What is Star Wars Doing to Canada?

When President Reagan first announced his lnterest in a Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) in March of 1983, the speech was commonly dismissed as the musings of an inveterately idealistic old man, off on a somewhat more cockeyed than usual meander down Coastal Highway One in California. Certainly the full implications of what he was saying did not receive serious attention.

By Coleman Romalis | 1985-06-01 12:00:00

"When Reagan first announced it, everyone laughed," says Montréal film consultant and long-time peace activist Dorothy Rosenberg. "There's an incredible rapidity with which that has changed. It used to be a fantasy. Now it's become serious, especially since Reagan's offer in Québec for Canada to participate in Star Wars research and development. Once the offer was made, we had to face up to the reality of it."

This has been especially so in the last six months when the Reagan Administration has been laying the political foundations for a crash program in the development of the first stages of a Star Wars anti-ballistic missile defence system. The "invitation" by Administration spokespersons to US allies to "get on board" or be left behind in the technological dust, the absurd 60-day deadline laid down by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for making the decision, the claim (by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Fred Ikle) that SDI is no mere bargaining chip, but "central" to US strategic defence policy, have taken the United States and her western allies by storm.

According to Tom Dimoff, an analyst affiliated with York University's Institute of Strategic Studies, Star Wars is nothing less than "an attempt to change the fundamental doctrine" of mutually-assured destruction (MAD), which has preserved nuclear peace for the last forty years. No longer is the United States prepared to rest its security on its ability to deliver a devastating nuclear counterbiow to any Soviet first-strike. In the words of a briefing paper prepared by members and staff of the distinguished Canadian Group of 78, "Star Wars is a crash program designed to achieve a decisive edge over the Soviet Union" in space-based warfare technology.

How long before the onslaught of policy declarations and ultimata was such a campaign in the planning stages? On the evidence of technological developments in the nuclear arms race, the answer must be 'for a number of years, at least though the 1 980s.' In retrospect, many tecnological innovations -including the development of highly accurate Pershing II and cruise missiles, the acceleration and increasing militarization of NASA's space program, the orbiting navigational satellites (NAVSTAR) which have transformed the Navy's submarine-launched Trident missiles from relatively inaccurate second-strike blockbusters into highly accurate MIRVed first-strike weapons of truly monstrous proportions, begin to fall into place. So do the scattered comments by Reagan and by Zbigniew Brezinski regarding the condeivability of a "limited" nuclear war, and reports by the Pentagon and Secretary Weinberger that the US must strive to prevail in a protracted nuclear war.

Ready To Renounce ABM Treaty

Does all of this make any sense? Only if one considers that American military preparedness rests on the willingness to make a nuclear first-strike against the Soviet Union, specifically aimed at taking out the bulk of their nuclear arsenal decapitating their communication command and control systems and using Star Wars to screen out the much-reduced retaliatory ballistic launch from the crippled enemy.

Orbiting battle stations, weighing up to 100 tons each, built with the assistance of the Canadarm of which we are so proud, would direct the first phase of the defence against those Soviet ICBMs not destroyed in their silos by the US preemptive strike.

It is at this point that the magnitude of the integrated "defence" system based on an offens~ve first-strike becomes fully clear: nuclear depth charges (some of which the US planned to store in Canada, as William Arkin recently revealed) will disable the Soviet submarine fleet, and the North Warning System being built in Canada will pick up the remaining slower, retaliating Soviet bombers and ground-hugging cruise missiles, which will be taken out in an unimaginably gigantic hunt-and-destroy encounter someplace over Canada.

The American goal, in all this, is to sustain and tolerate an acceptable" level of nuclear retaliation, while the enemy will be totally destroyed.

The Canadian role in this plan is not confined to the passive provision of airspace for a nuclear battleground between the Soviet and American forces. American nuclear-armed submarines use Canadian ports; the guidance system for the first-strike cruise missile wsa developed and manufactured at Litton Systems in Toronto; the air-launched cruise is being flight-tested in Canada; tactical neutron bomb artillery cartridges have been tested on Canadian military firing ranges; and, despite Defence Minister Erik Nielsen's disclaimers, the North Warning System is an integral Star Wars link. A World Federalist brief issued in March 1985 puts it this way:

"The groundwork for a Canadian anti-ballistic missile role was laid in 1981 when the NORAD agreement was renewed. At that time Canadian Defence officials, seeing Star Wars Systems on the horizon, removed the following important clause from the Canada/US NORAD agreement:

'This Agreement will not involve in any way a Canadian commitment to particzjpate in an active ballistic missile defence.'

"The fad that this clause was removed without the knowledge or consideration of Parliament. ..was revealed to the public three years later by Operation Dismantle. ..[andl raises serious questions about the role (or lack thereof) of elected Canadian officials in North American defence planning."

Despite being aware for years of the American initiative in shifting from a doctrine of mutually-assured destruction to nuclear-use theories (or, as Ernie Regehr and Simon Rosenblum wrote in 1983, from MAD to NUTS), the peace movement has nevertheless been caught somewhat unawares by the speed with which the Reagan Administration has advanced Star Wars development.

The difficulty of organizing opposition to the program is also compounded by the confusion in the public's mind about exactly what Star Wars is -- especially since Reagan and his advisors have engaged in doublespeak with their consistent references to providing a "defensive screen" for North America that would free the world of nuclear terror by making such weapons, in Reagan's words, "impotent and obsolete." A population which has grown to maturity living in fear of instant vapourization is only too happy to grasp at such a possibility -- even if it does promise to be phenomenally costly.

Public Confused About Star Wars

The only problem is, Star Wars is quite an insane undertaking. In a brilliant critique in the April 11th New York Review Of Books, former Undersecretary of State George W. Ball reveals how few American technical experts were consulted or even informed of the contents of Reagan's Star Wars speech until it was delivered.

Ball also emphasizes how greatly interpretations of SDI vary among such key members of Reagan's administration as Defence Secretary Weinberger, Director of US Arms Control and Disarmament Kenneth Adelman, and principal Geneva negotiator Max Kampelman -- and how naive a conception is apparently held by the President himself.

In Strasbourg this month, Reagan shifted ground substantially from his 1983 and 1984 re-election campaign statements, acknowledging now that the primary goal of SDI is to protect missile emplacements and not civilian populations. On May 10th, in a debate at York University between Kent Stansberry, the Star Wars project director in the US Defense Department, and John Polanyi, a scientist at the University of Toronto, Polanyi noted that all this confusion results from the fact that the idea is being developed as it goes along."

In George Ball's analysis, the technical problems in building a Star Wars system seem insurmountable and, even in their research and development stage, will nullify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty which has been a cornerstone of global security.

"The Soviets," Ball writes, "understand this is a critical change in US policy, setting in motion driving forces that will quickly acquire ever-increasing momentum. Thus on February 19, the Defense Department announced that in 1987, two years earlier than planned, it will use the space shuttle to test ways of tracking and targetting enemy missiles in spacel a measure that may well violate the ABM treaty."

In fact, there is no question that SDI research breaks this treaty one of the most important nuclear era treaties the Americans and Soviets have yet negotiated. Article V of the ABM treaty states that 'each Party undertakes not to develop, test or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based." President Reagan's readiness to renounce the treaty is a good indication of the depth of his mistrust of all arms control agreements with the Soviets. His first choice, always, is to achieve an intimidating technical and military superiority over them, in the face of 40 years of contrary evidence that such a strategy has no long-range pay-off.

If the Canadian peace movement has been caught off-balance by the speed and ambiguity surrounding Reagan's Star Wars project, so has the Conservative Government. In what can only be described as an evolving Mulroney style of policy formation, a confusing and contradictory series of disclaimers and trial balloons have issued from Tory Cabinet members and the Prime Minister himself, as to whether they were invited to the Star Wars party, whether they would go if invited, and how the North Warning System and Star Wars are "totally unrelated."

Because of the extraordinary discipline maintained over the Conservative Party by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. it has been difficult to detect what divisions and contrasting views of Star Wars exist within the Tory caucus or Cabinet. Nobody dares to leak their dissent, while Mulroney's own position remains as blurred as the day he set out to unseat former party leader Joe Clark. During all the bluster and denials along with occasional repetitions by Clark, Mulroney and Erik Nielsen of false claims as to the potential economic and technological spin-offs that could be realized by participation -- the Government appears to be sidling ever closer to the American camp, even while looking in the opposite direction.

External Affairs Minister Joe Clark has been made to look particularly bad, at first asserting that Canada would have no part in a Star Wars scheme, and then, when the pressure was turned up, doing a flip-flop to say that it was 'only prudent" for Canada to contemplate research cooperation. At different times he has appeared irresolute, incompetent, and craven in the face of the hawkish masters of his Party.

Nonetheless, there is a strong ray of hope. As this article is being typeset on May 16, Clark has yielded to the storm of opposition protest to his exclusion of SDI from the Green Paper on foreign policy, and has apparently consented to put off the decision on Star Wars participation for three or four months, while the issue receives public debate.

It's safe to say that at this point -- unless the peace movement can muster an unparalleled public outcry -- the task force appointed to explore the invitation will find it "only prudent" to participate in research -- 'but not deployment," as if that were possible. So much for the Canadian middle way.

SDI Generates Dangerous Uncertainty

Fortunately, on the Star Wars issue, the peace movement is not alone in rallying opposition. Indeed, as never before, Reagan's vision has succeeded in making foreign affairs into a front-page issue. Without being too meticulous Canadian newspaper editorial and columnist opinion seems to be running heavily against Canadian participation, largely on the grounds that Star Wars is ill-conceived.

The Globe and Mail has closely covered the unfolding SDI proposals, and editorialized vigorously against them, reflecting the strong concerns of Jeffrey Simpson. The Toronto Star has also recommended keeping distance. In Vancouver, Gary Marchant, an End the Arms Race (EAR) coordinator, reports that the Sun opposes Star Wars, and is running numerous letters to the editor attacking participation. Hardly a day passes that doesn't see a story or opinion piece on Star Wars in the major newspapers, most of which are negative.

Like many in the peace movement, Marchant is buoyed by the media reaction and by what he sees as a general public suspicion of the program.

"I think it's going to be a shot in the arm, just like cruise was," he says. "A few months ago, the press was portraying the peace movement as on the sag. Now there's a whole resurgence. A lot of new people have been coming into the office -- different categories. There were some who saw the cruise as a weak issue, who justified it on some ground, that we have a NATO obligation, or that it was necessary just to keep good relations with the United States. But now they feel that with Star Wars we just keep getting ourselves in deeper and deeper, that it's time to take a stand or there won't be any end to what the States will ask us to do."

Anne Adelson, from the Toronto Disarmament Network Education Committee, reports a similar reaction. "I really do feel we can win this one," she says. "The media the way they've come out against Star Wars. This is something new."

According to Anne Swarbrick, a member of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and Metro Toronto Labour Council (MTLC) peace and disarmament committees, 'the Government has put the emphasis on job creation and economic recovery, and by tying it so much to involvement in the arms race, they've made it into a high-news item."

Canadian involvement in the arms race and Star Wars is "polarizing" opinion, says Swarbrick. "It crystallizes the issue in people's minds. People can no longer deny it, by saying it's a distant issue; it's their Prime Minister talking about it, This gives us something to organize around. Maybe Canada getting into Star Wars can work to the peace movement's benefit."

As a peace activist within organized labour, Anne Swarbrick represents a positive trend toward greater union involvement. A major injection of support came during the first week of April, when Canadian United Auto Workers' Director Bob White held a news conference at Toronto Disarmament Network headquarters to announce his commitment to the TDN Anti-Star Wars Campaign. "Very few jobs result from defence research," White said. "It's dishonest for the Government to ask people to choose between jobs and peace. There are ways of creating jobs that will not escalate the arms race as.. .Star Wars does."

"We must demonstrate our sovereignty, express some common sense, and refuse to be drawn into the quicksand of the latest horror in arms escalation," White concluded.

Sam Ginden, head of research at the UAW, says their position is quite straightforward. "Star Wars won't increase security, it will be incredibly costly, and it won't create jobs. Even if it did produce jobs, we wouldn't want them that way benefitting from the arms race.

Ginden says that the UAW involvement has been spurred by the escalation after the Reagan Administration started to build up the arms race. The Canadian UAW opposed testing the cruise, and "we started really to make commitments in the last four years or so. We've raised the issue at the UAW Canadian Council, which meets quarterly. We want to let the activists take the lead, and to let the rank-and-file know that their elected leadership considers this a legitimate issue.

"Now activists are able to bring it up as an issue at the local level, without feeling isolated. When some of the rank-and-file members attended some peace demonstrations, they s w for the first time that the peace movement wasn't just a bunch of hippies, and they felt better about it. Especially when they saw how the numbers were under-reported by the media. But there's still quite a gap between being in sympathy and being an activist," says Ginden.

"We've always taken a clear position on this. There's a question here that goes beyond the issue of jobs. One Important mistake people make is that they assume workers only respond on an economistic basis. In fact, they respond on a political basis. If they accept Cold War assumptions, then they accept that it's necessary to do certain jobs for patriotic reasons. So you have to mute these Cold War assumptions, get them to see that they're incorrect, and that there's another way of understanding things."

As Ginden sees it, until recently the labour movement has really been secondary to the peace movement in carrying the weight of active opposition to the arms race. "What we have to do is marry them," he says. "We'll be talking to our people at De Havilland and Spar."

For some who have worked in the peace movement for years without being able to get the public's ear, the sudden prominence of "their" issues is incredible and welcome even though, in Star Wars, it derives from a crisis of sorts. When the problems are so glaringly apparent that they bring together the Globe and Mail and the peace movement, activists can no longer be dismissed as an assortment of single-issue cranks.

Nor, for a change, does the Canadian coalition of peace groups feel isolated in carrying forward their opposition. When the testing of the air-launched cruise was on the table in Canada, it sparked little interest in the US or in Europe (where they were already feverishly attempting to halt the deployment of ground-launched cruise and Pershing missiles). Even in Canada, only a narrow majority opposed testing the cruise, and the awareness of European events remained at a low ebb indeed.

All of this has changed with Star Wars. British Foreign Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe's March 15th speech questioning the desirability of SDI, and asking whether it might not "generate dangerous uncertainty," can be taken to reflect a substantial body of opinion within Margaret Thatcher's hawkish Government. And the May 3rd condemnation of Star Wars by no less than London's prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies represents the view of some of the finest strategic analysts around.

In recent weeks, large numbers of Canadian scientists and engineers have signed petitions to the Government requesting them to eschew participation in SDI research. In a petition circulated from the University of British Columbia to several other universities, 749 signatories opposed research participation, and pledged that "we will not cooperate" if Canada accepts the invitation. According to the UBC computer scientist who organized the petition, the signers were not solely academics, but included many scientists and engineers from the private sector. Similar petitions have also been sent to the Government from other institutions, among them 605 scientific faculty, staff and graduates from McMaster University in Hamilton, and 40 members of the computer science department at the University of Toronto. With this mounting opposition, the Conservative Government may find that it makes political sense to be reserved in Canada's attitude toward Star Wars.

It remains now only for the American peace movement to mobilize itself, the media, and the thoughtful elements within the Democratic and Republican parties. They must work assiduously to penetrate the fog of "defensive" rhetoric laid down by the Reagan Administration, to reveal Star Wars for the unworkable, dangerous, and hare-brained scheme that it actually is.

Because Star Wars is such an all-encompassing technological and doctrinal departure from the global security which has been so shakily achieved, it has succeeded in mobilizing hitherto inert elements in society. Perhaps, if the Canadian Government finds the wisdom to back away from President Reagan's neighbourly "invitation," some good will come of Star Wars after all.

Peace Magazine June 1985

Peace Magazine June 1985, page 11. Some rights reserved.

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