Uncommon Security: Appraising the Special Joint Committee Report on Canada's International Relations
To judge the Special Committee’s report it is useful to have a benchmark for comparison. I will refer to two: the earlier (May 1984) Green Paper (Competitiveness and Security) and Project Ploughshares’s analysis of “common security.”
The title of the Green Paper, Competitiveness and Security: Directions for Canada’s International Relations, was a dead giveaway. That report was, in the words of a Toronto Star editorial, “a foreign policy for accountants.” It assumed that solidarity with the U.S. is fundamental for security. It oriented Canadian foreign policy around two objectives (1) increasing economic competitiveness and (2) political security. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops responded by suggesting the objectives of “global justice” and “global peace” as substitutes.
Following the release of the Green Paper, a special parliamentary committee was set up to study Canada’s international relations. It received 1232 written submissions, heard 461 witnesses, listened to 331 public participants, and organized 30 panel discussions. How well did it finally succeed? Let me list the positive aspects of the report, in no particular order, and then its shortcomings.
The Report’s Positive Recommendations
- “A priority for the government should be to elaborate a Canadian perspective on strategic arms control and disarmament issues.” The report acknowledges that Canadian governments have acquiesced in the arms control positions taken by Washington. The committee recommends that “decisions about defence policy, including the military decisions in which Canada participates as a NATO member, should not be taken without due regard to their consequences for arms control.”
- “We think the government should encourage the U.S. government to undertake a similar [to the Soviets’] moratorium for a period long enough to determine whether agreement could be reached on a comprehensive test ban.”
- “We Canada, in cooperation with other Arctic and Nordic nations, seek the demilitarization of the Arctic region through pressure on the U.S. and USSR.
- “One intriguing idea.. was to establish sanctuaries for each side’s sea-based nuclear deterrent, intended to keep it as far as possible from its adversary’s territory and thereby increase warning time and reduce the risk of inadvertent war…We think it worthy of careful examination.”
- “We are attracted by proposals for an international system to register exports and imports of weapons and munitions as one means of controlling the expanded trade in conventional weapons and we believe that Canada should seek international support for the concept.” Project Ploughshares has pressed for this measure. Openness in arms transfers could help to alleviate the concerns of neighboring states, and reporting could establish a common set of data on which controls and limitations could be based.
- “Reverse present policy and restore international aid targets to at least 0.7 percent of the GNP by 1990.” One can remember when discussion centred around 1 percent.
- “The committee affirms that meeting the needs of the poorest countries and people should remain the … objective of the Canadian aid program… We recommend that assistance to women in developing countries be given priority.”
- “Canadian development assistance should be substantially reduced, terminated, or not commenced in cases where gross and systematic violations of human rights make it impossible to promote the central objective of helping the poor.” And “where countries have a poor human rights record but not so extreme as to justify the termination of aid, Canada’s development assistance should be channeled through the private sector and particularly through non-governmental organizations that work directly with the poor.”
- “Where countries systematically violate human rights…Canada should seek through international organizations to extend humanitarian assistance and to support those struggling for human rights.”
- “Canada should move immediately to impose full economic sanctions [against South Africa],… provide generous . ..direct assistance and … help South Africa’s vulnerable neighbors.” It is unclear what the committee meant by full economic sanctions and whether they should be introduced on a graduated basis or all at once. Indeed, the “correct position” on this matter is not altogether clear.
- “We are all agreed, however, that Canada should continue to oppose outside intervention in the region [Central America], including the funding of such groups as the Contras and the provision of outside forces.”
- “Canada [should] remain generous in providing sanctuary to Central American refugees that are the victims of repression and violence.”
The following areas are particularly disappointing.
- The committee would not urge the U.S. to respect the SALT II and ABM treaties. There was no support in the report for a nuclear freeze and subsequent disarmament measures to reduce nuclear arsenals below the nuclear winter threshold. Although the committee thought the matter worthy of further examination, there was no call for a change in NATO nuclear doctrine to provide for a declaration of no-first-use of nuclear weapons. Such a policy of course would entail the restructuring of military forces.
- While the report favors an international arms trade register, it was strangely silent on the role which Canadian industry plays in the militarization of the Third World. The arms trade (approximately $40 billion annually) distorts the economies of the importing states and exacerbates local political conflicts by making military options more available. Government policy says that Canadian arms should not go to countries which pose a threat to Canada, where there are imminently threatened, or actual hostilities, or where a U.N. resolution prohibits arms exports. However, permits have been granted to countries that have a record of gross violations of human rights. Direct Canadian arms exports to the Third World are valued at about $150 million annually. Canada’s regulations were weakened by the removal, in 1985, of restrictions on exports to “regimes considered wholly repugnant to Canadian values, especially where such equipment could be used against civilians.”
- While the committee did strongly oppose military intervention in Central America, there is no evidence that it considered a Project Ploughshares recommendation that Canada should bring before the U.N. a proposal for a nonintervention treaty. Superpower military interventions are among the most likely triggers of a nuclear war.
- The committee’s attention is fixated on facilitating Third World exports. Sorely missing are two fundamentals: the role that the global expenditure on arms has on world poverty.
- Northern industrial countries would do better by “planned trade” that encouraged economic self-reliance (especially in agriculture) in the Third World countries rather than simply promoting export production.
Assigning the Grade
How can we, on balance, grade the Special Committee Report? In contrast to the earlier Green Paper, this report advocates active participation in world affairs. “Constructive internationalism” is the report’s theme. But rather than submit a grade I will outline some principles of “Common Security” and see how the Special Committee’s recommendations measure up.
The strategy of unilateral advantage is the prevailing paradigm of national security. “Common security” is the perspective which must replace it, and within that perspective, we can discuss both alternative defence and alternative security.
Defence doesn’t have to depend on threats. The new “alternative security” theorists distinguish between destructive and protective capabilities, between defence as attack and defence as the capacity to repel attack. Variously termed “nonprovocative defence,” “defence without offense,” and “just defence,” such an approach calls for:
- Greatly reducing reliance on nuclear weapons.
- Greatly increasing reliance on weapons and strategies based more on defence than offense, using such defensive weapons as precision-guided munitions. This is to signal adversaries that they need not fear attack but that they will not succeed if they attack.
Among the many policy implications for Canada, if this approach were followed, are:
- Opposition to development of nuclear weapons systems designed for first-strike and warfighting purposes.
- Support for a nuclear freeze and subsequent disarmament measures which would quickly reduce nuclear arsenals below the nuclear winter threshold.
- Support for a NATO declaration of no first use.
- Support for eliminating all nuclear weapons.
- Opposition to a NATO conventional strategy of “deep strike” and rejecting a NATO tactical fighter and weapons training centre at Goose Bay, where “deep strike” training exercises would take place.
- Support for a nonintervention treaty.
- Opposition to the use of Canadian territory as a platform from which either superpower can pose nuclear threats against the other.
While alternative defence theory confines itself to the hardware and strategies of military defence, an alternative security system moves the debate away from “weaponitis” and emphasizes the many nonmilitary factors that affect national and global security. First is an awareness that our common insecurity as now assured by the militarization of the planet. Increasingly, wars and environmental decline contribute to famine. In 1985 world military expenditures totalled one trillion dollars. But for the world’s poor, real security-access to clean water, food, health care, education, and respect for basic human rights-remains but a fond hope.
An alternative security system must remove such inequities as the adverse terms of trade, faced by most of the least developed countries; the instability of commodity markets; the relative absence of processing of domestic commodities in the Third World and the unregulated activities of transnational enterprises throughout the Third World. Security depends on the health of the environment, the welfare of individual citizens, a sustainable economy and responsive national institutions. When these are threatened, security is diminished and nations look to weapons for their safety. In the end, these military arsenals have only made the planet more insecure.
On the East-West axis, an alternative security framework instructs both superpowers that neither can increase its own security at the expense of the other. It suggests the importance of enhancing one’s usefulness to would-be adversaries, thus assuring that the rewards of peace always remain greater than the potential spoils of war. And as Richard J. Barnet points out, both superpowers must be prepared to live with a high degree of disorder and instability, which are characteristic of a world experiencing rapid change. To set as a national security goal the enforcement of “stability” is as practical as King Canute’s attempts to command the tides. Real stability can come only with the building of a legitimate international order which offers genuine hope for people. The sort of stability requires change.