Considering the Cost/Benefit
[The following articles make us ask ourselves about our right and obligation to put forth our opinions on government policy - R. Stewart]
Those of us who are active enough for peace to be reading and
contributing to these listservers have, I am sure, very high ideals and
personal standards of conduct. Some of us will hold to those standards
strictly and never compromise for our own comfort and convenience, or
even for that of our family. Excellent.
An important part of our work is to influence the rest of the public to
take an interest in our concerns.
Another is to try to influence governments and corporate bodies (such as
NATO and 'for-profit' corporations) to act the way we want. We believe
that the actions and changes we advocate would benefit the people of the world.
Governments have no moral standards. In many countries including our
own they have to give the appearance of observing moral standards to
some degree, but only to the extent that their delinquencies must not
lose them many votes. As a body a government has no principles, though
individual members have them and keep to them in varying degrees. If
there are any in high office whose principles demand that they resign
rather than ever say they support some action they think is wrong, they
get to resign. The members of a government are members of a party,
whose main collective concern as a political party is to be re-elected.
We who have high principles should consider the cost to our cause if we
refuse to condone, for instance by silence in the presence of some
particular wrong, a departure by those in power from what we believe to
be right. I am not suggesting that we should all of us be silent about
any particular wrong-doing of our government or of NATO; but that there
may be a cost to our cause if we rail publicly against it. Some of us
have such resolve to maintain our principles in our own lives that we
would never count the cost. Perhaps some of us may extend that to not
tolerating unprincipled actions of government or NATO, and would
disregard the cost of that intolerance to our cause as we would if it
were a cost to ourselves.
I don't think it is wise to ignore the cost of protest, in cases where
there is one. At least it should be estimated and acknowledged.
Sometimes a cost has to be accepted, at other times it may be too much.
I would not expect everybody to come to the same conclusion in all
instances. Predicting results has a lot of guesswork.
A Canadian government can do some things against U.S. wishes, but not
too many. Incidentally they know they get quite a lot of votes just by
doing something the people believe U.S. govt. does not like, because a
lot of Canadians do not like to think we are being pushed around by
Americans. (One of the media's ploys in getting "Free Trade" accepted
was to spread a rumour that the U.S. Congress did not want it.)
Our present government has achieved much more than most in Canadian
actions against U.S. wishes:
The landmines treaty,
The SCFAIT public enquiry and report on nuclear weapons,
Encouraging NATO nations to abstain on the New Agenda Coalition vote,
Pressing for review of NATO nuclear weapons policy.
(These in the areas I follow. I do not know their record in other fields.)
If we, the peace movement, make enough noise about Canadian consent to
the terrible U.S. and NATO actions in Iraq, Kosovo and elsewhere, we
shall not influence government morals, but we might, if we do it really
well, get the voters to throw this government out at the next election.
Then we should have some sort of conservative or "Reform" government;
not, I think, the NDP (who might be good if they lived up to their
recent good resolution on nuclear weapons).
If we scream at Axworthy enough to show the Prime Minister that Axworthy
does not have public support, Axworthy will be fired. We shall then get
a Foreign Minister who is more willing to toe the line - the P.M's
line not ours. At present we have a Foreign Minister who has, some of
the time, persuaded the government to act according to moral principles
for the good of the world, when the U.S. wanted otherwise. Axworthy
needs all the support that we can give him. He has been swimming
against the stream, and I for one want him to go on.
If principles seem not to allow that, be aware of the possible cost.
In response to Alan Philip's call for peace activists to refrain from
protesting against the Canadian government for its poor record on a variety
of peace and disarmament issues, I have to respond.
I totally disagree with Alan when he concludes by saying that, "Axworthy
needs all the support that we can give him. He has been swimming against
the stream, and I for one want him to go on."
Alan heralds the following accomplishments of Minister Axworthy:
"The landmines treaty,
The SCFAIT public enquiry and report on nuclear weapons,
Encouraging NATO nations to abstain on the New Agenda Coalition vote,
Pressing for review of NATO nuclear weapons policy."
(For another view of these issues, I will post an article by Doug Roche,
from Press for Conversion! - see below)
Here is another list of "accomplishments" which we must not forget or
ignore. (This is from an article by J. McKinnon called "Did Minister
Axworthy Deserve his Peace Award?" It is also published in the current
issue of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade's magazine "Press for
Conversion!" A free copy of this magazine is available from me upon request.)
"* Minister Axworthy assured the Indonesia government that Canadian
protesters would not get close to President Suharto during the APEC
* Minister Axworthy supported and pushed for NATO expansion into Eastern
Europe. He wanted the Ukraine in NATO.
* Minister Axworthy supported the US bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan
* Minister Axworthy continues to support the economic blockade against Iraq
despite the fact that nearly 1 million have died as a result.
* Minister Axworthy was a cheerleader for the NATO war that wreaked
destruction on the economy and environment of Yugoslavia and the deaths of
thousands of civilians.
* Minister Axworthy was "concerned about particular incidents in East
Timor." However, he has never spoken out against the Indonesian government.
* Minister Axworthy is a member of the Booster Club for the World Trade
Organization, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the International
This is a pretty impressive list of reasons for not supporting Axworthy.
It's also a list of reasons to protest against him and the government he
represents. However, it is far from being a complete list.
As a peace activist with a particular interest in arms trade issues, I must
also point out that Minister Axworthy is the chap who is responsible for
actually signing Canada's military export permits. These are the pieces of
paper that our government issues in order to authorize the sales of
Canadian military goods to foreign governments, except the US. (Long ago
our government -- in its wisdom -- decided that Canadian companies should
not need to get Canadian government authorization for any military exports
to our great friend and neighbour to the south.)
In case anyone still doesn't realize this, Minister Axworthy's Department
of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is this country's biggest
promoter of military exports. Canada's military industries export
virtually everything (EXCEPT landmines!). Over the last decade, we've sold
billions of dollars worth of military hardware to over a hundred
governments. Many of these governments are involved in wars. The US alone
-- which buys more military hardware from us than the rest of the world
combined -- led a massive attack killing thousands in Yugoslavia and
overtly bombed three other countries just last year alone. (And that
doesn't include all the countries that it probably bombed during the course
of its many covert operations.)
Our government has also sold military equipment to many governments that
are widely recognized as regularly using torture and extrajudicial
executions to instill terror in the hearts of their own civilians. Some of
these governments ban unions outright and have totally lax environmental
laws. These countries obviously have terribly unjust economic systems.
But the other side of the coin is that these are just the kind of economic
conditions that make some people multi-millionaires. The vast majority of
people however are needed to work in the factories and mines. They remain
virtual slaves. Those are the people who most want and need changes.
Those are the people who are imprisoned or tortured or shot by the police
and military forces that are armed thanks to Minister Axworthy's signature.
We need to stand in solidarity with our fellow activists in other
countries who are struggling for a better life. To give our unconditional
support to those who actually arming state terrorists who repress our
fellow activists does not make any sense at all.
How could I possibly, in good conscience, call myself a peace activist if I
refused to protest such atrocities and instead worked to encourage
Canadians to give all their support to Minister Axworthy and his Liberal
If I cannot protest against Axworthy and the Canadian government for its
long litany of evils, then what good am I as a peace activist?
I will not join those who wish us to become cheerleaders for Axworthy and
the Liberal government.
Some will say these are tough words, but perhaps they are not tough enough!
I'm sorry if I offend anyone with my work as a peace activist but I cannot
see how I can sing the praises of Minister Axworthy, his Department or the
Liberal government. These are not our allies! The efforts that Minister
Axworthy HAS made are largely empty symbolic and diplomatic gestures. They
are insignificant when compared to the great efforts they have made to
maintain the status quo in the institutions of war and injustice.
Axworthy and the Liberals are experts at sleight-of-hand. They present
themselves as mentors of peace while they go off to war. (Well actually,
they themselves don't go to war, they just initiate, arm, finance and give
diplomatic support for it.) Unfortunately, they have tremendous resources
at their disposal and their skills at public relations are admittedly
excellent. This is the best I can say about them. Their PR campaigns
manage to trick many members of the general public (and some peace
activists) into thinking that the Liberal party stands for peace, justice
and human rights. They are conservatives who hid themselves behind a
pleasant and friendly mask.
I believe that one of our main tasks as a peace movement is to inform the
public of the truth behind the fašade. We must expose the myth of Canada
as peacemaker, not reinforce it. This myth is perhaps our biggest obstacle.
As Robin Collins points out in his response to Alan's email: "there is more
than one moral response that can be concluded from the same complex issue.
There might be only one best strategy in any particular instance, but there
are often several equally moral attempts at reaching it successfully."
Robin refers to a meeting to discuss landmine-like weapons. I too was at
that meeting. The "conflict" between opposing strategies is best
summarized by the discussion about cluster bombs. The resource person at
the meeting was Rae McGrath, who delivered the acceptance speech for the
Nobel Peace Prize re: landmines. He goes around the world training people
to defuse landmines. I'm glad there are people like him to do that. His
focus, however, is entirely on post-conflict development issues. This is
fine but he should not undermine those of us who are trying to oppose the
horrors of wars and the unjust economic structures that are often at the
root of war. His problem with cluster bombs is that many of them don't
explode when they are initially dropped from warplanes during a war. This
"failure rate" means that people die for decades thereafter.
There was discussion about how to campaign against these horrible weapons.
Rae packaged his argument against cluster bombs in terms of a consumer
issue, i.e., if you bought a car and it didn't work 20% of the time, you'd
send it back and demand that they provided a car that worked 100% of the
time, right? I argued strenuously against this position but seemed to be
swimming upstream because others felt that it would be a better "strategy"
to campaign against the so called "failure" rate of the these weapons, not
the weapons themselves.
I believe the debate about the direction of a campaign against cluster
bombs reached its peak at a public lecture with Rae on the evening of our
closed workshop. A person in the audience calmly and sincerely asked Rae
whether he thought we should be calling for a ban on these weapons or
whether we should start a campaign to demand that they build a better
cluster bomb. Before he could answer, many in the audience broke out
Let's not turn the peace movement into a laughing stock. I believe that we
have a moral obligation to protest against war and human rights violations.
We also have a responsibility to expose those who are responsible for
causing and facilitating these ongoing crimes against peace and humanity.
If we decide to ignore these crimes, we must consider the cost to the
credibility of our work as peace activists.
Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)
541 McLeod St., Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 5R2
Tel.: 613-231-3076 Fax: 613-231-2614
Canada's voting record at the UN First Committee
By Senator Douglas Roche, Canada's former UN Ambassador for Disarmament.
The centre-piece resolution was submitted by the New Agenda Coalition
(NAC)(Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and
Sweden), which was formed last year to seek an unequivocal commitment from
the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to commence negotiations leading to a
program for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The NAC expressed deep
concern at the deterioration of the non-proliferation regime and the
spectre of new nuclear arms races.
Canada abstained on NAC's resolution at the 1998 session of the First
Committee, claiming that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and
International Trade had not yet completed its review of Canada's nuclear
weapons policies. The Committee, when it reported, recommended that "the
Government must encourage the nuclear-weapon States to demonstrate their
unequivocal commitment to enter into and conclude negotiations leading to
the elimination of nuclear weapons." This was in fact the content of
Operative Paragraph 1 of the NAC resolution.
This year, NAC returned with a resolution that was softened in order to
appeal to NATO states, 12 of whom had abstained last year. The core of the
resolution was contained in the new Operative Paragraph 1:
"Calls upon the Nuclear Weapons States to make an unequivocal undertaking
to accomplish the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear arsenals
and to engage without delay in an accelerated process of negotiations, thus
achieving nuclear disarmament, to which they are committed under Article VI
of the NPT."
NAC and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs went into extended
negotiations on the text. NAC agreed to remove the word "speedy" to get
Canada's affirmative vote. The Foreign Affairs Minister gave his assent
for a yes vote. The Defence Minister, whose department maintains a close
link with the Pentagon, which is adamantly opposed to comprehensive nuclear
negotiations, was opposed. The matter went to the Prime Minister, who took
the position that Canada should not be leading a breakout of NATO states
into the yes column.
Thus, Canada once again abstained on the NAC resolution. With Turkey and
the Czech Republic, a new member of NATO, switching their previous no to an
abstention, the total number of NATO states abstaining was 14. The other
five -- the U.S., the U.K. and France, known as the P3, along with two
other new NATO states, Hungary and Poland -- voted no.
Canada's explanation-of-vote was very revealing. After praising the NAC
resolution, the Canadian representative said: "The Nuclear Weapon States
and their partners and alliances need to be engaged if the goals of the New
Agenda resolution are to be achieved." This was a tacit admission that
Canada's hands are tied in voting for nuclear disarmament as long as the
U.S. and the NATO leadership hold that nuclear weapons are "essential" to
their military doctrine.
To drive home the point that the Canadian government considers itself not
free to vote principled positions on nuclear disarmament, Canada also
abstained on a new resolution introduced by China and Russia on the
Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The ABM Treaty was established by the
U.S. and the former Soviet Union in 1972 to limit defences against nuclear
weapons in an effort to slow down the development of new nuclear weapons.
The ABM Treaty has long been considered as a cornerstone for maintaining
global peace and security and strategic stability.
Canada has always been an ardent upholder of the ABM Treaty. But now the
U.S. wants to either weaken or abrogate the Treaty in order to deploy a new
national missile defence system. Billions of dollars are being spent on
the development of this system, and President Bill Clinton is scheduled to
make a decision next June whether to start deployment.
Both Russia and China have protested vigorously to the U.S., claiming that
such deployment will trigger new nuclear arms races, since neither country
can accept the prospect of U.S. unilateral invincibility. Canada well
recognizes that a missile defence system will de-stabilize the world
community, which is why this country did not join in supporting the
aborted, Reagan-inspired Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) of the 1980s.
Now the U.S. is back and wants Canada's support.
The Russian-Chinese resolution called for continued efforts to strengthen
the ABM Treaty and "to preserve its integrity and validity so that it
remains a cornerstone in maintaining global strategic stability and world
peace and in promoting further strategic nuclear arms reductions." The
resolution went on to urge countries to refrain from the deployment of such
systems and "not to provide a base for such a defence."
If Canada seriously intended to uphold the ABM Treaty, it would have voted
yes. Even France voted yes. The U.S. voted no. Since there were 73
abstentions, Canada had plenty of company, but gave away a principled
A consequence of U.S. determination to develop the technology for a
missile defence system was Canada's loss of consensus for its traditional
resolution calling for a committee at the Conference on Disarmament to
negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear
weapons. China balked on the grounds that it would need new fissile
material for nuclear weapons to counter the U.S. missile defence system.
Having abstained on the ABM resolution, Canada was not in a position to
argue with China and withdrew its resolution. The prospect now for a
fissile material ban is practically zero.
The annual Malaysian resolution revealed that Canada has not moved away
from ambivalence about the elimination of nuclear weapons, the government's
new policy notwithstanding. The resolution called for endorsement of the
unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice that nations
have an obligation to conclude negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament
under strict and effective international control. Canada voted yes to this
paragraph. But the next paragraph, calling for the commencement of
"multilateral negotiations in 2000 leading to the early conclusion of a
nuclear weapons convention" drew a no. Then Canada abstained on the
resolution as a whole.
A similar resolution calling for immediate negotiations in the Conference
on Disarmament "on a phased program of nuclear disarmament" was turned down
by Canada, which has customarily voted against time-bound programs for
disarmament. This policy was turned on its head when Canada supported the
package accompanying the Indefinite Extension of the NPT, which stipulated
that a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty be achieved by 1996).
Canada, of course, voted for the resolution endorsing the CTBT and urging
States which have not yet ratified the CTBT to accelerate their
ratification processes. Even the U.S. voted for this resolution.
Canada also joined the great majority of states in voting for the Japanese
resolution reaffirming the importance of the NPT and calling for "the
determined pursuit by the Nuclear Weapon States of systematic and
progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate
goal of eliminating those weapons, and by all states of general and
complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."
The key word here is "ultimate." Canada votes to uphold the
elimination of nuclear weapons but resists negotiations now that would
lead, in a measured way, toward that goal. By insisting on the maintenance
of nuclear weapons, the NWS have manifestly demonstrated their insincerity
in implementing Article VI of the NPT.
Canada's continued weak voting record on nuclear disarmament resolutions
-- the rhetoric of the government's policy notwithstanding -- is robbing
this country of credibility in the nuclear disarmament field. Canada
proclaims that it must take a "balanced" approach between its desire for
nuclear disarmament and its loyalty to NATO. But there is nothing
"balanced" in its voting record. The record shows clearly that Canada
refuses to support any resolution that specifies immediate action on a
comprehensive approach to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Canada
follows the U.S. and NATO line on the tough nuclear disarmament resolutions.
Canadians who followed the Parliamentary hearings on nuclear weapons
issues and who took hope in the government's response had a right to expect
that Canada would take bolder positions at the UN. It is true that Canada
took a step forward in urging NATO to review its nuclear weapons policies.
But this is only calling for a review. When it comes to voting for
comprehensive negotiations Canada says no or abstains. The failure to
support the New Agenda resolution is a bitter disappointment to Canadians
who expected that this year, in the face of the crippling of the
non-proliferation regime, Canada would at least support a moderate
The failure to do so in the face of a highly-informed public opinion as
contained in statements by the Canadian Pugwash Group, the Canadian Network
to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the UN Association of Canada and the Simons
Foundation Strategy Consultation indicates the government's capitulation to
the hard-line Cold War elements that still drive U.S. and NATO nuclear
policies. Since there is a strong public opinion in Canada to abolish
nuclear weapons and virtually no public opinion to maintain nuclear
weapons, the question of the subversion of democracy is opened up by the
government's continual refusal to call forthrightly for an end to nuclear
weapons for the sake of all humanity.
The failure to move ahead through the NAC resolution means that Canada is
crippled going into the NPT 2000 Review. Last spring, Canada offered the
outline of a new set of Principles and Objectives to shore up the NPT.
These Principles and Objectives are confined to the step-by-step approach,
which in the thirty years of the existence of the NPT has produced a
situation where there are virtually as many nuclear weapons now as when the
NPT came into existence.
As a result of the UN voting, it now seems that Canada will not be able to
support the growing demand for the NWS to make an unequivocal commitment to
the elimination of nuclear weapons through negotiations. Canada, which
holds the NPT at the centre of its policies, will find itself on the
margins of the debate -- all because it refuses to throw off the
intimidation of the Western nuclear powers.
In the Japanese resolution, there is a paragraph which: "Encourages the
constructive role played by civil society in promoting nuclear
non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament." Canada voted for this. In
Canada there is a highly developed civil society waiting for the
opportunity to work with the government, as was done in the Ottawa Process
that secured a Landmines Treaty. But a vibrant partnership between civil
society and the government to advance nuclear disarmament must await the
day when Canada makes an unequivocal commitment to the obtaining of a
Nuclear Weapons Convention that will ban forever the production and
deployment of nuclear weapons anywhere on the globe.
This was published in the December 1999, special issue of "Press for
Conversion!" on the theme: "Ridding the World of Nuclear Weapons."
A free sample copy is available upon request from Richard Sanders
BACK TO PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION TOPICS