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Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation

Canada’s policy on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament is based on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and reinforced by related initiatives. Canada seeks to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, reduce existing stockpiles, and irreversibly eliminate e them.

Canada strongly advocates for non-proliferation and a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament. This approach involves having all states join the NPT, bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force and negotiating a treaty on fissile material.

Canada works closely with States and organizations to pursue nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, including through:

Canada is also taking steps to prevent States and Non-State Actors from acquiring nuclear weapons and related materials, technology, and knowledge, both through Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program and through implementing commitments arising from the Nuclear Security Summit process.

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Nuclear non-proliferation treaty

The government of Canada remains deeply committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) (1970), which remains the only legally binding global treaty promoting nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

The NPT has 190 members; India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Sudan have not joined, and North Korea announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2002.

At its core, the NPT outlines a three-part bargain: States not possessing nuclear weapons commit not to acquire them; the five “Nuclear-Weapons States” (China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and United States) agree to pursue good-faith negotiations aimed at nuclear disarmament; and all NPT States Parties undertake to facilitate international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, fully in line with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Safeguards are the means by which the IAEA verifies that nuclear facilities are not misused, and nuclear materials are not diverted from peaceful uses. NPT States Parties conclude legally binding safeguards agreements with the IAEA which provide the Agency with the authority to conduct technical monitoring and verification activities within the State. Based on its findings, the IAEA draws safeguards conclusions which provide credible assurances for the international community that States are abiding by their Treaty obligations.

Review process

Every 5 years, NPT States Parties meet to hold a Review Conference, allowing them to review the treaty’s implementation and work to strengthen it. The last one was held in 2022.

During the 2000 Review Conference, the NPT States agreed to “13 practical steps” to achieve nuclear disarmament goals (including the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), and the “unequivocal undertaking by the Nuclear-Weapons States to eliminate their weapons stockpiles). At the 2010 Review Conference, NPT States agreed to the 64-item Action Plan on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. At previous two review conferences, NPT States Parties have not been able to reach agreement about steps forward.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Canada strongly supports the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Its entry into force is a key component of the step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament and of nuclear non-proliferation.

The CTBT prohibits all nuclear explosions, including nuclear weapon tests. By banning such tests, the CTBT helps prevent States from developing nuclear weapons or improving them.

The CTBT is not yet in force, and will only come into force once all 44 countries listed in Annex 2 of the Treaty ratify it.  That number includes all states possessing nuclear weapons. A special conference has been held every 2 years since 1999, where States that have ratified the CTBT may consider measures to accelerate entry into force.

Along with Japan, Australia, and the Netherlands, Canada has co-hosted a Ministerial-levelFriends of the CTBT” meeting every 2 years since 2002, to further encourage countries to ratify and bring the treaty into force.

Canada ratified the CTBT on December 3, 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.

Institutional support for the CTBT

In preparation for entry into force, the CTBT is being provisionally implemented by the Preparatory Commission (PrepCom) for the CTBT Organization (CTBTO). This organization is associated with the UN and is based in Vienna. The CTBTO works to develop the treaty’s verification system.

Verification of the CTBT is being done with an extensive system developed to monitor compliance with the NPT. It has 3 main parts:

  1. the 337 monitoring stations and laboratories located around the world, forming the International Monitoring System (IMS)
  2. the International Data Centre, which collects and distributes the data from the IMS
  3. the on-site inspection regime, which will allow the CTBTO to visit suspected nuclear test sites on a State Party’s territory

Canada strongly supports verification efforts by the CTBTO. Sixteen IMS stations and laboratories are located in Canada. These stations can help detect nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, underground, or underwater.

Treaty on Fissile Material 

Canada also prioritizes negotiation of a treaty on fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Such a treaty would halt the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and could also address stockpiles of fissile material, and thus eventually halt the production of nuclear weapons. This represents a part of Canada’s step-by-step, practical, verifiable approach to nuclear disarmament.

Canada has been a leader in the international community on the effort to commence negotiations of such a treaty. In 1995, Canada’s then-Ambassador for Disarmament, Gerald Shannon, brokered the first real agreement on a negotiation mandate. Although the Shannon Mandate was used to launch an Ad-Hoc Committee to negotiate a treaty in 1998, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has been unable to adopt a Program of Work allowing negotiations to begin in earnest. The CD’s stalemate is due to lack of political will on the part of some states possessing nuclear weapons, and the abuse of the CD’s consensus rule under which any state can block work under any pretext.

To support incremental progress, the UN General Assembly passed a Canadian-led resolution in 2012 that created an FMCT Group of Government Experts (GGE), which made recommendations on possible aspects of a fissile material cut-off treaty.. The GGE met from 2014 to 2015 under Canadian chairpersonship, and its consensus report contains the most recent and relevant thinking on the substance of a future treaty. Following this, the UN General Assembly passed another Canadian resolution, co-sponsored by Germany and the Netherlands, creating a 25-member  High-Level FMCT Expert Preparatory Group to build on the work of the GGE and to make recommendations on substantive elements of a treaty, in advance of its negotiation.

Participation in the GGE and the Preparatory Group was geographically diverse and inclusive. All five Nuclear-Weapons States as recognized by the NPT, as well as India, and 19 Non-Nuclear Weapons States participated. The Preparatory Group’s work was linked to the broader UN General Assembly through two open-ended informal consultative meetings which were held in New York in March 2017 and February 2018. This unique mechanism helped to engage the broader UN membership in the work of the Preparatory Group.

At its final meeting in June 2018, the Preparatory Group succeeded in negotiating a robust consensus report recommending elements of a future treaty. Canada continues to support the commencement of formal negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a treaty that will help end the nuclear arms races worldwide.

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Peaceful uses of nuclear energy

Canada promotes cooperation in the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear technology consistent with its obligations under the NPT and other international agreements. This is done through collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Canada’s bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreements.

The peaceful uses of nuclear energy also contribute to Canada’s commitment towards the Sustainable Development Goals including in areas such as energy, human health, food production, water management and environmental protection.

Nuclear cooperation agreements

Canada’s nuclear non-proliferation policy establishes the conditions under which Canada is prepared to undertake nuclear cooperation with partner countries. Any country wishing to enter into nuclear cooperation with Canada must conclude a legally-binding Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (NCA) that includes:

The provisions of NCAs apply to items directly or indirectly exported from Canada. They also apply to non-Canadian equipment or nuclear material used in conjunction with Canadian nuclear items and to equipment manufactured on the basis of technology provided by Canada.

The status of Canada’s NCAs and the texts of the NCAs that are in force can be found under the “Bilateral” section of the Canada Treaty Information Database.

Nuclear and radiological security

Since 1993, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (PDF version) has received voluntary reporting from its member states confirming 4,075 incidents involving nuclear or radiological materials as of December 2022. Canada’s goal is to reduce the likelihood of nuclear weapons and materials falling into the wrong hands.

The consequences of a single act of nuclear or radiological terrorism would have catastrophic humanitarian, political, environmental and economic consequences on a global scale. Canada is committed to continuing shared efforts to enhance security of radiological and nuclear materials, given remaining gaps in global capabilities to prevent the trafficking of radiological and nuclear materials.

Canada continues to strongly support international efforts to enhance the security of nuclear and other radioactive materials in order to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism both domestically and abroad. For instance, Canada has provided over $78 million in voluntary contributions to the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund since 2003. This allows IAEA Member States to access assistance to strengthen nuclear security. Canada also works closely with international partners on universalizing and implementing key international nuclear security instruments aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism, such as:

Nuclear Security Summit process

Canada strongly supported the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process between 2010 and 2016. The NSS process made an important and lasting contribution in addressing the urgent and immediate threat to global security posed by nuclear terrorism. The summits provided a unique opportunity for Canada and leaders from 52 countries, to focus on making commitments to prevent nuclear terrorism by strengthening international nuclear security. There were 4 Summits held in:

Through our Weapons Threat Reduction Program, Canada made significant commitments in the NSS process. At the 2016 NSS, $42 million was committed for nuclear security projects overseas, including supporting international organizations and initiatives such as the GICNT, INTERPOL, and the IAEA.

Implementation of Canada’s commitments from previous summits are captured in Canada’s National Progress ReportCanada’s National Statement outlines the commitments made at the 2016 Summit.

Canada also signed up to a number of additional commitments that aim to further strengthen nuclear security. These include issues such as cyber security, mitigating threats posed by insider personnel, nuclear forensics, certified training, among other topics. The majority of these have been shared in the context of the International Atomic Energy Agency as information circulars to allow for more states to support them.

Strengthening nuclear and radiological security

The Weapons Threat Reduction Program (WTRP) supports programming initiatives to enhance international nuclear and radiological security, as well as to prevent the trafficking of nuclear and radiological materials.

Canada’s main activities as part of this program are:

Key initiatives

Verifying nuclear disarmament

A central component to any nuclear disarmament effort, such a treaty on fissile material, or elimination of nuclear weapon stockpiles, is the ability to verify that the participants in the treaty implement their non-proliferation and disarmament obligations. This could include, for example, not producing new fissile material for nuclear weapons, or destroying existing nuclear warheads. Such transparency helps the other states involved in the treaty to feel safe and confident in their own disarmament.

Canada’s primary engagement on nuclear disarmament verification is focused on our contributions to the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) and the 2022-2023 UN Group of Governmental Experts on Nuclear Disarmament Verification (NDV-GGE).

In December 2014, the United States government and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) think tank launched the IPNDV, which focusses on developing key verification techniques. Participating states include all G7 states and many Non-Nuclear-Weapons States.

Experts from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories participate in the meetings of the Partnership’s four working groups, as well as the annual IPNDV Plenary.

In addition to technical and policy expertise, Canada has provided financial support to the Partnership. Since 2017, Canada has provided $2.5 million dollars through GAC’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program to support IPNDV activities, including hosting international meetings, conducting exercises and launching an online portal for experts.

Further to the IPNDV, in 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on nuclear disarmament verification. The work of the GGE concluded in 2019 with the adoption of a consensus report to advance nuclear disarmament verification. In November 2019, Canada co-sponsored a United Nations resolution to establish a subsequent GGE and successfully presented its candidacy to participate. The GGE recently concluded its final meeting and will be presenting the final consensus report to the UN General Assembly in 2023.

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Relevant UN Resolutions

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