A basis of hope

October 26, 2011 | Young Voices
Maria Krause | Mennonite Central Committee Ottawa

Attending lectures—like the one delivered by Douglas Roche on “A future without nuclear weapons” at the University of Ottawa—helps make interns like myself at the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ottawa Office more effective advocates for peace and justice within the political realm and with the general public.

Roche, a former member of parliament and senator, has spent a large part of his public career working on issues of peace and human security, acting both as the Canadian ambassador for disarmament and the chair of the UN’s Disarmament Committee in 1988.

He began his lecture by describing some of the effects of nuclear weapons, citing the horrific destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of World War II. He described how radiation produced by the maintenance and use of these weapons hurts future generations and contributes to climate change, which, in turn, causes and intensifies conflict over scarce resources.

In addition to these environmental and human costs, Roche noted the exorbitant monetary costs of nuclear weapons. He said that the world spends more than $1 trillion every decade on nuclear weapons creation, maintenance and security. He compared this with the relatively meagre $15 billion spent by the UN on all of its humanitarian operations.

This large discrepancy raises questions over what the global human security agenda is and where its priorities lie. It suggests that, while advocates claim nuclear weapons are essential for human stability and security, the motivations are, instead, based on profit, according to Roche.

In his case against nuclear weapons, Roche also mentioned their illegality. He pointed out that they have been declared illegal by the highest court in the world, the International Court of Justice. In 1996, Judge Christopher Weeramantry, who was at that time vice-president of the court, stated: “The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal in any circumstances whatsoever.”

The court has declared it an obligation of all states to conclude negotiations on nuclear weapons and a global non-proliferation treaty, a call that was recently echoed by Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general.

The treaty states that signatories must do everything in their power to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons. But further treaty negotiations have been successfully blocked by the U.S. and Russia, both of which hold permanent seats on the Security Council. The reasons being given by these states are that nuclear weapons offer an “extended deterrence” to future wars, and that the world is not ready for negotiations around nuclear disarmament.

However, two-thirds of all states are calling for such negotiations. Canada joined this majority last year. Its resolution came in the wake of a letter Parliament received from 536 officers of the Order of Canada, including Roche, calling for the government to take a lead role in these negotiations.

So, while the U.S. and Russia continue to drag their heels on treaty negotiations, Roche remains cautiously optimistic. He points to the increasing number of states each year that are voting in favour of nuclear negotiations, and to a new generation of youths that is rejecting the arguments made in favour of nuclear weapons. “The tide is turning,” says Roche. “There is a new social movement” that is calling for nuclear disarmament, and this new movement forms a “basis of hope” for the future.

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