Nuclear Weapons

Table of Contents


Canada’s nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament policy is centered on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and reinforced by other instruments and initiatives through which Canada works with partners to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and related materials and technologies. These efforts strengthen Canadian and international security by reducing the likelihood of nuclear capabilities falling into the wrong hands. Canadian policy on nuclear non-proliferation, arms control, and disarmament is led by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), in consultation with other departments and agencies, as appropriate.

Canada advocates a step-by-step approach to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament that halts the spread of nuclear weapons and related materials, reduces existing nuclear stockpiles, and irreversibly eliminates them. The core elements of this approach are a universalized NPT, a fully in-force Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). As a NATO ally, and consistent with the 2012 Deterrence and Defence Posture Review, Canada is resolved to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the NPT, in a way that promotes international stability, and is based on the principle of undiminished security for all. 

Through the 28-partner Global Partnership and the Nuclear Security Summit process, Canada is also taking concrete steps to prevent states and non-state actors of proliferation concern from acquiring nuclear weapons, materials, technology, and related knowledge. Together with its partners in the G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group, Canada also undertakes work to advance practical non-proliferation and disarmament objectives including the entry into force of the CTBT and universalization of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) remains the only legally-binding global treaty that promotes nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. There are 190 NPT States Parties, including North Korea, which announced its withdrawal from the Treaty in 2002 and no longer considers itself bound by NPT obligations. Israel, India, Pakistan and South Sudan are the only countries to have not joined the NPT.

The NPT outlines a three-part bargain: non-nuclear weapon States Parties undertake not to acquire nuclear weapons; the five Nuclear Weapon States (United States, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, and China) commit to pursue good-faith negotiations towards nuclear disarmament; and all States Parties undertake to facilitate cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in compliance with safeguards from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Review Process

The NPT mandates a Review Conference to occur every five years to allow States Parties to review the implementation of the Treaty and to work to strengthen it. Review Conferences are preceded by three Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meetings to consider principles, promote Treaty implementation and universality, and make procedural and substantive recommendations.

At the 1995 NPT Review Conference, States Parties decided to extend the NPT indefinitely, agreed on principles and objectives for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and strengthened the NPT’s review process. States Parties also agreed on a resolution on the Middle East that called on states in the region to create a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

At the 2000 NPT Review Conference, States Parties agreed on 13 practical steps to meet their nuclear disarmament commitments. These steps included entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and an “unequivocal undertaking” by the five Nuclear Weapons States to totally eliminate their nuclear arsenals, leading to nuclear disarmament.

At the 2005 NPT Review Conference, procedural delays and States Parties’ inability to find common ground prevented an agreement on an outcome that strengthened the Treaty or advanced its implementation. Some State Parties seemed determined to roll back disarmament commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 Review Conferences while others refused to entertain efforts to strengthen non-proliferation measures.

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, States Parties agreed on a Final Document that included a 64-item Action Plan of conclusions and recommendations for follow-on actions that address each of the three pillars of the NPT. It also addressed two key regional issues. First, it sought to follow up on the 1995 Review Conference’s resolution on the Middle East by calling for the convening of a 2012 conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Second, it called on North Korea to return to compliance with the NPT and to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The 2012 NPT PrepCom took place in Vienna from 30 April to 11 May, 2012. The 2013 NPT PrepCom took place in Geneva from 22 April to 3 May, 2013 The 2014 NPT PrepCom took place in New York from 29 April to 9 May, 2014.

 The 2015 NPT Review Conference will take place in New York from 27 April to 22 May, 2015, to review the implementation of the Treaty and seek ways to strengthen it.

Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative

In September 2010, Canada became a founding member of a cross-regional group called the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI). The group’s objective is to foster greater cross-regional cooperation in promoting the implementation of the 64-item Action Plan from the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Other members of the NPDI include Australia, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, the Philippines, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The NPDI’s inaugural Ministerial meeting took place on 22 September, 2010, in New York. The group released a joint statement which established the basis for future joint action. The initial priorities of the group included seeking the commencement of negotiations of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), seeking entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and seeking the universalization of an Additional Protocol to states’ safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The NPDI also agreed to work to strengthen export controls, promote nuclear-weapon-free zones, and encourage nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament through education.

The eighth NPDI Ministerial meeting took place in Hiroshima on 12 April 2014. In their joint statement , participants emphasizedthe need for transparency in disarmament and the need to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in defence doctrines. while urging North Korea and Iran to comply with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations and to cooperate fully with the IAEA.

The NPDI has participated visibly and actively during the 2015 NPT review cycle. The group has issued joint statements, hosted side-events, consulted with other key political groups and has submitted working papers on transparency, the FMCT, the Additional Protocol, disarmament education, the CTBT, reducing the role of nuclear weapons in defence doctrines, non-strategic nuclear weapons, nuclear-weapons-free zones, export controls, and the wider application of IAEA safeguards.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a landmark international agreement that aims to prohibit all nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosion. The CTBT advances both non-proliferation as well as disarmament objectives by constraining the development of nuclear weapons by states that do not yet possess them as well as the qualitative improvement of current types of nuclear weapons.

The CTBT will only come into force once all 44 countries listed in Annex 2 of the Treaty ratify it. For current information on the status of the CTBT’s entry into force, please refer to the website of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

Canada ratified the CTBT on 3 December, 1998 when Parliament passed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Implementation Act. The Act created the CTBT National Authority to implement the Treaty in Canada. The National Authority Steering Committee is comprised of representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (GAC), Natural Resources Canada, Health Canada and Environment Canada, as well as participants from the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Article XIV of the CTBT states that if the Treaty has not entered into force by the third anniversary of the date it opened for signature, the UN Secretary-General could convene a Conference of the States that have already ratified the Treaty if a majority of those States make such a request. At this Conference, ratifying states would decide by consensus what measures consistent with international law they might use to accelerate ratification and hasten the Treaty’s early entry into force. Article XIV Conferences have been convened every two years since 1999. In years when an Article XIV Conference is not held, Canada, Japan, Australia, Finland and the Netherlands have co-hosted a Ministerial-level “Friends of the CTBT” meeting every other year since 2002.

Canada’s main objective is to achieve entry into force of the Treaty. Canada works closely with like-minded states, G8 partners and others to encourage states that have not yet done so to ratify the CTBT, especially those states listed in Annex 2 of the Treaty.

The Preparatory Commission

In preparation for its entry into force, the CTBT is being provisionally implemented by the Preparatory Commission (PrepCom) for the CTBTO, a UN-affiliated organisation headquartered in Vienna. The CTBTO PrepCom is comprised of delegations from states that have signed the Treaty. The primary goal of the CTBTO PrepCom is the development of the Treaty’s verification regime so that it is fully functional at the time of entry into force.

Verification System

The CTBT’s verification regime will be the most extensive monitoring system yet developed to confirm compliance with a nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament treaty. It has three main parts:

Canada hosts 16 stations and laboratories that are part of the IMS, which include each of the four monitoring technologies that aim to detect nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, underground and underwater. All of the IMS stations hosted by Canada were completed, fully operational, and certified by the CTBTO as of November 2009.

Canada works to ensure that the CTBTO’s verification and administrative regimes continue to be established and run effectively and efficiently.

Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty

Since the mid-1950s Canada has actively promoted a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) to effectively and verifiably ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. An FMCT would be a concrete and practical step toward nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
In the 1990s, Canada and the international community made initial steps toward FMCT negotiations. In 1994 as Special Coordinator in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Canada's then-Ambassador for Disarmament, Gerald Shannon achieved consensus for a negotiating mandate for an FMCT. In 1995, the CD adopted the Shannon Report and it was endorsed in a decision of the 1995 NPT Review Conference. In 1998, the CD agreed by consensus to establish an Ad-Hoc Committee to negotiate an FMCT based on the Shannon Mandate. Canada chaired the first session of the FMCT Ad-Hoc Committee in 1998.

Regrettably, and because of abuse of its consensus procedures, the CD has since been prevented by perceived security interests from adopting a Program of Work that would allow FMCT negotiations in the CD to begin in earnest. With the support of many states, Canada has nonetheless consistently led efforts and supported initiatives to advance toward FMCT negotiations, and to continue to lay a solid base for those negotiations when they resume.

In recent years, Canada has led such an initiative on an FMCT in the UN General Assembly’s First Committee. In the context of the continued deadlock in the CD, in 2012 the General Assembly requested the UN Secretary General to (i) seek the views of Member States and (ii) establish a UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE)in 2014-15 to make recommendations on possible aspects which could contribute to a treaty. With the constructive engagement of the international community, the GGE has renewed a substantive process toward the eventual negotiation of a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. Canada is actively participating as the Chair of the GGE, which began its work in March 2014.

UN Disarmament Machinery

The first UN General Assembly (UNGA) Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD), in 1978, established the framework for what is referred to as the UN disarmament machinery. It is composed of three main organs:

Conference on Disarmament

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva is the world’s permanent negotiating forum for disarmament issues. It has sixty-five members and operates on the basis of consensus. The CD and its predecessors advanced many of the international community’s multilateral disarmament agreements, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

There are six presidencies of the CD each year, rotating alphabetically through its 65 Member States, each serving for a period of four weeks. The forum operates under a strict consensus rule that requires unanimity among its 65 members to approve any decision. It has been deadlocked since 1998 because consensus has not been achieved on a Program of Work that would provide the framework for its activities every year.

Canada’s priority in the CD is negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). Canada also advocates for reform of the CD and the broader multilateral disarmament machinery, including options to address the abuse of the consensus rule on administrative matters and the rotation of the Presidency to prevent known proliferators from assuming the role. 

UN General Assembly’s First Committee

The First Committee is one of six sub-committees of the UN General Assembly. The Committee meets annually to consider between 50 and 60 resolutions and decisions covering issues related to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, chemical and biological weapons, conventional weapons, and the UN disarmament machinery. Although resolutions are non-binding, First Committee allows UN Member States to vote on pressing international security issues, present national positions to the UN Secretary General, and undertake substantive work to advance key non-proliferation and disarmament priorities.

Each year, Canada plays an active role in First Committee by leading, co-sponsoring, or voting on Resolutions in line with our non-proliferation and disarmament priorities. Canada’s widely supported 2012 UNGA First Committee Resolution on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (A/RES/67/53) initiated a process to advance negotiations towards a FMCT, including the convening of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE).

Canada traditionally co-sponsors several resolutions including a Japanese-led resolution (Res/68/51) on nuclear disarmament which, among other things, calls for more progress on achieving nuclear disarmament through the implementation of the “13 Practical Steps Toward Nuclear Disarmament” that were agreed at the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well as the annual resolution on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (Res 68/68) which, calls for the entry into force of the CTBT.

Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons

Canada is concerned about the devastating consequences of a nuclear detonation. We welcomed the 2013 Oslo and 2014 Nayarit Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons as valuable opportunities for fact-based discussions on the issue.

Canada supports a pragmatic and step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament, the last step of which would be a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) to ban the development, production, use, and possession of nuclear weapons, while setting a clear timeline for irreversible and verifiable nuclear disarmament. In Canada’s view, NPT universalization, entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) are more practical and realistic options to pursue in the short and medium term.

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