Canada’s Nuclear Hypocrisy
As Remembrance Day 2017 recedes from memory, it is worth noting that Canada’s military differs from allied forces only in size and, in some cases, nuclear weapons capability. Canada’s former role as respected peacekeeper is mere nostalgia as the nation expands its hazardous support of U.S. foreign policy goals. You didn’t hear that in the Prime Minister’s Nov. 11 remarks.
When the U.N. General Assembly passed The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on July 7, 2017, Canada’s Liberal government expressed its support for nuclear weapons proliferation by abstaining from the vote. While some time has passed since this event, it is nevertheless highly relevant to the current state of international affairs. Trump’s nuclear bluster and the atomic posturing of North Korea have greatly increased global anxiety and placed the entire world in mortal peril.
Canada’s official justification for rejecting the U.N. nuclear arms treaty will be familiar to anyone who remembers Stephen Harper’s hostility to the Kyoto Protocol. Through the abstention, Trudeau declared nuclear disarmament impossible without the active participation of nuclear-armed states. This sort of circular reasoning seems to hinge on the terms of the U.N. treaty, which are too democratic for the world’s dominant powers.
As Canada’s military commitment to NATO gradually declined after 1960, the nation became increasingly dependent on U.S. power for Cold War security. At the highest levels of Canada’s political/business establishment, where borders are less important than capital mobility, surrendering the nation’s defence to the U.S. superpower seemed economically wise, and even profitable. These sentiments helped create Canada’s “branch plant” arms economy and junior partner role in military and technological matters.
Although Canada has never possessed or used nuclear weapons of its own, we supplied the Manhattan project with uranium and plutonium for the world’s first atomic bombs. By 1965, Canada stopped exporting uranium to NATO states for weapons use, but continued to sell nuclear fuel and technology for non-military uses like energy and medical research. Unfortunately, Canada continues to manufacture and export components for U.S. nuclear delivery systems like the F15 fighter and B2 bomber.
While the last U.S. nuclear weapon was officially removed from Canadian soil in 1984, the government tolerates the frequent presence of nuclear-armed U.S. warships and submarines in Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific naval bases. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Navy refuses to confirm or deny the dangerous presence of nuclear weapons on its vessels when they visit Victoria or Halifax.
Worse than the risk of a radiation leak in Canadian waters is the fact that the U.S. Navy possesses a huge arsenal of so-called tactical nukes, the smaller bombs that figure prominently in the U.S. nuclear first strike policy. Disturbingly, U.S. military planners consider the limited use of low-yield nuclear weapons against non-nuclear opponents to be a natural progression of modern warfare. It is informative to juxtapose this lunacy against the torrent of nuclear accusations hurled against North Korea and Iran - two nations concerned more with regional status than global domination.
Unfortunately, for over 700 hundred Canadian soldiers, Canada’s lack of nuclear weapons did not shield them from nuclear harm. The post-war government offered Canadian soldiers as test subjects for British and U.S. nuclear testing from 1946 to 1963. These experiments included a number of 1957 underground tests in Arizona where troops were ordered to occupy trenches only 1000 metres from ground zero. The underground testing created lingering radioactive dust clouds that coated the troops after they were subsequently ordered to advance and inspect the bomb craters.
It took over fifty years for the Canadian government to acknowledge this testing and offer paltry compensation to the surviving veterans, many of whom suffer from the sort of cancers directly linked to severe radiation poisoning. The U.S. military had determined this relationship after extensive research on Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors who were cynically scrutinized, but never treated.
Some Canadians, like associate professor Stephan Dolgert of Brock University, are enthusiastic advocates for a nuclear-armed Canada. Dolgert, an American by birth, cites the rise of Donald Trump and tensions between the U.S. and Russia as reasons for Canada to adopt the nuclear stance of smaller powers like Israeli, India and Pakistan, who employ nukes to elevate the risk to any potential attacker.
Although presented as deterrence, this nuclear intimidation tactic is not unique to smaller states. The United States and its military/economic allies will always require official enemies like Iran and North Korea to justify public spending on the next generation of conventional and nuclear weapons. Only the names change in this timeless script. Scared people will always be easier to manipulate than well-informed citizens who carefully weigh official actions against rhetoric.