The Economics of War and Peace

Ivan Head was the president of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) from 1978 until early 1991. He first took part in development work thirty years ago with the Canadian High Commission, then contributed to the North-South bent of the Trudeau government as executive assistant to the prime-minister. Erik Poole and Metta Spencer interviewed him recently at Massey Hall.

By Metta Spencer, Erik Poole (interviewers) | 1991-07-01 12:00:00

POOLE: You have pointed out the importance of improving the quality of the military in the Third World.

HEAD: Yes, there are several reasons why the armed forces of developing countries function as they do. In some instances it is just plain opportunism. If they control the government they gain an opportunity to move into substantial jobs, running the national airline or in finance. Military power also gives them access to the perks that a good officer corps feels it deserves: country clubs, beach resorts, and privileged schools for their children. Furthermore, many developing countries are poorly organized; with their disciplined background, the military see themselves as providing that necessary missing element. Were it not for us, they say, the rabble would overrun the country. In South America there's also another element. The armed forces have been raised to believe that they are the residue of the protection of all that is honorable and necessary for the future of those countries. This is a heavy responsibility, they say, that rests upon their shoulders, and they must grievously enter into the fray when they feel that their country is sliding away from its goals. Elsewhere there is a fear that internal subversion can lead to an overthrow of the democratic practices to which all military governments say they are dedicated. It is not so much a neighboring country they fear as the internal situation. What becomes dreadful is that armed forces suppress the legitimate ambitions of major segments of society.

In parts of Africa the military is incompetent. Its influence rests on the weapons systems made available to it from outsiders: weapons which, in many instances, it does not need and cannot use well.

POOLE: Do you favor Canada's inviting third world military officers to train in our facilities? Richard Brulé suggested in Études Internationales that Canada as part of its foreign aid program should extend national security and internal security technical assistance to Third World countries.

HEAD: I would not go quite so far, but most societies in the world do feel a need for a national armed force. One should not assume that that's wrong, and that by education we can get rid of it anytime soon. The Canadian armed force, by and large, is exemplary. We have a volunteer force that has been able to provide a non-threatening, useful contribution to the United Nations. We have decent professional soldiers and pilots who never question the legitimacy of the instructions that come to them from the civilian sector. This kind of culture is of value to other countries. If we could show the armed forces of some of these countries that there is an honorable, constructive, challenging role for the armed forces inside the democracy of each developing country, Canada would be making a great contribution.

POOLE: Perhaps even skills enhancement would give Third World military officers the confidence to play a more benign role in their countries.

HEAD: One danger, particularly in Latin America, is that there has been too much exposure to United States military training. There has not simply been a transfer of normal skills but an encouragement to use tactics and standards that would not be accepted within the United States but which some military officers regard as necessary in the struggle against the "threat of global communism." We do not find that kind of demonic element where the Canadian armed forces are involved.

SPENCER: But Canadian military officers work in a democratic society. In an undemocratic society they would be used to unseat the regime or used by the regime to suppress the people.

HEAD: What is necessary then is to show alternative policies. One advantage of a disciplined group with training facilities has been the production of technical experts who leave the military for civilian life. In the earlier days Canadian airlines drew upon pilots who had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. In the developing countries, however, people rarely leave the armed forces until retirement, so their skills don't pass back into the civilian sector. However, it is possible to acquaint them with a broader perspective of the way society functions.

SPENCER: For example?

HEAD: IDRC supported a three-year study among the ASEAN countries, where a group of scholars wanted to examine the extent and effects of defence expenditures. Research was designed cooperatively among those countries, in collaboration with senior military officers. They found that they were all frightened of the same things, and they had no need to be frightened of one another. They were concerned with the possibility of civilian subversion. The training and the weapons that they had pursued were not appropriate to the real task of helping the civil power ensure a stable, tranquil society free
of subversion. They don't need expensive F-16 aircraft. But the United States forces are weapons evangelists. They go around the world telling other armed forces that they need the same kind of equipment to be a modern professional force.

Governments are not always up to telling their armed forces: You do not live in the United States! The international role of Canada is not the same as the United States! You remember the lascivious outpouring of support from certain sectors of the forces when the Conservative government announced a few years ago its ridiculous plan to acquire nuclear powered submarines. Happily that decision became impossible to fulfill. But the armed forces felt that others had them, so they should have them as well.

POOLE: The armed forces in many Third World countries participate in matters of internal security because the police are often under-equipped, poorly disciplined, and corrupt.

HEAD: Indeed. In a number of places, responsibility for civil order has been transferred to the armed forces. One reason, I suppose, is that the armed forces command a share of national budgetary expenditures, so they can train and equip their forces, and pay them more than the police. In doing so they distance themselves from the ordinary members of society, who come to fear them. It's the same argument as whether your local cop should be a cop on the beat, knowing the names of shopkeepers and children, or a high tech force that drives patrol cars with all the modern gadgetry.

POOLE: Well forgive me, but aren't you arguing against the thing you were just proposing-that the well-equipped professional army would be better than what exists now? Wouldn't it be better to encourage indigenous police forces to become less corrupt and more efficient?

HEAD: There's no conflict between the two. Properly dedicated armed forces would draw fewer resources from the national budget, freeing up funds to train and to pay a local police force. This is an understandable source of corruption in developing countries: If you are not paying your police a living wage they are forced to turn to other sources of revenue. That's corruption; it's malignant, and it holds up the functioning of a domestic society. This gets back to the underlying cause of turbulence and inefficiency-poverty.

POOLE: What about free trade? Is freer trade with developing countries the route to peace?

HEAD: It's certainly one of the routes. The developing countries must have a chance to become functioning members of an international trading community. Otherwise, there's an inability to earn exchange, to have access to technology, to belong to a society that elsewhere grows better-fed, more able to enjoy leisure. We in the North are playing a hypocritical role. Mr. Trudeau said in the first speech he gave as Prime Minister that we who feel proud of our development assistance must be wary of saying: Now that you've acquired these skills, don't expect us to acquire your products. The sugar coated development assistance pill is easy for Canadians to swallow. Once the coating is off and it is seen that assistance has created potential competitors for the same markets, we become resistant.

SPENCER: How large is the market for Third World products?

HEAD: Of all the manufactured goods consumed in the industrialized countries in the mid-1980s, only 3.5% were of developing country origin. We are not being swamped by cheap-labor produced goods from developing countries. We are not permitting the developing countries to export their products into our societies. One of the worst examples is the multi-fiber arrangement, which denies to Canadian consumers access to the textiles and needle-goods that countries such as Bangladesh can produce much more efficiently than Canada. This also has an impact on Canadians, particularly in the lower wage levels. It means that the children's snow suits that people buy at the K-Mart in this country-almost all of which are imported from Asia and the Caribbean-are sold at between three and four times their market value, the difference representing the tariffs that are placed on them when they enter Canada.

POOLE: If you had the ear of Bob Rae, Premier of Ontario, who is critical of the free trade deal with Mexico, what would you tell him?

HEAD: I would tell him that he is just dead wrong. I agree with him entirely that the need within Mexico, for Mexicans, is to address issues of human rights, environments, wholesomeness. But if we wish to tackle the Mexicans on those problems we shouldn't be saying that buying their stuff is wrong but that selling our stuff to them is acceptable.

There is also a misunderstanding of the likely impact on Canada of a free trade agreement with Mexico. Recent studies show that if, as a result of such a free trade agreement, Mexican manufactured goods double in the next decade, they will only reach 2.5% of our total consumption-and no one suggests that they will double.

he other problem is that there may be a transition into the goods producing sector of Mexico at the expense of Canada. When Robert McNamara was part of the World Bank he was asked in the U.S. why the World Bank, with its American funds, was providing jobs for Mexicans when there were unemployed Americans. His answer was a classic. He said, either we will assist in the provision of jobs for Mexicans in Mexico, or we will be supplying jobs for Mexicans in the United States. This is one phenomenon that we in Canada have not yet come to address.

There are immense migratory flows in the world today, and as populations increase, as the carrying capacities of the local regions are insufficient, as the economies are inadequate, those people are going to start moving to survive. They cross into the United States in vast numbers and, sooner or later, they will be coming in here. We are now part of a global society as well as a global economy and a global environment.

SPENCER: What can our readers do to affect policy?

HEAD: Two things. The first step is to share understanding and encourage others to become more interested in those issues.

Second, bring pressure to bear on members of parliament-not by petition. It is the individual letter-writing to a member of parliament insisting on a personalized reply. You won't get it the first time, but stay with it and your M.P. will come to understand that a number of his or her constituents are demanding a response to these issues. Members of parliament simply are incapable, as they should be, of disregarding such expressions of concern.

Global military expenditures decline

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has released its 1991 Year Book. These are some of the highlights:

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1991

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1991, page 17. Some rights reserved.

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