Swords into ploughshares

When Ernie Regehr and Murray Thomson started Project Ploughshares in 1976, their initiative was only supposed to last six months.

Just over forty years and many awards and accomplishments later, Ploughshares stands as one of the leading peace research organizations in Canada.

How did it all begin?

The seeds of Ploughshares were first sown four decades ago when two groups of people, each working separately on a common concern, came together.

Ernie Regehr—witnessing the links between militarism and under-development while working in southern Africa—teamed up with Murray Thomson (then-Director of CUSO) in 1976 to create a Working Group called “Ploughshares.” With the help of a bit of seed money and support (from CUSO, Canadian Friends Service Committee, Conrad Grebel University College, and Mennonite Central Committee), they studied the role of the international arms trade in impeding social and economic progress in developing countries.

Meanwhile, that same year, John Foster of the United Church had also convened a Working Group called “Canadian Defence Alternatives,” which aimed to educate the public on the increasing militarization of national security policy in Canada.

When these two groups merged together, Project Ploughshares was born.

10_LPK_TheLittlePeacekeeper_01-035-300x400

“Let us beat our swords into ploughshares,” by Evgeny Vuchetich (for the UN, 1959).

Emerging as the ecumenical voice on defence policy and disarmament, Ploughshares—formally established as a division of the Canadian Council of Churches—provided a critical assessment of the expansion of the Canadian arms industry, the nuclear arms race, and the impact of the world’s massive and growing stock of “swords” on security and development.

Not surprisingly, calling for the transformation of “swords into ploughshares” (Isaiah 2:4) was not an easy sell with political decision-makers.

As staff wrote in the very first issue of the The Ploughshares Monitor (which hit the shelves in April of 1977),

It is a common assertion of federal politicians and government officials that there is “no constituency” for peace issues. Public interest in the arms race, nuclear proliferation, and related issues is said to be minimal, making it difficult to place these items on the national political agenda. However, people with an active concern about these issues know otherwise. There is a “peace constituency” out there….

Over the decades, Ploughshares has proven that the peace constituency is alive and well!

Our office copy of the very first Ploughshares Monitor (Vol. 1, No.1)!

Serving as the focal point for broader church and civil society participation, they have shaped public policy conversations on some of the most complex international security challenges—from nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, to conventional arms control, weaponization of space, reduction of armed violence, and more.

Some of this work has focused on mobilizing Canadians to act for peace.

In the 1980s, for instance, during a time of deep public anxiety about the Cold War, Ploughshares not only led a high-level church leaders’ delegation to meet with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on nuclear disarmament, but they organized Canadians to send two million postcards to MPs, urging them to oppose the modernization of nuclear arsenals.

Later, in the lead-up to the 2003 war on Iraq, Ploughshares co-wrote Prepare for Peace in Iraq, a statement endorsed by 40,000 Canadians, which helped influence the government’s decision not to participate in the “coalition of the willing.”

Other elements of Ploughshares’ work may have been less visible to the broader public, but have played a significant role in furthering various agendas of the global disarmament community.

indexIn 1986, for example, they created the only database on Canadian military production and exports, still used by international organizations researching the global arms industry.

Since 1987, they’ve published the annual (and popular!) Armed Conflicts Report, which monitors the number and nature of conflicts worldwide.

And in 2003, they initiated the annual Space Security Index project, the first and only comprehensive and integrated assessment of space security.

In addition to providing technical expertise, Ploughshares has co-founded some important coalitions (the International Action Network on Small Arms, Mines Action Canada, etc.) and provided thoughtful leadership on others (like Control Arms Coalition). This civil society collaboration has been particularly important in the development of a convention like the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Since the 1990s, Ploughshares, in partnership with other NGOs, actively and persistently promoted a treaty to regulate the trade and transfer of conventional weapons. In 2013, this decades-long endeavor finally paid off when, after rigorous negotiations, the UN adopted the ATT—a monumental achievement for the disarmament community.

Over the last number of years, they’ve weighed-in on many important public debates: in 2010, they critiqued the planned Joint Strike Fighter Jet program, long before it became top political news; this last year they’ve questioned the government’s $15 billion Saudi arms deal through innumerable op-eds and interviews; and, most recently, they’ve called out Canada—once a disarmament champion—for its absence at UN negotiations to create a worldwide nuclear ban.

IMG_1257WEB

Ploughshares staff, past and present (photograph by Emilia Zibaei–at the 40th anniversary celebration; from the Ploughshares website)

As new staff have come on board, Ploughshares has been able to delve more deeply into research on fully autonomous weapons systems, and to expand into new areas such as refugees and forced migration.

Known for its credible research, precise analysis, and long-term commitment to advancing policies for peace, Project Ploughshares as consistently punched well above its weight.

Where will the next 40 years lead?

Jenn Wiebe is Director of the MCC Ottawa Office and serves on the Governing Committee of Project Ploughshares 

Will Canada “be back” as a disarmament champion?

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines—a disarmament effort that radically curtailed global use (and virtually eliminated trade) of a lethal and indiscriminate weapon.

Canada’s political leadership was front-and-centre in this historic achievement.images1

Since then, great international strides have been made to establish agreements and norms against other weapons that cause grievous suffering to civilians.

Following the model of the landmine treaty, cluster bombs were categorically banned a decade later in Norway. And, in 2014, the Arms Trade Treaty became the first (and long overdue!) global agreement regulating the trade and transfer of conventional arms.

Where is Canada in all of this? Well, in the twenty years since the Ottawa Treaty captured the world’s attention, Canada’s disarmament leadership has waned.

Once a major donor in mine action, Canada’s funding dropped significantly after 2010. Then, in 2015, the previous government passed (with little political fallout) widely-condemned cluster munitions ratification legislation that contravened the spirit and letter of the Convention. And, to date, Canada is the only country of all 28 NATO members not to have signed the landmark Arms Trade Treaty.

While we have seen “sunny ways” on various issues since last fall, there has been barely a whisper on disarmament…until last week.

At a speech in Toronto on October 28 during Disarmament Week, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion acknowledged Ottawa’s historic role in banning landmines, and signaled a number of government priorities for arms control and disarmament—some positive, some a bit ambiguous, and some not-so-good.

Acknowledging the rather troubling fact that Canada has yet to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty, Dion promised to make good on his mandate by “introducing the legislation necessary to join the ATT in the House of Commons by the end of this year.”

Civil society will be eagerly awaiting its full ratification into Canadian law.

06B18LancerCBU2Dion also recognized the need to “make more progress in the elimination of cluster munitions.” Though decidedly short on details, this is welcome news if it means Canada will increase investments in land clearance and victims assistance (as it did recently for landmines in Colombia).

Less welcome, however, is the government’s inaction on closing the controversial legal loophole that allows joint military operations with countries outside the treaty. Such inaction is curious considering that while in Opposition, the Liberals and NDP pushed (unsuccessfully) for amendments that would have categorically ruled out any connection to the use of these lethal weapons.

But the most problematic? Canada’s take on nuclear weapons.

According to Dion’s speech, a ban on nukes—the most indiscriminate, disproportionate, and destructive of all weapons (of which there are still over 15,000)—seems to be a utopian dream.

Canada recently voted against a widely-supported UN resolution to start a process towards negotiations for a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons—backing instead the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty as the “more realistic” approach.

Minister Dion argues a ban isn’t possible, isn’t practical, and is divisive. Disarmament activists, however, argue that the world is rapidly changing, and the step-by-step approach to reducing nuclear arsenals is not only tired, it’s completely broken.

nukefreenow-620x310

Courtesy of ICAN

As billions continue to be spent modernizing nuclear arsenals, a ban is needed. And we should be under no illusion that there will ever be a “perfect” security environment in which to undertake this Herculean task.

Decades ago, a total ban on landmines would have been unthinkable—arguments about national security, military necessity, and their importance in joint military operations were used then, as they are now. Yet the thinkable became possible thanks, in part, to the standard-setting leadership Canada took in advancing humanitarian considerations, even in the face of aggressive opposition from allies.

Indeed, implementing an unequivocal ban on landmines helped contribute to the broad stigmatization of the weapon and encouraged even non-party states to adapt to new norms in military theater.

As a Project Ploughshares staff once said, “advocating arms control and disarmament is an incremental, often tedious activity with surprisingly rapid and successful exceptions—like the Ottawa Process.”

Big change can happen when there is political will.

Does Canada have the will to “be back” as a disarmament champion?

By Jenn Wiebe, Director of the Ottawa Office

What’s the 411 on the Arms Trade Treaty?

During the marathon (by Canadian standards!) election campaign, the Liberal Party claimed its vision for “a more compassionate Canada”—a “sunnier” Canada that would re-engage multilateral institutions, re-invest in public diplomacy, and reverse the decline in foreign aid.

Three months after their win, the Liberals have moved into Langevin Block. Political staffers are slowly (but surely) taking their positions. And everyone in Ottawa has hit the ground running, trying to give legs to the many promises made on the campaign trail.

The slogan around town is, “Canada’s back.” 

arms-trade-treaty-9-728

All photos courtesy Ploughshares.ca

As the newly-appointed Foreign Affairs Minister, Stéphane Dion has a role to play in rebooting Canada’s image (with his renamed department). His mandate letter, while containing a dash of politics-as-usual, also signals some decisive foreign policy shifts—even a re-commitment to peace operations, mediation, and conflict prevention.

To what extent any security paradigm-shift will be implemented remains to be seen. Nevertheless, one encouraging step is the promise to sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Given the widespread accessibility of cheap weapons has been a key factor in exacerbating conflict and fueling displacement around the world, MCC welcomes this promise. The illicit flow of small arms and light weapons (even a steady trickle across porous borders) can wreak havoc, destabilizing communities, negatively impacting development, supporting the emergence of extremist movements, and even sustaining the power of autocratic regimes. Weapons diversion is, according to the UN Secretary-General, a “colossal problem around the world.”

Massive injections of arms from the outside can have a destabilizing effect across entire regions. After the fall of Gadhafi, weapons that were poured into Libya by the international community—which was arming various actors within the conflict—began feeding terrorist movements in Mali, Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon. It’s also no secret that so-called Islamic State militants are well-armed because they’ve laid claim to Soviet, Chinese, and American weapons seized from over-run (U.S.-backed) Iraqi military bases.

In other words, the international community—with its $1.76 trillion annual arms trade—has a role to play in ensuring volatile contexts don’t get flooded with weapons that provide corrupt governments or armed groups with the primary means of perpetuating violence and intimidation.

Bullet Proof treatyEnter the Arms Trade Treaty. Coming into force just in time for Christmas of 2014, the ATT is the first (and long overdue!) global agreement regulating the trade and transfer of conventional (non-nuclear) arms, ranging from light weapons to fighter jets, armoured combat vehicles, and warships, as well as their related ammunition, parts, and components. The treaty imposes strict conditions on arms transfers (export, import, transit, transshipment, and brokering), requiring states to assess the potential for weapons to be used in committing serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.

All said, it’s a crucially important convention. But, of course, it ain’t perfect.

Critics will note (quite rightly) a central weakness of the ATT—that the assessment and authorization of whether an arms transfer risks undermining peace and security is undertaken solely by the exporting state. In other words, the treaty doesn’t really challenge the political interests of arms exporters (not a huge shocker; after all, what did we expect?). And while there are transparency measures, there is no enforcement regime.

Yet the creation of the ATT acknowledges the enormous costs of not regulating the arms trade. Besides, what other instrument puts states on the hot seat, forcing them to justify their arms sales to gross human rights violators?

So, whither Canada?

Well, to date, Canada is the only member of the G7 and the only country of all 28 NATO members not to have signed the landmark treaty.

The rationale of the previous government? That Canada already has a strong export-control system for weapons.

Canada’s track record, however, tells a different story. Recent deals to countries such as Colombia, Nigeria, Libya, and, most notably, Saudi Arabia, raise troubling questions about how the government determines who it sells weapons to.

Federal export controls require that when selling arms to countries with persistent records of serious human rights abuses, Canada must first obtain assurances that there is no reasonable risk the weapons could be used against civilian populations.

Stop the violenceGiven that Saudi Arabia annually tops the charts as being among the worst human rights violators in the world, how could Canada’s (largest-ever) $15 billion contract to sell armoured vehicles to the Saudi National Guard pass muster? Far from being merely “jeeps” (as Trudeau called them on the campaign trail), these vehicles—some of which will be weaponized with turrets and cannons supplied by a European subcontractor—are surely capable of mass destruction.

Still, the foreign affairs minister is standing by this contract for its economic value (though taking some flak for this position). Yet acceding to the ATT is in his mandate. It’s right there in his letter.

Yes, I recognize that foreign policy is, as one columnist recently put it, “more about dark arts than sunny ways.” State interests rule. But I’m still holding out hope. Effective arms control is possible when there is political will (and public support).

Sure, the ATT is flawed, and it isn’t a panacea. Conflicts won’t simply end tomorrow because of it (though they will be harder to carry out and sustain!). Yet it is a tool that outlines how governments can, and should, exercise greater restraint in the weapons trade—a tool that can help shift norms and behaviour over the long-term.

That is a critical achievement indeed.

Jenn Wiebe is MCC Ottawa Office Director

  • Listen to Project Ploughshares Executive Director, Cesar Jaramillo, interviewed on CBC Radio’s Day 6: “Is Canada failing to live up to its human rights commitments with its arms deals?”
  • Read Ernie Regehr’s Disarming Conflict: Why Peace Cannot be Won on the Battlefield (2015): Chapter 7, A Treaty to Control the Arms Trade.
  • Check out a joint letter (by partners such as Project Ploughshares) to Minister Dion, calling for Canada’s rapid accession to the Arms Trade Treaty.
  • Take a look at the Ploughshares Monitor from summer of 2015, featuring an article on the arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

 

Seeking alternatives: Are nonviolent responses to terrorism possible?

We live in a context of growing fear—fear about terrorism.

Few terms have so furtively made their way into our daily discourse. Yet while the specter of terrorism has gained a sense of urgency in our homes, churches, and communities, most of us have only a vague impression of what it is.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Courtesy of Conflict & Security: Thoughts on conflict, security, and international relations

The word “terrorism” has been used in distinct ways throughout the centuries to describe a wide range of actions and actors. First popularized during the French Revolution (1793-94) when it was used (rather positively, I might add!) to describe the methods wielded by the revolutionary state, the term “terrorism” has since shifted to describe actions against the government (such as the anti-colonial movements of the 1950s and 1960s), and, more recently, nebulous movements that have political causes and networks beyond national borders (such as al Qaeda and ISIS).

Despite decades of formal attempts through the United Nations and other bodies, the international community has failed to come to a consensus on a universal definition for the word “terrorism.” Indeed, shifting terminology—such as “insurgency,” “terrorism,” and “violent extremism”—identifies the complex challenge of violence today.[1]

While there is no consensus definition, however, virtually all experts point to two identifying components of “terrorism:” the targeting of civilians and the cultivation of fear. One basic definition suggests that terrorism is violence motivated by political, social or religious ideology and used to invoke fear and bring about change.[2]

What can people of peace do to respond?

MCC has once again produced a resource intended to assist Anabaptist-Mennonite congregations across Canada as they plan for Peace Sunday on November 8, 2015. Entitled “Crossing to the other side: Living as people of peace in a time of fear and terror,” this year’s Peace Sunday Packet does not provide easy answers to the co0adb8e09d02a0ad9cff4cc16d79f3916mplex questions of our time. But it does invite congregations and other groups engage in worship, reflection, and conversation about what a hopeful peace church response in a time of fear and terror might look like.

But are nonviolent responses to terrorism possible?

Beyond the worship resources and stories provided in the Peace Sunday Packet itself, we are also offering some suggestions for alternatives to violence. While not constituting an exhaustive list, these suggestions may provide a starting place for individuals, organizations, and churches to start thinking about nonviolent responses to the fear that terrorism creates:

  • Understand the root causes of terrorism: Seriously examining what terrorist groups are saying and doing—their histories, motivations, how they interpret and apply their ideas, what tools they use for recruitment, etc.—is vitally important work. Understanding the causes of violent extremism is the first step towards effective intervention, and critical to ensuring we do not respond in ways that make matters worse in the long-term. Read more (see p. 2)…
  • Support initiatives that restrict the flow of weapons: Given the ways in which widespread availability of arms serves to multiply the force of terrorist organizations, it is crucial that the international community stop flooding conflict zones with cheap weapons that only serve to fuel violence and prolong human suffering. Read more (see p. 3)…
  • Encourage inclusive political dialogue: Understandably, governments often are hesitant to engage in dialogue with terrorist groups for fear that doing so will serve to condone extremist positions and legitimize their tactics. As many experts are recognizing, however, talking to insurgent groups or terrorist organizations is not the same thing as agreeing with their aims. More to the point, dialogue is often necessary for achieving long-term peace. Read more (see p. 4)…
  • Invest in local peacebuilding initiatives: At a grassroots level, preventing violent extremism and building local peace requires addressing the push-pull factors that drive individuals to participate. In addition, community-based initiatives that mitigate and resolve inter-religious conflict, increase social cohesion, and enhance ethnic and religious tolerance are also vital for countering extremist ideology and fostering long-term peace. Read more (see. p. 5)…
  • Build relationships with the “Other” here at home: People concerned with peacebuilding can reach out in friendship to Muslim neighbours and other newcomers, contact local associations to learn more about their work; create forums for inter-religious dialogue our own communities; visit local mosques to learn about their faith practices; and work in partnership for common goals. Read more (see p. 6)…

For the full Peace Sunday Packet, related stories, and this full supplementary analysis, check out MCC Canada’s Peace Sunday 2015 page.

Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office director. 


[1]
Lisa Schirch—Research Professor at Eastern Mennonite University, and Director of Human Security at the Alliance for Peacebuilding—describes these terms as follows: “insurgency” is an armed rebellion against a state or international authority such as the UN; “terrorism” is a tactic used by non-state insurgent groups or by states themselves; and “violent extremism” is a contagious, global movement that may have insurgent and terrorist characteristics. Schirch, Lisa, “Peacebuilding Approaches to Violent Extremism,” (2015 Draft). Forthcoming publication.

[2] Hoffman, Bruce, “Chapter 1: Defining Terrorism,” Inside Terrorism (Columbia University Press, New York: 1998).

Seeds of peace in the desert

This week’s blog is written by Mark Tymm, currently serving with MCC as Peace and Justice Assistant for the Department of Ethics, Peace & Justice in Chad. Mark is a former MCC Ottawa Office intern.

IMG_1118

With Dogos Victor, my supervisor and the Coordinator of EPJ (April 2015)

I recently boarded a plane in N’Djamena, Chad, and returned to North America after completing my second term with MCC. During the past year I have been serving with the SALT program, working as Peace & Justice Assistant to MCC’s long-term Chadian partner, the Department of Ethics, Peace & Justice (EPJ).

It’s been an interesting year to serve overseas and to monitor issues of peace and justice both in N’Djamena and around the world. My year has been filled with learning about the Chadian context, building connections between MCC and its partners, learning Arabic, and improving my French. Additionally, I had the amazing opportunities to manage a water project in a displaced-persons camp, and work closely with some remarkable people.

In the mid-1990s MCC encouraged its local partner, the Coalition of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Chad (EEMET), to address issues of injustice and conflict. As a result, the Department of Ethics, Peace & Justice (EPJ) was created.

Since then, EPJ has become a recognized leader among Chadian organizations in the field of interfaith conflict transformation.

EPJ’s peacebuilding work brings together religious leaders from Catholic, Evangelical and Muslim backgrounds. In our week-long seminars, we sit together, eat together, schedule time for both Muslim and Christian participants to engage in prayer and worship services, and, of course, provide Arabic and French translation of all our speakers. We discuss the importance of peace in the central African country. We invite guest lecturers to speak on Islamic peace traditions. We plan sessions on mediation and nonviolent conflict management, and always leave lots of time to address questions, discuss in small-groups and review practical case studies.

IMG_1370_1

Women in central Chad gather in Mongo to discuss peacebuilding (April 2015)

Our programs are well-known and respected among Chadians, and we have been welcomed and endorsed by the local government in each province we have worked in.

The act of the religious leaders actively engaging together in peace dialogue is recognized by the public as an important step in the right direction, especially given the challenging experiences Chad is undergoing.

As a pacifist I am often challenged to know where to stand on various issues. Not least of these are the security threats that face Chad: to the north, a civil war rages in Libya; on the eastern border, conflict shrouds Sudan; the southern region of the country has suddenly become home to over 100,000 who have fled violence in Central African Republic; now, Nigeria’s challenges with Islamic extremist group Boko Haram are spilling in from the west. In the past several weeks, the group has been responsible for four bombs in N’Djamena that have left dozens dead and hundreds wounded. Thankfully, I have been told that these events have not been particular sources of division or discontentment between Christians and Muslims in the capital.

What is a peace-loving boy from Chilliwack, BC to say? That the Chadian military should disband when the general population trusts them for their protection? That local law enforcement should not be apprehending insurgent cell groups in the Chadian capital?

How do we find a balance between witnessing to the powers who seem to be trying desperately to protect their own people, and rejecting the use of force to contain violence?

What can be said is that although the Chadian military is regarded as a force to be reckoned with in conventional warfare, like many other militaries around the world, it seems ill-prepared to deal with the unique challenges it is now facing.

Dealing with complex security issues—like extremist violence—certainly isn’t a simple task. Programs that promote anti-radicalization, initiatives that help narrow economic disparity between peoples, and projects that build community across religious or social divisions take years of work, stable civil society organizations, and a very engaged and involved public. Without the time to establish these civic structures, I am at a reluctant and unfortunate loss of words for how to contain violence in the present.

And yet the AK-47s posted on street corners don’t seem to be doing much better to promote peace either…

IMG_0849

Local pastors in N’Djamena meet to discuss conflict transformation (March 2015)

I used to think most of these challenges had easy answers: “Violence, even defensive in nature, is never acceptable.” “People should look past their differences and accept others.” That has changed. Certainly, I haven’t abandoned any of my nuanced Anabaptist perspectives on the importance of peacebuilding, reconciliation, or justice-seeking. If anything, my convictions and passion to contribute to these efforts alongside respected local partners have only deepened and grown. But I recognize the complexity of dealing effectively with the challenges violence brings.

And so our work continues. Progress is made one small step at a time. Muslim and Christian leaders come away from our workshops as friends, and begin new relationships built on mutual understanding and respect. They call each other in times of conflict to make sure that the others family is safe. Slowly, walls of division are broken down and bridges of relationships are built.

To be sure, there are days of uncertainty, but we see small glimmers of hope in our pursuit of peace and justice.

From a bunker to a ban: the new push to abolish nuclear weapons

If you’ve never had a chance to wander the eerie, underground halls of the once top-secret Diefenbunker, you should put this on your bucket list.

Built in 1959 during the height of the Cold War, this four-story bomb shelter—located evacuation-distance from downtown Ottawa and made to withstand a 5-megaton blast—was intended to serve as emergency government headquarters for 535 Canadian political and military officials in the event of a nuclear attack.

The bunker, colloquially named after former Prime Minister Diefenbaker, was never used for its intended purpose. Thankfully, it never needed to be.

Walking through the bunker is like being in a time-warp. The iconic blast tunnel leads to 300 rooms filled with vintDiefenbunkerage typewriters and telephones, cryptographic areas, a shower room to wash off nuclear contamination, and a war Cabinet room—all hearkening back to a time when the fear of nuclear catastrophe gripped politicians and citizens alike.

Today, public angst has diminished. School children aren’t receiving lessons on how to “duck and cover” in the event of nuclear war. There is a virtual media blackout on the topic. And the bunker, a fascinating relic of our Cold War past, is now a public museum.

And yet when it comes to nuclear weapons, unfortunately there is still plenty to be worried about.

Though they belong in the dust-bin of history, there are still over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals—nearly 5,000 of which are launch ready, and almost 2,000 of which are on high-alert status.

A few weeks ago, I attended Rendezvous-Ottawa 2014—a two-day conference on nuclear abolition hosted by various organizations such as the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Project Ploughshares, and Mines Action Canada.

For two, chock-full days, we heard about the impacts of nuclear weapons, exploottawa-clear1ring the inability of any city to respond with effective emergency relief after a detonation, and learning about the long-term and far-reaching devastation to ecosystems and human health (a.k.a. nuclear famine) in the nasty wake of an explosion.

I must admit that by noon on the first day, my spirits were a little dampened.

The humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons—utterly indiscriminate in effect—are catastrophic.

The world is rapidly changing, and the incremental reduction of nuclear weapons is not working. The principle of Mutually Assured Destruction is no longer a viable argument—if, indeed, it ever was—for keeping these (insane) weapons in the world’s arsenals. The possibilities for nuclear Armageddon due to system malfunction, human error, a rogue launch, or weapons-capture by extremist non-state actors mean we continue to walk the razor’s edge.

Yet power politics, state intransigence, the profit-driven military industrial complex, and lack of public awareness create obstacles to getting rid of these weapons once and for all.

So, how do we revive the conversation? Well, there was also good news at this conference.

Disarmament efforts continue in earnest, with the humanitarian imperative becoming the rallying cry for renewed attention. When you leave discussions to technical experts in our state capitals, it is easy to get stuck in the weeds. But when the need to abolish nuclear weapons is framed as a humanitarian issue, we all become experts.

Given that nuclear weapons states are in violation of their commitments under Article VI of the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—they are required to eliminate their nuclear weapons, not spend obscene amounts of money modernizing their arsenals!—many civil society groups are pushing for a global ban on the weapon.

And when civil society gets behind something, magic can happen.

Ottawa is the site of the historic landmine ban treaty. When it was negotiated in 1997, civil society groups successfully argued that the humanitarian impacts of landmines far outweighed any military benefit these weapons offered in combat. This same argument helped drive the international ban on cluster bombs roughly ten years later.

Banning these weapons has had significant ripple effects. A robust treaty calling for an unequivocal ban on landmines ultimately helped stigmatize this indiscriminate weapon, leading even non-party states (like the U.S.) to adapt to new norms in military theater.

Can a ban on nuclear weapons do the same?

nukefreenow-620x310

Courtesy of ICAN

The International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) believes it could. They suggest a “ban treaty“—a legally binding instrument to prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling, and deployment of nucs—could be important even without the participation of the permanent members of the Security Council.

Such a treaty could not, of course, force nuclear weapons states to do anything. But it would lift up a global norm to project into the public and, in doing so, give a boost to other ongoing disarmament efforts (after all, it’s a lot easier to prevent the proliferation of weapons when they are considered illegal!). A ban treaty could stand alongside ongoing efforts to achieve a comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention.

Where is Canada in all of this?

Back in 2010, the government unanimously passed a historic motion made by the House and the Senate “to engage in negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention as proposed by the United Nations Secretary-General” and “to deploy a major world-wide Canadian diplomatic initiative in support of preventing nuclear proliferation and increasing the rate of nuclear disarmament.”

Canada has never taken concrete steps to implement this motion. It is not a foreign policy priority. In fact, Canada has been increasingly out of step with international efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Can the humanitarian angle be a catalyst for dusting the cobwebs off of this conversation and generate the momentum we need?

By Jenn Wiebe, Interim Ottawa Office Director

**See the fall special issue of the Ploughshares Monitor on nuclear disarmament for further reading!

 

A gentle nonconformity

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:3

For Anabaptists, Remembrance Day is often a day of dilemmas and discomforts. It is a day when our pacifist convictions collide with the mainstream perspective that says killing and dying for one’s country is a noble thing. It is the time of year when many of us feel most out of sync with our society.

In 1989, Bertha Landers, a Mennonite pastor who felt this way approached MCC with an idea for a peace button (more accurately, a peace pin) that could serve as an alternative to the Remembrance Day poppy. Like many Mennonites, Landers was uncomfortable wearing a traditional poppy. She thought a simple button could offer a message of peace.

peace buttons

MCC’s peace button is 25 years old this year.

MCC embraced Landers’ idea and the iconic MCC peace button was born – a round, red button with the MCC logo and the message “To remember is to work for peace.” Twenty-five years later, MCC continues to distribute thousands of buttons each year. Over time the peace button has become a symbol of gentle nonconformity, even as some folks choose to wear the button alongside a poppy.

Nonconformity has traditionally been an important concept in the life of Anabaptist-Mennonites. In the 16th century, the emphasis on nonconformity arose out of biblical teachings on holiness and godly living, obedience to Jesus’ teachings, and a willingness to accept suffering. Romans 12:3 was an important and instructive text. Over the centuries, the application of a commitment to nonconformity resulted in specific guidelines on lifestyle, the use of technology, and dress. Nonconformity also embraced a commitment to Jesus’ way of nonresistance – the refusal to coerce, harm or kill another.

Today, some Anabaptists in Canada continue to practice a visible nonconformity. But many of us have abandoned any sign of visible nonconformity and are indistinguishable from our neighbours. We wear the same kinds of clothes, drive the same kinds of vehicles, and vacation at the same resorts. Sadly, some among us even support the same wars. For a variety of reasons, we hardly stand out.

And yet, perhaps a nonconforming Anabaptist perspective – one that offers alternatives to war and violence – is a gift which Anabaptists have to share. Perhaps a nonconformist commitment to nonviolence and love of enemy is exactly what our society and the wider world need right now.

Dauda Babangida, left, and Abubakar Idris participate in a popular MCC-supported Peace Club in Wase town, Nigeria.

Dauda Babangida, left, and Abubakar Idris participate in a Peace Club in Wase town, Nigeria. MCC supports clubs like this one in many countries.

A nonconformist pacifist perspective is core to the identity of Mennonite Central Committee. This perspective means that at Remembrance Day we will mourn the thousands of Canadian soldiers who have died in service to Canada. We will also mourn all people who have suffered death because of war: over 100 million in the last century. We will remember those who were killed but also those injured, disabled, displaced or traumatized by war. We will work hard to support peacebuilding initiatives around the world that heal trauma, that foster justice, that teach nonviolent conflict resolution, that promote reconciliation, and that prevent war.

Our nonconformist perspective means that we will deeply mourn the deaths of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Office Patrice Vincent, killed violently on Canadian soil during the week of October 20. But we will also mourn the deaths of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the young man who shot Cirillo, and Martin Couture-Rouleau, who rammed his car into Vincent. As reprehensible as their actions were, these men were Canadians, they had families who loved them, they were children of God.

Our nonconformist perspective means that we will condemn all acts of violence, including those perpetrated by the group known as ISIS. But we will also seek to understand the root causes of that violence and call for efforts to address them. We will ask our Prime Minister to reconsider the decision to supply fighter jets for a military mission against ISIS which, without attention to the political, religious and sectarian differences already exacerbated by foreign intervention, will surely fail.

MCC's Peace Sunday Packet for 2014

MCC’s Peace Sunday Packet for 2014

Our nonconformist perspective means that we will regularly remind ourselves of our identity as a ministry of peace churches, committed to Jesus’ way of peace, nonviolence and love of enemy. We will provide resources to help us embody God’s dream for the world – swords turned into ploughshares and a world without war. We will invite others to join us in pursuing that dream. And yes, we will distribute peace buttons.

November 11 is once again upon us. At MCC, we believe that Remembrance Day is an opportunity to offer a gentle nonconformist witness for peace. Remembrance Day is not the time for a noisy condemnation of war – that would be deeply offensive to the many people who have lost loved ones in military service. It is a time for gently saying – there is another way.

by Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.