Toronto Star
Time to phase out nuclear weapons

January 4, 2000

Will 2000 be the year that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization gets serious about scrapping its nuclear weapons? With the Americans, British and French opposed, it's a faint hope. But it's worth keeping alive.

The Canadian government, to its credit, wants to do just that.

After some persistent lobbying by Canada, Germany and other non-nuclear actors, the 19-member alliance has just agreed to conduct a year-long ``review'' of its outdated reliance on nuclear weapons, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall. NATO has commissioned a report by December, 2000.

Right now it's just talk. But if Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has his way, talk may lead to action. And that would be a good thing.

``There's now a venue where serious examination of arms control, disarmament issues will ensue at a senior level,'' he notes.

For the record, NATO believes in ``reducing nuclear weapons'' because of their ``reduced salience'' now that the Soviet threat is no more. And indeed, the United States and its partners have whittled back their nuclear arsenals considerably.

But the Americans, British and French remain unwilling to even consider going the next big step and standing down their remaining weapons from ``alert'' status, and warehousing them. They also resist pressure to pledge that they won't be the first to use nukes in a conflict.

Instead, they continue to issue statements asserting that nuclear weapons are essential to NATO's security.

That mixed message - reduce the number of nukes but resolutely hang onto a fistful of them - doesn't make much sense. If anything, it encourages minor actors to acquire a few of their own.

NATO currently has no enemy that it needs to threaten with nukes. Moreover, using nuclear weapons against an adversary that doesn't have them, might well be classed as a crime against humanity. With its unmatched conventional firepower, NATO would run little risk by weaning itself from its nuclear dependency. And it could do much good.

If NATO were to offer to remove nukes from active service, the Russians and Chinese might be persuaded to follow suit.

Greater pressure to disarm could be put on the rogue Israelis, Indians and Pakistanis. And that would pretty much remove the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

It wouldn't be a bad way to ring in the third millennium.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But isn't New Year the time to resolve to break bad habits?

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