At the NATO Ministers' Meeting

A gaggle of lab-coated women made their way along a Halifax sidewalk, warning the local citizenry of a disease that was reaching epidemic proportions. Armed with medical charts, glossy pictures of disease symptoms, and an elaborate portable electronic detection device, these latter day Nightengales were throwing their own safety to the wind by diagnosing other Haligonians for the dreaded MOGS disease.
The medical team was led by Dr. M. Mutandis of D.D. Research Associates of Halifax. Mutandis had spent months diagnosing a sufferer of MOGS (officially called Milito-Genital-Confusion-Dependency-Syndrome) and reached the conclusion that the disease brings defensive and phobic reactions marked by a tendency to rely on strength rather than brains, to bully rather than negotiate, and an urge to teach "the enemy" a lesson. The disease is so named because its subjects cannot distinguish between sexual and military behavior.
Dr. Mutandis and the other self-sacrificing members of the D.D. Research Associates team found that the outbreak of MOGS coincided with a meeting of Foreign Ministers held in Halifax, the first such meeting in Canada since 1972. Mutandis made a surprise appearance at the rally sponsored by the Atlantic Peace Coalition, and found that the 800 person crowd was MOGS-free. So too was the 36 hour vigil held in a downtown Halifax park.

By Fergus Watt

For days before the May 29-30 NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting, Halifax echoed with screaming sirens. Platoons of motorcycled police raced around and around downtown blocks, practicing for when their escorted limousines would be full of world leaders and military officers. Roadcrews worked around the clock filling nasty potholes so NATO honchos would be sufficiently impressed with the high quality of our tarmac to a- ward us a $800 million contract for a low level fighter base. The drone of a helicopter was heard overhead, ready to warn of any throng of malcontents that might be gathering.

The Gathering of the Malcontents

And gather we did. The Innu people of Labrador and Eastern Québec gathered in Halifax because they don't want the number of low-level fighter planes that scream over their villages increased to 150 a day. People from Prince Edward Island gathered because they don't want to be blackmailed into accepting their own tax dollars to build missile systems to protect "Canadian" airfields in Germany. People from Halifax gathered because they were outraged over the days of uncritical hype the local fourth estate had given a group that was promoting chemical weapons production. People from Upper Canada gathered to watch and learn what it means to promote peace in a city whose major employer is the military.

Some of the malcontents, eight representatives of the Atlantic Coalition, led by Muriel Duckworth, were able to express their opinions to Canada's Minister of External Affairs, the Honorable Joe Clark, before the NATO meeting began. In this thirty-minute interview, David Nuke of Sheshatshit presented the objections of the Innu people in Labrador to low-level flying exercises over their territory. Others spoke against the presence of nuclear-capable vessels in Halifax Harbor. Mr. Clark listened, but his response offered no hope for new, creative changes in Conservative foreign policy.

An Ominous Opening: The End of SALT II

The political tone of the NATO meeting was set by an American announcement that the United States was no longer going to consider itself bound by the limitation of the SALT II agreement. Virtually every one of the other 15 nations within the NATO bloc expressed strong disagreement with the unilateral American announcement. For at least six of the NATO governments it was the second time in a week that they found themselves disagreeing with the American approach to arms control, having "strong reservations" about the U.S. decision to produce binary chemical weapons. It was clear that no new arms control proposals could be expected from this bunch. Indeed, NATO Secretary General Lord Carrington's proposal of a free-wheeling, nonstructured agenda was as good an indication as any that there is no NATO arms control agenda.

The paucity of NATO arms control proposals was in evidence at a Dalhousie University-sponsored symposium entitled NATO: Towards the Year 2000. Organized by the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, participants consisted mainly of military officers from various nations and Canadian strategic studies academics. The conference, held at the Halifax naval establishment HMCS Stadacona, featured a luncheon address by the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, General De Jager of the Netherlands, and was open to attendance by the media and public. Not your general interest sort of thing, but part of the opinion-shaping apparatus of NATO, financed by the sixteen member governments, with a little extra effort provided by the host government defence department.

Lost Opportunities in Arms Control

That the arms race is going to continue unfettered was an assumption built into almost every presentation. The only paper on arms control, "Lost Opportunities in Arms Control," was given by retired Canadian Admiral Robert Falls. He pointed out what to arms control advocates was obvious, but what needed to be said at this conference--that NATO did not take kindly to criticism, that NATO paid little except lip service to arms control, and that it seemed to many that the United States was increasingly disdainful of arms control. Falls's presentation was the last of the day and tended to end the conference on a pessimistic point.

Falls was once Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, a senior post that brings contact with the governments of NATO countries, not just the military apparatus. It was interesting that the only other homage to arms control came from the current Chairman of the Military Committee, General C. De Jager of the Netherlands. In his address, De Jager spent a couple of paragraphs acknowledging the legitimacy of arms control as a pursuit. The lesson, it would seem, is that when NATO commanders are removed from the military milieu and take on political responsibilities, political realities change perceptions. That reality includes the fact that western publics are still not willing to pay for the level of military expenditures demanded by the generals.

Innu Don't Wear Ties

While Falls was speaking to a depleted audience at the end of the afternoon, Joe Clark was meeting with a handful of Atlantic peace activists and a representative of the Innu people of Labrador and eastern Québec. While NATO might not have set a concrete agenda for the meeting, Canada definitely had one of its own--to hard sell the other fifteen countries on the idea of establishing a large low level flight training base at Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay.

Clark did not tell the Innu or the activists what they wanted to hear. Little wonder. The government had already planned a whirlwind tour of the north for the foreign ministers, including a lavish banquet where Crosbie announced that on top of the millions already spent pitching the base, he had found $150,000 for the local Chamber of Commerce types to convince the rest of Canada that the base was a good idea. The Innu showed up to tell their side of the story, but they couldn't get in the door because they weren't wearing ties.

The base would permanently house 150 fighter-bombers, with aircrews being rotated in. There they would practice conventional bombing runs, nuclear bombing runs, and if the U.S. goes ahead with its aerial chemical bomb, that too. Screaming over the terrain at 100 feet, they will destroy the Innu peoples' traditional economy, disrupt wildlife migratory patterns, pollute and scar the environment. It will also make an entire region of Canada economically dependent on the continued arms spiral, and be the first permanent NATO base in Canada. The way NATO is headed, it may not be the last.

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1986

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1986, page 7. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Fergus Watt here

Peace Magazine homepage