Choosing hope in the face of disaster

March 13, 2023

By Wendy Stocker

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 44 Issue 1 Spring 2023

Reflections on the final workshop on Canada and the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

Last November, Project Ploughshares hosted the last of three virtual workshops it produced in 2022. The focus of this one was on Canada, the growing nuclear threat, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). It was led by Ploughshares Executive Director Cesar Jaramillo and Julie Clark, a PhD candidate in global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario, who served as an Electoral Observer during the 2019 elections in Ukraine.

The first workshop module focused on the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia. While no nuclear weapons have been used, Cesar and Julie viewed the conflict as a case study of the policy of nuclear deterrence in action. Cesar frankly stated that there was a real possibility that nuclear weapons would be employed.

To avoid the results of such use, which would undoubtedly be catastrophic, he emphasized the need for “practical, realistic, pragmatic, and feasible” solutions that would allow all parties (including allies of both countries) to avoid situations in which any of them might feel compelled to use nuclear weapons. He saw many current initiatives, including the TPNW, as “too big picture” to meet the immediacy of the current threat.

Julie maintained hope that bilateral and other agreements were still possible. She was certain that diplomacy was still being conducted quietly, behind the scenes. Still, she rated the possibility of a nuclear cataclysm as very high. Even conventional fighting has led to shelling, mining, and rolling power blackouts in Ukraine that could set off an explosion at one of the largest nuclear power plants in Europe. In the meantime, nuclear-armed states, including Russia and NATO member the United States, continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals.

Cesar urged a redoubling of diplomacy, which he saw as particularly valuable when tensions are at their highest. But how to encourage talk rather than an unending flow of weapons? Both speakers urged Canadians and individuals from around the globe to use all tools available. Letters to the editor, posts on social media. The anti-nuclear movement needs to learn lessons from Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, and the climate-change movement.

The second module focused on Canada’s role in facilitating nuclear abolition. As an active player in the nuclear industry and a member of NATO. the G7, and G20, Canada should play a significant role in achieving the abolition of nuclear weapons. In recent years, however, even though Canada’s stated goal is a world without nuclear weapons, Canada has remained closely aligned with nuclear-armed states.

The workshop leaders urged Canada to make nuclear disarmament a priority. It should fight for nuclear abolition in NATO. It should attend the next meeting of TPNW states parties as an observer. It should prioritize ending the war in Ukraine through diplomacy. Canada has a history of taking stands unpopular with some of its more militaristic allies, without taking serious penalties. It needs to act on that history.

We need to “choose the path of hope.” State champions are needed. Canada could be one of them. We don’t need to have everything worked out to move forward on nuclear abolition.

As this workshop makes clear, we’ve been lucky so far – no nuclear weapons have been employed since 1945. But that luck could run out at any moment. Relying on luck to prevent nuclear disaster is not a sound course of action.

We need to build a new international order to ensure our collective security – one that is not based on nuclear weapons or even super-powered conventional weapons. To achieve this new order, we need words, not weapons.

Videos of all the workshops (in eight modules) can be found on the Project Ploughshares YouTube channel.

The three Project Ploughshares workshops on Canada and the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons would not have been possible without the financial support of Shantz Mennonite Church in Baden, Ontario. We are grateful for the opportunity and the experience.

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