An interview with Canada's Disarmament Ambassador, Peggy Mason
Maxime Faille (interviewer)
Maxime Faille: What is the role of the Ambassador for Disarmament?
Peggy Mason: The mandate has three elements. The first function is to represent Canada at the First Committee in the U.N., the Disarmament Commission, and at selected inter-national meetings, such as those dealing with the Non-Proliferation Treaty NPT). The second function is to be the main point of contact between the government and the interested public. For that, I need to travel within the country. The third function is an advisory role to the Secretary of State for External Affairs on arms control and disarmament policy in general.
The combination of these three elements is essential. If my only role were to consult with the public, the public would wisely be suspicious of an ambassador who wasn't plugged into international arms negotiations. Likewise, the consultation with the public is to ensure that the government has an opportunity to sound out its policies with the public while they are being developed.
Faille: How do you expect to fulfill this ambassadorial role?
Mason: I don't think there has been a change in the long-standing approach that Canada has taken, which has been described as "constructive internationalism." However, I would argue that since 1984, Canada has been able to come into its own. For example, in 1984 you could talk a blue streak with the media about Canada and verification, and you wouldn't see many articles. Now we have articles praising Canada for its foresight in having developed expertise in this particular area.
I believe in the step-by-step approach, but incremental change doesn't always have to take forever. One example is what is happening in conventional negotiations in Vienna. The previous negotiations lasted 13 years without reaching an agreement. New negotiations started in March 1989, and there are good prospects for an agreement in 1990. We are active in that, particularly in verification and confidence building measures. I mention that because sometimes people get the impression that verification is peripheral. It is not; it is central and often complex.
Faille: Canada has been promoting roles for women. Does your appointment reflect a belief that it is simply just, or a belief that women have a particular contribution to make, beyond that of men?
Mason: An interesting question. The Secretary of State for External Affairs is committed to ensuring that slightly over half of the Canadian population plays its full part. In full agreement with the Prime Minister, he has moved us from 1984, when we had two women heads of posts, to 13 or 14 today. I am the first Canadian woman to be an Ambassador for Disarmament.
Whether this reflects a belief that women bring particular skills to the area, that is a more difficult question. My involvement in status of women issues predates my involvement with arms control and disarmament issues. Many believe that because women are more cooperative, relational, and less competitive (based on their socialization or whatever), they could bring a more cooperative approach to arms control and disarmament issues. The difficulty that I have with that argument is that Canada's approach to arms control and disarmament is already cooperative. I'm not sure that bringing in more women per se is going to change anything, because our policy already reflects those values. But of course I favor increasing the representation of women because it is a tremendous waste of human resources and grossly unfair not to do so.
Faille: You said that the 1984 election didn't change the priorities. Many would dispute that. The emphasis seems to be more on weapons reductions instead of the cessation of the arms race-including the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB), which now seems downgraded. If our government wants to make a difference, strategic nuclear arms cuts is not an area where it has a role. The superpowers get together, with marginal influence from their allies. Is it not in multilateral issues, such as the CTB, that Canada can have a role?
Mason: We could debate about the actual priorities of the previous government, but it is more useful to focus on what we are trying to do. We have generally not tried to prioritize our six major arms control and disarmament objectives, but we are willing to make one statement on priority. Our highest priority is to achieve the CFR [Conventional Force Reduction] agreement and a confidence building agreement.
You distinguish between the role we can play in the Strategic Arms negotiations (START) and the CTB, but in both cases, the attitude of the key players is crucial. It comes down to the same thing: The United States has to agree to stop testing. The name of the game is to influence the United States.
Faille: But the CTB would be a multilateral agreement which all countries would have to adhere to. The START negotiation is a bilateral issue.
Mason: I disagree with your premise that because one is multilateral we can achieve more progress with it. In both cases, the Canadian approach is based on realizing that our role is to influence other parties to act. We are not testing; we don't have the weapons.
As for the START negotiations, we have strenuously put forward our concerns. We have been especially concerned with sea-launched missiles. As a result of the Jackson Hole meeting between the two foreign ministers in September, some areas are apparently unblocked. They will move ahead on the START agreement. Our government has said that, insofar as this will lead to an early agreement, we are encouraged. But we remain concerned about sea-launched cruise missiles and don't want this dropped.
Multilaterally, there is a step-by-step approach on the CTB. The U.S. says at this time that it needs to continue testing. Therefore, there is a danger that the whole process to develop a CTB treaty will grind to a halt. We will try to focus on the bilateral progress that is being made with respect to ratifying the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, when that is achieved, we want to move onto further restrictions on testing. So, in view of the problems, I don't see that as downgrading it.
Faille: Some would argue that by relaxing the pressure on the superpowers you are hampering the achievement of the CTB. Given the firm positions of the United States and the United Kingdom, is it not appropriate for Canada to call unequivocally for what it believes should be done-a CTB? Particularly at this opportune moment in history!
What is the net gain of these two treaties that are being ratified currently? Many people have criticized this as simply trying to diffuse the mounting pressure for a CTB. These treaties were regarded as outdated when they were signed 10 or 15 years ago. They were not welcomed by the General Assembly, unlike most arms control agreements. Yet they are now being rehashed and they are working on ratifying them. Both sides have been observing them, although the thresholds that have been set are so high as to be useless. The relevance of the verification work that has gone into this has been questioned.
Mason: The fundamental point for Canada is that you can't measure the effectiveness of a country's approach by how loudly it calls for something. It is a question of how to achieve what we want, taking into account the problems. With respect to those treaties, in our view the value of them is that the superpowers are together working out a verification regime that will enable them to
ratify them. We hope to move the process forward. It's too easy to stand in one corner and point and say, "You're in the other corner!" Then they are.
Faille: I appreciate the difficulty in judging. But on some issues [such as South Africa] Canada does hold its convictions quite dear, and we are unequivocal. We do sit in the comer and are uncompromising.
Mason: The question of South Africa is also a question of how to put on effective pressure. In fact, the government would be happy to hear you say that we are absolute on it, because one of the criticisms with respect to South Africa policy is: Why hasn't the government taken the absolute position-mandatory sanctions and so on? Why has it taken a graduated approach?
I don't agree that we have been equivocal about what we want. We have made it clear; the resolution that we co-sponsored is entitled "The Urgent Need for a CTB Treaty."
Faille: Many people argue that an effective way for putting pressure on the nuclear weapons states for a CTB is the Amendment Conference. In the past, Canada has called this an irresponsible misuse of the multilateral arms control process. The reality is that this conference is going to happen. We are pleased to learn that Canada will be taking a "constructive approach."
Mason: Being "constructive" will depend on the dynamics of the conference. It means getting the best possible result out of it.
Faille: What would that be?
Mason: We have been up-front. We cannot foresee that the United States will change its position. We will assess what is realistic and try to advance the cause, rather than harden different positions. We will search for common ground.
Faille: So Canada will not actually be seeking to achieve a CTB at this process because it does not think that it is possible?
Mason: Two of the countries that can veto the outcome have declared their positions. We are deluding ourselves if we think that we're going to get a CTB treaty at this conference. If we are going to be constructive, we have to find real common ground. We feel that it is better to have the Amending Conference after the NPT Review Conference, which is soon (the fall of this year). However, it's not useful for frustration to build up for too long. It would be good to have a preparatory meeting in June.
Maxime Faille is with Parliamentarians Global Action in New York
Hooray for Peace, Justice, and Democracy!