Geoffrey Pearson (Canadian ambassador to USSR), 1992

Pearson had been Canadian ambassador to the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s and then headed the peace institute that Trudeau initiated—CIIPS—until replaced by a conservative guy, Bernard Wood.
I interviewed him on March 2, 1992. We began with a conversation about CIIPS, which had just been cut. He says to call Barbara McDougall, who opposed cutting it. Joe Clark was busy with other things. Bernard Wood supported the Gulf War. Doubt the funding will keep going. Some of it might be kept — one or two million. Why not write? No harm done. He did put thoughts down for the Ottawa Citizen, about 800 words. He says all these institutes were vulnerable because of the lack of constituencies. The military budget is not increasing in percentage terms of the GNP. It is about $12 billion, which they need to keep the equipment they have got.

Pearson: One of the few who came through was the doctor who was running the PSR — Frank Sommers.

MS. Also, I spoke with John Polanyi.

Pearson: Yes, he came through.

MS: He mentioned some Deputy Minister who advised the Prime Minister about Star Wars when Reagan and Weinberger were trying to get Canada into Star Wars.

Pearson: Arthur Kruger. He just finished running the unity conferences. He was a man of all work, former external affairs, now deputy minister of immigration. I had lunch with him and John Polanyi at that time.

MS: Polanyi was a little cryptic, he wrote this on a questionnaire.

Pearson: John gave his views on SDI to Kruger at that time but I don’t know what happened after that.

MS: John also said he spoke with Marc MacGuigan, warning against an arms race in space.

Pearson: He is a federal court judge now, won’t say much in public.

MS: I spoke with Bill Epstein about six months ago. He remembered that after the Banff conference [Pugwash] he was invited to Moscow and Leon Bogramov was the chair of the Canada section of the Institute of USA and Canada. He still is. He is going to be in town next week.

Pearson: He is? He’s here all the time. All these people who lived through that period are having to re-invent their lives.

MS. (Laughs.) Yeah. Anyway, Bill remembers having made some talks in Moscow at the time when there were disputes about on-site inspection, and Bill told them that they should accept any number of on-site inspections, so long as it was reciprocal. He spoke to academicians who were enthusiastic, then met someone from the foreign office who said they were not interested in that approach, then met someone from Central Committee who was against it, and then when the Soviets adopted the idea, Bagramov told him, “Bill, we took your advice.” He said he had written this up and sent it to Exteral at that time, but it would take some to find the letter. Does this story mean anything to you?

Pearson: I remember his coming there. I don’t remember the details of that. I take that last remark of Bagramov’s with a pinch of salt, frankly. Bagramov had absolutely no influence at the USA Canada institute.He knows nothing about disarmament. Zero. It was other people there. There are 200 people there and 190 of them are working on American problems. Arbatov and others, that’s what they were interested in.

MS: Who would you say had influence at that institute?

Pearson: Well, Arbatov did, and some of the people working under him. Plekhanov.

MS: You think that he has had influence?

Pearson: Oh, yeah, I think so. Then there were a couple of other scientists, people interested in space questions, I forget their names, but if you go there, those are the kinds of people you should talk to. There was some distrust between the Institutes and the Foreign Ministry, which is normal. Gromyko was the Foreign Minister and he didn’t care about people like Arbatov and his officials used to tell me that these academics didn’t know anything, just like they do here.

MS: Somehow I thought the USA Canada Institute had more status.

Pearson: Well, it reported to the Central Committee, mainly. They had this a double-barreled system then, with the Communist Party on the one hand, and the government on the other, and I could never tell who was giving the orders. When Gromyko was the Minister there was never any doubt who was in charge, but below him, I just don’t know, ideas were being circulated. I think after Gorbachev came to power, the institutes really came into their own. Then they began to influence policy dramatically. But before that, not much.

If you want to talk to me about these days, it would be good for us to sit down somewhere.

MS: Let me tell you some of the things I will ask about: Afghanistan. Not to intervene in Poland. Gorbachev’s U.N. speech.The decision about Sakharov.

Pearson: I wasn’t there then but I can speculate. One of the chief architects who is now one of the Deputy Secretary Generals at the United Nations — Vladimir Petrovsky — is a very good friend of mine. I guess he’s found a safe haven. If you are ever in New York, he is the man to talk to about the Gorbachev period, the U.N. ideas. They were really quite revolutionary. Some of them came out of the institutes.

MS: I’ll also want to ask you about reasonable sufficiency and defensive defence, and the decision to withdraw those 500,000 troops.

Pearson: That was extraordinary.

MS: And then, if you know anything about Gorbachev’s Murmansk speech, and the whole question of intrusive verification, cooperation at the UN and then the acceptance of the reunification of Germany.

Pearson: Well, I was out of it by then. That’s a very ambitious project you’ve got there. You should talk to some of these Russians. They will talk now. You have to go over there.

MS: I went last summer and I am going back this summer. I have also talked with some of the people in Eastern Europe.

Pearson: I would be able to give you some names. Goodness knows where they are now. The Russian Foreign Minister is Kozyrev, who used to be in the UN division of the foreign ministry, a middle rank official. He jumped to Russia 3 or 4 years ago, he must have seen the writing on the wall. … … I will call you when I am coming to Toronto next. I am trying to finish a book, which is on my father’s [i.e Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s] time as a minister in the fifties, when you were just a simple lecturer teaching sociology at Brandeis college or something. Or maybe you just were a student then.

MS: In the fifties? I was an office nurse in California.

Pearson: I must hear about that, can I interview you?

(I tell him about the work to write a structure document for HCA.)

Pearson: I’d like to know more about it, so when you get back, will you call me about it? Read Vaclav Havel in the Sunday New York Times. It was a speech he gave to the Davos Conference. You’d like it.

Audio file

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