An Agenda for the Peace Movement

by Metta Spencer, Sociology Department, University of Toronto
A paper presented to Association for Future Studies at Learned Societies meeting, Montreal, June 1985.

When considering the range of tasks confronting the peace movement, I would not try to set out a single agenda or even prioritize the goals. If we survive at all, we will be working the rest of our lives on this project—the abolition of war, and there will be enough tasks to last the whole time. It may, however, be useful to distinguish between short and long run themes. Since politicians are subject to the immediate demands of their constituencies they cannot run ahead of public opinion and so it is best to present them with requests that can be attained in the near term. The longer-run objectives have to be attained by changing public opinion gradually. This involves study, discussion, and reflection—the task for a whole generation of intellectuals. The peace movement is, above all else now, a spontaneous campaign of adult education in which we work wit our paramount societal problem in public discourse. One useful goal is to legitimate it as such, so we can draw upon the resources of the Institutions of adult education — universities, libraries, and the like—in the task of clarifying the collective consciousness.

Still, we must not overlook short-term political goals for the sake of more ambitious, abstract ones. We must keep proposing practical alternatives to replace the normal mechanisms of a nation-state in a nuclear world. For example, I think the peace movement should set up a “shadow Ministry of Defence.” Every time Erik Nielsen takes some public action, our shadow minister should call a Press conference and announce what she would do about the matter.

That will force the movement to keep in touch with practical, short-run issues. But for the most part we need to cultivate a vision for more ambitious goals. Most of this paper will deal with such longer-term issues.

Security and Military Policy

As C. Wright Mills pointed out some thirty years ago, the immediate cause of World War III will be the preparations made for it. Today the preparations are further along than ever before. The job of the peace movement is to educate people about these preparations and prompt them to question such basic doctrines as the theory of deterrence.

Since military readiness is the responsibility of military planners, it is not surprising that they claim that their preparations tend to prevent wars (“deter aggression”) Nevertheless, the historical and comparative evidence goes against such a claim. Countries that are “over-armed” (i.e. spend more than the average for countries of their income level on the military) are thirty times more likely to enter wars within five years than countries that remain “underarmed.” (Newcombe, 1982) Strength does not deter, but invites attack. Overarmed countries fight each other, but rarely attack “defenceless” countries. It is not to prevent wars but to win them that nations arm. Traditionally, the strong countries have been more likely to win than the weak ones, but of course no one can win a nuclear war, so no such rationale can be adduced for preparing to fight World War III.

Deterrence, as a policy, creates a situation that is unstable, since each side will feel impelled to acquire an advantage over the other in such matters as, say, the speed of launching or the potency of’ weapons. However, deterrence policy, though logically flawed and historically ineffective, is not half bad when compared to the present policies of the western alliance. The stage is being set for actual nuclear war: Otherwise, why would first-strike weapons be so prized? And why else prepare a ballistic missile defence that could repel only as many missiles as might survive a first-strike and reach North America on a retaliatory mission?

Mutual assured destruction, MAD, has been left behind in history as a practical policy. Some na├»ve people still believe that a unilateral initiative toward disarmament might reduce the capacity to “deter” aggression. Actually, however, even if both sides dismantle weapons day in and day out, Tear after year,we will probably never again see a day when either side lacks sufficient weapons to destroy the other. A strategy of pure deterrence would be a great `relief, compared to the present unstable situation. It takes only a finite number of weapons to deter, if deterrence based on MAD is possible at all. The existing plethora of bombs stands as evidence against the theory of deterrence itself.

As the Chinese sage put it, if we don’t change our course, we are likely to wind up where we a re headed. We are headed toward a nuclear winter and the end of humanity, whether by accident, miscalculation, terrorism or escalation. The probability of unintentionally starting a nuclear war by retaliating against a false alarm increases as the time for checking alarms decreases. According to one estimate, if a crisis lasts 8 days and the “safety locks” are off, the probability reaches 95 percent that the western side alone will launch by mistake. (Wallace, 1984) A Soviet military strategist has told me that his colleagues worry more about this than anything else. (Lev Semeyko, Moscow, 1984) Once started, no containment of a nuclear exchange can be expected; the radiation and soot will produce omnicide. Even the Pentagon does not deny the validity of the scientists’ projections, but given the traditional logic of strategic analysis, the momentum appears irreversible; military planning has not adjusted to these projections. I have never heard, for example, a discussion of Star Wars in which the prospect of nuclear winter has been mentioned at all.

For that matter, I have never heard a discussion of missile warfare in which the necessity of such delivery systems was questioned. But why fool around with missiles and anti-miss lie systems when nuclear bombs can be smuggled into any country (inside bales of marijuana?), then hidden in someone’s tool shed, to await detonation by a satellite? And why even fool around with bombs when binary chemicals can be cooked up so cheaply and easily? Face it; We have no military defence against weapons of mass destruction. Controls, perhaps—but the controls are not based on retaliation but on treaties, inspection rituals, and frequent ceremonial exchanges of vodka toasts. What I am suggesting is that some military objectives are impossible and must not be attempted. We cannot counter weapons of mass destruction with military means. We must not try to protect Canada’s “vital interests’ (access to oil, markets,etc.) by military intervention, since that is likely to provoke wars. Yet we had better think of something for military people to do, since they cannot just be dismissed from their careers. There are a few harmless activities for them to do. They should begin by asking this: From whom and how does Canada need to be defended?

Surely Canada is one of the most fortunate societies on earth, since it is hard to imagine any other nation that might attack it. Still,vast numbers of Canadians fear the Soviet Union and demand that defences be maintained against its expected attack. Therefore strategic analysts should maintain planned defences against incursions into Canadian territory. Such planning would hardly be challenging enoueh to satisfy sophisticated military minds, but except for the economic cost of effecting their plans, it would be a relatively harmless pastime.

So the peace movement should propose as alternatives to Deepstrike and other aggressive strategies, that Canada’s military posture rely entirely on plans for repelling Soviet invaders, whether they arrive by parachute, tank-landing craft, or snowmobile over the pole. So long as nations look to their own territorial defence, recognizing their unavoidable vulnerability to weapons of mass destruction, they can at least prepare systems of “defensive defence” that will not strike fear into the hearts of their opponents and thereby invite pre-emptive attacks. Two types of “defensive defence” should be entertained: non-provocative military defence and social defence.”

Several nations base their security on non-provocative defence. Yugoslavia is perhaps the best example, but Switzerland is better known. Invaders would have a hard time of it in any of those countries, which on the other hand remain deliberately incapable of projecting power beyond their own borders. One basic nonprovocative strategy is to maintain air, land, and sea defenses around the nation’s perimeter, while owning few bombers, tanks, submarines, or other weapons that can function aggressively far from home. Another principle is to disperse mobile military units and supplies all over the homeland, where they will be able to harry concentrated invading forces from all sides, as guerrillas do. A credible proposal for defending Britain was published in 1983 and offers numerous insights that bear upon the Canadian situation. (Alternative Defence Commission, 1983)

Plans should also be laid for “social defence”—an approach that I call “if-they-invade, let-the-air-out-of-their-tires.” Gene Sharp has catalogued thousands of historical instances of nonviolent resistance which have eventually won against armed force. These range from boycotts, strikes, and sabotage to protests through skywriting, public disrobings, and ostracism.(Sharp, 1974) Most of these underground movements have been improvised after the fact, not planned and organized in advance. Sharp, who claims that such early planning would vastly enhance effectiveness, is now highly sought-after as a military planner by a government that, unfortunately, wants not to supplant but to supplement its nuclear policy with a nonviolent one. Canada could plan its own social defence with purer motives.

A defence policy of the type I have been suggesting would, in effect, make Canada a nuclear weapon free zone. It would be a great step forward for the opposition party in Canada to promote such an objective explicitly. Such a posture would require Canada to remove itself from NORAD, but probably not from NATO.

In general (and admittedly such declaratory statements might be forgotten in the heat of military crisis) the Soviets have offered pledges never to send nuclear weapons into a countries that declare themselves nuclear weapon free zones. Friendly discussions with Soviet leaders have prompted some Canadians to conclude that an amended form of this offer might be extended to Canada; the only problem is that in the event of a nuclear war, while missiles and bombers were being lobbed over Canada, the Soviets would want to intercept them before they reach their own territory. Soviet spokespersons have said in private conversations that, while they would find it hard to offer a nuclear-weapon-free Canada an absolute guarantee, they could promise to intercept incoming nuclear weapons only in its sparsely inhabited far north.

Wherever NWFZ resolutions have been put before Canadian voters, they have generally won massive support. True, these are only symbolic zones, but there is every reason to believe that Canadians want them to be real. And of course, a real NWFZ would be a very radical objective—far more so than, say, a freeze. Yet referenda show massive support for the idea, and for this reason it is particularly promising as an enduring campaign. In New Zealand and elsewhere, it was NWFZ drives that eventually shifted the whole country. It allows for support to grow from local origins, as an office here, a school there, a town elsewhere declare themselves NWFZs.

Until eventually the whole country has shifted, and the national government cannot remain indifferent. We have one province in Canada already — Manitoba — that is a nuclear weapon free zone.

Militarization and the Economy

It is a shock to hear Canadian government officials justify considering participating in Star Wars (or any other military program) on the grounds that it might create jobs. Leave aside the question whether it might do so (although economists know that it won’t, military investment being such a capital-intensive area) and address the moral question alone. Is there nothing that people won’t do for money? If Canada could make money by trafficking in heroin would it do so? Perhaps not, but Canada is implicated in a far more anti-social trafficking — the arms trade. Approximately 10 percent of the Canadian manufactured goods exported (except for the Canada/U.S. auto pact trade) comprises military-related products. (Regehr and Watkins, 1983:68) It is a profitable business, the extent of which Canadians rarely recognize, since it is mainly for export not for purchase by the Canadian government.

The economic structure is not something that exists naturally, the way rocks and rivers do. It is constructed by humans, largely through political decisions. If today’s politicians create certain kinds of economic incentives, tomorrow’s Politicians will have to respond to the demands of the people whose lives are affected by them. Whoever creates jobs in the military sector should not be surprised ten years from now when howls of protest arise at any mention of reducng military production and ending thousands of long-term careers. If disarmament becomes politically impossible, it will be the result of thoughtless political decisions made beforehand. The peace movement has to keep pointing out the long-term consequences of setting up economic incentives that will lock us into an Irreversible commitment to militarism. The public can grasp this point if it is made forcibly and often.

It will not do to discount the economic pressures, however much one may insist on the primacy of moral considerations over financial ones. Peace activists rightly point out that military expenditures are virtually the least effective way of creating jobs, since spending money on construction, teaching, or even tax cuts would create more employment. (Regehr and Watkins, 1983:75; Sivard, 1981: 20) However, there is another sense in which the military sector probably does have an influence on the economy that seems helpful. The problem with a consumer, market economy is that demand fluctuates. Produce too many shoes and you get a glut on the market. Full inventories produce slowdowns in production and a lurching motion in the economic cycle. The disadvantages of a wasteful military economy are obvious—people get guns instead of butter—but there are short run advantages as well.

Militarization guarantees a steady demand for hardware, never a glut on the market. Tanks and guns become obsolete and need replacement, even if they are never used. The waste itself is the main objective. We shoot stuff off into outer space or sink it in the ocean and keep the factories humming, producing still more. (Kidron, 1980) If, as responsible inhabitants of the planet, we choose to conserve our resources and share our bounty, an alternative scheme will have to be proposed to fill this function. Foreign aid could do: Instead of shooting our products into outer space, we could give manufactured stuff to the Third World. The unmet needs to be filled in that manner will not be saturated during our lifetimes. Of course, it is important not to send gifts that people might otherwise buy, thereby disturbing the local markets. Send typewriters, solar refrigerators, and machine tools, not cloth or wheat. Eventually, the developing economies will become genuine trading partners, not just recipients of western largesse.

But this proposal conflicts, of course, with our economic values. We would rather waste than give away goods and undermine the effective demand for our products. The expansion of foreign aid is rarely a politically acceptable possibility, notwithstanding the recent generosity of Canadians toward the famine victims in Africa. Yet, as major United Nations study indicates, we can choose either economic development or the arms race but we cannot afford both. (Sanger, 1980) The authors of that study recommended that all the developed nations conduct a study of their economies with a view to developing strategies of conversion, ways of shifting from military production to meeting human needs. So far, the only country that has completed such a study is Sweden. Canada should do so immediately.

Certain kinds of conversion can already be planned. For example, there is much interest in developing Canada’s “high tech” capabilities. That is one of the arguments in favor of participating in Star Wars research—not to be left behind. But there are other “high tech” possibilities that would be useful to human beings. Canada might, for example, take responsibility for developing an international satellite monitoring system (ISMA) as proposed by the Secretary – General of the United Nations. At present, the only countries capable of monitoring military installations from outer space are the superpowers, and they guard their reconnaissance photographs closely. If the United Nations or some other international agency were to possess similar capabilities, the world would be safer. Not surprisingly, the United States has not been keen on having other nations acquire this technology. At the moment, the scheme is dormant because of a lack of sponsorship. This is an opportunity for Canada to exercise leadership in a responsible way and expand its own technology.

Finally—and this is the most visionary idea—economic conversion can even be undertaken in a way that augments good relations between Canada and its socialist adversaries. The movement, would do well to propose new cooperative endeavors in which Canada and the Soviet Union might work together. This idea has been strongly supported by the Moscow Group for Trust, a small, brave group Soviet citizens who speak for themselves in promoting peace between East and West. One of their members, Professor Yuri Medvedkov, once observed to me that immense value had resulted from the Soyuz space mission, where American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts had worked together. A good deal social-psychological research supports his conclusion: It is known, for example, that the best way of healing a conflict between two groups is to put them to work together on some “super-ordinate goal”—a project that both want to attain but which can be reached only through their joint collaborative efforts. Economic projects, such as irrigating the Sahara and saving the African population, would benefit not only the Africans but also world peace if they were set up as East/West cooperative endeavors.

International Relations

In the debate about Canadian-American relations, there seem to be only two camps—“nationalists” and “continentalists.” This is unfortunate, since neither perspective provides a basis for the kind of international responsibility that global citizens owe to one another. Canada is indisputably compromised in its sovereignty through . its close association with its powerful neighbor. The cure for that, if there be one, cannot be to reify or glorify the nation-state and close down the borders. Acid rain, for example, is unlikely to be controlled through bilateral negotiations; one must strengthen the legitimacy of international organizations that address these and hundreds of other problems that are not confined within the territories of any nation but show our involvement in a global ecology. In the long run, then, sovereignty must be transcended—through strengthening the United Nations, the World Court, all sorts of international NG0s, and through public pressure activities organized on behalf of human rights, against apartheid, and the like.

In the short run, on the other hand, it is a practical policy, whenever possible, to reassert Canadian sovereignty, particularly in relation to the United States. Too often Canadians concede some substantive point in order to cultivate the relationship with their neighbor in the hope that eventually this charmed relationship will pay off and win concessions about other substantive matters. Such behavior is exactly what the term “appeasement” means. Appeasement is rarely successful; all it does is reconfirm the inequality of the relationship. Courtesy in the relationship should always be combined with standing on one’s principles, whether as an individual or as a nation state. The relationship can be cultivated in its own terms and the substantive matters negotiated quite separately, on their own merits.

Three examples come to mind immediately: Canadian and American views differ when it comes to the Freeze, to NATO strategies, or to the connection between the Non-proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban, yet Canadians have deferred to Americans repeatedly on these matters.

In the United Nations, Canada has opposed the best resolutions calling for a freeze of the nuclear arms race. This is clearly a matter of follow-the-leader, not a principled stand. There is only one area in which any case can be made against the freeze, and that is the problem of verifying the production of nuclear weapons. Both the testing and the deployment of these weapons can be verified quite adequately with national technical means. At the next General Assembly, if it feels constrained not support a full freeze resolution, Canada ought to introduce a freeze proposal on research, testing and deployment, omitting any reference to production. The manufacture of weapons will not continue indefinitely if they cannot be tested or deployed. (One must admit, however, that the current methods of simulation are supposed to be sufficiently good to make real testing unnecessary. Ideally, the time will come when such simulations can be prohibited as well.)

Again, Canadian acquiescence to American military policy within NATO is an excellent habit to begin breaking. Not long ago I had an occasion to ask Ambassador Paul Taylor to give an example of a time when Canada took a stand in NATO contrary to that of the United States. He deflected the question by arguing that our two countries are so similar culturally that “naturally” opinions are almost invariably the same. Many peace activists in Canada call for their country’s withdrawal from NATO; this is not a popular idea in Europe and is not likely to come true very soon. Nevertheless, if Canada is to be part of that alliance, it is reasonable to insist that it make its own decisions. On that score, Canadian public opinion is firm, quite apart from whether they personally support such American-sponsored strategies as AirLand Battle, FOFA, and all the rest. Independent thinking is an asset to every organization; for example, some corporations hire outside specialists to attend board meetings with the specific responsibility of speaking “as the devil’s advocate” and thereby making sure that alternative considerations are weighed before reaching a collective decision.

Incidentally, if there is any aspect of Star Wars that gladdens the heart of a disarmament activist, it is that the American commitment to this impossible program is likely to break NATO apart. (Pierre, 1985) I do not expect that the government shares my hope of such an outcome, but if not it must (if it is to be consistent) reject Star Wars.

The matter of the Non-proliferation Review Conference is a bit more complex. Canada has taken a stand all along in favor of the treaty, as well as supporting a Comprehensive Test Ban. However, the United States regularly treats the NPT as if it called only for a ban on horizontal proliferation, not vertical. The anger of many countries. Has mounted over the years and is bound to spill over this September into a strong denunciation of both superpowers for failing to produce a CTB.

Traditionally, Canada has joined the U.S. In attempting to pacify those countries that threaten to opt out of the NPT—not pacifying them with results but by verbal tranquilizers. Now is the time to join forces with those countries that will demand concrete results of the superpowers, even if in so doing Canada offends its ally. The recent speeches of Ambassador Roche seem to point to a stronger Canadian position this fall than heretofore. Some of us hope Canada may even join with those countries who have begun to consider adjourning the review conference for one year and instructing the nuclear-have countries to return with a CTB when the session resumes.

Moreover, although 1995 seems far away, it is not too early to begin planning a new set of agreements to replace the NPT when it expires that year—assuming, of course, that the treaty and the world hold together that long.

Finally, it must be noted that one way of strengthening desirable international standards of conduct is to begin behaving as if these standards were already well-accepted agreements. In that light, there are numerous ways for Canada to contribute. It should, for instance, act on the assumption that the ABM Treaty is too sacred to be violated by any self-respecting nation. It should also treat as unthinkable any idea of selling tritium to the United States (or anyone else) and helping restore the effectiveness of deteriorating nuclear bombs.

The Political Climate in Canada

Peace activists often hear the statement that Canada is not a democratic society, since polls show an overwhelming majority of voters to want disarmament, whereas the government ignores these wishes. I say that Canada is democratic: The same polls that show such attitudes also show that only about 5 percent of the voters would base their vote on the candidates’ position regarding the nuclear arms race. The politics of disarmament is not very salient, so it can be ignored more easily than demands for, say, jobs or tax changes.

All the same, supporting disarmament won’t hurt any political party. That issue may not win many votes by itself yet, but the time is coming then it will. I have witnessed a profound shift over the past three years in the opinions of my first-year sociology students at the University of Toronto. They are not as numbed as before. Even in the United States, where the Freeze has come to be ignored by the media, it is a growing issue in other settings.

There is something self-reinforcing about the matter. The people who do not work to promote disarmament are the people who feel powerless—that nothing they do will make any difference. (Mohr, 1985) It is up to the peace movement to -point out things to do where openings exist for results.

We want some small gestures for the timid and some bold demands for the brave, and there are enough for both. We have a major challenge in finding alternatives to the Institutions of coercion and domination. Noticing those alternatives and calling attention to then will help liberate and empower the citizens who are now passive. It will prompt them to contribute their energy to this noble cause.


Alternative Defence Commission, Defending Without the Bomb, London and New York: Taylor and Francis, Ltd., 1983.

Kidron, Michael. Western Capitalism Since World War II, New York: 1980

Mohr, Douglas, “Why Isn’t Everyone Active in The Peace Movement?” Paper presented at Ontario Psychological Association Conference, Ottawa, 1985.

Newcombe, Alan G. “The Prediction of War,” Dundas, Ontario: Peace Research Institute, Dundas, 1982, p. 1.

Pierre, Andrew J. “The United States and NATO: The New Agenda,” International Journal, Toronto: Canadian Institute of International Affairs, Winter, 1934-85, pp. 1-19.

Regehr, Ernie and Mel Watkins, “The Economics of the Arms Race,” in Ernie Regehr and Simon Rosenblum (eds.), Canada and the Nuclear Arms Race Toronto: Lorimer, 1983.

Sanger, Clyde, Safe and Sound: Disarmament and Development in the Eighties Ottawa: Deneau, 1983.

Sharp, Gene, The Politics of Nonviolent Action Boston: Porter Sargent, 1974.

Sivard, Ruth Leger, World Military and Social Expenditures, 1981, Lessburg, Virginia, World Priorities, 1981.

Wallace, Michael, “Accidental Nuclear War: A Risk Assessment,” Paper presented to the Inter-University Workshop on Peace Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, May, 1984.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books