The Return of a Peacenik

Douglas Roche, Building Global Security. Toronto: NC Press, 1989

By Aaron Tovish (reviewer) | 1989-12-01 12:00:00

Douglas Roche is holding his head high again.

The last time I saw him - when he was an Ambassador for Disarmament - he had put his head in his hands on the cafeteria table at the United Nations and fallen silent for a full ten seconds. He had just recited the Canadian Government's objections to an Amendment Conference to the Partial Test Ban Treaty. I had responded, "Doug, what are you saying? We should give up? Call the whole thing off?" When Parliamentarians Global Action had been pioneering this new route to a comprehensive test ban, Doug had been quietly offering advice and encouragement; now that we were making real headway, he was proffering criticism and discouragement. He never really answered my query that day. His new book has the answer. Second among the nine "bold steps" the Canadian government should take is:

"Work for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by supporting the forthcoming international conference to amend the Partial Test Ban Treaty."

His book build bridges back to the peace community from whence he came. The peace movement needs articulate and committed leadership and should rejoice in his return. Doug describes the hardships of championing far-sighted policies in a short-sighted administration and of confronting the overbearing giant across the border. He does not indulge in self-pity over the strains that developed with many of his friends in the peace community. With dignity, he has laid his cards on the table, allowing others to draw their own conclusions.

The experience has strengthened him for greater struggles. He can speak now with the authority of one who has seen things from the inside, as Chairman of the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, and as chairman of the Barton Group that shapes the positions of the Western States on security issues at the United Nations. Canadians will undoubtedly find many points of interest in his critique of Canadian policy. I was particularly interested in his observations on the arrogance of the U.S. government. I have encountered some virulent strains of it myself.

You see, only those who have nuclear weapons know how to manage them. One should not be deluded by the resemblance between this carefully managed activity and a nuclear arms race: There is no arms race. (Doug was chastised for suggesting otherwise in the Barton Group.) Since there is no arms race, you don't need to stop it. Therefore, a nuclear weapons test ban is not an arms control measure. (This was asserted recently by a U.S. representative in a U.N. Disarmament Newsletter interview.) Furthermore, INF and the promise of a START agreement should more than satisfy the nuclear powers pledge under Article VI to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament." Not once since 1985 have I seen a single accurate reference to Article VI from an American representative; they have an uncanny ability to glide over their primary commitment to "cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date."

All this would be laughable but for the tragic way in which other Western States have accommodated to it, as if it deserves serious consideration. Canada is currently in the forefront of this travesty. Doug, who saw his appointment to the post of Ambassador for Disarmament as a sign that Canada might become bolder, could not in good conscience continue to see his counsel ignored, even scorned. Building Global Security is his response to this deterioration in Canadian policy. He pinpoints nuclear deterrence, as the fundamental obstacle to a safer, fairer world. Canada, like so many Western States, has relinquished deterrence policy to the United States. Not one of these States questions the latest Strategic Integrated Operating Plan that went into effect in October.

They may prefer not to know what it entails. The newest ingredient in an already repugnant brew is to target the top 170,000 Communist Party "leaders" for prompt kill. Earth-penetrating warheads are to blast them from their bunkers throughout the Soviet Union in the first missile exchange. This avowed "decapitation" strategy will look like a first strike option to Soviet planners. Even if it were used only in retaliation, it would automatically preclude a negotiated ceasefire. So much for limited nuclear war!

The schemes for "hyper-deterrence" don't end with East-West confrontation. No longer sure they can count on the Soviet Union to be a reliable enemy, the search is on in some quarters for new ones. Vice President Quayle concluded that a missile defence is needed to protect against a new ballistic missile threat from the Third World. By this logic, nuclear testing must continue to perfect U.S. defences. Never mind that this would squander a chance to keep these nations from putting nuclear warheads on these supposed missiles (through an amendment to the Partial Test Ban Treaty which would be binding on them all).

Doug has repositioned himself squarely among those who give highest priority to ending nuclear testing and who reject nuclear deterrence. But he also demands that we think more deeply about the alternatives to deterrence. A number of authors have explored this terrain before, and Doug credits them in his bibliography. His moral argument for a radical shift to international mechanisms to alleviate suffering in the Third World and degradation of the ecosphere gives this vision compelling force. He urges risk-taking in favor of global solutions rather than clinging to the "safety" of national solutions that have proven inadequate. The search for common security, for all its lack of definition, is to be preferred to perpetual deterrence which robs the world of resources.

It takes a special courage to act when others counsel inaction. Doug's book should inspire Canadians to action.

Aaron Tovish is Executive Director of Parliamentarians Global Action, N.Y.

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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