Toronto Star - Axworthy renews war on nuclear weapons

December 14, 1999

Minister wants Nato to review first-use policy

By Allan Thompson - Toronto Star, Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has resumed his personal crusade to convince the NATO alliance to change its policy on the use of nuclear weapons.

Axworthy said in an interview last night he will use a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers that begins in Brussels tomorrow to renew the push for NATO to formally review its nuclear weapons policy.

``It's just absolute insanity that we would not focus on this matter,'' Axworthy said just before leaving Ottawa. ``I find it very disturbing.''

A year ago, Axworthy and his German counterpart Joschka Fischer called on NATO to update its nuclear policy and review the alliance's willingness to make first use of nuclear weapons. The pair wanted last spring's 50th anniversary NATO summit in Washington to take up the issue.

But the war in Kosovo side-tracked any consideration of NATO's nuclear doctrine and the matter was put on the back burner.

Axworthy said it is time to put the subject back on the front burner and he intends to turn up the heat.

``If you don't make the pitch, you're not going to get a hit. You just have to keep coming at it,'' he said. ``There's no question that we're the one that's driving that issue.''

In a year that has seen the world's nuclear disarmament regime begin to unravel, there is a desperate need for ``some good news'' and for NATO to lead by example, Axworthy said.

`I would just describe it (the presence of nuclear weapons) as a clear and present danger that has been here since 1945 and the more that you can put it under wraps, put constraints on it, diminish it . . . the safer we all are.'
- Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy

A conference in April will review the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and Axworthy said if developed countries that possess nuclear weapons don't show some interest in disarmament, the whole thing could grind to a halt.

``There will be a lot of pressure from southern countries, led by India, saying `look, the non-proliferation treaty was a bargain that there would be no expansion if you guys disarm and there hasn't been a lot of progress in that field.'

``There is a real need for us to show that there is some movement, some momentum on this issue,'' he added.

Axworthy said Canada wants a high-level NATO committee to be put in charge of reviewing the alliance's nuclear policy, with a requirement to report back within a year.

``I'm reasonably confident - 50 per cent confident - that we'll be able to get agreement on the structure within NATO to start that'' review, he said.

``Nuclear disarmament is still a very high priority and is in more jeopardy today because of the shortfalls this year,'' he said.

Axworthy was referring to the U.S. Senate blocking passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan and the recent ``sabre-rattling,'' by Russia on the potential use of nuclear weapons.

Proponents of NATO maintaining a strong nuclear posture say it is too early to give up the threat of making first use of the weapons because of the deterrent factor. Axworthy said he rejects that argument.

``I think the security of NATO countries is very much tied up in an arms control regime. You don't want Russia out there re-arming, because that's all it's got left,'' he said.

``Do you want to have a stronger proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East or other areas? Israel is there already and we're trying to stop Iraq,'' he said.

Axworthy said it is ironic that before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a generation of leaders - Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev - was willing to talk publicly about abolishing nuclear weapons while current leaders don't seem to attach a high priority to the issue.

`I would just describe it (the presence of nuclear weapons) as a clear and present danger that has been here since 1945 and the more that you can put it under wraps, put constraints on it, diminish it, reduce it and suffocate it, the safer we all are,'' he said. ``And yet in the last year, we've seen the opposite happen.''

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