G·E·O·R·G·E · I·G·N·A·T·I·E·F·F

Two and a half years ago Mr. Ignatieff was interviewed by Alex Dickman, then a first-year student in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto and now a member of PEACE's editorial board. The interview was not published at that time and has stood the test of time. We think it provides an accurate portrait of George Ignatieff's views on defence and international policies.

By Alex Dickman (interviewer); George Ignatieff (interviewee) | 1989-10-01 12:00:00

Alex Dickman: You have had extensive diplomatic experience as our representative to the U.N. Security Council and the Geneva Disarmament Conference. I would like to know how you, as a diplomat, approached conflict resolution.

Ignatieff: Successful diplomacy has to be conducted quietly, not in the limelight, to fmd the common ground between parties in confrontation. An example that I cite in my memoirs was the Pueblo Crisis. An American spy ship was supposed to monitor North Korean military preparations. It got into the coastal waters of North Korea (or at least the North Koreans so declared) and they boarded and seized iL The Security Council, on which Canada was then represented by myself, met and angry exchanges took place. It looked as usual that the United Nations was useless, providing only a platform for mutual accusations. The United States said that the North Koreans were pirates. The Soviet bloc said that if you go into territorial waters you risk being seized. The question was how to prevent the confrontation from escalating into a military event such as Vietnam.

My colleague from the United States, Arthur Goldberg, a former member of the Supreme Court, said to me,"If you can find out who represents North Korea at the United Nations we might at least see whether there is a willingness to negotiate privately." So I went around to various Communist missions and found out that Hungary represented the North Koreans. The Hungarian Ambassador was more co-operative than some of the other East bloc countries, and we had a private luncheon in New York at the University Club, where we weren't likely to be recognized as negotiating between the East bloc and the West bloc. Negotiations were opened between the United States and North Korea, the crew was returned, and the episode was closed.

Dickman: What has been Canada's role in reducing international tension?

Ignatieff: Canada has advocated, and should continue to insist on, two things: One is the cessation of testing new weapons -- what Prime Minister Trudeau called the "strategy of suffocation." The other is the creation of centres of rapid communication between East and West. Canada, situated between the two, should have a crisis management centre. It would reduce tensions and build confidence.

Dickman: Your memoirs show Canada's effectiveness in the international arena. What role must Canada play in the future?

Ignatieff: Canada needs to take seriously the continuing testing of nuclear capable weapons such as the cruise missile. The next stage of the cruise missile will pose a tremendous threat to Canadian security and indeed survival. If it is speeded up to a supersonic level, and rendered undetectable by stealth technique, this will reduce, not increase, Canadian security.

I've proposed a "strategy of survival" to both the government and to the opposition. It is this: We stay in NATO but we do certain essential things. First, we revise the commitment to test those weapons, particularly ones that can boomerang against Canadian security and sovereignty. Second, we review our NORAD commitment, putting it under NATO civilian control so that we can't be put on nuclear alert by the Pentagon. Third, that we review our contribution to NATO -- because our own defence is not being taken sufficiently into consideration by Canadian governments. We've allowed the North to be used by both the United States and the Soviet Union. We have had our troops stationed in Germany, I think that higher priority should be given to providing for our self defence. In fact, since there is an obligation under the North Atlantic Treaty to provide for mutual defence, I'd suggest that we invite the Northern countries to help in the protection of Canada, just as we provide protection to Norway.

Dickman: What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of NATO?

Ignatieff: Canada has a great interest in preventing a third world war over Europe. As I see it, rather than isolate ourselves, we should remain in the Alliance so that we have a voice.

The main use of the Alliance is deterrence -- not through the arms race, but through solidarity among its members. If we tried the alternative, to be neutral, we'd have to be neutral both against the United States and the Soviet Union. We'd have to assure each of them that our territories, our waters, and our air would not be used against them. That undertaking, I think, is beyond our capacity, considering our population and our resources.

Another alternative is to increase our dependence on the United States in the "fortress America" type of strategy. That is, I think, worse. We'd lose what little is left of our sovereignty. I've been arguing that we should get out of NORAD, for instance, because under NORAD the United States can put Canada on the state of nuclear alert. There must be a new peace system.

Europe has changed since the new leadership has taken over in the Soviet Union. Mr. Gorbachev has been suggesting something that Canada has long favored: the end of nuclear testing. This would halt the innovation of new and less controllable weapons. Following that, we should reduce nuclear weapons because, at the most, a few hundred would be enough for a deterrent. We have to be looking for new methods and strategies of cooperation, not only within the European community but also across the Iron curtain.

You'd start with the reduction of nuclear weapons -- particularly the battlefield variety, which provide the greatest danger of escalation to nuclear war. Then you would reduce the conventional weapons on both sides. Then you'd emphasize new methods of confidence building, with greater exchange of tourists, military personnel, and diplomats. In other words, you'd reduce the tension, which has been used on both sides to justify the military buildup.

Dickman: What role could the U.N. play in such a new peace?

Ignatief': We should be going in the direction of internationalizing military force. This was supposedly the object of the founding of the United Nations -- that military force would be used as a police, as a buffer between countries in a confrontation. It would protect the civil population, help out with refugees, and check on cease fires. The United Nations has shown, under Canadian leadership, its capacity to do such things, both in the Middle East and in Asia.

Dickman: What are the main barriers to a lasting peace?

Ignatieff: The main barriers are psychological and economic. There are local conflicts, which are generated by economic conditions: hunger, lack of water, lack of shelter, and the rest of it -- the things that have been going on in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It is also economic in the sense of the profit that is made in the arms trade. We really have to tackle those problems in order to assure ourselves of a lasting peace.

Dicknian: How do you see these barriers being broken?

Ignatieff: Broadly, the answer is more international cooperation. The United Nations and the specialized agencies for international cooperation should be used to reduce the distrust between East and West. Maybe we don't like the East's system but we don't like a lot of other systems in the world either. We don't like the Chilean system for instance, yet we don't make war against Mr. Pinochet.

Dickman: What about the thaw in the cold war?

Ignatieff: There is no such thing as a perpetual enemy. The enemies that we fought in World War II are our allies now. Germany, Japan and Italy are our close friends. The Soviet Union (which was our ally and without which we wouldn't have been able to get through the war) is now our enemy. But now change is going on. This has to be explored; we can take advantage of it to reduce tensions.

Dickman: What then is your vision of a peaceful world order?

Ignatieff: One in which the threat of a mass annihilation ceases and there is active cooperation between East and West. The East/West crisis cuts across other conflicts, as we've seen in Ethiopia and in Nicaragua. For instance, we should be helping Nicaragua. With a population of only six million, how can it threaten the security of the United States? It has enormous economic problems.

In the same way, in Afghanistan, it's the Soviets fighting the United States. Any resolution must begin by stopping the arms competition in regional disputes, particularly in the Middle EasL One knows quite well where these are.

This is the direction -- cessation of innovation in the nuclear field; a real cooperative effort to setfie regional disputes; and then a cooperative effort to cope with the ill-distribution of global resources through dealing with the very serious debt question. All these things are interrelated. The United States has been spending so much money on its defence effort, over two trillion dollars in a period of five years. One of the reasons for their big deficit in international trade is that investment money has been going into defence industries instead of the industries that compete with such countries as Japan, Korea, and Malaysia.

There is a big program for peace mongers: promoting the cessation of the arms race and developing international economic and political cooperation. That is where the solutions lie, not through military force.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1989

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1989, page 17. Some rights reserved.

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