Is NDP Policy on NATO Good for Canada?

By John Bacher and Metta Spencer
The Globe and Mail, September 4, 1987
Part of a two-part op-ed debate, with the No side argued by Brig-Gen (ret.) W.J. Yost

YES: it will help dissolve the military bloc system


Dr. Bacher is an environmentalist and peace activist. Prof. Spencer teaches sociology at University of Toronto and edits Peace Magazine.

THE NEW DEMOCRATIC Party has made a good beginning by appealing to Canadian nationalism to build a case for its recent policy statement on defence. The party has suggested that Canada’s military contribution to Europe is unneeded and the money would be better spent defending Canadian sovereignty, especially in the North.

However, this position will win no votes beyond those the NDP can already expect. In particular, Canadians of Eastern European origin may see it as abandoning Europe to Soviet intimidation or invasion. That is why the sovereignty argument must be coupled with an international perspective.

The danger in taking a strictly nationalist approach was demonstrated by the problems the British Labor Party encountered with its “unilateral nuclear disarmament” policy. Peace activists in the party now recognize that voters didn’t accept the policy because Labor failed to put it in the larger context of a new and different security system for Europe.

Had the Labor initiative been explained differently, it might have sounded much more positive. It should have been labelled an overture to the larger political process of disengagement in Europe. Labor could have presented this important step as an invitation to the Soviet Union to reciprocate, eventually leading to mutual troop withdrawals, de-nuclearization and even the demilitarization of .a large zone in Central Europe.

The current situation in Europe is the product of the military-bloc system, and defence analyst Gwynne Dyer has pointed out that Canadian withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would be an important first step in dissolving that system. NDP external affairs critic Pauline Jewett has argued that such a withdrawal would be disturbing to the repressive Communist rulers of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Officials in countries such as Poland are terrified at the prospect of Canadian withdrawal from NATO; they have told Ms Jewett that, should the NDP succeed in pulling Canada out of the Western alliance, it would generate enormous pressure on them to become more liberal — or even to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact.

For this reason, a common security system, coupled with the removal of foreign troops from Europe, has been supported strongly by the Czechoslovak human-rights organization, Charter. 77, as well as by important elements of Poland’s Solidarity. trade union and the persecuted independent peace movements of East Germany and Hungary. Therefor identifying its policy with the goals of Eastern European human-rights activists would bring the NDP support from the very constituency that has been most suspicious of the peace movement’s appeals.

The demilitarization of Central Europe is not an unrealistic idea. It has been proposed by neutral and Soviet-bloc countries a number of times since the Second World War, only to be dismissed out of hand by the United States, West Germany and France. Still, the recurrent theme remains credible: a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the countries that lie between the two blocs, coupled with a substantial reduction of conventional weapons and the removal of all or most foreign troops.

Today, the innovative spirit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms provides a particularly favorable climate. The European Nuclear Disarmament Journal reported recently on the “new thinking” in Soviet defence strategy, including “the withdrawal of troops from Eastern Europe, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall (and) a suggestion that massed Soviet tank divisions decrease rather than strengthen the country’s security because they encourage anxiety in, and aggressive preparation by, the enemy.”

Negotiators from NATO countries acknowledge that the Soviet Union would accept a demilitarized zone in Central Europe. They are the ones who hayed balked, claiming that such a move would benefit Moscow more than the West, which may be true in outdated military terms. However, this argument discloses NATO’s willingness to trade away the political freedom of Central Europeans for military superiority.

Political will and realism are all that is needed to bring about a demilitarized Europe. The disbelief in the “realism” of the proposal constitutes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any nation that shows a readiness to abandon the bloc system will immediately make waves in other NATO countries.

Thus, the NDP need not repeat the Labor Party’s mistakes. It has an opportunity to propose Canadian withdrawal from NATO not simply as a retreat to isolationism but as a genuine contribution to European security.

Under an NDP government committed to a policy of non-alignment, Canada have an important opportunity to work for a European system of common security. This would provide an attractive alternative to continued East-West confrontation or — an equally dangerous situation — the development of an autonomous West European superpower. An NDP plan for a new European security system would help renew past proposals for demilitarization and de-nuclearization. Such a system would involve procedures for verifying compliance and for assuring that any interim defence arrangements would be on a non-provocative basis. A strictly defensive approach would neither arouse the anxiety of formerly hostile neighbors nor provoke the responses that keep arms races going. Of course, Canada cannot control the agenda for disarmament by itself. However, every nation can contribute something. What is needed now is to take the first step.

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