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Douglas B. Shaw on what Canada tells us about the nonproliferation norm

My dear friend and colleague, Dr. Douglas B. Shaw, has an outstanding article in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Canada’s role in nonproliferation. Based on extensive archival work, Doug’s piece sheds light on why states may choose not to acquire nuclear weapons. The abstract of the article explains:

The world takes Canada’s non-acquisition of nuclear weapons for granted. Though Canada does not pose a breakout threat from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the course of its nuclear weapons policy is far from simple, including at least two reversals and the electoral defeat of a sitting government. A careful observation of the history of Canada’s nuclear weapons policy illuminates a better understanding of the nonproliferation norm. This author looks at Canada’s restraint from acquisition of an independent nuclear weapons capability, which is often viewed as unremarkable. But the historical record is dense and interesting, shedding light on three important questions. First, why do states seek or reject nuclear weapons? Understanding the Canadian experience may help to explain other states’ nuclear weapons acquisition behavior and support the development of more nuanced policy and international legal instruments for nonproliferation. Second, what specific behaviors constitute compliance with the nonproliferation norm, and can we shape them to promote international peace and security? The Canadian experience suggests that our understanding of nuclear weapons did not spring into existence fully formed. Third, what should NATO’s role be with regard to preventing nuclear proliferation? As security threats evolve and nuclear proliferation increases in salience among threats to NATO members, response to this threat—whether it comes from one rogue state or the instability of the NPT regime—may move higher among alliance policy priorities. The author uses Canada as an example to improve our understanding of when the nonproliferation norm matters—and how competing priorities can be integrated with nonproliferation concerns within NATO.

Fascinating! A very welcome contribution to the scholarly literature.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.