Ernie Regehr


By Gary Genosko (interviewer) | 1987-10-01 12:00:00

P.M.: Canada and the United States are engaged in free trade negotiations. little has been reported about our "defence partnership" with the United States. This is surprising since the Defence Production Sharing Agreement (DPSA, 1959) is a significant feature of the manufacturing sector in Canada. I think of the DPSA as a model for free trade in two respects: (1) it exhibits Canadian dependency on the American market and (2) it is a channel through which American policy may flow into Canada and influence Canadian decision making. Free trade promises more of these kinds of "channels of influence."

E.R.: The example of the DPSA will not give heart to those who worry about Canadian independence and sovereignty, as I think we all should. The DPSA hands the Americans a lever for influencing Canadian defence and foreign policy, because of the high level of dependence of the Canadian military industry on the American market.

In your most recent book, Arms Canada, you state that 'North America is a single military production entity." Further free trade negotiations on defence matters would be redundant unless one wants to increase the piece of the American pie that the Canadian arms industry has access to.

E.R.: It is not unrestricted access that Canada has to the U.S., it's a limited access. The Americans will give unrestricted access to Canadian military producers only if they truly view Canadian military production as being domestic production. Essentially, that means the removal of the border -- that's the price you have to pay for unrestricted access.

P.M.: You say in Arms Canada that in order "to regain control over its own affairs, the Canadian government should withdraw from the DPSA" The force of the "should withdraw" is both moral and economic. But is it realistic in economic terms?

E.R.: I think so, but it depends on how you define realism, of course. The defence market is volatile. It has its ups and downs. Judging from the experience of the post-war period, that market is not a stable basis for economic and industrial development in Canada. It gives certain windfalls to Canadian companies from time to time. The aerospace industry (both military and civilian) has gone from about 75 percent dependency on the American military market down to less than 20 percent, and back up to 35-40 percent. The 1970s provide the best example of constructive industrial conversion in Canada; the aerospace industry went from a heavy military dependence and became essentially a civilian industry based on domestic and export markets. Now it's creeping back up again to a heavy military dependency.

To say that it is realistic to withdraw from the DPSA is not to say that there is no economic price to pay. We pay economic costs in support of legitimate and important political and moral objectives; we forgo income every day of the week by virtue of the moral standards which we apply. It's clearly realistic -- but whether it's politically likely is another question.

P.M.: Free trade was prompted by the demands of capital for a continental market, higher profits, etc. So it'll take a radical subordination of capital to political will.

Military production and sales should not be pursued as a commercial enterprise. Generally, and even in terms of political policy making, the only justification for producing military commodities is for political and military objectives. How could you possibly promote the protection of a tank when the only justification for it is that you want to make money off it? I think most would agree that that's unacceptable. Many argue that the most cost effective way of meeting the requirement for tanks is letting entrepreneurs develop the technology in the least expensive way through a competitive market system. That is a statement of ideology and has no relationship to actual experience in the world. There is a surfeit of weapons in the world today because too many people think that building weapons is a solution to their economic problems.

Advising the Travelling White Paper Show

P.M.: What contribution did Project Ploughshares make to Perrin Beatty's travelling White Paper show [the quasi-public forum in which select groups made submissions toward the formulation of a Conservative defence policy]?

E.R.: Bill Robinson and I were at one of the consultative meetings that Perrin Beatty held in Toronto and, in other parts of the country, other Ploughshares members participated in other such meeting. It was polarized in a way that peace movement discussions with government have not been polarized over the last number of years. Though the Consultative Group on Arms Control and Disarmament convened by Doug Roche in External Affairs and through meetings that we have with other government officials, a certain, perhaps grudging, mutual respect has developed between strong critics of Canadian defence and foreign policy and the officials who are charged with implementing three policies. Over the past half- dozen years we have seen the development of a capacity to speak to issues without attacking each other's integrity. Whereas at the beginning of the 1980s there was still a lot of difficulty in dealing with government in general, that has improved immensely in those areas of External Affairs where there has been a regular exchange. The White Paper consultative group felt as if we were beck in 1977 in talking with government, since they were very negative in interpreting anything anyone said that seemed of a critical or "left" persuasion. Some speakers were very right wing. The budget of the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security was defined as aid and comfort to the Soviets. With that extreme polarization [between Ploughshares and those of extreme right-wing opinions] it's not surprising that defence officials would take their own recommendations as representing the happy medium between the two poles. It was not an effective means of consultation and not a means of making our views effectively known to government.

P.M.: Inviting Ploughshares was a public relations move.

E.R.: Yes, although if the opportunity came again even in the same forum, I wouldn't boycott it. It is worthwhile engaging people and you have to do it over and over again to get through sometimes. You have to listen to them. It was not a model for real consultation but its purpose may have been for the government to give the impression of public consultation before doing exactly what they wanted to do in the first place.

P.M.: In the early and middle 1980s, with an out of date White Paper [Defence in the 70s, 1971] and a new document that always seemed to be forthcoming, many defence programs were undertaken (low-level air defence system, DEW Line re-placement, etc.) in the absence of a major defence policy directive. If programs were initiated in a -- I don't want to say in an underhanded way -- climate of secrecy or at least in obscurity. Are you troubled by this lack of forthrightness?

E.R.: I'm not sure that it was a conscious effort to undermine policy discussion There was a strong desire to upgrade the symbol that Canadian politicians think defence spending should be. Politicians see defence spending as proof of Canadian solidarity within the Western alliance. It's not just to supply the military capability for Canadian security. It has always been the symbols that are more important: Are we spending 2.5 percent of the GNP on defence or 3 percent, or less than 2 percent? Two percent is a crucial political threshold; if we drop down below it as we did in the latter Trudeau years, then we have real trouble.

In the case of the long-range aircraft there was a lot of U.S. influence and suggestion as to where we should put our money. Canadian defence spending is not part of a well thought-out plan. It's a much more ad hoc event and the White Paper, Challenge and Commitment, continues that tradition.

P.M.: The interpretation of the international strategic environment in that paper is not a uniquely Canadian view.

ER.: It's not a Canadian view of the world. It is a Canadian view of what Americans think Canadian solidarity should express. Canadian defence spending isn't sensitive and responsive to changes in Soviet policy -it's American perceptions of Soviet policy that we have to deal with. There is no Canadian strategic analysis of how the world is and how we have to act in the world.

The Activist and the Scholar

P.M.: Two of the major peace research institutes, the Inter-national Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO, Norway) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI, Sweden), are known to avoid playing activist roles. Is this research/ activist split a threat to peace?

E.R.: They certainly engage in public debate.

P.M.: But they do not unite with popular movements.

E.R.: They enter into political debates and move policy in a direction that the popular movements would agree with. There are different roles to be played. However, research and activism need to be very closely tied together so that the research grows out of and is infonned by political activism. Peace research needs to be responsive to the questions that are raised in the political arena. There is also a need to do fundamental resetireb in response to questions that are not being acted on. But even fundamental research needs to be connected at least intellectually to the real political problems faccd by decision-makers. The dissemination of information is a political act. The gathering of information is not so political. The actual disclosure of information is highly politiciced and is why the govemment is reluctant to disclose certain Icirids of information about military trade.

There is a great need for peace research to become respectable to he viewed as a legitimate source. That hasn't really been achieved yet in the mainstrearn political process, you go to strategic studies when you want to get the hard facts out.

P.M.: SIPRI has achieved that status and is on par with the Intemational Institute for Strategic Studies (London, England).

E.R.: SIPRI is respected and grants legitimacy. Much of the legitimacy of peace research in North America is drawn from the respect SIPRI has developed. However, many Canadian peace researchers have corne to be respected in their own right.

The Critical Church

P.M.: How important have the visible ties between churches and disarmarnent groups been for disarmament as a campaign? The reassuring symbolism of the church is a far cry from the anti-authority and anti-state images that disarmament movements were saddled with in the l960s.

E.R.: As an institution, the church doesn't play the same political role that it once did. But in our society it is important politically in the development of social policy. For example, the Canadian understanding of Central America has been influenced by church activities in that region and by those who work in human rights and bring out reports which they make known in Canada. The church has maintained its independence by reaching an understanding of the conflict in Central America that is quite different from that of Washington. Churches have not been quite as influential and effective in peace and disarmament, but I think that it's building. The churches may be slower onto the issues with the questions than the popular peace movement is, but I think that they will hang-in and on with the questions.

P.M.: The other side of the coin are the unusually excessive views of television evangelists in the U.S. and their influence on policy formation and public discourse. The quasi-religious activities of the churches of the airwaves is disturbing.

E.R.: In Canada, those "right wing" religious views do not permeate society m any effective way . Mainstream churches carry the message in Canada. One of the quite exciting things to me, coming from the pacifist, Mennonite tradition, is how the pacifist tradition has been able to work with the mainstream "just war" tradition of the Christian church on peace questions.

P.M.: One aspect. of peace education must be media literacy -- the ability to criticize news sources. This skill is especially important in light of the latest wave of children's television programs. The messages in those is that conflict resolution is achieved through war. This is recruitment and basic training.

E.R.: Many of .these shows are perfect Ollie North vehicles. They demonstrate that official channels are cumbersome and that courageous people are willing to go around those channels, getting at the "real" problem and "solving" it.

P.M.: Ollie North showed that if you sound like an advertisement, the question of truthfulness becomes unimportant.

E.R.: One task of peace research is to produce an alternative source of information. That's not a criticism of mainstream media in a blanket sense, since they provide reliable and useful information on a regular day-to-day basis. One needs to be able to criticize a news story in the same way that one does literary criticism of a poem. We don't have that kind of literacy at large in the population when it comes to the media.

A major part of our work in publishing, through the Ploughshares Monitor and other papers, is not to convert people to our point of view but to speak to people who already share our views and want to add depth and sophistication to them.

P.M.: Peace research is not persuasive but edifying.

E.R.: You need peace research allied with popular movements. Movements bring attention to issues, bring new people in and confront people. Peace research won't do those things.

Gary Genosko studies military and popular culture in the doctoral program in Social and Political Thought, York University.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987, page 12. Some rights reserved.

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