Trudeau lacks lead­er­ship on nu­clear talks

Toronto Star - - OPINION - Linda McQuaig Linda McQuaig is a jour­nal­ist and au­thor. Her col­umn ap­pears monthly.

Now that Don­ald Trump has proven him­self pres­i­den­tial by bomb­ing a Syr­ian air­base, I guess we can all re­lax.

Of course, there’s an off-chance that things won’t work out well, that the Bul­letin of Atomic Sci­en­tists will be proven cor­rect in their de­ci­sion, fol­low­ing Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, to move the Dooms­day Clock closer to mid­night than it has been since 1953.

Trump ap­pears to have stum­bled on the time-hon­oured tech­nique used by world lead­ers with flag­ging ap­proval rat­ings: Strike a for­eign mil­i­tary tar­get, prefer­ably one that won’t strike back, at least not right away.

Sadly, our own prime min­is­ter has backed Trump’s il­le­gal at­tack on Syria, lend­ing cre­dence to the nar­ra­tive that the pres­i­dent was deeply moved by the plight of Syr­ian ba­bies — as long as those tod­dlers don’t get any ideas about cross­ing the At­lantic.

Hav­ing Trump’s back may be Trudeau’s idea of putting Canada back on the world stage, but it feels more like a re­vival of the Harper era.

And while the Trudeau team is very worked up about chem­i­cal weapons, they seem strangely un­con­cerned about nu­clear ones.

In­deed, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment is break­ing a long-stand­ing and wor­thy Cana­dian prac­tice by snub­bing im­por­tant new UN ne­go­ti­a­tions aimed at nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.

The new talks, in­volv­ing more than 120 na­tions, have been hailed as the most sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment in nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment in two decades. They were launched in New York late last month — with Canada re­fus­ing to par­tic­i­pate.

While the me­dia has largely ig­nored the story, Canada’s re­fusal to par­tic­i­pate has prompted con­dem­na­tion from more than 900 Or­der of Canada re­cip­i­ents, led by No­bel-lau­re­ate John Polanyi and for­mer Cana­dian am­bas­sador for dis­ar­ma­ment Dou­glas Roche, who calls the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s stance “as­tound­ing” and “a de­nial of the coun­try’s long track record of work­ing con­struc­tively for nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.”

Iron­i­cally, that long record in­cluded Pierre Trudeau, who in 1983 showed some out­side-the-box think­ing and con­sid­er­able gump­tion in lead­ing a peace mis­sion to Moscow, Washington and other nu­clear cap­i­tals, to press for an end to the nu­clear arms race.

That moxie doesn’t ap­pear to run in the fam­ily, even though the world needs it now more than ever, with Trump tweet­ing about his in­ten­tion to “greatly strengthen and ex­pand” Amer­ica’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity. (Who knows what but­ton he might reach for if he sees more pho­tos of in­jured ba­bies.)

Even be­fore Trump, the re­vival of world spend­ing on nu­clear arms and the grid­lock in dis­ar­ma­ment talks led a group of 50 ex­as­per­ated na­tions, sup­ported by a world­wide grass­roots move­ment, to push for a new UN ini­tia­tive aimed at es­tab­lish­ing “a legally bind­ing in­stru­ment to pro­hibit nu­clear weapons.”

The in­no­va­tive move won the over­whelm­ing sup­port of 123 out of 193 na­tions in a UN vote last Oc­to­ber.

But the U.S. and the other big nu­clear pow­ers re­jected the ini­tia­tive. Washington also pushed its NATO al­lies to vote no, ar­gu­ing in a let­ter that the ini­tia­tive was “fun­da­men­tally at odds with NATO’s ba­sic poli­cies.”

Trudeau, show­ing none of his fa­ther’s met­tle, ca­pit­u­lated to the U.S. pres­sure, by­pass­ing a chance to step up to the plate on an is­sue cry­ing out for world lead­er­ship.

Worse, by vot­ing no, Trudeau of­fered up Canada’s in­ter­na­tional pres­tige to the U.S. boy­cott of the talks, pro­vid­ing Washington cover for its re­fusal to come to the ta­ble.

In­ter­est­ingly, the Nether­lands, also a NATO ally, is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the talks. It turns out the world needs more Hol­land.

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment in­sists there’s no need to par­tic­i­pate be­cause, with­out the nu­clear-armed states in­volved, the talks have no chance of suc­ceed­ing.

But that’s surely the rea­son to par­tic­i­pate; the lead­ers of nu­clear states must be made to feel the sting of global dis­ap­proval for forc­ing us to live in a world on hair-trig­ger alert, po­ten­tially only min­utes away from an­ni­hi­la­tion.

No other is­sue im­per­ils us all so im­me­di­ately and pro­foundly, nor faces such big power re­sis­tance. Lead­ers of nu­cle­ar­armed na­tions want to pre­serve the sta­tus quo, keep the limelight fo­cused else­where, with the pub­lic lulled into be­liev­ing there’s lit­tle im­me­di­ate dan­ger and no prospect of elim­i­nat­ing nu­clear weapons any­way.

The only hope, in the face of me­dia ne­glect and big power in­tran­si­gence, is to cre­ate a groundswell of hu­man­ity clam­our­ing for nu­clear lead­ers to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

That’s no easy task, but hav­ing 120 coun­tries al­ready as­sem­bled around the ta­ble, de­mand­ing ac­tion, is a good start­ing point.

So where’s Canada? Not at the ta­ble, it turns out, but off hav­ing a smoke with the big guys.

Lead­ers of nu­clear-armed na­tions want to pre­serve the sta­tus quo with the pub­lic lulled into be­liev­ing there’s lit­tle im­me­di­ate dan­ger and no prospect of elim­i­nat­ing nu­clear weapons any­way

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