Toronto Lectures

By Annabel Cathrall | 1987-06-01 12:00:00

Doug Roche: Our priorities are as deadly as the bomb

By Annabel Cathrall

On March 4, Canada's Disarmament Ambassador, Douglas Roche, gave a Science for Peace Lecture. He discussed the global issues of preparing for the year 2000, rather than the immediate arms negotiations. The following comments are from his address.

Those looking for quick fixes in arms control and disarmament will continue to be disappointed. Despite the urgent need for reductions, the most promising path to a peaceful world of stability, security and social justice is through the broad agenda of the United Nations, where disarmament exists alongside economic and social justice.

The superpowers, with less than 11 percent of the world's population, have 23 percent of the world's armed forces, 60 percent of the military expenditures, and over 80 percent of weapon research. They also have 97 percent of the world's 50,000 nuclear weapons; a total destructive power 1 million times that of the Hiroshima bomb.

While this is going on, the social deficit mounts. Unemployment is at dangerously high levels. One adult in three cannot read and write. One billion people are inadequately housed, and one person in five lives in poverty.

In a UNICEF report on the state of the world's children, we see again terrible figures on the death of children. Every year, 14 million children under five die from dehydration, malnourishment, and diarrhea -- conditions that are easily controllable; UNICEF itself has found an answer through the oral rehydration program. Yet, we still have the "silent emergency" -- the deaths of 280,000 children per week -- twice the number of people killed at Hiroshima. A Hiroshima-scale disaster on a silent emergency basis, but repeated with such continuity that it's now part of the landscape.

We live in a paradox where humanity now faces the greatest danger in its history, yet at the same time we have unprecedented power of creativity. The technology is in our hands to meet the basic needs of every human being, yet we spend vast sums of money on weapons and militarization. Hunger, homelessness, unemployment, and illiteracy continue to increase and the global environment is suffering severe degradation from which it may not recover.

On the positive side, technological progress is dazzling and creative in such fields as medicine, food production (but not distribution), nuclear energy, computers, electronics, communications, and transportation.

Our hope for the future lies in our newly acquired ability to look into the interconnectedness of planetary systems: ecosystems, trading, financial, and political systems. We can see that we stand on common ground, whether of threat of annihilation, or of potential for development.

Continued development of the planet requires an end to the widening disparities between rich and poor nations, artificially introduced by the financial and trading bodies. Reducing regional disparities will reduce tensions; development must be part of the effort to achieve common security. This part of the twentieth century is a dynamic moment and cooperation is necessary.

This summer, the U.N. will hold a conference on disarmament and development, and progress must be made in both to achieve peace. Right now, the military and development interests are competing for resources. We must raise public awareness of disarmament and development issues. We must redefine "security" when, to the world's poor, it means access to food, water, and health care.

We must respect our emotional response to the peril of our planet. Intellectual understanding does not motivate action; emotion does. The basic problem we face is an ethical choice of how we are to live in the global environment; how can the effects of nuclear weapons be evil, while possessing and threatening to use them is tolerable?

Some people fear and distrust the Soviets so much that they oppose any weapons reduction. But the Soviets' desire for reductions is genuine; real changes are occurring under Gorbachev, and more people need to hear about it. We need more peace education, with an integrated approach going to basic questions of life and social arrangements, international law, women, ecology, and the world order.

Written-off before it's tried?

The member of the Globe and Mail editorial board who writes most of the paper's editorials on foreign affairs is Sheldon Gordon In recent years these topics have increasingly been the subject of editorial comment. Nevertheless, Mr. Gordon told his Science for Peace audience that he is rarely sent material by the Canadian peace movement -- a fact that has led him to the conclusion that disarmament activists believe it more effective to stage demonstrations than engage in dialogue to publicize its views.

Over the past several years, said Gordon, the Globe's editorials have agreed less with U.S. positions and more often with Soviet views. For example, it supports a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, strict observance of SALT II and the ABM Treaty, a ban on anti-satellite weapons tests, and scrapping all medium range weapons in Europe.

However, the Globe avoids naiveté about Soviet intentions and is critical of attempts by the official Soviet peace movement to co-opt Western peace movements through relationships with such groups as International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which Gordon views as uncritical of Soviet human rights abuses. (This judgment prompted a debate with some members of the audience.)

Mostly, the present Canadian government tries to be responsive to public and editorial opinion on arms control -- as, for example, in deciding not to participate in SDI research and in supporting SALT II and the ABM Treaty However, Gordon believes the government seems to have little idea how arms control can advance specifically Canadian interests or how to press our interests in Washington; as in our failure to campaign for limitations to cruise missile deployment.

Earlier this year Gordon analyzed what Canada's defence posture should be, given the potential (but not actual) threat posed by Soviet submarines in the Arctic. The Minister of Defence has used this threat to justify buying nuclear powered submarines for Arctic surveillance. They are not necessary, as the same early warning system and interception capability that NORAD will deploy should be adequate for both sea- and air- launched cruises.

Yet, the best defence is not military hardware, but diplomacy -- an arms control treaty blocking cruise missile deployment. Since it is the cruise missile which may complicate Ottawa's defence planning in the next decade, he said, it is cruise missiles that Ottawa's arms control efforts should be trying to curb.

The rise of the Canadian peace movement and the establishment of independent institutes specializing in arms control and security matters, have stimulated more informed public debate. The Department of National Defence, says Gordon, is still reluctant to participate in the debate and is more secretive than the Pentagon. For example, Canadians learned about Ottawa's plans for testing the cruise and for the North Warning System from Washington, not Ottawa.

Except by a nuclear accident, Gordon believes that the superpowers are less likely than some Third World states to start a nuclear war. Last year, while in India for two months, he examined the nuclearization of the Indian sub-continent. He found in India no mass movement and no aroused public opinion for nuclear disarmament. There is some debate about the nuclear option in the Indian press, little in Parliament, and no debate at all on India's defence and atomic energy budgets, though they are large items of public expenditure. India is the key to curbing the nuclear arms race on the subcontinent. It was India which initiated the rivalry with Pakistan when it exploded its first bomb, made with materials from a Canadian power reactor in 1974. Since then Pakistan has been playing catch-up. It probably has nuclear weapons but has refrained from a test blast for fear of outrage in Washington and of India's overt deployment of its weapons in response. Some people estimate that India has enough plutonium to make as many bombs as the U.K.

Reportedly, India considered a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan's nuclear facilities some years ago but abandoned the idea because Pakistan would have been tempted to respond in kind and the fallout from a nuclear exchange would damage India more than Pakistan.

Gordon believes that the U.S., Canada, and other donors of development aid should use their leverage to restrain India and Pakistan, to get them to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and to accept international inspection of their nuclear facilities.

The NPT, however, does not prevent nations from acquiring nuclear weapons covertly and then withdrawing from the treaty on six month's notice. The treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency need to be strengthened if more Third World countries are not to seek their security in nuclear weapons.

Changing Assumptions: A Critique of the Peace Movement

On March 11 a presentation was made jointly by Dr. Tana Dineen, National Coordinator of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and Dr. Lori McElroy from the University of Toronto's Psychology Department,.

They explained that this was to be a conversation, not a lecture, and that the audience should participate; the result was a lively discussion with much audience involvement.

Drs. Dineen and McElroy pointed out that, while the peace movement challenges the assumptions of others (sometimes destructively), it should challenge its own assumptions as well. The presentation aimed to do that.

1. The Notion of Expertise

The peace movement initially challenged the claim that arms control, disarmanent, and world order should be "left to the experts." But then professional peace groups evolved, each one focussing on its area of expertise -- physicians, engineers, psychologists, lawyers, educators. All form discrete groups that compartmentalize the problem into separate packages, thus reinforcing the idea of expertise, which is disempowering.

2. Perspective/Polarization

The peace movement starts with the premise that nations need to see each other better, yet it focuses almost exclusively on U.S./Soviet misperceptions. By seeing nearly everything as East-West, other views are excluded.

The peace movement sounds shrilly anti-American. Is it helpful to our cause to express accusations in black and white terms that make us appear to side with the Soviets? This is not effective in communicating with the public or the politicians, so it does not advance the cause of peace.

3. Blame

The peace movement gets caught up in looking for someone to blame for the whole problem. This is simplistic. There are many parties to the problem and we are all partly responsible for it. For example, blaming the government for testing the cruise ignores all those who voted for this government and their perspective. Moreover, assigning blame suggests inappropriate solutions. Removing Ronald Reagan will not change U.S. military policy. There is no single right way to look at the problem.

Assigning blame is also disempowering. If it's all their fault, how can we solve it?

Analyzing causes of the problem is not the same as assigning blame. For instance, blaming NATO and the Warsaw Pact for the threat of annihilation suggests that getting rid of them would remove the threat. That does not address the long history of dealing with conflict through violence, in which they are both rooted.

4. Weapons

Much peace movement literature focuses on getting rid of nuclear weapons. This is dealing with the symptom, not the problem of conflict resolution. It has been said that the cruise missile issue energized the peace movement. However, an enormous amount of energy has been dissipated in protesting cruise tests, without achieving anything.

Focussing on weapons does not address people's fear of being defenceless. Many, especially in Europe, are terrified of the implications of disarmament. Their fears need to be acknowledged and answered. The problem is not weapons, it is that people resort to violence to solve problems. Yet it is not effective simply to say that we must not use violence. We must develop nonviolent responses to conflict situations if we are to persuade people to give up weapons. Unless we work on this, the movement will remain bogged down and unable to increase its popular support.

5. Conflict

There is a widespread assumption that conflict is evil, that it must be avoided, and that a world without conflict could exist. This is naive. There is also an expectation that when conflict occurs, it will inevitably escalate out of control and lead to violence. This is defeatist.

There are deep splits within the peace movement. We do not acknowledge, let alone deal with, these conflicts. We repress them and get caught in our own cold war. Yet we demand of the rest of the world that it eliminate both violence and conflict, which is unrealistic.

Conflict is an integral part of social interaction. It can be resolved without resort to violence. We need to practice those skills in dealing with one another and the wider world. In so doing, we will break the habit of replicating the combative behavior we so deplore among nations.

These seminars are sponsored by Science for Peace, Canadian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Lawyers for Social Responsibility, Educators for Social Responsibility, World Federalists of Canada, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and Engineers for Nuclear Disarmament. They are held virtually every Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. in room J79, University College, University of Toronto. See the Peace Calendar for upcoming events in the series.

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1987

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1987, page 29. Some rights reserved.

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