Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
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Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

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Controlling Weapons of Mass Destruction

Our ultimate goal is the total elimination of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and introducing effective controls on their means of delivery. We also aim to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear power in a safe and secure manner.

The illicit possession and spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (Weapons of Mass Destruction, or WMD), and their delivery systems, gravely threaten Canada's national security.

State or non-state actors could jeopardize our national interests at home or overseas. Rapid advances, in and the spread of, scientific and technical knowledge, seem likely to increase this threat. But decisive action now could prevent these problems from worsening later.

Canada's Goals

  • Work toward the total elimination of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

  • Introduce effective controls on the means of delivery of weapons of mass destruction.

  • Promote safe, secure, and peaceful uses of nuclear power.

What we're doing

  • Decisive, successful action against WMD requires strategies that move beyond political-diplomatic policy negotiations and international institutions. It also takes active involvement by other government departments.

  • Proliferation poses a collective global challenge: it needs a collective global response. Export control regimes are only as strong as their weakest links; multilateral negotiations are only as strong as the commitment of participating states.

Canada's security strategy combines effective national policies and activities with bilateral cooperation, working with multilateral organizations. These include the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Conference on Disarmament. Furthermore, Canada works in other fora such as the G8, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the United Nations.

Removing motive in response to the WMD threat

Canada seeks to:

  • Remove the motives to develop, acquire or illicitly retain (and possibly use) WMD, by increasing the political and economic costs of doing so.
  • Reduce the perceived benefits of WMD.
  • Address the conditions that proliferators exploit to justify acquiring and retaining WMD.

Multilateral treaties create a powerful international norm against developing WMD. They also help to deter, complicate, and raise the political costs of pursuing WMD. Examples of such treaties include:

Supporting effective verification, by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), for example, also helps deter non-compliance, and build confidence in states' undertakings.

Verification efforts force states that pursue WMD into expensive denial and deception efforts. These raise the costs of their WMD programs, helping to limit them. Effective inspections can reveal illicit development, and promote greater openness and transparency. Sanctions against states or other groups that illegally pursue WMD also help raise political and economic costs of proliferation.

Finally, we can reduce perceived benefits of owning or threatening to use WMD against us, through the continuous review of effective defensive and emergency management capabilities – including civil defence. These efforts show our determination to face any threat of WMD.

Wider peace-building and conflict prevention policies, such as working to re-energize the Middle East Peace Process, or encouraging closer ties between India and Pakistan, also help our non-proliferation and disarmament aims.

Controlling access to WMD-related material and technology

Canada relies on a mix of national and multilateral export controls on sensitive goods, technology and expertise, to help control or deny access to WMD-related material and technology at home and abroad. Export control regimes (see listing) bring like-minded countries together to set international standards to control exports of WMD-related equipment and material.

Canada's Global Partnership Programme, which was launched during our country's Presidency of the Group of 8 in 2002, helps address threats posed by the Cold War legacy of WMD and related materials, initially from the Russian Federation. There, the Programme is helping to dismantle decommissioned nuclear submarines, destroy Russia's extensive chemical weapon stocks, upgrade protection at nuclear facilities, redirect former weapons scientists into other work, and improve biosecurity and biosafety.

To help control existing stocks of WMD-related materials, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 requires all states to enact and enforce domestic controls to prevent non-state actors from gaining WMD-related materials.

Intercepting illegal shipments of WMD-related items – for example, under the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) – also disrupts or cuts unlawful WMD trafficking networks to further deter illegal proliferation.

Dealing with individuals as WMD proliferators

Traditional arms control initiatives involved negotiating treaties between states. A series of recent terrorist attacks, most notably the September 11, 2001 attacks against the USA, have brought into sharper focus the reality of terrorist groups' ability to act. They have demonstrated the intent and capacity to do so and are constantly seeking new instruments to carry out attacks. The international community is increasingly preoccupied with the potential dangers of WMD falling into the hands of non-state actors.

It is therefore crucial to deter the people who help to develop WMD from proliferating weapons, material and know-how. Buyers and suppliers play critical parts in any weapons development program, as do the scientists, engineers and technicians who piece together weapons.

Intelligence, military and law enforcement services are cooperating to identify people involved in illicit WMD activities. When they find them, UN Security Council Resolution 1540obliges states to ensure that proliferation-related activities are treated as criminal, and that proliferators are punished.

Cooperative threat-reduction projects in the former Soviet Union (e.g. Nunn-Lugar Amendment; G8 Global Partnership) gainfully employ former WMD experts, to reduce chances of their knowledge being sold to the highest bidder.

Canada remains committed to the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament, consistent with our NATO membership. Until this occurs, we recognize that continued deterrence is a key to dissuading potential aggressors that may threaten our national security.

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Date Modified:
2014-01-08