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In a nuclear age, peace is the only choice

Authors: Senators Mobina Jaffer and Yuen Pau Woo

As the threat of catastrophic war looms over Northeast Asia, Canada has a duty to help de-escalate tensions in the region before it’s too late.

Last November, North Korea tested its newest long-range missile, the Hwaesong-15, which could threaten any city in North America.  This is the latest addition to an arsenal that already has the ability to devastate the heavily populated cities of surrounding countries.

The American response has not been reassuring. Sharp rhetoric from both the White House and Congress has put the United States on a collision course with the rogue state of Kim Jong-Un.

The worst case is nuclear war, and despite claims from the White House, North America may be more vulnerable than many assume.  

Ballistic missile defence (BMD) systems are not fool-proof.  If anything, the complacency that comes from misplaced faith in BMD could make a peaceful resolution to the crisis more difficult, while endangering lives on both sides of the Pacific.

Currently, there is only one system capable of stopping North Korea’s Hwaesong intercontinental missiles — Ground-Based Midcourse Defence interceptors. Experts say that it is a near-perfect defence against North Korea, with a 97% chance of shooting down a missile if four interceptors are used.

While these may seem like good odds, there is one glaring problem: the US has only 44 of these interceptors at its disposal. In other words, if North Korea fires more than 11 missiles — including any number of decoys — the chances of successfully stopping a missile attack plummet.  The problem is compounded.

Even in the best case scenario — where North Korea lacks the ability to effectively aim and control their intercontinental ballistic missiles — relying on ballistic missile defence systems is a reckless gamble that puts millions of lives on the line.

The world is closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  As a non-nuclear state with a history of peacemaking, how should Canada respond?

We should recall the words of Lester B. Pearson in his Nobel Peace Prize speech 60 years ago:

“What is needed is a new and vigorous determination to use every technique of discussion and negotiation that may be available, or, more important, that can be made available, for the solution of the tangled, frightening problems that divide today, in fear and hostility . . . .”

In the face of nuclear war, diplomacy is the best option. Indeed, it may be the only option. In this respect, Canada has already demonstrated leadership by hosting an international summit in early 2018 to help de-escalate this crisis. This event may amount to nothing, but as Churchill said, “Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War”.

Canada’s special relationship with the United States, and our generally positive history and standing in Asia, put us in a privileged position to advance diplomatic solutions to the Northeast Asian nuclear crisis. We have already succeeded in securing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s commitment to co-host a meeting of foreign ministers to address the threat of North Korea in early 2018, despite aggressive rhetoric from the United States. Every effort should be made to also secure the highest level of representation from China, which may hold the key to a peaceful solution for the region, and — as importantly — a pathway for economic development in impoverished North Korea.

Uniquely recognized as an honest broker on the world stage, Canada has a responsibility to employ its international standing to create a space for all sides to hear each other out and find a peaceful solution to what amounts to existential threats.

Another Canadian was in Oslo December 10 to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow received the award along with colleagues from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.  She knows better than anyone the horrors of nuclear war.  We should heed her advice to avoid a recurrence at any cost.

This article appeared in the December 25, 2017 edition of The Vancouver Sun.