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Nuclear policy review.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has asked Parliament's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to review Canada's nuclear arms policies. The Minister's request, delivered to the committee in early November, asked that the committee pay specific attention to a number of recent reports, including the World Court ruling on the legality of the use and threatened use of nuclear weapons (see June 1996 Monitor), the Canberra Commission report on the elimination of nuclear weapons (see September 1996 Monitor), and the Project Ploughshares report Canada and the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons: A Window of Opportunity (excerpted in the September 1996 Monitor). The Ploughshares report was written by former Ambassador for Disarmament Douglas Roche following the Ploughshares-sponsored Community Roundtables held in 18 cities across the country in September.

Although international developments such as the World Court ruling clearly were important in prompting Minister Axworthy to ask for the review, Canadian peace activists deserve considerable credit for placing the issue back on the government agenda. A Foreign Affairs Committee review of Canada's nuclear arms policies was one of the key recommendations of Canada's Role in the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, the brief presented to the government in September by the Canadian Network for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (CNANW). (The CNANW was created in April 1996 to facilitate Canadian work on the abolition of nuclear weapons. It functions as a forum for information-sharing and co-operation among the groups and individuals working for abolition, and not as a separate organization in itself. Project Ploughshares is a founding member and current chair of the CNANW. For more information about the Network, see the CNANW internet webpage at

At the same time, letter-writing campaigns organized by Ploughshares through the 20-minute peace workout, as well as by other groups, ensured that the government remained aware of the continuing public concern about the issue.

A public review was also one of the recommendations made by Ambassador Roche in October when he and three other peace movement representatives (including Project Ploughshares' Ernie Regehr) met with Minister Axworthy to deliver the roundtable report.

Is the Minister's request a sign that the Canadian government is about to leap into the vanguard of the nuclear abolition movement, leading the way towards the elimination of nuclear weapons in the same way it has assumed the leadership of the landmines abolition movement (see page 11)? Don't bet the fallout shelter on it. For decades the Canadian government has maintained an ambiguous attitude towards nuclear weapons, on the one hand ruling out the acquisition of a Canadian nuclear arsenal, opposing nuclear proliferation, and supporting the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, but on the other hand participating in a nuclear-armed alliance, threatening the use of nuclear weapons (by its allies) in the event of an attack on Canada, providing direct support to allied nuclear forces, and opposing any immediate steps toward the elimination of those forces. The Minister has included the question of NATO membership and alliance commitments on the list of topics that the committee should examine, but the government also has made it clear that it has no intention of considering withdrawal from the alliance.

This does not necessarily mean, however, that no significant change is possible in Canadian nuclear policy. Canada could play an important role within NATO, for example, in rallying support among other member countries for a rethinking of NATO nuclear policies. Even the fact that the government is undertaking a review has already proved useful in Norway, where antinuclear activists used news of the review to help convince the governing Labour Party to adopt a more forceful antinuclear platform.

The timing of the Foreign Affairs Committee review has not been finalized, but it is expected that public hearings will begin early in 1997. It has not been decided yet whether the committee will meet only in Ottawa or will travel to other parts of Canada to hold its hearings.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Project Ploughshares
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Ploughshares Monitor
Date:Dec 1, 1996
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