From the Media -- Notes and Matters Arising

The Dalai Lama and Peace

George Woodcock ‘A blueprint for a better tomorrow’, The Globe and Mail, April 11) writes that the Dalai Lama, following his Nobel Prize speech, spoke of his dreams of a neutral Tibet — a Zone of Ahisma (=Non-Harming) or peace — where peace on three levels might be achieved: —

peace among human beings by the transformation of the Tibetan plateau into a militarily neutral zone; peace between humanity and the other species by turning Tibet into the world’s largest park of biosphere; peace between humanity and the earth by forbidding technologies that produce hazardous wastes.

Woodcock points out that Tibet is

… now one of the most militarized parts of the world, occupied by at least 250,000 Chinese troops; it is the site of atomic-testing grounds; its people are kept down with even greater rigor than the other subjects of the ruthless gerontocrats in Beijing.

Woodcock goes on to mention the pristine environment of a Tibet until the 1960’s that had unravaged forests, great untouched herds of deer, antelope, bear, snow leopards and wild asses that roamed unthreatened because the ‘devout Buddhist compassion for all living beings reigned supreme.’

He further observes that, although all these wonders have been sadly damaged by the Chinese rulers, the events in Europe of recent years ‘have taught us the possibility of the impossible.’ Therefore, he reasons — and aids his arguments by reference to such longtime success stories of neutral countries as Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Costa Rica — it is perhaps not too much to hope that Tibet may be healed and freed. Extending such hopes to a wider stage, Woodcock includes the possibility of finding ways to place among neutralized and conserved zones the Amazonian and African rain forests, the Arctic and the Antarctic.

Then comes his ‘big’ idea:

Can we apply the same hope to Canada? … like Sweden and Switzerland and Costa Rica we are indefensible if any power chooses to attack us, and like them we might find a safer role in becoming a zone of peace and communication. We could not win a war, but we might help to keep a peace, as in his own way the Dalai Lama has done by keeping his people’s hopes and culture intact, even in exile, and without a word of war.

Low-Level Flying: The Goose Bay Base

Rick Cober-Baumann, director of the Inner Resource Centre at Sheshatshit, said in May that ‘the Innu are saying we worked hard to generate support and we’ve been heard … Certainly people here are glad to hear NATO is not coming here.’ Ian Strachan, one of those who supported the Happy Valley — Goose Bay NATO base, denied, however, that the efforts of the Innu had influenced NATO against establishment of the base that would have boosted low flights of high speed military jets from 7000 to 40,000 a year, attributing the decision to ‘political and economic considerations that had nothing to do with complaints’ (Kevin Cox, The Globe and Mail, May 23). The Department of National Defence statement on NATO’s reasons also refers to ‘technical, financial and geographic factors.’

While neither the Innu nor those who attempted to assist them in their efforts can be sure at this point how effective they may have been, it seems unlikely in these times that the efforts will have been entirely without impact and influence. No doubt that will be the inference of minority groups with grievances who believe their case is just, and the present outcome will certainly not discourage them for future projects.

NATO Trends

We had declarations from the NATO chiefs during May that ‘the Cold War is over’, and the July declaration issued by the NATO summit meeting made the following main points (Guardian Weekly, July 15) –

  • NATO has asked the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact Allies to sign a joint peace declaration committing all signatories to non-aggression.
  • NATO has invited Gorbachev and other East European leaders to address its top decision-making body, and to set up offices in Brussels to liaise with NATO.
  • Manfred Woerner, secretary general, will visit Moscow on July 14 to brief Gorbachev.
  • Nuclear arms will be ‘weapons of last resort’, moving away from the ‘flexible response’ doctrine, and the US will withdraw all nuclear artillery shells from Europe if the Soviet Union does the same.
  • Once a treaty is signed on conventional forces in Europe, NATO will commit itself on troop levels in a united Germany, and seek talks on further cuts. It will move away from a strategy of ‘forward defence’ and develop smaller, more mobile multinational units.
  • NATO wants the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) to have a secretariat to service regular high-level consultations, a mechanism to monitor elections, a centre for the prevention of conflict, and a parliamentary assembly of Europe.

Despite the important implications of these shifts in NATO’s perspectives, the Canadian Defence Minister, William McKnight has indicated that Canada is very unlikely to reduce its military budget or, as an immediate measure, unilaterally withdraw its NATO troops (Carol Goar, The Toronto Star, April 14). McKnight cites the jobs already performed by the armed services — ‘search and rescue; maritime patrols; emergency evacuations (of civilians); … preventing illicit drugs from entering the country; cleaning up oil spills and other natural disasters; and participating in peace-keeping missions ….’ (He might now add civilian police actions!). All this costs Canadians less than one third as much in taxes per capita as Americans pay for their armed services.

Nevertheless, polls taken early in 1990 showed 66 per cent of Canadians favouring reduced military spending, and if McKnight is putting forward a multiplicity of non-military roles as justification for continuation of existing armed services, a very full and nationally-discussed table of priorities should be available for consideration by politicians of all parties and their constituents. McKnight is, in fact, ‘promising to enunciate Canada’s basic defence priorities by the end of the year.’ It is not only vital that this be done, but that the Minister adhere to his intent. McKnight has indicated as basic needs

… a professional force in three environments; land sea and air. It will have to be trained in a primary (combat) role and … continue to have equipment to allow the force to function.

We have national roles to fulfill, as well as the ongoing support of our allies. And that may well mean, over a short period, continued presence in Europe. It will definitely mean being involved in peacekeeping because that is something the world looks to Canada to provide.

We cannot really fault the continuation in international peacekeeping forces, but we do need to know its costs, present and future, relative to those of continuing in NATO forces and the non-military service tasks McKnight mentions. For, if these latter tasks are to be permanently and consistently factored into the armed forces’ budget they could rapidly become much more expensive than now. Then we could, and should, expect public debate on whether the budget for non-military tasks must continue to be found by adjustments within an existing total or will necessitate an overall increase — in which case there might arise important opposition from Canadian taxpayers.

As far as Canada in NATO is concerned, Leonard V. Johnson (Major-General, ret.) has written (The Globe and Mad, April 10) that Canada is not militarily threatened now, nor will it be in the foreseeable future; that the ‘nuclear threat, always remote, arises solely because Canada lies between the United States and the Soviet Union …’; ‘that the Warsaw Pact is no threat to Canada.’ However, Johnson argues that

… if all the costs of recruitment, training, airlift, supply, communications, reinforcement and protection of sea lanes were counted, as they should be, then the total cost attributable to European defence would be at lest half of the defence budget, upward of 86-billion a year. This expenditure is no longer justified by military necessity.

The Future Welfare of NATO Personnel

Olivia Ward (The Toronto Star, April 8) notes that

… while North Americans are arguing about the future, thousands of returned Soviet soldiers and their families are surviving in tents on military bases where running water is a luxury. Others simply have been discharged to find new jobs and lives in a threadbare economy where starvation is making a comeback.

As for the US –

Urgent action on demobilization is unlikely. The most popular scenario … is for gradual reductions that would let the troops find new postings in the United States, without the kind of turmoil suffered by the unprepared and underdeveloped Soviet Union.

However,

Even disarmament groups lobbying for conversion from the military economy consider troop returns a non-issue. ‘The big problem is defence contracting’, said Dr. Betty Lall of the New York-based Council on Economic Priorities. ‘We assume the personnel will come back, and new people won’t be recruited. The force would shrink by attrition.’

The one million troops that have been in Europe are supposed to be reduced to 565,000 by year’s end, the Soviet and US troops to approximately similar levels of less than 200,000 each. In light of this, it becomes difficult to see why Canadian forces will not soon have to undergo a phased withdrawal, also. However, as a country with a much wealthier economy than the USSR and much more concerned with social welfare than the US, it behooves Canada to ensure that its eliminated troops receive generous opportunities for retraining or job resettlement as required.

Concept Trends in Australian National Security

Frederic Bobin (Guardian Weekly, April 1) writing on Australia’s defence policy points out that with the ‘imminent demise of ANZUS (the defence treaty that binds the US, Australia and New Zealand), Australia is looking towards a new defence policy of its own that will give it greater autonomy.’ Since 1987 Australian forces have been moving to the northern part of the county.

Two airbases have recently been opened at Curtin and Tindal, a third is due to be established at Cape York Peninsula, and a cavalry regiment is to be stationed at Darwin.

Naval force redistribution will emphasize defence westward towards the Indian Ocean. Already, ‘Exercise Kangaroo’ with 23,000 Australian and 2,000 American troops has provided a large-scale test of the new arrangements.

What the author terms ‘pacifist circles’ are supposedly alarmed at these trends towards ‘neomilitarism’, but Defence Minister Kim Beazely has discounted such criticism, claiming the projects are defensive, as confirmed by the 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product that supports the military.

It seems that the driving force in a re-vamping of the military is ‘increasing instability in the area … illustrated by the recent crisis in the Fiji Islands, Vanatu and Papua New Guinea. Each time Australian troops were put on alert, ready to intervene if necessary and evacuate Australian nationals.’

Canberra nowadays identifies Indonesia and Papua New Guinea as ‘the principal strategic lines.’ The Soviet Union is now ‘practically seen as a natural partner in the region’ and recently there has been a considerable rapprochement between Australia and France.

Global Change and its Consequences

Paul Brown (Guardian Weekly, May 27) describes findings of a ‘confidential United Nations report on global warming.’ Listed as effects are severe winter storms common in Britain, the possibility of malaria and other tropical diseases being established in the south and cereal crops being extinguished by drier conditions in the east. Deserts could spread to various Mediterranean countries, European ski areas will disappear and the subtropics will become greatly extended northwards. Although, in the terms of this report some places — notably Canada and the Soviet Union — may benefit economically from expansion of crop-growing areas, especially for cereals, there may be major disruptions of societies because of disease, water shortages, shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and loss of agricultural land. Northern forests will be badly damaged, many mammal species will die because of habitat loss and, overall, ‘loss of diversity will be a characteristic of rapid climate changes.’

Rivers will disappear, lakes (including the Great Lakes) will shrink or dry up. Air pollution will worsen and together with radiation increases, permitted by ozone depletion, will adversely affect human health.

All this plays to the sort of analysis attempted by T. Homer-Dixon elsewhere in this number of the Bulletin and offers a prospect of generally deteriorating human environments that, taken together with rising world populations, increasing politicization, bellicosity and arms production among a growing group of nations points to a scenario of continuing international tension and friction. The precise conditions of our collective existence may change a lot over the next century, and our crises may change their nature and their main foci. But even if some things were to improve a lot, we can hardly expect a golden age, and indeed a realistic view of the physical future of the Earth suggests much global instability, against which we can expect innumerable problems of human peace and justice will have to be worked out.

Trips to Mars?

In 1989, President George Bush stated that ‘the only footprints on the Moon are American footprints’ and ‘it is America’s destiny to lead.’ These remarks were associated with his call for ‘a sustained programme of manned exploration of the Solar System and … the permanent settlement of space.’ This would be seen as including the establishment of a permanent Lunar base and an expedition to Mars. Excerpts from two recent letters (Nature 1990, Vol. 345, p. 760) are relevant.

The cost of a manned mission to Mars is currently estimated at $500,000 million and rising … There are no scientific grounds for the mission, it being generally agreed that robots can perform scientific tasks in space as well as or better than human beings, at far less cost and no risk to life… A manned expedition to Mars is a fifteenth century response to a twentieth century problem.

The justifying arguments usually given for a manned mission are political and metaphysical. They include appeals to national pride, assurances that a manned Mars mission will fulfill human destiny, and that collaboration with the Soviets in this venture is important for world peace, and other highly dubious claims. Bruce Murray, in his recent ‘manifesto’ (Nature 345, 199: 1990) adds vicarious adventure to this list. He thus confirms what some of us have long believed — that public entertainment is one of the real motives for manned spaceflight.

N.H. Horwitz
Division of Biology
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, California 91125, USA

… President Bush wants to send a few astronauts to Mars so that they can walk around for a bit and come back loaded with rocks. Yet modern North American space policy ignores a far more justifiable goal for human presence in space: trying to make that presence both materially and economically self-sufficient. A trip to Mars would require only an elaboration of existing technologies on an enormous infusion of government money. But a small independent colony, placed wherever it could function best, employing as yet undeveloped biotechnology to recycle wastes and grow its own food, would be an incomparable scientific achievement.

We don’t need more rocks here on Earth. We need to find solutions to Earth’s environmental problems. Lessons in self-sufficiency, learned by biologists and engineers in a small test-tube colony in space, might provide some of those solutions.

Charles A. Gardner
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

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