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Defence Conversion for the 90's: A New Security Policy for Canada

Science is not a value-free enterprise. Its success depends on a respect for openness and freedom of enquiry, on an enthusiasm for creative ideas and on a willingness to abandon even the most treasured dogma whenever, under rigorous examination, it proves inadequate. These characteristics are just as necessary, we believe, in the search for peace and human justice.

The Global Context

The traditional presuppositions that underlay the 1987 Defence White Paper, Challenge and Commitment, have proved as dubious as critics claimed: they have little relevance to the realities we face. The political changes in Europe and in the Soviet Union have outrun military doctrines, alliance structures, and defence policies in place since the end of the Second World War. The disintegration of the Warsaw Treaty Organization marks the end of the Cold War.

Meanwhile, events in the past year have challenged our image of Canada as a benign peacemaker. The decision to use the army to suppress the Mohawk protest at Kanesatake and Kahnawake — protests demanding legitimate and long-ignored aboriginal rights — has shamed and deeply disturbed many Canadians. Also, urgent questions are raised by the Canadian Government’s precipitate dispatch of ships and CF-18’s to the Persian Gulf — without Parliamentary discussion or approval — and their subsequent use as adjuncts to the US-led ‘Operation Desert Storm’ and the accompanying slaughter. In both cases the Government chose guns over negotiation, conflict over peaceful resolution. It is time for us to re-examine our motives and policies.

War as arbiter of international disputes has been rendered obsolete by weapons of mass destruction, for no possible gain by their use can outweigh the human costs. In any case, war and fighting have no place in the solution of the global ecological, economic, and social crises we face. In fact, a continued preoccupation with preparations for war steals the intellectual and material resources we desperately need to face the actual threats to the security of our future and those of our fellow humans.

These threats are daunting, for we live on a planet that may well be dying. The imminence of impending ecological disaster is only dawning on us; the time for action is frighteningly short. We face converging crises: of pollution, environmental destruction, a growing gap between rich and poor, intractable international debts, preventable poverty, disease and illiteracy, depletion of resources, runaway population growth. The problems feed on each other. The search for security must be set in this global context. It will take all our resources to deal with these real problems; we simply cannot afford to continue to waste time and money responding to artificial threats. New directions are needed.

These new directions emphasize the need for a re-vitalized and strengthened United Nations. The relinquishing of a leadership role by the UN in the recent Persian Gulf crisis enabled our government and others to mis-use and misinterpret the mandate of the UN The result was a calamitous loss of life, horrendous suffering and dire environmental effects. The UN was set up to enable nations to settle disputes without resort to war. We must strive, in consort with other nations of the world, to enable it to uphold the promise of its charter.

Principles for a New Canadian Security Policy

For decades we have lived in fear. This has been the world of NATO and WTO, of ‘brinkmanship’ and ‘mutual assured destruction’, of depending on a deterrence principle that put the world at risk. Trillions of dollars have been spent on military devices that have held us in terror. Now the standoff of ‘superpowers’ by which this madness was rationalized has evaporated, and we feel a shred of hope again. Still we see the obscene arsenals of hideous weapons, enough to destroy all life; still we arm the nations of the world; still the budgets go to life-destroying ends.

There has to be a better way. We have to free the whole world of the fear of aggression, so that we can move on to facing the real problems that are overtaking us.

We speak here of the network of confidence-building measures known as ‘common security’. The biggest threats we face are global: there can be no ‘national’ security without global security, and any attempt to secure national security that threatens other nations or people is self-negating. It follows that national defence must be non-provocative, and this is one of the themes in our reconsideration of defence policy. It follows too that our main hope of security lies not in military preparedness but in seeking peaceful resolutions of conflict, in redressing injustice and in reversing environmental degradation.

For Canada, in particular, our security has little to do with defending ourselves militarily, but owes far more to an international order that recognizes and respects our autonomy. Our best defence lies in nurturing that order. It implies an even-handed and non-provocative stance towards all the other nations of the world. It is important that we not be dominated by another nation or bloc of nations: common security is the very antithesis of collective security by military alliances.

We in Science for Peace believe that, in light of these principles, a radically new approach is needed to protect security. In this document we propose: (i) a decisive reassignment of duties for the personnel of our present defence establishment, (ii) progressive elimination of military exports as an element of our economy, and (iii) several important modifications in our relationships with the other nations of the world.

I. Redesigning Our Security Forces

One outstanding fact must shape Canada’s security considerations: Canada faces no direct military threat to its territorial integrity. Because of a unique combination of geography and geopolitics foreign invasion is not a realistic fear. Canada may be unique in this freedom from direct military threat. It follows that our defence posture will be unique: it need not include all the traditional military elements of more threatened nations. It is relatively easy for us to be truly non-provocative and to make a significant contribution to world security. It is with such a perspective in mind that we propose a radical redirection of the priorities for our forces.

A. New priorities for Canada’s Forces

We have pointed out that Canada is under no direct military threat, and we argue below that we no longer have any valid role to play in military alliances such as NATO and NORAD. Yet there exists a trained and disciplined body of national servants in our Forces. Are there still vital roles to which the defence personnel and administration could turn their dedication and ability? We propose here three important tasks. Their adoption as the agenda of our defence establishment would enhance the security of Canada and the world, and be in line with our UN commitment to effective disarmament:

  1. non-provocative defence of Canadian territory, air space, and coastal waters

  2. peacekeeping under UN direction

  3. emergency disaster relief. The union of these roles upholds the principles both of sovereignty and of common security.

1. Non-Provocative Defence of Canadian Territory

Although there is no danger of military invasion, the length and loneliness of our coastlines invites incursions into our fisheries (already experiencing serious long-term problems), the misuse of our shores, the violation of our space and that of our aboriginal peoples. This argues for a much expanded and very well equipped Coast Guard Service.

Of particular interest in this regard is Canada’s special place in the Arctic. The interests of both Canada and the world are served by our greater attention to our North. The aims must be:

  1. the protection of the indigenous peoples and of the region’s ecology, and thus

  2. the clear assertion of Canada’s sovereignty in the North, coupled with increased cooperation with the circumpolar nations.

A key element is Canada’s taking the initiative in managing the region by establishing comprehensive regulations governing navigation and limiting economic activity; but such regulations require enforcement. In our view, extended Coast Guard operations are needed for both law enforcement and search-and-rescue capacity. Such operations imply a well-trained force equipped with powerful icebreakers, long-range reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters, appropriately designed ships, and a technology of remote under-water and above-ground automatic sensing systems.

Although this role of non-provocative defence needs the trained personnel now found in the Armed Forces, it is not a military task but rather one of policing. What we envision is a transfer of some of the personnel and equipment from our present Armed Forces into a reorganized and expanded Coast Guard Service; this should probably be managed under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It should be emphasized that we are speaking of an enormous task. We envisage a much expanded service, and one requiring the best equipment, much of it sophisticated technologically and much of it still needing development. We have failed for too long to treat this aspect of our security with the seriousness it deserves.

2. Peacekeeping

We are proud of Canada’s distinguished record in supplying a variety of contingents to help maintain treaty agreements and cease-fires. Ours is the only country to have participated in every one of the UN peacekeeping operations. There will be need for more such service in the future. The role is military, but it does not imply aggressive weaponry or modern war-fighting training. It does require a highly professional force, either unarmed or with minimal defensive weapons, and the best technology for surveillance and communication (e.g. high-tech electronic and signalling equipment).

With the end of the Cold War, the UN may want to use military sanctions to enforce its decisions and those of the International Court. Canada should be considering the role it might play in such operations, which would represent a step beyond providing peacekeeping forces that merely stabilize bilateral agreements.

3. Emergency Disaster Relief

In a world where assistance in unpredictable emergencies is often not available, or is too late and inadequate, Canada could offer a significant gift to the world — an efficient emergency force trained for immediate response to events such as floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, famines, etc. Disaster relief would be a worthy main task for our services, and for this armaments are not needed nor appropriate. As Dr. Robert McClure has said, we need to ‘replace our warplanes with transport planes able to carry the bulldozers with which we have replaced our tanks.’1 Then we could be a lifesaving force on the ground anywhere in the world within hours. A technology of prefabricated emergency housing and emergency food supplies should be developed. A greatly expanded engineering corps and a substantial medical corps would be central to such operations.

We would envisage that both the peace-keeping and disaster-relief activities could be managed under a single Ministry, e.g. a Ministry of Emergency Services. However in order to implement our recommendations, the work of this Ministry must be closely coordinated with that of External Affairs, Finance, Environment and Northern Affairs.

B. Pressing Concerns

We here direct attention to three matters requiring action that cannot wait for the major structural changes proposed above:

1. Chemical and Biological Weapons

Canada plays a part in CBW research through the Defence Research Establishment at Suffield, Alberta. When public pressure forced the Canadian government to reveal some of the research activities there, Albertans discovered that 1.5 kg of nerve gas had been released into their air in 1987, subjecting them to health risks.2

We are absolutely opposed to the proposal to build a large-scale ‘containment facility’, classed as Bio-Safety Level 4 (the top category for CBW research), presumably adequate for testing the most dangerous pathogens in aerosol form, including perhaps genetically-altered organisms for which no cures are known. We note that the US army was forced by public outcry to drop plans for such a facility in that country.

The secrecy of the research activities at Suffield has aroused grave concern about Canada’s role in this field. Canada must oppose all CBW development, and in that case there is no excuse for any secrecy surrounding research at Suffield. Such research should be terminated. This would contribute to peace instead of increasing the risks of devastation.

We endorse the work being done by the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva to develop a Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The current negotiations to construct a verification and compliance system of broad scope are encouraging. The treaty will provide for an international agency to administer the verification system but some nations are still reluctant to give such an agency authority to make judgments concerning compliance. We see the latter as an essential part of an effective CWC. So is a requirement that signatories enact national legislation ensuring compliance with the terms and the intent of the treaty. We take this position because the Biological Weapons Convention says little about verification and the modest step it took on national legislation is so weak that Canada and other nations have ignored it. We need the CWC to be truly effective in eliminating chemical weapons. ‘The system that is eventually adopted for the CVVC will have further significance in that it will likely become a model for future multilateral treaties’3 and therefore we in Science for Peace are concerned that it be carefully done.

2. Scientists in Defence Research

The federal government funds six defence research establishments located in Dartmouth, Valcartier, Downsview, Suffield, Victoria, and in the National Capital Region. In 1987 these labs employed some 1800 staff at a cost of $121 million.4 The range of defence-related research is broad: from armaments, explosives, surveillance, and the human-machine interface, to microbiological warfare, antisubmarine detection, and fluid dynamics. Science for Peace does not condemn all research conducted at these labs out-of-hand. We do, however, urge the federal government to convert the defence labs to civilian research centres.

In their impact on Canadian science two aspects of Canada’s defence laboratories concern us most: their secretiveness is contrary to the principles of scientific research, and they deplete the resources available for more accountable civilian research.

Accordingly Science for Peace calls for the conversion of the defence labs from military to civilian research. The mandate of these restructured labs should be to further the goals of common global security through research in areas such as arms control treaty verification technology and to further Canada’s security within this broader context. The results obtained in these labs should be published in the open scientific literature, so that peers can carry out the analysis and criticism essential to any sound scientific activity.

3. Human Rights and the Environment

Canada claims to be a western liberal democracy that defends human rights. Yet Canada is denying these rights to the Innu, sacrificing this First Nation by imposing — despite repeated Innu protests — NATO fighter-bomber training on Nitassinan, the territory in Labrador/Quebec where the Innu have lived for 9,000 years and which they have never ceded.

We are deeply ashamed of Canada’s participation in the practice of oppressing minority peoples. We find it incredible that in the thousand-page Environmental Impact Statement released by DND a year ago the Innu are mentioned only eleven times. Such is the denial by the DND of the very existence of indigenous people with inherent rights. We once more call on the government to end all fighter-bomber training over Nitassinan, honour Innu land rights, settle their land claims, and let them determine the uses to which their own land is put. The principle of taking account of the will and rights of the community involved in any military endeavour should also be applied in the case of four other corridors for flight training, in British Columbia, Alberta, Northern Ontario, and New Brunswick.

Numerous military activities are unacceptable to us not only because they are destabilizing to world security and violate human rights, but because of associated environmental destruction and risks. Some examples are: low level flights, which disturb humans, fauna and flora and create acid rain precipitation in the corridors used for training; craters and unexploded materials; Agent Orange tests in the Maritimes; port visits of nuclear-armed ships; war exercises, which use non-renewable resources and increase carbon dioxide emissions and thus the ‘greenhouse effect’; uranium mining for nuclear weapons production; and the generally lax environmental and safety standards applied by the military.

Science for Peace recommends that policy changes correcting such activities be made at once. Were Canada to pursue a course of common security as recommended in the document the above and similar activities would be precluded. This would serve Canada’s interests and be an example to other countries.

II. Arms Production and Trade

We are alarmed at the growing Canadian involvement in nuclear systems: 28 nuclear or nuclear-capable weapon systems are being built with Canadian components (e.g. the MX missile, Trident submarines, helicopters carrying nuclear depth charges). Nuclear weapons are a threat to global security. Few people know about the extent of Canada’s commitment to the nuclear arms race.

Canada has ignored the UNSSOD II recommendation that each member state carry out a national conversion study on converting from military to civilian production without loss of jobs. We are opposed to the government’s policy goals of expanding Canada’s export-oriented and highly commercial military-industrial base and promoting arms exports as a purported engine of prosperity.

Present arrangements under the Defence Development and Production Sharing Arrangements (DDPSA) and the Defence Industry Productivity Program (DIPP) ensure the promotion of arms manufacture and sales for economic and commercial reasons. Under DDPSA, Canada purchases major equipment from the US, while DIPP involves subsidizing and encouraging military production.5 These policies are unsound from economic and defence points of view, ensuring dependence on US or Third World markets. Canada’s close ties to the United States in these arrangements threaten Canada’s autonomy by giving the US a direct lever to influence Canadian defence and foreign policy decisions.

These arrangements also lead to Canadian-made goods ending up, by either direct or indirect export, in countries known for human rights violations. By Amnesty International estimates, 60 percent of the 45 Third World countries obtaining Canadian military commodities in a recent period (1980-84) were cited on a regular basis for human rights violations. With US military expenditures on the decline, Canadian arms exports seem all too likely to increase. Our one percent share of this arms trade is usually discounted as insignificant. Science for Peace finds it reprehensible: in effect this share caused 200,000 of the 20 million deaths occurring in wars in the Third World since 1945, double the number of Canadians killed in 20th century wars.

The folly of spreading arms is manifest in the recent mid-East crisis. How ironical it is that Iraq received military helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft with Canadian engines — a major component — because Canada does not follow the rule of controlling the end-use of its military goods.

Science for Peace recommends the following guidelines for Canadian military production and spending:

  1. reversal of the present Government’s policy to expand Canada’s military-industrial base; in the longer term, complete termination of military production for export.

  2. initiation of a national conversion study to prepare for conversion of the military industries not needed to supply the country’s own, self-defined, legitimate defence needs

  3. in the meantime, full public disclosure of all military exports and an arms trade register, to increase public awareness of the dangers

  4. prohibition of nuclear-weapons-related production

  5. regaining control over Canadian military production arrangements by withdrawal from DDPSA

  6. elimination of DIPP and all government subsidies of military production for export

  7. use of funds formerly given to DIPP to assist in this industrial conversion.

III. Canada and the World

1. Canada’s Role in Disarmament

To avert nuclear confrontation and work for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, Canada must use its skill in diplomacy and its technical competence in verification. We join the majority of Canadians in demanding that Canada push for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and are disappointed that Canada did not support this position in the 1991 negotiations. The CTBT is by far the most effective means of stopping the ‘vertical’ proliferation of new weapons development. ‘Horizontal’ proliferation to new nations is inhibited at present by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT comes up for renewal in 1995, and it is unlikely to be continued by the non-nuclear nations unless the CTBT is in place by then, so achievement of the latter goal is now urgent. We think that Canada’s upgrading of the Yellowknife Seismic Array to detect underground nuclear explosions, and leadership in international committees on seismic verification are positive contributions to the establishment of arrangements to monitor such a test ban.

From its inception Science for Peace has emphasized the importance of getting rid of nuclear weapons. We agree with the position that all ground-based nuclear weapon systems should be removed from German soil and we applaud Mr. Clark’s advocacy of this removal. Expert opinion in Science for Peace holds that risks of nuclear escalation and unintended nuclear war are inherent in NATO strategy as it still stands.6 Science for Peace has repeatedly called for an end to cruise missile testing on Canadian soil because it helps to create a destabilizing first-strike option for the US and is counter to the principle of non-provocative defence and common security.

We are convinced that now is the time for Canada to press for the greatest arms reduction measures possible. The Canadian-sponsored Open Skies initiative to secure a more open approach to verification was a laudable attempt. We regret that the US rejected the USSR proposal for equal sharing of information, equality of equipment, and UN involvement. However a parallel agreement to establish such a capability for the UN can be negotiated. As Walter Dorn, the UN representative of Science for Peace, notes, ‘A UN [permanent and comprehensive] verification agency is the best means to develop an effective, treaty-specific, flexible and objective system of multilateral verification.’7 Such an agency, Science for Peace believes, would be a confidence-building contribution to progressive disarmament and a safer world.

2. The Arctic

The deployment of nuclear-armed cruise missiles on US and Soviet bombers and submarines operating in the Arctic and the continued interest in strategic missile defence and air defence systems are alarming. We note with dismay that Canada has participated in this militarization, instead of pressing for limits to it. To us, Canada’s announced participation in the Air Defence Initiative suggests that the government is open to allowing airborne strategic defence or interception forces on Canadian territory, a violation of our sovereignty and a threat to global security. Further, we find the deployment and production of cruise missiles intolerable, since these weapons are provocative and destabilizing. We encourage Canada to press for the reduction and ultimate ban of cruise missiles.

Canada must ensure that its territory is not used, and cannot be perceived to be used, to threaten any other nation. We strongly urge that Canada not permit its territory to be used for potentially provocative ‘defence’ systems such as the ground-based Excalibur X-ray laser Braduskill, or the interceptor rocket ERIS, or the forward basing of the Airborne Optical System. Canada’s geographical location means that it plays a key role in determining whether such systems are deployed and thus it has a significant disarmament opportunity. ‘As a major Arctic power, Canada is in a strong position to give leadership in demilitarization and in a fully co-operative approach to surveillance and verification.’8

We recommend effective surveillance of Arctic choke points by remote underwater and above-ground automatic sensing capabilities. We remain convinced there was and is no need for submarine patrol capabilities. Air and space surveillance above our Arctic can offer reassurance to us and the whole world. It is essential, however, that such activities not be seen as part of any nation’s aggressive plans. For this reason it is important, in our opinion, for Canada to take sole responsibility for providing such surveillance, and to make its surveillance data freely available to all.

Since April 1988, Science for Peace, with other peace organizations, has urged the government to enter into negotiations with the USSR and other Arctic nations to stop and reverse Arctic militarization. In fact we propose that Canada pursue the establishment of a demilitarized zone in the Arctic. Canada should be collaborating with the rest of the interested northern peoples in protecting the fragile Arctic environment from military and other damages. We have supported the call for a continuing conference on security in the Arctic. ‘In association with others, Canada can develop the resources of the region, coordinate scientific research, protect the fragile northern environment, and bring into being a just and peaceful community.’8 To promote these goals, Canada should support the Finnish initiative for an international conference on protection of the Arctic environment. The recent recommendation of the House of Commons’ External Affairs and International Trade Committee that parliament organize and host a circumpolar conference with the aim of creating a permanent Conference on Arctic Security and Cooperation thus seems timely. An important feature of security in the Arctic is an insistence on respect for International Law.


Given NATO’s concentration on military confrontation and failure to fulfill its political and economic mandates, it cannot be the appropriate organization for the unifying tasks that lie ahead in Europe and the Soviet Union. Former External Affairs minister Joe Clark has acknowledged the limitation of NATO as a means of building peace and urged that the security issues of the new Europe should be addressed instead through other means. We note the importance of addressing these issues through a wider, non-military grouping such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).

The dismantling of alliance blocs has already begun with the disintegration of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. NATO should be dismantled as soon as possible. Canada should, in any case, give notice of its own intention to withdraw from NATO and remove our remaining troops from Europe, immediately. Withdrawal will contribute to creating a new political reality promoting progress in arms control negotiations. It would also free billions of dollars for more constructive ends.


As currently structured, NORAD is increasingly integrated into nuclear weapons control and maintenance systems that serve US nuclear war-fighting strategies. Membership in NORAD entails abdication of our sovereignty: militarization of Canadian airspace without federal government approval. As George Ignatieff pointed out, the ‘secret bilateral agreements under NORAD… in the event of an emergency would enable the USA to declare alerts for North America and deploy nuclear weapons into and over Canada, as well as into Canadian waters.’9 Canada should not renew its membership.

Instead we should establish the means for monitoring our own territory to provide reassurance to all nations that Canadian territory is not being used to mount an attack on or threaten any other nation.

What is needed is effective surveillance (e.g. through long-range reconnaissance planes and helicopters), and early warning capabilities to identify threats, which can reduce any incentives to attack. What is not needed, and is provocative, is combat preparedness. For these reasons, we oppose Canadian participation in the Air Defense Initiative, which is designed as an accompaniment to the Strategic Defense Initiative.


In a world heavily militarized and threatened with omnicide, we must realize that things cannot go on as they did for ages. With the end of the Cold War, the abolition of the institution of war can and must be put on the political agenda worldwide if we and other species are to survive and prosper in diversity and unity. In a book soon to be published by Science for Peace, Canada and the World, Anatol and Anthony Rapoport write:

Institutions imbedded in a society are systems often endowed with impressive viability potential, which enables them not only to withstand encroachments on their existence but also to resist attempts to change their character. Military establishments have acquired this immunity to a considerable degree. The threat of a cataclysmic end of civilization stems from this acquired autonomy and immunity.10

The recommendations made by Science for Peace in the present paper — to restructure Canada’s security policies so that they would rely on the principles of autonomy and common security — represent major steps towards realizing the eventual abolition of the institution of war.


1 University College Lectures in Peace Studies (UCLIPS), October, 1989, Toronto ^

2 Those Toxic chemicals in Alberta, Diana Chown, Peace Magazine, June 1990, p.12 ^

3 Markland Policy Group, Disarmament’s Missing Dimension: A UN Agency to Administer Multilateral Treaties, (Toronto, Science for Peace/Samuel Stevens, 1990) p.20 ^

4 Directory of Federal Government Scientific and Technological Establishments, 1987 ^

5 Ernie Regehr, Arms Canada: the deadly business of military exports, (Toronto: Lorimer, 1987), xii ^

6 See Horst Ahfeld, ‘Accidental nuclear war in Europe,’ in Accidental nuclear war: Proceedings of the eighteenth Pugwash workshop on nuclear forces (Toronto: Science for Peace/Samuel Stevens, 1990),p.96 ^

7 See A. Walter Dorn, ‘UN should verify treaties’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 1990, pp. 12-13 ^

8 A call for demilitarization of the Arctic,’ 7 April 1988, Polar opposites: ensuring peace in the Arctic, Project Ploughshares Working Paper 89-1, (Waterloo), 1989, p.2 ^

9 G. Ignatieff, ‘Comment on National Defence White Paper on A DEFENCE POLICY FOR CANADA’, 16 June 1987 ^

10 Rapoport, Anatol and Anthony, Canada and the World, (Science for Peace/Samuel Stevens, 1991), p.29 ^

The above document was presented at a Citizens’ Inquiry into Peace and Security in Ottawa on October 31, by David Parnas, President, Science for Peace.

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