About the League
The League is a non-governmental civil defence initiative promoting citizen-centric civil defence in a world where sudden nuclear war is again increasingly possible.
We encourage public education in personal safety know-how for nuclear attack scenarios. And we advocate for community fallout shelter programs as well as general preparedness for other types of disasters and emergencies.
Above all else, we work to revive nuclear civil defence preparedness on the part of officials, emergency responders and everyday Canadians – measures that could literally save millions of lives in the event of nuclear war. (We believe nuclear experts like former U.S. Defence Secretary William Perry or the staff of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists who warn that the risks of a nuclear conflict are actually greater today than during most of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War era.)
It’s 2 Minutes to Midnight.
On January 25, 2018, growing concerns about a possible nuclear war and other global threats have pushed forward the symbolic Doomsday Clock by 30 seconds – to just two minutes before midnight. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) said it had acted because the world continues to become “more dangerous.” BAS President and CEO Rachel Bronson added that “in this year’s discussions, nuclear issues took centre stage once again.”
The clock, created by the journal in 1947, is a metaphor for how close mankind is to destroying the Earth. As the BBC noted, it is now the closest to the apocalypse it has been since 1953, at the height of the Cold War. That was the year when the US and the Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs.
Both Canada and the United State once had extensive civil defence plans to protect their populations in the event of a nuclear attack. And while top government and military leaders today still have an expanding array of secret, super-modern bunkers to save themselves in the event of nuclear war, protections for the general public no longer exist in any meaningful way. A nuclear attack from a state actor, whether deliberate or accidental, could mean literally millions of needless deaths from radioactive fallout.
Russia, on the other hand, despite its financial difficulties in recent years, has embarked on an extensive program of modernizing its community fallout shelters and has revived civil defence training across the country. For example, in Moscow, fallout shelters to protect citizens in case of a nuclear attack are prepared for and can accommodate the entire population of the capital.
Today, in the West, our governments do have emergency preparedness plans, but these are scoped for natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, or man-made ones like chemical spills.
As David A. Shlapak, a senior defence researcher at the RAND Corp. think tank notes, the US Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have examined the consequences of a terrorist nuclear attack, but these have focused on the ground-level explosion of a crude, improvised bomb. None are adequate to deal with an event like a nuclear attack of the kind and scale now in prospect.
“The first step would be to make planners at the local, state and federal levels aware of what the effects of such an attack would likely be,” Shlapak says. “While there are volumes of accumulated knowledge regarding the effects of nuclear weapons, that knowledge has largely faded from the awareness of officials even within the Department of Defense, let alone the other, largely civilian, decision-makers responsible for urban disaster preparedness. This expertise needs to be made available to the right people, in ways that highlight the key decisions that will need to be made in the immediate aftermath of an attack.”
There is a pressing need to reinstitute civil defence measures beyond ensuring the “Continuity of Government” through the survival of top government and military officials. There are currently still nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons in existence, not to mention 1,800 metric tons of stored weapons-grade nuclear materials from which additional weapons could be rapidly manufactured. While these levels no longer threaten “mutually assured destruction,” nuclear weapons use could still dramatically change the world, whether by intent, accident, or unauthorized deployment.
Unfortunately, the broader North American attitude toward nuclear risk demonstrates little sense of urgency, and a dearth of knowledge and understanding. Nuclear weapons historian Alex Wellerstein points out that millennials (born 1981-1997), who grew up largely unaware of the history and danger posed by nuclear weapons are largely complacent about the whole subject. Or they think the use of nuclear weapons would mean Armageddon – the end of the world as we know it and therefore, beyond worrying about. The reality is quite different.
The irony is that, in many ways, it is far easier today to get formal information about nuclear weapons stockpiles, capabilities, and effects than at any previous time in history. Yet something fundamental is missing, notes Wellerstein. The lived experience of nuclear risk has receded for an entire generation. Surveys show that North Americans have lost track of the fact that they live in a nuclear world. And that in itself greatly increases the danger.
While a nuclear war would be terrible, the truth is that the right civil defence measures could easily save millions of lives if properly prepared beforehand and implemented in the immediate hours and days following a nuclear attack.
In an ideal world, of course, we would not have nuclear weapons. But further nuclear disarmament is simply not going to happen in the foreseeable future. In fact, both America and Russia have embarked on an extensive modernization of their nuclear arsenals.
In recent years, America has transformed its main hydrogen bomb into a guided smart weapon, made its submarine-launched nuclear missiles five times more accurate, and gave its land-based long-range missiles so many added features that the Air Force in 2012 described them as “basically new.”
Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has built new, more powerful ICBMs capable of carrying up to ten independent nuclear warheads and also developed a new series of tactical nuclear weapons. Moreover, both sides appear far more ready to deploy these weapons, especially against military targets, than they were just a few years ago.
Civil defence needs to be revived in Canada – at a personal, community and governmental level – to help ensure the safety of millions of Canadians in the event of nuclear attack – something that experts say is far more likely today than most people realize.
Reviving nuclear-focused civil defence is the primary mission of the Civil Defence League of Canada.