World leaders at upcoming UN General Assembly must heed call for renewed nuclear diplomacy

Dr Angela Kane, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; Professor Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, Secretary General of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway; Mr Ingvar Carlsson, former Prime Minister of Sweden; The Rt Hon Lord Owen CH (David Owen), former UK Foreign Secretary among many more. (See full list here).

What do these individuals have in common besides long and distinguished careers in the service of their respective countries and/or in the United Nations or other organizations dedicated to international peace and security?

They all belong to the European Leadership Network and in that capacity have signed a clarion global call to action:

As world leaders prepare to meet this month at the United Nations in New York, we call on them to take urgent steps to reduce the risks of nuclear confrontation. We join a growing number of international leaders in raising the alarm over new nuclear dangers.

The statement goes on to provide a balanced assessment of these dangers, including laying responsibility for the potential unravelling of the historic Iran nuclear deal squarely at America’s door:

Stability is eroding and risks are rising. North Korea has grown its nuclear weapon stockpile, tests missiles, and continues to feel threatened. The fate of inter-Korean and US-DPRK dialogue remains uncertain. Tensions are flaring between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan. And, following Washington’s unilateral breach and resumed sanctions, Iran may walk away from the nuclear deal that constrains its ability to develop nuclear weapons.

But this important statement does not just catalogue the dangers. It reaffirms the indispensable role that diplomacy must play in reducing those dangers and in strengthening global security:

Simply coercing an adversary will not restore stability. Politically unrealistic appeals for transformed behaviour will not build trust. An accelerating arms race makes both trust and safer behaviours harder to achieve.

It is possible to negotiate with adversaries without condoning unacceptable behaviour. Leaders must relearn the skills of past decades in finding ways to reduce shared nuclear risks in the absence of wider trust.

Accordingly, they call on world leaders to take advantage of their gathering at the UN General Assembly later this September to “launch a new, shared project to reduce nuclear risks”.

Their specific recommendations include:

  • Moscow and Washington [should] acknowledge their special responsibilities as the states with the largest nuclear arsenals and, through their resumed strategic stability talks, consider new constraints on nuclear competition and measures to preserve nuclear stability.
  • Governments across the Euro-Atlantic region, home to over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons and four nuclear weapon states, should step up engagement and develop concrete proposals to reduce nuclear risks. The deteriorating relationship between Russia and the West and breakdown of nuclear arms control fundamentally affects European security.
  • China and other nuclear weapons states should promote work on strategic stability. Multilateral efforts should be made to find effective mechanisms to engage nuclear-armed states not party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

They conclude with a reminder that all states have a vital role to play:

Only through cooperation on existential common interests can we build trust and stability. These shared interests demand a renewed commitment to collective nuclear diplomacy. Euro-Atlantic and global security depends on it.

The European Leadership Network is also bringing together a high-level panel on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the cornerstone of nuclear arms control for the past 50 years. It will be part of the 2019 Moscow Nonproliferation Conference (MNC) in early November and former Canadian Disarmament Ambassador and current Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason will be one of the speakers. She notes:

With experts expected from over 30 countries and international organizations, this conference will provide a most timely opportunity to help breathe new life into the global nuclear arms control and disarmament agenda.

Whither Canada?

The statement from the European Leadership Network is directed at world leaders who will be in New York for the high-level debate portion of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, which begins on 24 September. Bearing in mind Canada’s current campaign to be elected for a two-year term to the UN Security Council beginning in 2021, this is an unprecedented opportunity for the Government of Canada — in the midst of our federal election campaign — to demonstrate to Canadians and to UN member states alike its dedication to strengthening international peace and security.

Accordingly, we call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, in their respective statements to the assembled world leaders at the UN General Assembly, to outline a Canadian diplomatic plan of action in support of renewed nuclear arms control and disarmament diplomacy.

And we call on all federal party leaders to make nuclear disarmament diplomacy a priority commitment in their respective election campaign platforms.

Photo credit: Wikimedia images (FM Chrystia Freeland with former Norwegian PM Gro Brundtland)

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