Will Canada’s Investment in New Fighter Jets Help Start a Nuclear War?

Sarah Rohleder, World BEYOND War, April 11, 2023

Sarah Rohleder is a peace campaigner with the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, a student at the University of British Columbia, youth coordinator for Reverse the Trend Canada, and youth advisor to Senator Marilou McPhedran.

On January 9, 2023, Canadian “Defence” Minister Anita Anand announced the Canadian Government’s decision to buy 88 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets. This is supposed to take place in a phased approach, with an initial $7 billion buy-in for 16 F-35’s. However, officials have acknowledged in a closed technical briefing, that over their lifecycle the fighter jets could cost an estimated $70 billion.

The F-35 Lockheed Martin fighter jet is designed to carry the B61-12 nuclear weapon. The U.S. government has explicitly stated that the F-35 is part of the nuclear weapons architecture in its Nuclear Posture Reviews. The thermonuclear bomb that the F-35 is designed to carry has a variety of yields, ranging from 0.3kt to 50kt, which means its destructive capacity at the most is three times the size of the Hiroshima bomb.

Even today, according to a World Health Organization study, “no health service in any area of the world would be capable of dealing adequately with the hundreds of thousands of people seriously injured by blast, heat or radiation from even a single 1-megaton bomb.” The intergenerational impacts nuclear weapons have means that these fighter jets, by dropping a single bomb, could drastically alter the lives of generations to come.

Despite the nuclear legacy these fighter jets could have, the Canadian government has invested a further $7.3 billion in order to support the arrival of the new F-35s according to the recently released 2023 budget. This is a commitment to fuelling war, that will only cause death and destruction most likely in areas of the world that are already the most vulnerable, if not the entire Earth.

With Canada being a member of NATO, Canadian fighter jets could very well end up carrying nuclear weapons belonging to one of the nuclear-armed states that are members of NATO. Though this should come as no surprise given Canada’s adherence to the nuclear deterrence theory that is a key aspect of NATO defence policy.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and achieve nuclear disarmament has failed time and time again to create action on disarmament and has contributed to the nuclear hierarchy. This is one treaty that Canada is a member of, and would be violating should the purchase of the F-35s be realized. This is seen in Article 2 relating to the agreement “not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons .. not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons …” The NPT has been seen to have helped nuclear weapons become an accepted part of the global order, despite consistently being questioned by non-nuclear states, and civil society.

This has led to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which was negotiated in 2017 by more than 135 nations and came into force with its 50th signature on January 21, 2021 signalling a critical step towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. The treaty is unique that it is the only nuclear weapons treaty to outright ban nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also contains specific articles on victim assistance due to use and testing of nuclear weapons and seeks to have nations to help in the remediation of contaminated environments.

The TPNW also acknowledges the disproportionate impact on women and girls and Indigenous peoples, in addition to other harm that nuclear weapons cause. Despite this, and Canada’s supposed feminist foreign policy, the federal government has refused to sign the treaty, falling instead into NATO’s boycott of the negotiations and the First Meeting of State Parties for the TPNW in Vienna, Austria, despite having diplomats in the building. The purchase of more fighter jets with nuclear weapon capabilities only reinforces this commitment to militarisation and the nuclear hierarchy.

As global tensions rise, we, as global citizens, need a commitment to peace from governments across the world, not commitments to weapons of war. This is made even more vital since the Doomsday Clock was set to 90 seconds to midnight by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the closest it has ever been to global catastrophe.

As Canadians, we need more money spent on climate action and social services such as housing and healthcare. Warplanes, especially those that have nuclear capabilities only serve to cause destruction and harm to life, they cannot solve the persisting problems of poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, the climate crisis, or inequality that has impacted people the world over. It is time to commit to peace and a nuclear-free world, for us and for our future generations who will be forced to live with the legacy of nuclear weapons if we do not.

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