top of page

From the Media: notes and matters arising

NATO — Problems … Progress?

“NATO at 40” has 900,000 troops in West Germany “to repulse an attack no one any longer believes is coming.” Sixteen NATO nations spend a total of 300 billion dollars a year in Europe of which the US pays at least half. The removal of the 360,000 US troops would be destablizing unless the USSR would “adopt a genuinely defensive military posture” (Editorial, Globe and Mail, April 7).

Before the recent NATO Summit, the US administration was so reluctant to discuss the West German proposal to negotiate a reduction in short-range nuclear missiles that President Bush declined to meet with the West German Foreign and Defense ministers. The US reluctance had persisted in the face of Gorbachev’s declaration of a unilateral reduction of short-range nuclear weapons by 500 this year. Even if such a reduction would, as the Americans claimed, still leave the Soviets with a clear advantage, a failure to respond except by noting that “It’s a good step, but a very small step” (James Baker, US Secretary of State), conveys a feeling of a vacuum among US policy makers. The Observer’s Patrick Brogan wrote that “… the United States needs a president with vision and power of leadership, to chart the course into new and difficult waters, and persuade the American people to follow him there.” (Globe and Mail, May 18).

In the event, at the NATO Summit at the end of May, President Bush proposed a cut of 20 percent (30,000 troops) of US forces in West Germany which, if matched by Soviet reductions of 50 percent, would bring Soviet and US troop numbers to 275,000 each, combined with destruction of 15 percent of existing weapons, including airplanes and helicopters.

To meet West German wishes, the proposal also indicated a willingness, when a US-Soviet agreement on conventional arms and forces is under way, to begin to negotiate “a partial reduction of American and Soviet land-based nuclear missile forces of shorter range to equal and verifiable levels.” (Globe and Mail, May 31)

This, at least at the level of public relations appears to have satisfied the NATO partners — perhaps even Great Britain. However, the words of NATO Secretary-General, Manfred Woerner, were perhaps an ominous indication that the NATO position remains a reactive rather than a proactive one in the search for permanent peace in Europe based on eventual full disarmament:

“We do not want to see a nuclear-free Europe … why? We want a Europe that is free from war. Nuclear weapons are war-preventing, not war-making. There have been no wars in Europe since the Second World War; there have been 150 wars outside Europe since the Second World War.”

However, Mr Woerner, it will take but one war in Europe, not started by nuclear weapons, but finished by them, to overshadow a thousandfold all the 150 wars you refer to …

Immediately following the NATO announcements, the Warsaw Pact countries have responded with an offer of troop and arms reductions of apparently the numbers proposed by NATO. It will be interesting to see how quickly real discussions and actions by both sides will follow. Soviet Foreign Minister, Shevardnadze, has already warned that 100,000 French and British forces in West Germany would have to be factored into troop agreements.

Nuclear Subs — continuing thoughts…

“Peace groups cheer move to scrap nuclear submarines” in Canada (Nick Pron, Toronto Star, April 27). “This has to be the most welcome decision the government has made,” (Nicholas Prychodko, Toronto Disarmament Network).

At a somewhat more considered level Ernie Regehr (“Misguided Policy Sank with Subs”, Toronto Star, April 30) writes:

“with the costs spread over a quarter century the subs would have claimed less than 100 million dollars a year during the Mulroney mandate — which means not even one-sixth of the defense spending cut comes from the still-born subs.” “Their true value now is as a symbol of a government without a coherent security strategy.” “The defense white paper, the official defense policy, is now effectively sunk along with the subs.” “But we don’t need a new defense white paper. Canadians would be better served by a security green paper … with defense policy properly placed in the service of an overall security strategy, a security green paper could also emphasize economic, environmental and other non-military elements of security. Arms control and disarmament could be raised as key security objectives, addressing not only the nuclear threat, but also the runaway international arms trade that now fuels regional conflicts.”

There is more. In Nature, April 6, Seth Shulman and Ricardo Bonalume report on “Proliferation of Nuclear Subs” following a recent meeting at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), that Brazil and India (though no longer, Canada) plan to build or buy nuclear-powered subs. India has already leased one from the USSR, and retired vice-admiral K.K.Nayyav says that India constitutes 17 percent of the world’s population and that “we want to be there to be reckoned with.” Brazil is also said to want a strong nuclear submarine presence in the South Atlantic having been impressed by British nuclear subs in the Falklands War! Countries currently showing interest in nuclear subs reportedly have nuclear-power programmes and plentiful plutonium. The potential for future and continuing destablization is readily appreciated.

Meanwhile, there is already some present environmental threat from nuclear subs. Dale Grant (Globe and Mail, April 24) notes that “the recent sinking of another Soviet sub — an experimental Mitre class — off northern Norway brings the total known nuclear submarine disasters to seven.” In the same Globe and Mail, David Graft of Green-peace (“A nuclear time bomb lurks on the ocean floor”) writes of “the constant risk of environmental disaster. Once more a nuclear-powered submarine lies at the bottom of the ocean, condition unknown.” And “Two nuclear reactors containing hundreds of kilograms of highly radioactive nuclear fuel, and two nuclear warheads containing several kilograms of lethal plutonium, now sit on the bottom of the ocean. Whatever the condition of the submarine’s hull or the nuclear reactors today, these materials will inevitably be released into the marine environment sooner or later.”

Finally, we can feel alarm over prospects for sub miniaturization. Richard Compton-Hall (“The incredible shrinking submarine”, New Scientist, April 1989) describes efforts to develop new, smaller subs, using a toroid hull structure that is both five times stronger than one made of steel plates, and which can itself store fuel. This may result in an ultra-quiet, small but very spacious vessel, according to results with loot °types in Italy. These mini-subs displace up 150 tons and are 23-27 metres long. They carry torpedoes or a great range of other weapons, or a team of 16 commandos. They will be able to cover the Mediterranean and Adriatic from Italian bases. One version will cruise at 16 knots, have a 25 knot burst speed and an underwater range of 2000 nautical miles at 8 knots. They will be very cheap (estimated at 22 million pounds each) — i.e. “within the price range of several foreign navies.” Western naval experts “have already pointed to the danger they pose if they fall into hostile hands”. There is the further concern that if the technology can be scaled up for use with medium-sized subs (2800 tons) and performance coincides with that of nuclear-powered vessels, this technology could “challenge the large nuclear hunter-killers that are currently deemed, by submariners at least, to rule the seas from below.”

The End of Nuclear Testing?

There is plenty of popular sentiment these days against any further nuclear testing. Physicians have urged against it (Mark Leith, “Fight nuclear arms with a pen,” Toronto Star, March 24), many religious and peace groups are against it (Michael McAteer, “Peace group urges nuclear testing ban”, Toronto Star, March 29), and polls show that many ordinary citizens are against it. Why, then, does the Canadian Government continue to allow tests over our soil of a device which is the delivery system for a nuclear charge? For that is what the Cruise is — it has no meaning in any other context.

Happily, it now seems that there will be a UN conference to discuss converting the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 to a total ban. This has occurred because more than the 39 nations (all non-nuclear) required have called upon the three nuclear states — the United States, the USSR and Britain — which negotiated the 1963 treaty (PTBT) to convene such a conference. To quote William Epstein (Globe and Mail, 20 April 1989): The task will not be accomplished quickly … the United States is likely to oppose the amendment. It may take several years to persuade it to come around … (However a) simple majority of the 58 parties to the agreement can bring an amendment into force, but it must include all three superpowers; in effect, each has a veto.” And, “The non-nuclear states are confident that their amendment initiative will succeed eventually, the planned conference will generate strong national and international pressures on the United States and Britain, where public opinion polls strongly favour a total ban. The same is true of Canada.” This last point is interesting when, as Epstein observes, the Canadian Government inexplicably opposes the amendment. As for the USSR, it has already declared that it would accept a total test ban if the treaty were enacted.

Epstein points out that if the amendment is approved by a majority — including the three nuclear states — it becomes binding on all parties signatory to the original PTBT. “This has obvious implications for the near-nuclear states — Argentina, Brazil, India, Israel, Pakistan and South Africa — as all of them have ratified the Partial Test Ban Treaty and none the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968). They would (therefore) be unable to ‘go nuclear,’ a boon to the cause of non-proliferation and a powerful incentive to the nuclear powers to ratify the amendment.”

Incidentally, this strategy which may legally “trap” the nuclear superpowers into a total ban treaty, has apparently been masterminded by a group called Parliamentarians for Global Action. If their plans succeed they will surely be prime candidates for a Nobel Peace Prize — and humanity will be their perpetual debtors.

More, and Still More, Weapons

Wilson Ruiz (“Canadian munitions sales to Latin America taking off,” Globe and Mail, September 9, 1988): “The president of (a Canadian) arms exporting company … said that sales of military products to Latin America and other Third World Countries help the Canadian armed forces to acquire a sufficient quantity of sophisticated and costly military equipment. He explained that the production in Canada of many modern weapons systems is often possible only if the production run is increased, so that each unit absorbs a smaller amount of the basic investment in tooling, labor and plant costs. In order to arm ourselves, we must help arm the world. That is the reality of the Canadian defence industry.”

Peter Calamai, Toronto Star, April 27 (“Moving trains may carry MX nuclear missiles near our border”): “… peace groups worry Canada couldn’t refuse a US request to allow MX trains across the border in a nuclear alert … ‘The government position is that we have the right to say no,’ said Project Ploughshares spokesman Bill Robinson, ‘but the chances of that happening under those conditions are very slim.”

Simon Rosenblum (Project Ploughshares) (“Leaner but meaner”): “The world will not be safer place if the superpowers produce nothing more than a ‘disarmament’ treaty that creates ‘leaner but meaner’ nuclear forces … The United States, in particular, seems determined to push ahead with the development and deployment of ever more dangerous weapons. One line of argument maintains that it must develop new nuclear weapons as ‘bargaining chips’ in order to force the Soviet Union to be more forthcoming at the negotiating table. But the Soviets are already there with their cards all laid out, offering balanced and far-reaching nuclear disarmament. The U.S. commitment to modernization reflects a strong attachment to provocative military strategies based upon the ‘utility’ of faster and more accurate weapons.”

Dale Grant, Toronto Star, April 24 (“Long-range missiles enter Mideast arms race”). In commenting on reported deployment of nuclear and other weapons in the Middle East and possible use by some countries in the region of anti-tactical ballistic missile systems (ATBMs), Dale Grant notes that: “Some have pointed out that destruction of unconventional warheads high in the atmosphere could spread chemical, biological or radioactive debris over thousands of kilometers, perhaps affecting distant countries … Others stress the one constant of the Mideast arms race. When one nation gets a new weapon, all the others want it, too.”

Time for Peace

John Polanyi, Globe and Mail, May 12 (“The New Star Wars”). In discussing “Brilliant Pebbles” — a new variant of SDI techniques: “Defensive systems are vulnerable because the attacker chooses the time and place for the encounter. This is the easier task, technically and strategically. If he is determined he will get through. Of the thousands of missiles available to him, precious few are really required. One or two missiles are capable of destroying ten major cities.”

Dr. George Ignatieff (former President, Science for Peace), The Humanist in Canada, Spring 1989 (“Give peace a chance”). Excerpts:

“It is now painfully clear that deterrence has become another way of continuing the arms race, resulting in an increasing diversion of resources to maintain an unstable military balance …” “In particular, Canadians need to look for a new definition of peace and security as we approach a new century, recognizing the increased global interdependence of all nations, and refuse to be enticed into a FORTRESS AMERICA. There is no excuse for increasing our own deficit by investing in unusable military hardware when we could have a hand in the more coherent world vision.” “Desperately needed, instead of the rather ambivalent attitude of the Canadian government fence-sitting between deterrence and peace, is a programme of education and action to consolidate, connect and accelerate the positive elements of a peace strategy I have outlined, putting restraints on the linked problems of militarism, pollution of the environment, and underdevelopment.” “…now is not the time to let the opportunity slip of giving peace a chance by going back to the principles of the UN Charter and international cooperation which the Soviets are now evidently trying to accept as the basis of their new thinking in international relations. My sense of history and my experience over seventy years at least tells me that we owe it to the present generation and those who come afterwards, to seize this historic turn of events to Give Peace a Chance. Let’s not lose this opportunity by over-caution, cynicism, or following the example of the cold war zealots in other countries, while the new Administration in Washington is making up its mind. The stakes are too high.”

The following letter appeared in the Globe and Mail, April 28, 1989, entitled “Challenge for NATO”:

The editorial Missile Threat to Mr. Kohl (April 14) admirably points up the quandary now facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: whether to cling to the old policy of nuclear deterrence as the main source of security, or explore creatively the realities of “the remarkable improvements in East-West relations” you referred to. The old policy of deterrence fuelled the arms race and led to a kind of security through military stalemate in Europe, but offered no solutions to the division of Europe politically and economically. The present quandary presents a challenge to all NATO members to free themselves from the vortex of weapon “modernization” and offer freedom from fear of mass destruction to the peoples yearning for it in Canada, as well as in Europe. Now is the time to give peace a chance by seeking political solutions to what are essentially political problems, which do not yield to resolution through the development of new and more deadly missiles, which yield benefits mainly to those who make them, whether they cruise or proceed by Stealth. — George Ignatieff, Former Canadian Ambassador to NATO

Richard Gwyn (“U.K. Labour party plans to soft-sell socialism,” Toronto Star, May 12). Neil Kinnock, British Labour leader has repudiated the former Labour doctrine of unilateral disarmament, including scrapping the Trident submarines (as promised in 1987). “Ironically, Kinnock might have done better to have remained a unilateralist. The Cold War now has gone into storage. Missiles kept on when there’s no enemy to use them against is an even greater act of futility — as Thatcher, who is struggling to force the West Germans to accept more short-range ones, is finding out.” Indeed, to judge from a more recent pronouncement (Manchester Guardian Weekly, 28 May), Kinnock appears now to have embraced fully the U.S. position: “We have made it categorically clear that for as long as the USSR has weapons so will the USA and vice versa.”

“Our conference has repeatedly voted to remain in NATO which we acknowledge is a nuclear alliance. We understand that the reason for having weapons of any description is partially in order to deter the prospect of an attack.”

Peaceful Uses!

Let the believers in the increasing use of nuclear energy in peaceful contexts be continually reminded of Windscale (a generation on and still a menace), Three Mile Island which, 10 years ago, just missed being a great human tragedy and Chernobyl … which didn’t miss! Stephen Handleman (“Chernobyl ‘fallout’ won’t quit,” Toronto Star, 30 April): “After years of official denials that any major health hazard resulted from the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl (April 26, 1986), Soviet people learned that more than 230,000 inhabitants in a zone stretching across three republics were still at risk from radiation.” Moreover, Ukrainian villages are still being evacuated, and calves without heads and pigs without eyes reported being born. One report claims average annual cancer rates in the Chernobyl region have doubled since 1986.

Patrick Donovan (Manchester Guardian Weekly, May 28) writes that: “Three years on the decontamination process still continues. The Soviets have been forced to isolate forever a chunk of the Ukraine. And they will pay the price of radiation-related sickness for generations to come.”

Four Final Notes

Thomas B. Allen (“A wasteland — but it’s only a game”, Manchester Guardian Weekly, May 21):

“What dangers do battlefield nuclear weapons pose for West Germany? It is impossible to know, of course. But some troubling speculative evidence can be found in the secret war games routinely played by U.S. strategists. “Foreigners would inhibit the game … Imagine what the Germans would say if they were around the day one of us said: “Let’s write off Germany.”

A commercial war game called “Hof Gap” exists that uses “a game board, symbols, and playing pieces almost identical to those used in secret, Pentagon-sponsored games.” There is also a global war game called Strategic Analysis Simulation used by the U.S. Defense Department which examines ways “to keep a nuclear war going after a limited exchange” that is still used at the National Defense University, Washington D.C.

Paul Nitze (“Caution is in order — but not doing nothing”, Manchester Guardian Weekly, May 21):

“I emphasised (to Secretary of State, Baker) that the current U.S. position of insisting on German agreement to modernize Lance (missiles) while adamantly refusing to consider negotiations with the Soviets (over short-range nuclear missiles) could not today be agreed to by any conceivable German government.” “We can both be cautious … and at the same time explore with the Soviets whether they are prepared to negotiate agreements … Caution and explorations of the possible are not necessarily contradictory aims.”

(Paul Nitze was special adviser on arms control to President Ronald Reagan.)

James Jackson and Christopher Redman (Time, May 29, “The Myths NATO lives by”) write that:

(i) Most Americans (81% in poll) believe the US would use nuclear weapons only if the USSR attacked US territory. (ii) The US could not effectively increase its land forces in Europe during a war by the six divisions in ten days it is pledged to since the Pentagon has stated the U.S. “cannot deliver even one full division within 30 days.” (iii) NATO could not “sustain” a conventional war in Europe because it lacks the stockpiles of munitions and fuel. (iv) There are strong doubts that, in functional terms, Warsaw Pact conventional forces are any longer superior to NATO forces. (v) “Devolution” of present US-dominated financial and command structures of NATO forces will soon begin. The USSR Defense Budget has been announced as $142 billion, nearly four times higher than previously stated, and Gorbachev has pledged reductions in spending by $18.4 billion by the end of 1991. Some American estimates put the real value as $211 to $230 billion. Whatever the precise figure, the U.S. spends about $360 billion annually on its own defense budget. ( Toronto Star, May 31).

Recent Posts

See All

SfP Bulletin archive

SfP Bulletin February 2017 The President’s Corner: Science for Peace as a Foreign Language Metta Spencer Report of the Working Group on Global Governance Helmut Burkhardt Report of the Working Group o

Report of the Working Group on Global Governance

(2016-09-17) Members: Helmut Burkhardt (chair), Norman Dyson, Rose Dyson, Brydon Gombay, Julia Morton-Marr, Tom Simunovic, Peter Venton, Adnan Zuberi Mandate: We believe good global governance is mean


bottom of page