Canada's civil nuclear capability - A strategic asset in foreign policy

The global economy and energy markets are in a state of transition. 

Internationally and at home there is growing concern over climate change and the environmental damage it produces. Decarbonizing the economy and reducing GHG emissions are a priority – and a global challenge. Meanwhile, international security is buffeted by big power rivalries and trade wars. Undeclared nuclear programs and wilful displays of warhead and missile testing in some regions have not been resolved. The world does not lack for challenges.

Do we need to respond to these energy, environmental, and international security challenges? Of course, it’s in our national interest to do so. Internationally, it’s for our foreign policy to articulate and pursue that interest.

So what capabilities – technology, innovation, expertise, experience – do we have to tackle the challenges? (To be effective, we need tools and assets.) More to the point: how do we bring national interest and capabilities together in an effective foreign policy? This requires a strategic (or global) perspective.

Canada’s civil nuclear capabilities range from uranium mining to reactor design and clean electricity generation; from producing isotopes for public health and medical treatment to the safe and secure handling of radiological materials and used fuel. The list goes on. In short, we have amassed a formidable expertise across the entire span of nuclear technology.

So much for capabilities. Listing them is not the same as recognizing their potential in tackling the challenges we face – or fashioning policies accordingly. Taking foreign policy to illustrate, let’s briefly see what a strategic assessment says.

First, if a country is to be successful in pursuing its national interest, its foreign policy must have influence internationally. To have influence, the foreign policy must rest on perceived and recognized credibility. National interest objectives and capabilities must be calibrated in light of the diplomatic environment (i.e. the power and interests of other states) if an effective implementation plan is to be put into play. 

Canadian nuclear technology, research and regulatory standards give Canada a world standing in issues affecting climate change, global security and non-proliferation. They give us the basis on which to forge geopolitical relations to meet Canadian foreign policy goals. They give us credibility and influence on matters that affect our national interest – whether it be Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea, nuclear safety after Fukushima, or keeping watch to ensure nuclear technology stays devoted to peace purposes.

How do I know? I saw it as a diplomat and an Ambassador representing Canada abroad. When we spoke on nuclear matters in international forums, other countries listened. Why? Because of the Canadian capabilities and reputation that I noted earlier.

That is why I advocate supporting and integrating Canada’s civil nuclear capabilities into a broader strategic approach to our foreign policy. As a matter of national interest.

In discussions on nuclear security with IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi; Ewelina Hilger, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the DG; Alexandre Bilodeau, Nuclear Counsellor, Canadian Embassy, Vienna - 11 Feb 2020