Visiting a Peace Professor

Franklyn Griffiths, professor of political science at University College, University of Toronto, is holder of the George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies. The Chair was established in May 1996 to further public discussion and scholarship on international peace and security. Professor Griffiths served as senior policy advisor to Canada's Secretary of State for external affairs, and is interested primarily in Russian politics and foreign policy, international security, and the Arctic. His first act as chair was to organize a stakeholders' retreat on the CANDU MOX proposal to dispose of excess Russian and U. S. weapons plutonium in reactors at the Bruce nuclear generating site in Ontario. Excerpts of the recommendations of that meeting are reproduced on page 27. Professor Griffiths' most recent book is Strong and Free: Canada and the New Sovereignty (Stoddart, 1996).

By Laura Simich and Metta Spencer (interviewers) | 1998-07-01 12:00:00

PEACE: In your recent book you relate civility to the idea of peace. How do you define peace?

FRANKLYN GRIFFITHS: Peace is a socially constructed condition in which violence is neither threatened nor done to an Other. Human beings have long sought peace by attempting to secure themselves against one another and against nature. Historically, the term security is largely about spears and shields. It connotes opposed forces and a threat. Now, stretched to cover all manner of issues from the environment to population to identity, it is increasingly becoming empty of significance.

PEACE: But don't we still need a broadly based understanding of "security" - a definition that allows us to set priorities and question the trade-offs of military security in terms of other factors? As a society we need to consider costs - to the environment, for example. Security includes all of this.

GRIFFITHS: Yes and no. Security can be taken to involve quality of life and so on. But in governments around the world, there's no place where the trade-offs are carefully computed and then made. Chretien isn't and won't be using an integrated security concept in comparing the amounts allocated to daycare and those going to defence. To governments, such costs are distinct and each backed by a political coalition of its own. If you are looking for greater rationality in the process, I don't think such is going to be found, however much we try to stretch "security" to cover not only military matters, but others that can be called civil.

In general, however, the generalization of security is a good thing, in that it helps move us away from threat identification and the labeling of "us" and "Other" as opposed forces. We need to recognize that often there is no "Other." Some threats to "security" originate within us - environmental threats, for example.

Perhaps a discourse of civility would help us make more sense of what's needed. We do not need security to create peace as much as a renewal of the civilizing process. That process respects the identity and integrity of what we take to be the "Other" in all we venture. It seems to me there is a need for greater respect, consideration, and care - not only in human relations but also in the way we deal with the natural environment. The word "civility" captures a lot of what is required for both peace and security. There are reserves of civility, including respect for Nature, in all civilizations. We need to find ways of bringing them to the fore so as to reduce violence.

PEACE: How could the peace movement contribute to greater civility?

GRIFFITHS: Peace activists might ask themselves how to show leadership in finding ways to handle issues without perpetuating the opposed forces mentality. The main task, as I see it, is not to persuade everyone to accept and act upon one's own ideas, but to construct and facilitate observance of a set of standards that increasingly resonate with the good will of all the world's civilization.

PEACE: What kind of changes do you see coming?

GRIFFITHS: Big changes on the environmental front. Down the road I can imagine an earth religion. In the areas of the environment and spirituality, profound human needs are not being addressed. The right voice, at the right time, might start to meet people's deep yearnings to belong to something larger than oneself, to be re-connected to Nature. I can imagine some unfortunate authoritarian outcomes.

PEACE: Really? Most people in the ecological movement seem to be anarchistic types who wouldn't take to a big-time leader with any enthusiasm.

GRIFFITHS: That's broadly the way environmentalism is practiced now, but imagine a world with ever more frequent climate changes, and ever greater adversity. Great chunks of Antarctic and Arctic ice have come off. The sea level is perceptibly rising. Major currents in the world's oceans alter. You have a cooling down of the temperatures in Europe and so on. There'll be a new context - a lot of yearning and anger could be mobilized against industrialism, modernity, and rationality.

PEACE: If people realize the sea is rising because nations are greedy and self-interested, perhaps the first thing to go will be the legitimacy of the pursuit of national interest. The common interests of humankind will become obvious and a transnational humankind may assert itself politically. Couldn't the environmental crisis be a prod to move us forward?

GRIFFITHS: Toward more cooperation? Yes, I think so. Surely, as climate change becomes manifest people will want to do something. But what I'm talking about is not quite so benign. Human beings feel alienated. They are increasingly dissatisfied by global change. They will want to think they are doing good - for each other and for the planet. Will they find this in an earth religion or ideology?

PEACE: You've been highly critical of the CANDU-MOX initiative and its main proponents, Atomic Energy of Canada and Ontario Hydro. But here you are acting in a context of opposing forces. You have taken a side. Is this a failure of civility?

GRIFFITHS: Civility is hard to come by when an enormity is being proposed in an enduring adversarial situation. In Canada, at least two cultures have long been joined in battle over nuclear power. One of these is rational and technical, imbued with can-do notions of progress and mastery over Nature. The alternative is ethical, social, and spiritual. It urges respect for other persons and for nature when contemplating industrial megaprojects that may violate the national environment and democracy. We should be developing a new discourse that helps to transcend the opposition of these two cultures within Canada. With this in mind, I organized a stakeholders' retreat on the plutonium fuel initiative. This was a first step.

PEACE: Is there still a chance to reject the whole reactor technology approach and simply refuse to handle any of this stuff at all in Canada?

GRIFFITHS: My preference would be to do exactly that: reject the use of anyone's reactors. But the international discussion is not heading in that direction. We are better off storing excess weapons plutonium indefinitely in the countries of origin.

PEACE: What is the optimum way of doing that?

GRIFFITHS: By glass or ceramic immobilization. You put the weapons plutonium in large canisters of glass or ceramic that are very difficult to move, so nobody can steal them. You keep it on the surface under guard indefinitely or, some suggest, you drill great vaults into deep rock and leave it there for tens of thousands of years. I think surface immobilization is preferable to encouraging a plutonium economy, even marginally, as one is certain to do by "disposing" of plutonium in reactors.

The U.S. has said that they will have their own plan for disposition by the end of this year. They have also said they won't send any to Canada unless there is a trilateral agreement among Canada, the U.S., and Russia. Can there be such an agreement by the end of this year when even the technicalities aren't fleshed out yet? I think it is going to take longer. The longer it takes, the less you're going to do for nuclear nonproliferation. This proposal, if acted upon today, would probably not see any Russian or American plutonium come to Canada until 2010. That's a long time. And then, for a number of years, Canada would be taking small portions, slowlyhelping to bring this pile down to nothing. Meanwhile, people are saying that there is a serious problem right now of Russian nuclear leakage into the hands of potential nuclear-weapons states and terrorist groups. Whether stolen or sold, it could get into undesirable hands. This problem won't be solved by an agreement to start taking Russian plutonium in 2010. To solve it, we must help the Russians with materiel control, accounting, and security measures now. The more the problem is brought under control, the less need there will be to act in 2010 and thereafter.

Laura Simich holds a doctorate in peace studies from Columbia University. Spencer is professor emerita, University of Toronto, where she stilll teaches peace courses. Franklyn Griffiths continues MOX policy work as well as research and teaching.

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1998

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1998, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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