New Opportunities for Peace Research By Geoffrey Pearson

Not long after finishing his stint as Canada's Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Geoffrey Pearson was asked to serve as the first Executive Director of an important new body, the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security. He held that challenging post for five years, and now he's writing history -- including the story of "ClIPS" and his hopes for it.

By Geoffrey Pearson | 1989-10-01 12:00:00

WHEN PRIME MINISTER Trudeau announced in the Speech from the Throne in December, 1983 that the Government would create a new body to gather information and to promote ideas "on defence and arms control issues," he was signalling some dissatifaction with the advice he was getting from the Government's traditional sources of analysis and information in these areas of policy.

As it turned out, the public wanted to go further. Hearings by the Parliamentary Committee led to the decision to add the subjects of "disarmament" and "conflict resolution" to the mandate of the new body, the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security (ClIPS), and to add to its functions the funding of research and the promotion of scholarship outside as well as inside its doors. Since that time ClIPS has spent almost a quarter of its budget on grants to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and to individuals to promote research on and to encourage public discussion of these subjects.

CIIPS WAS THUS BORN with a very wide mandate covering the whole gamut of peace and conflict studies, as well as extensive functions. Unlike other similar institutions, such as Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) or the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, it was to fund activities by others as well as to conduct its own work. To balance the inside and outside activities was and remains a preoccupation of the Board. Moreover, the defmition of "research" depends on value judgements that are not necessarily academic. Hence it was decided at the outset that two types of grants would be made -- for public activities that might broadly be described as "peace education" and "peace action," as well as for academic research.

The independence of the Institute was clearly established by the Act of Parliament. This was a direct result of the decision to seek legislation, rather than to create a body subsidiary to an existing Department or to incorporate the Institute under a Federal Charter. The Opposition Parties asked for and received the right to be consulted about appointments to the Board. Unlike other Crown Corporations, no federal official is a member of the Board. The budget of the Institute cannot be reduced without amendment of the Act. Finally the Institute is under no obligation to give advice to the Government, although it may do so if the Minister requests it. It has given such advice in three cases so far.

In sum, the Institute was given wide powers, significant autonomy, and assured, if modest, funding. What have been the results, almost five years after its establishment?


IT WAS NEVER intended that the Institute should become a Canadian Brookings Institute or Rand Corporation -- that is, an organization principally concerned with research. Both scholars and NOOs opposed such a concept, fearing that it would lead to competition with universities for scarce resources or to producing work unrelated to current policy concerns. On the other hand, an Institute with little or no capacity for its own research would exercise minimal influence on government policy and could hardly establish any reputation abroad. The compromise adopted was to proceed slowly by first investigating the needs and priorities of Canadian scholars in the field through a program of grants and contracts, meanwhile building up a small staff of Fellows and Interns who would spend a year or two at the Institute working on special projects.

The main products of this approach were summaries and surveys of government policies (published annually) and of Canadian public opinion, conference reports on specific issues of policy, and a series of background papers designed for the general public on the main factors involved in international peace and security. Later, the Institute solicited and began to publish original work by Canadian scholars on some of these same subjects. After four years the research staff remained at the modest size of ten persons, including three students. By the same time, however, the research community in Canada had been awarded well over a hundred grants, totalling some 1.4 million dollars.

It was also decided at an early stage that CIIPS should not itself advocate particular kinds of policies. The Institute's reputation would rest on its credibility to Canadians with different views on such issues as defence spending. Besides, the Board of ClIPS was itself a microcosm of Canadian opinion. If it took sides on the basis of counting heads, that would undermine its oversight functions. Nevertheless, the Institute publishes a series of papers -- "Points of View" expressing differences of opinion, and its Executive Director prepares an annual summary and critique of Canadian policies for which the Board is not responsible. Institute grants serve a variety of purposes. Indeed, the Institute is sometimes regarded as a vehicle of the "peace movement." The laner, on the other hand, may wonder whether it is too vulnerable to official pressures. Both perceptions distort the actual record of Institute grants and publications.

To understand why this is so, it is only necessary to recall the debate over the meaning of peace research. Governments still believe that peace is the absence of war. They are the creatures of states, and only states can make war. Both peace and war are subordinate to the dogma of state security or sovereignty, and this in turn assumes a capacity for defence. Servants of the State generally believe, therefore, in peace through strength, or put another way, in the balance of power, or more simply, in deterrence. Alliances powerfully reinforce these beliefs, for they add to them the concept of teamwork -- everyone must do his part. It is often said by Western governments that another European war has been avoided for 45 years because they have acted on the basis of those ideas.

One difficulty with peace research is that the historical data neither prove nor disprove these assumptions. On the face of it, nuclear weapons would appear to have helped prevent war in Europe. But they have not prevented war in Asia. Peace scholar Johan Galtung used to believe that a threat of war leads to war. But he now adopts the more sophisticated view that a threat based on "second strike retaliatory capability" leads to war. Perhaps a computer error will also trigger a nuclear war, but an early study by ClIPS led to no firm conclusions about the odds of this happening.

On the other hand, peace research has undeniably helped to widen the search for the causes of war and to trace the links between internal and external violence. It has greatly stimulated the consciousness of such concepts as equity and human rights as factors in reducing the incidence of war, and it has pointed to the ethnocentric character of much that is written about international relations. Indeed it has broadened the meaning of "peace" to embrace practically all aspects of human behavior. That is the difficulty which ClIPS faced in considering an agenda for research. We decided on a two-track approach: to recruit staff persons who could deal competently with the issues of defence and arms control, especially in their Canadian dimension, but also to accept a broad interpretation of the concept of "conflict resolution," subject to academic standards and to the likelihood of published results.

MY OWN VIEW, HAVING recently returned from the Soviet Union, was that the subject of Eastiwest relations deserved high priority, given in particular the relative lack of expertise in Canada and therefore the mostly unquestioning acceptance of American assumptions about these relations. This view was also influenced by the efforts of Prime Minister Trudeau to head off dangerous new threats to arms race stability, such as the Strategic Defence Initiative, arid at the same time to give Canadians a sense that their Government cared about these matters, even to the point of upsetting our great neighbor. Thus I also wanted the Institute to jump into the big arms control issues, such as nuclear deterrence, accidental war, and a nuclear test ban, and to examine trends in continental defence. This we did. Also, I thought that Canada ought to pay more attention to the security of two groups of states: the British Caribbean countries, where we had traditional interests and potentially important influence, and their neighbors in Central America, from where a growing stream of refugees were reaching Canada. ClIPS funded conferences on both subjects.

A third area of study has centred on international organizations, where Canada has made effective contributions in the past, although Canadian scholarship has lagged behind. Major studies of the security functions of the United Nations and of NATO, and on mediation and negotiation in conflict resolution are under way.

Finally, I should mention our decision to convene a study group on new challenges to Canadian security, including threats to the environment and population trends around the globe.

The purpose is to give coherence to what Mr. Gorbachev has conceptualized as "universal human values." Gorbachev is the first political leader to adopt the premises of peace research, but the Western public is not far behind. I expect that ClIPS will continue contributing to this process, without neglecting the study of military and defence issues, to which a third of our research budget has been devoted. Peace without violence is a distant horizon. Peace without war is closer but it will require soldiers to keep it.

Peace Education

THE ENTHUSIASTIC public support given to the peace initiatives of Prime Minister Trudeau in 1983-84, compared to the somewhat grudging support inside the Government, meant that the new Institute would need to be responsive to Canadian public opinion. Many of the witnesses who testified before the Parliamentary' Committee reinforced this dimension of its mandate. Some of them called for a Canadian peace research centre that would openly advocate policies resembling those of the NDP. They also held that, as the Government was already funding centres of strategic studies, the new body ought to fund Chairs and centres of peace research at universities.

The first Board of Directors was divided on this issue, and the result was a compromise: grants would be made to individuals and NGOs who met certain criteria, irrespective of their policy views, but the Institute would not itself advocate specific proposals. There was no disagreement, however, about the importance of providing impartial information about the issues. The Institute has compiled an electronic data base and a thesaurus of terms. A bibliography on nuclear weapons and arms control can be searched on request. An ambitious publishing program for the interested but non-expert public had resulted by the end of 1988 in 12 editions of a quarterly magazine, Peace and Security, and some 30 background papers and "Points of View" on major issues. Consultations on peace education with teachers and voluntary organizations led to the distribution of fact sheets for secondary' schools and a handbook for teachers which is being tested in the classroom. Finally, ClIPS has worked with other groups on projects that introduce students, both young and old, to major world issues, such as the work of the Security Council.

These programs have sometimes been criticized for spending money on worthless causes (that is, causes the critic doesn't like) or for bias in favor of the "peace movement." It is true that the great majority of requests for grants to public events have come from groups who want change in Canadian policies. Mr. Gorbachev has reinforced this tendency, while managing to bring the "peace" advocates and the "military' security" advocates closer together. But the charge that ClIPS has favored the first group ignores the fact that the advisory committees on grants and the Board itself represent various points of view. Theirjudgments are not based on political opinion, but on anticipated results within the Institute's mandate "to encourage public discussion."

THE BOARD CAN decide to make fewer such grants, or none at all, and to concentrate resources on the Institute's own programs, but I hope this temptation will be resisted. The Institute has gained a deserved reputation for being responsive to public concerns by helping those who have little or no access to other sources of public funds, as will as academics and others who do have access. The balance between grants for research and grants for public education and advocacy can be shifted in favor of the former, or more funds can be channeled into joint projects which are co-directed by the Institute. Funds for grants of all kinds will not increase over about $1 million a year if the budget remains at $5 million, and may decrease if other programs, such as scholarships, can be shown to be more productive. But the principle of making grants to NGOs must be retained, I believe, if public support for the Institute is to be kept.

The Future of Peace Research in Canada

THE HISTORY of Canadians, who have neither enemies nor the military' power to count for much in negotiations on disarmament, suggests some areas for research into the conditions of a more peaceful world. I shall mention three such areas.

First, individual and minority rights. Most of the violence in the world in mid-1989 arises from the grievances of minorities, or from the oppression of the majority by regimes which are unrepresented. Canada, as a mixture of peoples, avoided tyranny either by majorities or by minorities. Perhaps we can help others to do the same. Second, the diplomacy of negotiation. What are the conditions for successful negotiation? What can be learned from domestic examples? What is the role of third parties? Finally, I would like to see academic research into the future of international law and organization. Canadian diplomats have a good reputation in this area, but it is not due to their training at Canadian universities.

A Canadian school of peace research is not desirable for its own sake. Rather, I hope that Canadian universities will take advantage of the special insights and resources that already exist in Canada, as they have done for example in the earth sciences, to concentrate attention on problems which also have global significance.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1989

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1989, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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