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Letters on the Gulf War

Various letters and telegrams were sent by Science for Peace members to the Prime Minister, the Minister of External Affairs and other politicians during the past few months. Some of these received no answers, to others the answers scarcely addressed the issues raised and usually consisted of recitations of recent international events familiar to all, and to restatements of well-known government positions. It seems that a sense of responsibility towards attempting to answer serious, detailed letters of enquiry or criticism of government policy or action is not strongly in evidence among government members. This regrettable attitude undermines one’s confidence in the credibility and responsibility of politicians, and contributes to the growing public disenchantment about the operation of democratic processes in this country.

November 18, 1990 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Mr. Mulroney:

The members of the Executive of Science for Peace are concerned that Canada is changing its role in international affairs from that of peacekeeper to that of peacemaker. A peacekeeper attempts to intervene between warring parties, whereas a peacemaker may exercise force to subdue one of the parties that it deems to be at fault. We believe that as a middle power Canada’s most effective role is that of peacekeeper and we should avoid involving ourselves in peacemaking operations.

Historically, the role of ‘peacemaker’ has often been abused. In most international disputes, there is some truth on both sides. By picking one side, the ‘peacemaker’ ignores the other and loses moral authority. In many cases the ‘peacemaker’ is seen to be acting in its own economic and political interest, and becomes just another participant in the dispute. Except in those rare cases where the ‘peacemaker’s’ military force is truly overwhelming, no peace results from such intervention; instead what we see is a prolonged bloody war that benefits none of the original disputants.

Signs of a major shift in the Canadian Government’s attitude received first utterance in 1987 when Perrin Beatty as Defence Minister reiterated (and Joe Clark has continued to stress) the seriousness of the threat to world peace and security by the USSR at a time when the USA and others were markedly reducing their own anti-Soviet rhetoric. In the current crisis, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark warned Canadians of the growing likelihood of direct military action by Canada against Iraq and its cost in Canadian lives, even before US President Bush and Secretary of State Baker had told the American people that use of force against Iraq was becoming increasingly likely.

Canada’s ability to act as a promoter of peace in the world has been weakened by its repeated refusal to insist on strict adherence to international law. When, for instance, the United States mined harbours in Nicaragua and invaded Grenada these actions were condemned around the world and in the United Nations; indeed, the International Court of Justice proclaimed the mining of Nicaragua as illegal. In spite of this, the response of the Canadian government was confined to expression of formal regrets at these acts. Canada recently joined the OAS (the Organization of American States) which promises under Article 20 of its charter that

The territory of a State is inviolable; it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation by another State, directly or indirectly, on any ground whatsoever.

The United States, also a member of OAS, invaded Panama. Canada’s justification for accepting this flagrant violation of OAS principles clearly showed how, by acceptng one illegal act, we open the door to others. In a letter to Professor Eric Fawcett and John Valleau of the University of Toronto, excerpts of which appeared in ‘Science for Peace Bulletin’ of August 1990, Joe Clark explained that

The lives of American citizens who were stationed in Panama by right of treaty were demonstrated to be in jeopardy … the Government of Canada accepted the United States Government’s explanation of the need to resort to force and expressed regret that the situaton has deteriorated to the extent that force was required. We acknowledged that the use of force presented a dangerous precedent, but recognized that the situation in Panama prior to the United States’ intervention was unique.

We observe that this justification, with trivial textural substitutions, could be used to justify intervention by any party, anywhere, at any time. By legitimizing the invasion of Panama, this statement can be used to justify any invasion by a power that claims that its citizens in a foreign country are in jeopardy.

The extent of the change in the Canadian Government’s policies was made clear when Canadain Forces were committed to the military confrontation in Iraq, not as part of a United Nations Peacekeeping Force, but — in the United States’ style — by the decision of the government of one sovereign state (Canda) to confront another sovereign state (Iraq).

It now seems clear that our present Government is intent on the progressive transformation of Canada’s traditional approach to foreign affairs to one whose political and philosophical bent is much closer to that of the United States and at variance with our former role as a peacekeeper. In other words, without parliamentary debate, and without detailed presentation of its plans to the Canadian public, the Government is embarking on a major realignment of its foreign policy.

The new foreign policy for Canada is especially unfortunate because our country, a member of the Security Council of the United Nations, has the responsibility to strengthen the UN peace agenda. In their implementation of the provisions relating to economic sanctions,

Member States of the UN were required to coordinate their actions, using as appropriate, mechanisms of the Military Staff Committee (with) application of the rule of law in safeguarding the sovereignty, independent and territorial integrity of Member States. (Report of the Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, September 1990).

Contrary to popular belief, the United Nations has not approved the use of national armed forces to invade Iraq. We are ignoring the UN’s request that we work through UN bodies. We fear that loss of Canada’s former reputation for moral independence and integrity and for cool evaluation of international crises could be disastrous in these extremely turbulent times. The world needs Canada as an effective peacekeeper, not as a major contributer to the forces preparing to initiate a war with Iraq.

The Canadian people are entitled to a full and detailed explanation of the meaning behind what is occurring. We request that you begin by replying to this letter and by allowing full and open debate in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Prof. David Parnas, President of Science for Peace Prof. Eric Fawcett, Vice President, Science for Peace Prof. Alan Weatherley, Director, Science for Peace

The following letter, with copies noted, has been sent to the Prime Minister. Both Mulroney and Clark were sent the letter via FAX with copies to follow by Canada Post.

January 7, 1991 Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney Prime Minister Ottawa, Ontario KlA 0A6

Dear Prime Minister:

Science for Peace wishes to express its concern about the Government’s decision to support the recent Security Council resolution authorizing the use of ‘all necessary means’, including war, in the Persian Gulf. It is clearly urgent for us all to clarify our thoughts on the very grave challenge posed by the situation in the Gulf. We offer here some propositions on the matter and request your responses to some questions that follow from them.

It is chilling to hear once again the mild-mannered euphemisms that have always preceded the horror of war: ‘use of force’, ‘all necessary means’, ‘surgical strike’, and so on. What are really being discussed are bleeding, mangled bodies, men and women gassed or burned alive, and orphaned children. Anyone who facilitates these tragedies becomes responsible for them. He or she has the duty to explain clearly and explicitly how such suffering, imposed on others, is less evil than the alternatives. Faced with the horrifying nature of modern warfare and weaponry, it is imperative that we learn to resolve disputes in less violent ways. We know you share that understanding and conviction.

We see no responsible argument for the threat of war at this time. Situations could arise in the future however in which the UN would feel obliged to apply military means to enforce international law. In such a case it is essential that the purposes of the action be clearly defined and severely delimited, and that the absolute minimum of military activity be employed. It is also essential that the action be seen as the even-handed enforcement of law, and in particular that it cannot be seen as serving the interests of only one or a few nations. To ensure these things it is clearly required that the UN itself retain the direct control of any such application of force.

In light of these general concerns we seek your responses to the following specific questions:

  1. In the Gulf we are faced with a situation in which there is every prospect of a successful non-violent resolution through the patient use of trade sanctions and negotiation; in many ways it is an ideal case for testing and demonstrating the effectiveness of non-military methods. The government seems nevertheless immediately willing to accept war instead of the pursuit of peaceful methods. Why?

  2. No realistic observer expects sanctions to work instantly. That would be absurd, for the very idea of trade sanctions is that they bring gradually increasing pressure to bear; the best estimates have always suggested that in the present case 12 to 18 months would be required. To have appeared to support the UN trade sanction policy and then to join in setting an unrealisiic schedule of deadlines for their success appears to us hypocrisy. How can Canada accept such a position?

The view which we are almost universally being offered by the media is that of the US Executive, according to which that Executive is free to decide unilaterally, at a time of its own choosing, that the ‘necessary means’ of the Security Council resolution are to be interpreted as military attack. To accept this is to grant the US carte blanche to react as it sees fit, with its own interests in mind. To us this appears to violate the very principles of the UN, which must rest on preventing the arbitrary exercise of national military power. Yet the Canadian Government has not publicly challenged this view, and indeed its statements seem implicitly to accept it. Why would Canada agree to abandon the essential principle that international law must be enforced under international supervision?

Yours sincerely,

Prof. David Parnas, Department of Computing and Information Science Queen’s University, President, Science for Peace

Prof. James King, Department of Physics, University of Toronto, Secretary, Science for Peace.


Rt. Hon. J. Clark, Secretary of State for External Affairs Hon. W. McKnight, Minister of National Defence Hon. A. McLaughlin, Leader, NDP Hon. J. Cretien, Leader Liberal Party Mr. Y. Fortier, Ambassador to the UN.

This letter was sent to some Maritime newspapers

December 17, 1990

Dear Editor:

For many Maritimers this year, Christmas, Hanukkah and other religious holidays will be spent thinking of friends and relatives on duty in the Persian Gulf. We are reminded of this by Halifax television with the daily messages home from Navy personnel in the Gulf. The conflict is now almost certain to lead to bloodshed in January. It is therefore becoming increasingly important to consider the ramifications of having nuclear weapons, and where the vested interests of the scientific-military-industrial complex are leading us.

According to current estimates, Iraq will have nuclear weapons in about five years. Although the US does have oil interests in Kuwait, the nuclear weapons may be a more significant reason for an immediate military confrontation. The US does not want to save Kuwait, so much as use it as a pretext to attack Iraq’s nuclear industry.

The official word is that NATO’s nuclear weapons are strictly for deterrence (although there are presently over 450 nuclear warheads in the Gulf ready for use). Throughout the Cold War this was a necessary precaution against the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenals, into which both countries poured billions of dollars annually.

But the Cold War ended, and the ‘Peace Dividend’ began to look promising. Turn back some of those tax dollars; build better highways; fund real human needs. As it turned out though, economic conversion was not in the interests of the military-industrial complex, and the Gulf War started before the Peace Dividend paid one cent. And now even though we don’t need much of a nuclear deterrent for the USSR, the possibility of Iraq going nuclear has led to the possibility of a new type of Cold War standoff or possibly another Viet Nam.

The superpowers and their allies are aggressors here as much as Iraq — all have their vested interests. If the North American scientific-military-industrial economy had not profited all along from weapons production and sales internationally, Iraq would not be in the position it is now. This includes Canada: in the 1988-89 fiscal year alone, our federal government spent $249 million in tax dollars through the Defence Industry Productivity Program on just the production of military equipment to export.

It is almost certainly too late to prevent an attack on Kuwait and Iraq. But we do not have to accept a military economy in future. For Canadians getting paycheques to develop and maintain weapons systems, reliance on a military economy may be worth having continuous military conflicts. Especially in the Third World, far from Atlantic Canada. But from time to time it may mean risking the lives of hundreds of Navy men from the Maritimes, as well.

Violence in Kuwait and Iraq may seem justified now, but it wouldn’t be necessary if we had not profited to prepare for it.

Board Members, Science for Peace:

Michael Steinitz, Department of Physics, St. Francis Xavier University Craig Summers, Department of Psychology, Mount Allison University Francis Weil, Department of Physics, Universite de Moncton

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