Uncommon Security: Appraising the Special Joint Committee Report on Canada's International Relations

By Simon Rosenblum | 1986-10-01 12:00:00

To judge the Special Committee’s report it is useful to have a benchmark for comparison. I will refer to two: the earlier (May 1984) Green Paper (Competitiveness and Security) and Project Ploughshares’s analysis of “common security.”

The title of the Green Paper, Competitiveness and Security: Directions for Canada’s International Relations, was a dead giveaway. That report was, in the words of a Toronto Star editorial, “a foreign policy for accountants.” It assumed that solidarity with the U.S. is fundamental for security. It oriented Canadian foreign policy around two objectives (1) increasing economic competitiveness and (2) political security. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops responded by suggesting the objectives of “global justice” and “global peace” as substitutes.

Following the release of the Green Paper, a special parliamentary committee was set up to study Canada’s international relations. It received 1232 written submissions, heard 461 witnesses, listened to 331 public participants, and organized 30 panel discussions. How well did it finally succeed? Let me list the positive aspects of the report, in no particular order, and then its shortcomings.

The Report’s Positive Recommendations


The following areas are particularly disappointing.

Assigning the Grade

How can we, on balance, grade the Special Committee Report? In contrast to the earlier Green Paper, this report advocates active participation in world affairs. “Constructive internationalism” is the report’s theme. But rather than submit a grade I will outline some principles of “Common Security” and see how the Special Committee’s recommendations measure up.

The strategy of unilateral advantage is the prevailing paradigm of national security. “Common security” is the perspective which must replace it, and within that perspective, we can discuss both alternative defence and alternative security.

Alternative Security

Defence doesn’t have to depend on threats. The new “alternative security” theorists distinguish between destructive and protective capabilities, between defence as attack and defence as the capacity to repel attack. Variously termed “nonprovocative defence,” “defence without offense,” and “just defence,” such an approach calls for:

Among the many policy implications for Canada, if this approach were followed, are:

  1. Opposition to development of nuclear weapons systems designed for first-strike and warfighting purposes.
  2. Support for a nuclear freeze and subsequent disarmament measures which would quickly reduce nuclear arsenals below the nuclear winter threshold.
  3. Support for a NATO declaration of no first use.
  4. Support for eliminating all nuclear weapons.
  5. Opposition to a NATO conventional strategy of “deep strike” and rejecting a NATO tactical fighter and weapons training centre at Goose Bay, where “deep strike” training exercises would take place.
  6. Support for a nonintervention treaty.
  7. Opposition to the use of Canadian territory as a platform from which either superpower can pose nuclear threats against the other.

While alternative defence theory confines itself to the hardware and strategies of military defence, an alternative security system moves the debate away from “weaponitis” and emphasizes the many nonmilitary factors that affect national and global security. First is an awareness that our common insecurity as now assured by the militarization of the planet. Increasingly, wars and environmental decline contribute to famine. In 1985 world military expenditures totalled one trillion dollars. But for the world’s poor, real security-access to clean water, food, health care, education, and respect for basic human rights-remains but a fond hope.

An alternative security system must remove such inequities as the adverse terms of trade, faced by most of the least developed countries; the instability of commodity markets; the relative absence of processing of domestic commodities in the Third World and the unregulated activities of transnational enterprises throughout the Third World. Security depends on the health of the environment, the welfare of individual citizens, a sustainable economy and responsive national institutions. When these are threatened, security is diminished and nations look to weapons for their safety. In the end, these military arsenals have only made the planet more insecure.

On the East-West axis, an alternative security framework instructs both superpowers that neither can increase its own security at the expense of the other. It suggests the importance of enhancing one’s usefulness to would-be adversaries, thus assuring that the rewards of peace always remain greater than the potential spoils of war. And as Richard J. Barnet points out, both superpowers must be prepared to live with a high degree of disorder and instability, which are characteristic of a world experiencing rapid change. To set as a national security goal the enforcement of “stability” is as practical as King Canute’s attempts to command the tides. Real stability can come only with the building of a legitimate international order which offers genuine hope for people. The sort of stability requires change.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1986

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1986, page 28. Some rights reserved.

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