In Memoriam: George Ignatieff

To recall George Ignatieff’s dedication, persistence and humanity in his life-long struggle for a peaceful, secure and decent world is the occasion for both pain and gratitude. Pain, because of the great loss we have all suffered. It is no exaggeration to say that, in addition to his immediate family, all who had the good fortune to know him, in particular in the peace movement in Canada and throughout the world, feel bereft and desolate by his sudden death: Gratitude, because his fearless pursuit of a safer and better world and his rock-like integrity and determination in that pursuit, despite his first-hand knowledge and understanding of the difficulties and obstacles, will remain an inspiration and a beacon to all who follow in his path.

This scion of Russian nobility, who came to Canada as a boy, was both a great Canadian and a great internationalist. A protégé of Mike Pearson, he performed outstanding service to Canada in London and Washington and as Ambassador to Yugoslavia, to NATO, to the United Nations in New York and in Geneva where, as representative of Canada on the Conference on Disarmament, he was in effect Ambassador for Disarmament, a position to which he was later formally appointed for a brief period in 1984. Among all the important posts he held, he counted his years at the United Nations as his best.

I first met George in 1946 when he and I were middle level officers at the UN, he an assistant to General Andrew McNaughton the Canadian representative on the newly established Atomic Energy Commission, and I one of the few Canadians in the UN Secretariat. I was immediately impressed with his strong aversion to nuclear weapons (then called the “atomic bomb”) and his equally strong support for the UN and international peace. When Canada was elected a member of the UN Security Council in 1947, George became McNaughton’s deputy representative and his knowledge of politics and skill at diplomacy served McNaughton in good stead in dealing with all the hot issues of the post-war world — the coup in Czechoslovakia, and the military conflicts in Indonesia, Kashmir, Korea, Palestine etc. It was in those days that George Ignatieff was first called a “peacemonger” by the press at the UN, a label which he proudly used in the title of his book of memoirs.

Twenty years later Ambassador George Ignatieff returned to New York as Canadian Permanent Representative to the UN and as Canadian representative on the Security Council to which Canada had again been elected. He advocated an enhanced role for the United Nations in peacekeeping, peacemaking and disarmament. Highlights of this period were the third outbreak of Arab-Israeli war in 1967, the Biafran conflict in Nigeria, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the continuing East-West and North-South problems. He deplored the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force from Sinai at the unilateral request of the United Arab Republic (Egypt) and foresaw that it would inevitably lead to the six-day war that occurred in June 1967. Thereafter, he worked closely with Lord Caradon and Arthur Goldberg in crafting the famous Resolution 242, adopted unanimously by the Security Council, which laid down the basic principles for peace between Israel and the Arab states.

When his tour of duty at New York was up, he was delighted with his appointment in 1969 as successor to General E.L.M. Burns, ambassador for Disarmament and Canadian Representative to what was at that time called the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament (now the 40 nation Conference on Disarmament). I think he was a bit surprised to find that he was also to become Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Office at Geneva and to the many UN Specialized Agencies where he had to monitor some 4,000 or more meetings each year!

Before taking up his post in Geneva he asked me to outline for him a programme of disarmament measures that ought to be pursued in the near term (3 years) and the long term (15 years). I warned him of the improbability of the Government agreeing to support in any active sense many of the measures in the program, but he was very pleased with the list of measures and was determined to seek permission to pursue them in Geneva.

As it happened, George was in fact fortunate in being able to play an active role in the drafting of two treaties — the Seabed Treaty (banning all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from the seabed and ocean floor) and the Biological Convention (eliminating and banning all biological and toxin weapons). He regarded these, however, as minor or secondary achievements and was disappointed that the Government would take little or no initiative in pressing for a total nuclear test ban, specific measures to slow down and reverse the nuclear arms race and to ban all chemical weapons.

A decade later he and I were both very pleased when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau proposed the “strategy of suffocation of the nuclear arms race” at the UN’s First Special Session on Disarmament in 1978. The strategy included four major items from our list — a total ban on nuclear testing, a ban on flight testing strategic delivery vehicles, the cessation of production of fissionable material for weapons and a freeze and reduction of military expenditure. All these measures are now active items on the disarmament agenda.

By 1971, however, George had become increasingly frustrated by what he perceived as the Government’s trend to abandon its active support for internationalism in peace and disarmament and its contempt for the “helpful fixer” role. He also felt that External Affairs was rapidly losing its former decisive influence in foreign policy matters and that other departments, in particular National Defence, were increasing their actual role and influence. Moreover, the role of the United Nations and of multilateralism were also being eroded by unilaterlism of states and by the bilateral American-Soviet negotiations on nuclear disarmament. Finally, when he received the offer to become Provost of Trinity College, his alma mater, he decided to accept it and to end his career in government. Thus, George Ignatieff began his long and brilliant international career with his first posting abroad to the UN in New York in 1946 and ended it with his last posting to the UN in Geneva in 1972. And, although he knew better than most the problems of the UN and its limitations, he never failed to regard it as humanity’s best hope for a secure and peaceful world.

He told me that in his new career he intended to devote as much of his time and energy as he could to the cause of peace. He certainly lived up to that intention. Although his published memoirs, “The Making of a Peacemonger” ended in 1972 at the same time as his diplomatic career, George did not end his pursuit of peace. He merely shifted his efforts from governmental to non-governmental channels, where he was free to criticise openly whatever he considered as wrong or misguided in government policies. He took full advantage of the many opportunities to do so.

In the 1970s John Polanyi, its then chairman, invited George and me to join the Canadian Pug-wash Group, and we became active in the Pugwash Movement at about the same time. George was always a great source of strength and could be relied upon to help in every way possible. He arranged for us to hold meetings at Trinity College, and he hosted the 30th International Pugwash Symposium, at Trinity in May 1978, on “The Dangers of Nuclear War”. The meeting, organized by John Polanyi, was the first Pugwash Symposium held in Canada and was attended by distinguished international scientists. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau attended with two of his senior advisors and wrote the Foreword to the published volume edited by Franklyn Griffiths and John Polanyi. The Prime Minister was impressed by the discussions and, at the concluding dinner, I was able to urge him to attend the First UN Special Session on Disarmament the following month and to give him a list of possible measures to propose, some of which he set forth in his “strategy of suffocations of the nuclear arms race.”

When I became Chairman of Canadian Pugwash later that year, George very graciously agreed to become Deputy Chairman. He was always ready and generous with his advice and help. He chaired the first public Canadian Pugwash Conference at the Learned Societies Conference at the University of Saskatchewan in 1979. His help was invaluable when Canada hosted the 31st international Pugwash Conference at Banff, Alberta in 1981 and at the 25th Anniversary Commemorative Meeting at Pugwash, N.S. His talents were recognized by the Pugwash Council and he served either as a convenor or rapporteur of a working group at every international Pug-wash Conference he attended. In 1987 he was the first Canadian to be elected a member of the Pugwash Council. At the 39th international Pugwash Conference, in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the end of July 1989, George performed his last public service when he was the Rapporteur of the Working Group on “The Role of the United Nations in International Security”, a subject that was dear to his heart and interests.

George made his services and expertise available to the entire spectrum of organizations laboring in the vineyard of peace. At the end of 1979 he became President of the United Nations Association in Canada and, together with the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Pugwash Group, organized a Symposium on “Survival in the Nuclear Age” at the Learned Societies Conference in Montréal in 1980. In 1983, he was the main speaker at a peace rally of 80,000 persons in Vancouver, and in 1987, at a conference on peace issues in Edmonton, he brought 5,000 people to their feet in a standing ovation when he criticized the arms control and defence policies of the Canadian Government. At the meetings of the Consultative Group on Disarmament of the Department of External Affairs, of which he was a member from the time of its organization in 1978, he was an outstanding pillar of principle and integrity in his insistence on Canada’s preserving a more independent line in foreign affairs and defence and being less subservient to American policies and plans.

When the American Association for the Advancement of Science decided to hold their first Canadian conference in Toronto in January 1981, for the first time one of the major themes was directing science towards peace. George was asked to make arrangements to discuss this theme at the Canadian end. It was at that conference that Eric Fawcett, Terry Gardner and Derek Paul decided to launch the Science for Peace organization in Canada; they wanted the support of Canadian Pugwash and called on George and me for help, including the drafting of their basic resolution. Later, George was to become President of Science For Peace and, on his retirement, the first Honorary President.

During his seven years as Provost of Trinity College and six years as Chancellor of the University of Toronto, he was indefatigable in his work for peace and international security. He went to heroic lengths to spread the gospel of peace and accepted speaking engagements and radio and television appearances all over Canada. His views were not only inspiring but were popular with both students and the general public and he was very much in demand.

During the 70s and 80s George and I developed the practice, which became a habit, of consulting each other regularly on matters of Canadian and world affairs. We found it remarkable how closely we agreed in our views and ideas. Almost by instinct we could correctly assess or guess the other’s opinions and reactions. In our long association over the years I cannot recall one single instance in which we failed to reach quick agreement.

This led to the annual practice of Canadian Pug-wash to submit a statement to the Canadian Government on international peace and security, in which we urged the Government to adopt what we considered better policies and proposals on various aspects of the arms race and on arms control and disarmament. These were drafted by George Ignatieff, John Polanyi and myself and invariably received the full support of the Canadian Pugwash Group at its annual autumn meeting. They were sent to the Prime Minister, Secretary of State for External Affairs and other Government leaders and officials and leaders in Parliament, as well as to a number of peace groups and nongovernmental organizations. While very few were ever adopted by the Government in office, we were assured that they were all carefully considered and we liked to think that they did have some influence on Government policies.

Among the many policies we advocated, a constant current was the desire to have Canada re-assert the leadership role it had exercised during the early years of the United Nations when Mike Pearson, Paul Martin and Howard Green came forward with one important initiative after another. Those leaders believed that Canada could best preserve its independent policies and exert its influence in the world through active participation in the United Nations and NATO, rather than unilaterally or as a junior partner of the United States. The same belief imbued George’s ideas and actions.

Those were the golden years when Canada was a recognized leader in peacekeeping, peacemaking, technical assistance and development aid, and in human rights and environmental affairs. Canada is still one of the most popular and respected members of the United Nations, as was demonstrated by its election last Fall to the Security Council. But its leadership role seems much diminished and its initiatives are few and rarely very far-reaching or imbued with vision.

Some of the specific measures and actions that we urged on the Government included: abandonment of flight testing American cruise missiles in Canada; support for a nuclear freeze on the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons; negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear test ban beginning with a moratorium on testing; support for a conference to amend the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty in order to convert it into a comprehensive test ban treaty; negotiations for the cessation of the production of fissionable material for weapons; simultaneous negotiations for nuclear test ban and deep cuts in strategic weapons; support for an international satellite monitoring system under the United Nations; support for a ban on developing, testing and deploying anti-satellite weapons and the banning of all space weapons; Canadian refusal to participate in American plans for a strategic defence initiative; reconsideration of the 1987 White Paper on Defence and abandonment of plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines; and the taking of initiatives by Canada to strengthen the United Nations.

In addition, George Ignatieff was a leader in the campaign opposing the renewal of the bilateral American-Canadian NORAD agreement and argued that North American defence should be made a direct NATO responsibility. In that way, he believed that Canada could best preserve its independence while ensuring the security of Canada and the continent.

George was also very happy to witness the changes in the Soviet Union and believed that Canada should take full advantage of the new Soviet policies and the improvement in East-West relations. He was also greatly pleased by the recent revitalization of the peacekeeping and peacemaking functions of the United Nations. He believed that all these developments provided many new opportunities for Canada and the nations of the world. He believed that if they were indeed taken full advantage of, then all humankind could look forward to a new era of international peace and security such as the world had never seen before.

All these ideas are part of the legacy that George has left to us.

The loss of this great Canadian and great internationalist and humanitarian is truly a most grievous one. His passing will be mourned and his memory will be cherished by the many thousands who were fortunate to know him and personally and by the others who knew him only through his work.