states retain more than 15,000 thermo-nuclear weapons, many with multiple warheads hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. Further, they’ve embarked upon a new nuclear arms race, precipitated by the United States budgeting one trillion dollars to ‘modernize’ its nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years.

The NATO Secretary General warns that 30 countries have, or are developing, ballistic missile systems capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and there is enough weapons grade fissile material in the world to produce 200,000 nuclear weapons. Add to this deadly mix, terrorist organizations such as Daesch (ISIS) have pledged to acquire nuclear capability and will almost surely use it, if they do.

With expanding nuclear arsenals and increasing world tension, there is a corresponding increase in the risk of accident or human miscalculation. After in-depth study of the near misses over the decades, former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, stated that: “It has not been a result of good policy or good management that the world has avoided a nuclear weapons catastrophe for 70 years: Rather it has been sheer dumb luck.”

Most of the world’s nations have concluded that humanity’s best and perhaps only hope of avoiding nuclear catastrophe - possibly on a global scale - is to outlaw and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons. To this end, they sought and won a mandate from the UN General Assembly in 2016 to negotiate a nuclear weapons treaty. Negotiations concluded on July 7, 2017, with 120 of 122 participating states endorsing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that, among other things, imposes a total ban on nuclear weapons and an obligation on States Party to encourage all other states to join the Treaty.

At the behest of the United States, all 28 NATO states except the Netherlands - and including Canada - boycotted the negotiations, clinging to the dangerously misguided notion that nuclear weapons contribute to, rather than detract from, international peace and security.

Canada has an opportunity to show leadership by challenging the nuclear security policy in NATO and becoming a champion for nuclear disarmament throughout the world. The lives of our children and future generations could literally depend upon it.


By: Earl Turcotte, former Canadian and UN disarmament diplomat, on the Steering Committee of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a member of the Canadian Pugwash Group and a member of the Board of the Group of 78.

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