Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty: the Only Arms Control Option?

By Sven Jurschewsky


Promoting the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty: The Only Arms Control and Disarmament Option for Canada?

The Issue

Global Affairs Canada recently announced it would continue to try to start negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) in Geneva’s Conference on Disarmament (CD). The proposed treaty would halt the production of fissile material for explosive purposes, an indisputably valuable goal in service of a world ultimately free of nuclear weapons. However Canadian efforts over the last twenty years have been marked by failure.
Whether further persistence is worth it calls for answers to a number of questions:

1. What is the history of the initiative and its rationale?
2. What are the prospects for a start to negotiations on an FMCT?
3. What is the political and security context, both in the past and currently, for Non-proliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament (NACD) negotiations in general?
4. Is there a logic of NACD negotiations?
5. Are there other, more promising, alternatives?
6. What are Canada’s interests in NACD affairs?
7. What else could Canada do?

The Political Context

Like many people my age, I remember the piercing howling of the nuclear attack sirens and huddling under my desk in grade school in the prescribed fetal position. I always thought, “I’ve seen the films of a nuclear explosion; I’m a goner”. Later in 1962 I cut school to listen on the radio to the reports of the missile-laden Soviet ships approaching the US Navy ships standing picket on the way to Cuba. The world held its breath as the ships neared and the prospect of nuclear war grew ever more real. We dodged the world holocaust that time. I joined the anti-nuclear movement and protested nuclear testing and extensions of Soviet and US nuclear arsenals. Millions around the world, having shared similar experiences and possessed of the same fear of incineration, did the same.

This was the political context in which governments carried forward negotiations about nuclear disarmament.

It’s different now. The end of the Cold War with the collapse of the USSR signalled for many people the end of the likelihood of a nuclear war. With 9/11, dark and apparently more immediate public fears and fantasies fixed on Islamic terrorism. The possibility of nuclear holocaust receded from the public imagination and, with that, from political agendas.

But the possibility of nuclear war persists and, from some perspectives, it is more likely now than in the Cold War. Substantial nuclear arsenals are still maintained. Regional instabilities and pressures toward the proliferation of nuclear weapons are more insistent now than ever before. Since the negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the indefinite extension of the NP,T there has not been a single notable advance in advancing the NACD agenda. The Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the usual venue of major disarmament negotiations, is stymied on all fronts and the 2005, 2010 and 2015 NPT Review Conferences can be counted as failures.

President Obama gave a landmark speech in Prague during his first term that promised a nuclear free world. It has not happened nor should we have expected it to happen. In the interim, President Obama has announced a US$1 trillion program to renovate the US nuclear arsenal. The US President has been accused of hypocrisy. However the modernization program simply responds to the logic of deterrence … the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction … which requires a rough balance of destructive potential to maintain stability. Deterioration of US nuclear armaments necessitates, we are told, such a program to maintain the nuclear balance.

Unilateral disarmament by either the US or Russia would be destabilizing and increase … not decrease … the propensity for a nuclear war. Remember: if there was only one nuclear weapon in the world, the country that possessed it would have a crushing advantage over all adversaries. In his Prague speech, President Obama deployed the Presidency as a bully pulpit to draw public attention to the need for further disarmament. His recent visit to Hiroshima, politically courageous by any measure, pointed in the same direction. Both Presidential efforts aimed at re-animating public concern about nuclear weapons and, with that, to move nuclear disarmament higher on the political agenda, not only in the US but as importantly in the other states possessing nuclear weapons.

In his Prague speech and Hiroshima visit, President Obama was speaking the political language of public discourse about nuclear weapons. It is the language of morality. By ordering the modernization of the US’ nuclear arsenal, he responded to the harsh game theoretical logic of Mutually Assured Destruction. The former speaks to the horror of nuclear war; the latter to the means necessary to avoid it. The two perspectives are not in contradiction. Politics in this matter proceeds in the language of morality; nuclear strategists refer to need for a balance of destructive forces to avoid nuclear war … the two perspectives are linked and move forward in tandem.

Meanwhile Canada, which once played a central role in multilateral arms control and disarmament efforts, languishes.

It is time for a fresh approach.

History and Rational: History Matters

At UNSSOD II (UN Special Session on Disarmament) then-PM Pierre Trudeau proposed a Strategy of Suffocation: the negotiation of a series of measures that would over time progressively limit the further development and deployment of nuclear weapons while, at the same time, strengthening the non-proliferation system. The ultimate goal was complete nuclear disarmament. Interim reductions of weapons arsenals were to be guided by the principle of the smallest arsenals consistent with stability and security. This concept came to define the logic of all arms control and disarmament efforts. Bilateral US/USSR agreements through the 1970’s and 1980’s reduced nuclear weapons stockpiles and their means of their delivery. Some of the other Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) followed suit. Nuclear tests were progressively limited in a series of treaties and by 1993 a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was under negotiation. The next logical step, in terms of the Strategy of Suffocation, to extend and ramify the NACD system was the FMCT. Throughout this period Canada played a central role in multilateral NACD efforts.

The Political Significance of the FMCT

The US, along with the other NWS, had opposed the start of FMCT negotiations. But in 1993, as part of its efforts to smooth the way for a successful 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (Non-proliferation Treaty … see also below), the Clinton Administration supported a long-standing (UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) resolution favouring the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).

Ambassador Gerald Shannon, at the time Canada’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, was tasked in 1995, a few months before NPT95, to develop an FMCT negotiating mandate for the CD, the primary negotiation forum for NACD issues. Worth remembering is that the impetus for an FMCT negotiating mandate was largely political at the time … to help set the stage for the primary USA and Western NACD goal of the day: the indefinite extension of the NPT.

Background and Context: NPT Extension

The NPT is the keystone of the non-proliferation system. Its negotiation arose out of concerns about the potential consequences of the unfettered competition between the US and the USSR that obtained in early stages of the Cold War.
After the Cuba Missile Crisis which had brought them perilously close to a nuclear exchange, the US and the USSR were much concerned with:

a) addressing the rising risk of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and, in particular, of nuclear weapons, and
b) reducing the number of potential flashpoints between the two super powers and their allies as well as their level of risk.
West Germany’s Ostvertraege gave legal substance to its acceptance of the changes in Germany’s borders after World War II. The Quadripartite Agreement provided the city of Berlin, still under military occupation, with an agreed-upon status and rules of conduct among the Occupying Powers (USA, France, UK and USSR … Canada’s Military Mission was part of the British element). Most important was the launch of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE which morphed into the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) after the collapse of the USSR). The CSCE produced the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 which entrenched a grand bargain between the contending powers: the USSR got acceptance of Europe’s borders and the territorial integrity of its states; the USA and its Western allies and partners got acceptance of human rights and fundamental freedoms as a legitimate subject for diplomatic activity.

On the non-proliferation agenda, NPT negotiations were launched. The treaty was opened for signature in 1968 and came into force in 1970. Several states, reportedly West Germany and Italy, were not ready to eschew nuclear weapons permanently and insisted on a “renewal clause”. Article X:2 reads: Twenty-five years after the entry into force of the Treaty, a conference shall be convened to decide whether the Treaty shall continue in force indefinitely, or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods. This decision shall be taken by a majority of the Parties to the Treaty. So the NPT was up for renewal in 1995. The NWS were particularly concerned to have the treaty extended permanently. The more radical members of the Neutral and Non-aligned Movement (NAM) preferred a time-limited extension to permit continued pressure on the NSW in favour of complete disarmament.

Broadly speaking, this was the overall political and technical context in which then-PM Trudeau enunciated the Strategy of Suffocation.

The Problems of Drafting a Mandate for FMCT negotiations

Shannon was confronted by a number of divisive problems in drafting an FMCT negotiating mandate acceptable to all parties to the CD:

• A number of influential, mostly Third World states, wanted the mandate for FMCT negotiations to cover not only future production of fissile material but also existing stocks. The Nuclear Weapons States (NWS in terms of the NPT – US, Russia, China, UK, France) were opposed and preferred that the scope of the negotiations cover only future stocks. India, joined by most of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), insisted that the start of negotiations on an FMCT be linked with a time-bound schedule of nuclear disarmament. This was also opposed by the NWS along with the Western states who considered such a radical measure as destabilizing.

Very clever drafting on the issue of stocks that elided the divisions among the members of the CD permitted Ambassador Shannon to issue a negotiating mandate before the start of NPT95. India and Pakistan, both still intent on developing nuclear explosive capacities, continued to insist on linkage with a schedule for nuclear disarmament to delay the start of negotiations.

Part 2: Current Prospects of a Start to FMCT Negotiations: Consequences of NPT95 and the Failure of the CTBT to come into Force

Since NPT95, additional impediments have come to poison the well of the FMCT and disarmament negotiations in general:
• The author, working in concert with a South African diplomat, had developed two sets of measures to enhance the review process of the NPT and that set out a series of principles and milestones to guide both future nuclear disarmament as well as the operation of the NPT. These turned out to be central to the deal that permitted the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. However, beginning immediately after NPT95, at the meeting of the UN’s Committee on Disarmament, the NWS proceeded to renege on the undertakings they had made in the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. The radical members of the NAM, who had worked for a time-limited extension of the NPT to maintain continued pressure on the NWS, returned to the fore. The ensuing NPT Review Conferences have made little no progress and can, in fairness, be considered mostly disastrous in NACD terms.
• US commitment to nuclear disarmament and the Strategy of Suffocation could also be have been seen as compromised by its insistence on an Entry into Force (EIF) provision of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that, in effect, ensured the treaty would not enter into force within the foreseeable future. The US had insisted on ratification by all states having a nuclear fuel cycle (i.e. all countries possessing a nuclear reactor). Canada had unsuccessfully pressed for a much more limited EIF based on the Partial Test Ban Treaty. As a result the CTBTO, though it functions as an organization, has no legal standing nor does the treaty it presides over. In addition, the US has failed to ratify the CTBT. These developments further energized the NAM radicals.

After its second nuclear test, Pokran II in 1998, India dropped its insistence on FMCT linkage with nuclear disarmament. Around the same time, the USA’s Strobe Talbot wrung a similar concession out of the Pakistanis. It was believed at the time that at least one impediment to FMCT negotiations had been cleared away. But India’s concession was disingenuous and made in the (correct) assessment that progress would not be made in any event. Both India and Pakistan have since reverted to insistence on linkage of a start to FMCT negotiations with nuclear disarmament.

The issue of stocks remained. Subsequent efforts by Canada to break the logjam through more drafting legerdemain did not succeed. Though India has joined the NWS in opposing the inclusion of existing stocks, most of the NAM still insist on their inclusion. In a effort, inter alia, to bring the Israeli nuclear weapons program under international scrutiny and control, the Arab states continue to insist that all nuclear stocks be declared and subject to inspection and inventory by the IAEA, a provision also anathema to the NWS. (N.B. In terms of the NPT, the fuel cycles of the NWS are not subject to IAEA safeguards and verification. Since the NWS are permitted nuclear weapons, such scrutiny would be both pointless and add significantly to the costs of safeguards inspections.)

There has been no progress toward actual negotiation of an FMCT and none should be expected for the foreseeable future.

Current and Further Impediments

President Obama has announced a US$ 1 trillion program to renovate the US nuclear stockpile and its means of delivery. Specific measures include: air-launched cruise missiles (that dangerously lower the nuclear threshold as they can easily be mistaken for nuclear-capable means of delivery), the construction of 14 new missile submarines, a new free-fall nuclear bomb, the B3 long range bomber and Minuteman replacement. The US is aiming at achieving Escalation Control – a more flexible nuclear response to fight a limited nuclear war. Such a capacity would lower the nuclear threshold and destabilize the nuclear balance on which.MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) is based. Russia and China are responding with modernization programs of their own.

Worth noting is that Escalation Control is highly suited to a nuclear confrontation with the DPRK or some other rogue state like Iran. Chaotic regional security circumstances foster nuclear proliferation pressures. (See below)

Similarly destabilizing are the on-going development and deployment of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems and Prompt Global Strike that includes hyper-sonic missiles which are immune to interception by existing or planned BMD systems. In both cases deterrence is significantly degraded. In addition, BMD deployment encourages larger missile inventories to overwhelm defenses and Prompt Global Strike would put nuclear missile forces on a permanent hair-trigger alert basis.
In such circumstances of strategic transformation, the NWS are likely to insist on keeping all options open, including the production of additional fissile material for explosive purposes which would be banned under an FMCT.

The Current Political and Security Context: Linkage Among Nuclear Capable States

The further development of nuclear arsenals (as well as the prospects for disarmament) is largely a product of developments in two triads of states:

US-Russia-China: developments in one state trigger countervailing responses in the other two. China’s nuclear arsenal is calibrated to constitute a meaningful second strike capacity to deter any nuclear adversary. The US and Russia possess sufficient nuclear weapons for both first and second strike purposes.

India-Pakistan-China: Fearing China as its primary adversary, India frittered away its crushing advantage in conventional arms over its substantive enemy, Pakistan, by a nuclear test in 1998 (see also below). Pokran II was a fizzle. India’s thermonuclear device did not work. Pakistan’s, in a subsequent test, did. India does possess fission devices in the 25-30 kt. range, quite sufficient to devastate Pakistan’s cities. Nonetheless, lacking a city-busting fusion weapon, Indian nuclear planners believe that India is at a strategic disadvantage vis a vis Pakistan. In addition, to punish Pakistan in the event of continued terrorist out-rages, India has developed Operation Cold Start, an armoured thrust into Pakistan coupled with deep air strikes and, on some versions, a naval blockade. On the basis of public announcements, such an Indian attack would cross Pakistani red lines and set off all-out hostilities. Pakistan, it has been reliably reported, has developed small, tactical battle-field nuclear weapons to counter Indian armoured superiority. India has no response to such an eventuality other than a full-out nuclear attack. The nuclear threshold on the Sub-continent is dangerously low. For its part, China regards India as merely a strategic irritant. China’s fears and efforts are firmly focussed on the US.

DPRK and Northeast Asia are outliers on this sort of assessment of proliferative linkage. But, like the case of India/Pakistan/China, security circumstances in Northeast Asia point in the direction of the need for a regional perspective in considering both proliferation pressures and the likelihood of a nuclear exchange.

Though Taiwan and the Republic of Korea had programs in the past that could have led to the development of nuclear weapons, more recent North Korean nuclear tests have not elicited a proliferation response. Nonetheless, the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal and its efforts to both up-grade its WMD arsenal to include fusion devices as well as to extend the range of its means of delivery has had profound destabilizing consequences. The forbearance of South Korea, Taiwan and Japan depends critically on confidence in the US’s security guarantees. Nonetheless, and in part in consequence of efforts to give substance to the USA’s security guarantees, developments respecting the DPRK can have destabilizing knock-on effects. For example, deployment of the USA’s anti-ballistic missile system, THAAD (Theatre High Altitude Area Defense), to South Korea may result in China extending its arsenal of missiles. China has pursued a posture of asymmetric warfare (i.e. possessing sufficient retaliatory (or second strike) capacities to deter an attack). THAAD’s deployment will profoundly change Chinese calculations regarding the adequacy of its missile forces to deter the US. US efforts at re-assuring China, given the US’s pivot and the stand-off in the South China Sea, are most unlikely to cut any ice. Russia may also come to see a need to buttress its forces in its Far East.

Background and Context: DPRK’s Paranoia (1)

The US has set as a precondition for talks with the DPRK the renunciation of its nuclear stockpile. When asked by the author in 2001 why DPRK persisted in testing and selling missiles the 1st Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied that the “only thing that North Korea produces that anyone wants to buy is missiles. We need the money.” On the eve of the Clinton Administration’s final term of office, then-Secretary of State Albright reportedly initialed an agreement that would have paid the DPRK US$600 million p.a. to stop testing and selling missiles. The in-coming Bush Administration did not sign the agreement and reverted to a hostile stance vis a vis the DPRK.

After the initial successful phase of the second Iraq War, the author asked Col. General Ri Chan Bok, commander of Korean People’s Army troops at Panmunjom, what the lessons for the DPRK were. He replied, “Never give up your nuclear weapons. It just opens you to American attack.” He went on to compare US and North Korean capabilities.

Fear of the USA is carefully fostered in the North Korean media and in its education system. There is a sign board one sees in Pyongyang and elsewhere in the country, “A world without the DPRK does not deserve to persist.”

Claiming to fear US aggression, the DPRK withdrew from the NPT in 2003 under Article X of the treaty. Since then the DPRK has engaged in a number of nuclear tests. It is also developing its means of delivery.
1) In the period 1999-2003, the author was mandated to effect Canada’s recognition of the DPRK and to encourage other Western states to follow suit by way of supporting the Clinton Administration’s Soft Landing policy. In that time he visited North Korea 19 times and travelled throughout the country.

Israel with a nuclear arsenal of a reported arsenal of about 80 weapons is also an outlier and also reinforces the need for a regional perspective. Israel maintains a nuclear capability to deter its Arab enemies. But Israel has never admitted to its possession of nuclear weapons and, unlike its neighbours and adversaries, has not acceded to the NPT. On the one hand, given Israel’s exposed position in the face of intractable Arab enmity, a nuclear option can be seen as a necessary response. On the hand, both Arab aversion to Israel’s persistence as a state as well as the existence of an Israeli nuclear stockpile has provoked efforts among some Middle Eastern states to embark on nuclear programs. Rivalries among Middle Eastern states and mutual suspicions among them are a further impetus to the development of WMDs.

Well-founded suspicions indicate that Syria, Iran, Libya and possibly Iraq intended at some point in the past to develop nuclear weapons and proceeded with nuclear weapons development programs .What is almost certainly true is that Iraq (under Sadaam Hussein) possessed stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. Syria, Iran, Libya (under Muamar Khadafy who had also embarked on a nuclear program) are strongly suspected of also having stockpiles of chemical and biological WMDs. Israel, it has been reported, believes that Egypt has a chemical weapons arsenal.

Finally, a number of Wahabist and Salafist radical terrorist groups have announced their intention to obtain WMDs. If such groups as ISIS or Al Qa’ida were to succeed in obtaining such weapons, in line with their millenarian beliefs, they would be unconstrained in their use. The deterrence logic of MAD simply does not apply to them.

The Logic of NACD Negotiations

Postulate 1: The Basis of the Propensity in Favour of NACD Measures
Progress on arms control and disarmament measures is a function of national level perceptions of security.
States will only disarm and subject themselves to external surveillance and control to a degree consistent with their perceived continued security. This basic consideration underpins and vivifies the Strategy of Suffocation. NACD treaties must ensure positive-sum out-comes in security terms for all parties. Nuclear negotiations are a classic case of a requirement for Pareto Optimality in game theoretical terms (i.e. no party to a negotiation can be worse off as a result of the out-come of the negotiations).
It is a plain fact that security circumstances, from national perspectives, in a number of regions have significantly worsened in recent decades.

Postulate 2: The Geographic Context of NACD Measures
Successful NACD measures reflect the security circumstances of actual and potential theatres of war.
NACD treaties and other measures of global application were possible during the Cold War because the whole world was, in the context of the US/USSR confrontation, a theatre of war. Since collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, security circumstances no longer have an over-arching global character; they have shivered into regional contexts. It is now plainly not possible to negotiate a meaningful legally binding instrument that provides a positive-sum out-come for all participants, necessary for successful negotiations, in all regional contexts. No country will agree to a treaty that effectively worsens its perceived security.
It is difficult to see how a potential FMCT could cover the security complexities of the regions most in question: the Middle East, the Sub-continent and Northeast Asia.

Alternatives to the FMCT to carry forward the NACD Agenda.
Given the unlikelihood of progress on FMCT negotiations, a traditional response might be to promote and try to take up a leading role in negotiating PAROS (Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space) and/or an NSA Treaty (a promise by the NWS not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapons state). However, these initiatives, currently before the CD are also stymied for a variety of reasons. These mostly relate to the military development plans of the NWS and their divergent regional concerns and objectives.

Taking the logic of NACD negotiations to heart and understanding the significance of the deterioration of regional security circumstances, the following options for Canadian action suggest themselves.

The Middle East

Both Likud and Labor Israeli governments have argued that solutions to Arab insecurity about Israel’s nuclear stockpile and to bring Israel inside the NPT tent would degrade Israel’s security. Israel is also concerned about the impact on its security by the development and deployment of chemical and biological weapons by the Arab states. Efforts to start negotiations on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (MEWMDNFZ) that would, at least partially, address Israeli concerns have foundered.

Current instabilities, arising out of Jihadism and the various other factors that produced the so-called Arab Spring, render any NACD efforts aimed at the Middle East well nigh impossible. Participation by Syria and Iraq would be an absolute requirement but neither state is, under current circumstances, in a position to make trustworthy, verifiable undertakings. Two Kurdish proto-states already exist. Turkey’s anti-Kurdish posture makes integration of its Kurdish minority far less likely and fuels further divisiveness and instability in Syria. The territorial integrity of neither Syria nor Iraq is unlikely to be a feature of the Middle East’s future geography. The status quo ante policies pursued by the US and other outside players are unlikely to succeed.

Perhaps It is time to bite the bullet and to work towards developing a Western consensus on the sort of Middle East geography that would be congenial to stability and Western interests and to frame appropriate policies to that end. Such considerations should include the development of institutions like a regional security organization and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) like a MEWMDNFZ as well as trade facilitation initiatives and the like to foster mutual dependencies.

Resolution of the Israel/Palestine question would be a sine qua non for progress. This is a very long range project and fraught with great difficulty. Call it the Master Plan for Middle East Peace and Security. Worth underscoring is that Canada’s reputation as a neutral and helpful partner on Middle East matters has been spoiled by the Harper Government’s one-sided and uncritical support for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party. The first task must be the re-establishment of our credentials. This is best done in the context the development of a policy framework that illuminates Canadian diplomatic and military effort in the traditional light of commitments to peace-building and peace-making on a pragmatic basis.

The Sub-continent

A dangerous potential nuclear confrontation persists between India and Pakistan. At issue is sovereignty over Kashmir. The geo-strategic significance of Kashmir is such that its possession by either Pakistan or India renders the other at a significant strategic disadvantage. Terrorist outrages, like the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, the attack on India’s Parliament and the recent attack on an Indian army base, are designed principally to prevent a rapprochement between the two states. Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attacks add substantially to bilateral instability and likelihood of out-right war. The solution is obvious, a joint India/Pakistan condominium over Kashmir. Nationalism stands in the way. Recent tentative contacts between New Delhi and Islamabad show limited promise. India has rejected any outside involvement.

Canada’s bona fides in India are still spoiled by Indian memories of the devastating consequences of our boycott after Pokhran I, India’s first nuclear test in 1974. After Pokhran II in 1998, Canada allied with India’s perceived arch-enemy, China, in a quixotic effort to have India eliminate its nuclear program and accede to the NPT as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1172.

However the US is much concerned to anchor its south Asian efforts in substantive diplomatic and military cooperation with India in the context of the Pivot. The India/Pakistan confrontation over Kashmir is a dangerous national pre-occupation and detracts from India’s military reliability in the US’ larger game to contain China. After the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, the US expended much effort to prevent an Indian attack on Pakistan, given the probability hostilities would have quickly degenerated into a nuclear exchange. An Indian attack on Pakistan would have also much complicated on-going US military efforts in Afghanistan. To enhance India’s steadfastness and trustworthiness, the US may … and indeed it ought to … foster a resolution of the stand-off over Kashmir. Canada might see what it could do to help.

Northeast Asia

The DPRK continues to disturb the peace and stability of Northeast Asia. USA policy appears to be predicated on a economic collapse of North Korea and promotes policies to that end. China viscerally fears the DPRK’s collapse believing such an out-come would trigger a North Korean attack on the Republic of Korea. Such a war could, on China’s assessment:
• Close all ports north of Shanghai putting further pressure on China’s economy while revitalizing the conservative neo-Maoist faction of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC).
• Result in a nuclear confrontation between the DPRK and the US with obvious negative consequences for China, the region and beyond.
• End in a US military presence on the Yalu. (N.B. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) believes, as a matter of military doctrine, that the Korean Peninsula is the prime invasion route to North China.)
• In the ensuing chaos, encourage a declaration of independence by Taiwan prompting a Chinese military response.

Like NACD initiatives, Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) are most effectively carried out in the context of specific regional security circumstances, which, in this case, is also to say, in a (potential) theatre of war. These considerations are best captured by a regional security organization. In the late 1980’s Canada promoted a Northwest Pacific Security Dialogue toward the eventual establishment of a Northeast Asian regional security organization. The initiative foundered over Chinese and US objections. The existing security organization, the ARF, is unhelpfully of a much too wide a geographic ambit and better suited to Track-2 initiatives than serious efforts aimed at stabilizing the Northeast Asian region.

In 1999, on the basis of a Clinton/Chretien agreement and in support of the Clinton Administration’s Soft Landing policy, Canada engaged the DPRK with a view to the establishment of diplomatic relations and to encourage other Western countries to follow suit. China substantially supported this initiative. The ROK favored it as well and, somewhat more sotto voce, so did Japan. The initiative showed promise and a number of key Western states followed suit. But the project foundered when the Bush Administration came to power and pursued a much more aggressive policy.

It may well be apposite to re-engage with the DPRK and the other states in the region with the objective of a regional security organization in which to carry forward CBMs and appropriate NACD initiatives. As a first step, Canada could dust-off the proposal for a regional security dialogue. Additional sanctions will not bring the DPRK to its knees and may well serve to dangerously exacerbate circumstances. In addition, the US seems to have developed an allergy to the China-sponsored P-6 Talks in Beijing. Such a Canadian initiative would also avoid the US precondition of a North Korean disavowal of its nuclear arsenal which the North Koreans, in deep fear of a US attack, adamantly reject.
Canada’s Interests

“Interest” as a concept in diplomacy is frequently ill-understood and often misused. “National interests” can be parsed into three categories:

• Political interest is the interest or concern that a government has in doing the things it believes will garner public support to ensure re-election. It also refers to the need to maintain alliance solidarity and support friendly, like-minded and allied countries to achieve their objectives … often in the hopes and expectations of reciprocal support.
• Material interest is the interest or concern to achieve a state of affairs that either:
o enhances the prosperity of its citizens, or
o improves, or at least maintains, the security of its citizens.

Canada’s material interest in the countries of the Middle East is slight. Our trade with the region amounts to about 1.5% of total trade and that order of magnitude is unlikely to change, particularly given the on-going disorder. From a security standpoint, Canada is not under threat from any country in the region and the risk of an attack by a group like ISIS or Al Qa’ida is more potential than real. There is no change in the Middle East that would adversely affect Canada’s material interests. However there are major political interests in play and that animate our support for Israel and the efforts of our allies in the region as well as to combat radical Islam. Western Europe and Japan remain dependent on Middle Eastern supplies of oil and gas. By contrast and to highlight the need to balance concerns in the sometimes competing categories of national interest, a collapse of a major petroleum-producing country and the resultant tightening of oil markets with a consequent increase in the price of oil would even benefit Canada’s heavy oil producers.

Canada’s large Indian-origin community creates a significant domestic political interest in the maintenance of positive relations with their mother country. Political differences between, say, the Sikh and Gujarati communities, complicates these calculations. Pakistanis are far fewer in number … 155 thousand versus 1.35 million Indians. Pakistan offers few commercial opportunities. India’s burgeoning GDP growth suggests significant trade and investment potential. On the security side of the ledger no security-related development in India or Pakistan, even a nuclear war, would negatively affect Canadians, apart from dealing with the fall-out in the event of nuclear hostilities. Taking a wider canvas, our main ally, the US, is much concerned with India playing a significant role in the Pivot.

Canada’s large Chinese community is somewhat divided between supporters for Taipei and for Beijing. The large size of the community as whole (1.34 million) makes it a significant electoral factor. Both Taiwan and the China have been, and will continue to be, very important trade and investment destinations. Disruption of Canada/China trade would have highly negative consequences for the Canadian economy. Though the numbers of Korean-Canadians and Japanese-Canadians are far smaller, our economic and commercial relations with South Korea and Japan are far from negligible. Bilateral trade with South Korea amounts to about C$10 billion p.a. and with Japan, C$24.5 billion p.a. The DPRK does not directly threaten Canada but it constitutes a severe risk of war with three of our top five trading partners. China’s carving out political, military and economic space commensurate with its commercial and financial weigh and the US response in the form of its “Pivot to Asia” together with China’s bolshie attitude in the South China Sea complicates balance of interest calculations.

Of the three regions under threat of war and disorder, Northeast Asia is the one of the greatest material interest.

And Now for Something Completely Different

The CD in Geneva is also concerned with preventing an arms race in outer space and in defining and protecting “peaceful uses” of outer space. As in other security contexts, strategic planners are seeking to keep all options open and stymieing progress in the negotiations currently in train.

Defining specific peaceful uses of outer space might elide these strategic considerations and, at the same time, somewhat reduce to scope for an arms race in outer space. By increasing the scope of legally protected peaceful activities, the available scope for the weaponization of outer space would be commensurately reduced.

No Progress in Efforts in the CD on Space-related topics

As noted above, progress in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva is stalled on every negotiating front, a product of uncertainly about future security circumstances together with efforts by the USA, Russia and China to develop their arsenals of conventional weapons and WMDs, and means of delivery. The Russo-Chinese proposed PPWT (Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects) that would out-law the weaponization of space is opposed by the USA and its partners in the WEOG (Western and Others Group). A related European Union initiative before Vienna-based COPOUS (Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space), a draft Code of Conduct on Space Activities, is adamantly rejected by Russia and China.

Commercial Space Activities

Space is already commercially significant with major investment in satellite navigation, communications and imagery among other applications. With the entry of commercial launch services by such companies as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic among others further applications such as tourism are becoming plausible. Asteroid mining for such minerals as gold, silver, platinum and tungsten will be feasible in the medium term. However International law governing and protecting such activities is incomplete, sometimes contradictory and often ill-formed. With a large and aggressive mining sector. this is an area for a major Canadian diplomatic effort.

Two Canadian initiatives suggest themselves:

1) A Treaty on Space Mining

Two private companies have been established in the US for the purposes of asteroid mining, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. Rapid advances in robotics and much cheaper launch services by private companies like SpaceX have moved space mining from science fiction books to the business sections of the media. Planetary Resources launched its first exploratory probe from the International Space Station in 2015. Some observers believe that actual mining could begin as soon as 2025. Most important, NASA will launch OSIRIS-REx (Origin, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer) to asteroid 101955 Bennu, an US$800 million mission with significant Canadian financial and scientific participation, in September, 2016. The probe will return to earth with samples of the asteroid.

The issue is that space mining lacks a meaningful legal context. Existing legal instruments do not cohere well and one even rules mining activities out of bounds. Space mining is unlikely to be a governmental activity. The issue is being driven by private sector interest. Establishing a legal framework for space mining responds to the long-run interests of Canada’s important mining sector.

As important as establishing space mining on a sound legal foundation, the activity itself as well as the nature of its legal strictures would constructively alter the context of more classically formulated NACD initiatives. For that reason, it is important to explore whether such a treaty could be negotiated in the CD in Geneva on the basis that it would be a specification of “peaceful uses”.

2) Guiding Principles for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

By extracting common and/or agreed upon elements of the Russo-Chinese proposed PPWT and the Europe-proposed Code of Conduct on Space Activities, a text useful to guide subsequent and, perhaps more directly meaningful, initiatives could be produced. Such effort would fall well within Canada’s traditional bridge-building role.

Sven Jurschewsky is a retired Canadian Foreign Service Officer of wide experience with postings in Europe, Africa and Asia. He held positions dealing with nuclear, intelligence, environmental, bilateral and financial matters among other subjects.

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