An Answer to the American Ambassador

An address to Public Meeting, Lethbridge
Sponsored by Lethbridge Network for Peace and Lethbridge Public Library
Lethbridge, Alberta, January 20, 1999

The American Ambassador to Canada, Hon. Gordon Giffin, gave an importantaddress last week in Montreal, dealing with the security aspects ofCanadian foreign policy. This is a response to that address.

Because my speech contains criticism of U.S. foreign policy, it isimportant to note, at the outset, my deep respect and affection for theUnited States. I lived in the U.S. for ten very happy years of my life;three of my children were born there. I have traveled extensively, in aprofessional capacity, through all the contiguous States and feel that Iknow the American people. The dynamism of the American society has made ita great nation, capable of being a beacon to the people of the world whoalso seek "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Ambassador Giffin made two essential points: NATOšs strategy has servedCanada well and does not need changing; Canada should be spending more ondefense. Mr. Giffin is wrong on both counts.

First, NATO. Alluding to the old saying, "if it ainšt broke, donšt fixit," the Ambassador argued that the traditional role and strategy of NATOshould be maintained to deal with "new challenges to our security."

At the core of NATOšs strategy is the continued reliance on nuclearweapons. Even though U.S. nuclear weapons assigned to NATO have been cutsignificantly from Cold War high levels, the preservation of nuclearweapons is at the heart of NATOšs Strategic Concept. Only a month ago,NATOšs Defense Planning Committee reaffirmed: "The Alliancešs nuclearforces will be maintained at the minimum level sufficient to ensureachievement of Alliance political goals."

This policy, which is an offshoot of U.S. formal policy, directlycounters the International Court of Justice, the highest legal authority inthe world, which stated unanimously that nations are obliged to negotiatethe complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Clinging to outmoded Cold Warstrategies of nuclear deterrence, NATO is indeed "broke." Its StrategicConcept must be reviewed and changed, a process that is under way, andwhich needs the active support of Canada.

Second, Canadašs defence spending. Ambassador Giffin pointed out that,whereas U.S. defence spending of U.S. $270 billion is 3.5 percent of GDP,Canadašs defence spending of under C $10 billion is only 1.2 percent ofCanadian GDP. Because effective diplomacy must be backed up with acredible ability to deter aggressors, he argued, the U.S. and Canada "mustbe sure that we continue to have the capability to back up our aspirationsand our words with action when necessary."

In fact, it is not Canadian defence spending that is too low, it is U.S.spending that is too high. Despite the end of the Cold War, the U.S. shareof world military spending has increased in the past decade from 30 percentto 34 percent. The U.S. budget alone is 18 times as large as the combinedspending of the seven "rogue" countries identified by the Pentagon as mostlikely opponents in a conflict -- North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria,Sudan and Cuba. Russiašs military spending is collapsing but U.S. spendingis scheduled to increase to $300 billion by 2003, including more than $30billion for nuclear weapons. This is not a model for Canada.As for Canada, our country is the 15th largest military spender in theworld, and we are currently spending five percent more than we did in 1980. In the face of great social needs at home, it would be unconscionable toincrease military spending. By a realignment of capital priorities, theCanadian government could comfortably hold military spending at currentlevels and still give the Armed Forces a deserved pay increase.

The meaning and import of Ambassador Giffinšs speech extend far beyond hispoints about NATO and Canadašs spending. It is the deeper message he wasconveying that has aroused my concern. For throughout, there is animplication that Canadašs interests are best served by going along with theU.S. views on NATOšs claimed right to use nuclear weapons first, thefurther development of a partnership in North American defence, and theadvancement of NORAD. With a new U.S. missile defense system in the designstage that may violate the existing Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty andincrease tensions with Russia and China, the speech is an early warningthat Canadašs support for U.S. defence initiatives will be required. TheAmbassador said: "It would be militarily and economically impractical foreither nation alone to monitor and protect the airspace in which we have ajoint interest."

Ambassador Giffinšs thinly-veiled warning to Canada to stay on board U.S.military policy comes at a critical moment. The timing of the speech wasno accident. For the Canadian Government will soon have to respond to therecently published Report of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee,"Canada and the Nuclear Challenge: Reducing the Political Value of NuclearWeapons for the Twenty-first Century." The Report is a landmark documentbecause it exposes the fallacy that nuclear weapons provide security andurges the Canadian Government to "play a leading role in finally ending thenuclear threat overhanging humanity." Further, Canada should "argueforcefully within NATO" that NATOšs present reliance on nuclear weaponsmust be re-examined and updated. Ambassador Giffin does not want this tohappen.

The position the Canadian Government takes on the Parliamentary Reportwill certainly affect Canadašs conduct at NATOšs review of the StrategicConcept, expected to be adopted at the April Summit of NATO, observing theAlliancešs fiftieth anniversary. There is, at present, a vigorous debatewithin NATO as to whether NATO might pledge a No-First-Use policy onnuclear weapons which, though not ending the policy of nuclear deterrence,would be a constructive step in lowering the political value of nuclearweapons. Germany and Canada have been instrumental in occasioning theNo-First-Use debate; the U.S. has resisted any change, and AmbassadorGiffinšs speech is meant to dampen down Canadian activity.

The timing of the speech is also affected by a related event, theforthcoming Third Preparatory Meeting for the 2000 Review of theNon-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT, which is supposed to lead to theelimination of nuclear weapons, is in crisis because the Western NuclearWeapons States refuse to accept their obligations under Article VI andenter into comprehensive negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclearweapons. India and Pakistan, which recently became overt nuclear weaponspowers, have disdained the NPT on the grounds that its discriminatoryaspects permit the Nuclear Weapons States to keep their nuclear weaponswhile proscribing their acquisition by others. NATOšs maintenance ofnuclear weapons feeds into the perception by leading non-nuclear weaponsStates that the powerful States (i.e., the five permanent members of theU.N. Security Council) are retaining their nuclear weapons as instrumentsof power. The NPT is thus undermined, and a breakdown of the Treaty,following the 2000 Review if significant action toward nuclear disarmamentis not taken, will plunge the international community into even deeperdisarray.

This is why a group of like-minded States -- Brazil, Egypt, Ireland,Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden -- formed a New AgendaCoalition designed to urge the Nuclear Weapons States to make an"unequivocal commitment" to the elimination of nuclear weapons and toimmediate practical steps and negotiations required for elimination. TheCoalition introduced a resolution to this effect at the U.N. last fall.Despite heavy U.S. pressure on NATO States to oppose the resolution, 12NATO States abstained, thereby sending a message to the U.S. that the NATOreview of the Strategic Concept would not be a rubber stamp.

All of this -- the Canadian Parliamentary Report, the NATO Review of theStrategic Concept, the breakdown in the NPT process, the burgeoningactivity of the New Agenda Coalition -- provides the backdrop to AmbassadorGiffinšs address. The historical trend lines are moving away fromacceptance of nuclear weapons as legitimate instruments of military might;this is a challenge to the supremacy of American power. If the U.S. canquieten Canada, a valuable NATO ally, and appeal to Canadian desires tokeep North America secure, a voice of possible dissent from U.S. policywill be stilled.

Ambassador Giffinšs speech was very polite and good-natured. But ifmumblings in Washington, D.C., can start about U.S. retaliation measuresover Canadian policies on magazine advertising, it does not take muchimagination to consider the strength of U.S. reaction to Canadian policiesthat challenge U.S. military interests.

In fact, the U.S. complained several times to the Canadian government thatthe Parliamentary Committee was even reviewing Canadašs policies on nuclearweapons. U.S. pressure on Canada to vote no on the New Agenda Coalitionresolution was intense. Small States frequently complain about U.S."bullying" tactics. Slovenia, which was an original member of the NewAgenda Coalition, was forced to withdraw.

It is certainly not in Canadian interests to incur the wrath of the U.S.It is too big a country and too important to our own economic needs forCanada to cross swords on ordinary matters. But what is at stake in thedivisive issues I have been describing is the development of the rule oflaw for the international community. The system of world law we have todaydoes not meet world needs. In the face of the need for legislative,executive, and judicial institutions to maintain peace and security, ourpresent international institutions are alarmingly weak.

The United States has given several indications that the development ofthe international community through a process of law takes second place tothe continued assertion of the primacy of U.S. power. U.S. rejection ofthe new International Criminal Court, opposition to the Anti-PersonnelLandmines Treaty, the undermining of the U.N. through refusal to pay duesin full, the rejection of the authority of the Security Council throughunilateral (with U.K. involvement) bombing of Iraq are all manifestationsof an "America First" attitude. The U.S. has 4.56 percent of worldpopulation, but the government tends to act as if its view should dominateworld discussion and decide world problems. Nowhere is this attitude moreclearly seen than in the nuclear weapons issue. World opinion is movingaway from nuclear weapons, but the Western nuclear powers, centred inWashingtonšs policies, continue to flout that opinion.

Recognizing Canadašs vulnerability in going head-on against the U.S. onnuclear weapons policies, Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy is wisely tryingto have Canadašs NATO allies act together. The joint abstention of 12 NATOStates on the U.N. resolution takes the spotlight off any one NATOdissenter and makes a common statement of concern. Mr. Axworthy isincreasingly becoming a world statesman; visionary but also prudent andpragmatic.

Although an Ambassador always speaks for his or her government, AmbassadorGiffinšs speech should not be interpreted as reflecting a monolithic U.S.position. NATO countries are well aware that there are deep divisionswithin the U.S. Administration at this moment, in which nuclearretentionists are resisting any change in policy, while more far-seeingU.S. policy-makers recognize that de-emphasizing nuclear weapons wouldactually lead to a more secure world. Some senior American policy-makers,both political and military, favour a No-First-Use policy and they would behelped in changing formal policy by Canada and like-minded countriesspeaking out. The action of friends of the U.S., including Canada, inspeaking out and voting at the U.N. for more enlightened polices, can havethe residual benefit of shoring up the advanced thinking that is occurringin the United States.

Within the U.S., there are important organizations and numerous activiststrying to influence the national viewpoint. The Henry L. Stimson Center,the Center for Defense Information, the Monterey Institute of InternationalStudies, and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation are among the prestigious,non-partisan research centres warning that the uncertainties of the worldcan only be adequately dealt with if the nuclear powers commit themselvesin earnest to the dedicated pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons.The prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences has called for the UnitedStates and Russia to reduce their arsenals to "a few hundred each" and hasadvised the U.S. administration that the potential benefits of a global banon nuclear weapons "warrant serious efforts to identify and promote theconditions that would make this work." But voices of reason are drowned inan ongoing welter of political rhetoric abetted by the mediašs endlessfascination with the tribulations of the American Presidency.

It is not, then, hostility to U.S. interests that Canada shows in speakingup for new policies on nuclear weapons but deep respect for the developmentof international law. Canada believes that the rule of law is the essenceof civilized behaviour both within and among nations, and the Canadiangovernment has stated formally that "Canada will remain in the forefront ofthose countries working to expand the rule of law internationally." Thismeans that Canada cannot turn its back on the International Court ofJustice, which has called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. At thesame time, Canada does not want to leave NATO. The answer is for NATO tochange its policies and bring them into conformity not only with therequirements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty but the call of theInternational Court of Justice and many U.N. resolutions.

In short, Ambassador Giffin must realize that Canada has a higher duty tohumanity than adherence to U.S. military doctrine.

Moreover, an Angus Reid poll showed that 75 percent of Canadians believethat nuclear weapons pose a threat to world security rather than enhancingworld security; 92 percent of Canadians say they support a leadership rolefor Canada in global negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclearweapons. The Canadian government cannot ignore those statistics.

Neither should the U.S. government ignore the considered views of 384persons who attended the two-and-a-half hour Roundtables conducted lastfall by Project Ploughshares in 16 cities in all 10 provinces. There wasvirtually a unanimous call at the Roundtables for Canada to support the NewAgenda Coalition and to find ways to encourage the U.S. to accept itsresponsibilities to uphold humanitarian law. Recognizing that the U.S. isthe key to success in the elimination of nuclear weapons, the Roundtablescalled for a broader public debate in Canada about all the implications ofthe Canada-U.S. relationship.

The question of precisely why the Canadian government feels it has to goagainst its own instincts and the wishes of the overwhelming majority inCanada in not supporting U.N. resolutions calling for comprehensivenegotiations was repeatedly raised. Participants were puzzled as to whyCanada allows itself to be kept in a nuclear straitjacket. In what preciseway would the U.S. retaliate against Canada for taking steps towards theabolition of nuclear weapons? Would there be punitive trade measures?Would the U.S. stop taking Canadian astronauts into space? Roundtableparticipants clearly said they want answers to these questions so that thepublic can judge if there are legitimate reasons why Canada must continueto defer to the U.S. on a matter of such grave humanitarian consequences.

Ambassador Giffin has actually contributed to the debate that Canadiansseek. But he must listen as well as speak. He must become aware of deepvibrancies within the Canadian people seeking a safer, more cooperativeworld system that would make possible mutual and balanced nuclear weaponsdisarmament under strict and effective international control. To buildsuch architecture for a new security requires forward-minded thinking.

More than half a century ago, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt led theworld in the creation of the United Nations to stop "the scourge" of war.I look to the U.S. to return to such forward-minded thinking. Perhaps wein Canada can contribute to the recovery of the dynamism that has made theU.S. a great nation.

Doug Roche