The end of the cold war has not brought peace and cooperation but conflict and division. So the political philosophers of deterrence whom we all opposed were right — for the wrong reasons. They said that the bomb’s existence prevented world war. This may not have been true — the absence of nuclear war in the period from 1950 to 1990 may have been our historical good fortune. But the bomb certainly gave organizations like Science for Peace a clear rationale for their existence and activity. And it gave powerful non-nuclear countries like Canada good reason to distance themselves from the positions and policies of the nuclear states in order to maintain their own political credibility within the wider world. That reason has now disappeared. In its place has come economic and political uncertainty.
So in Labrador we can offer NATO further low flying hours and not be concerned about tormenting the Inuit inhabitants and thus discrediting ourselves in the eyes of a ‘third world’ which has in any case disappeared along with the nuclear confrontation. And when the US bombs Iraq we can immediately associate ourselves with this brutal illegality because there is political and economic advantage in so doing and the views of others no longer need trouble us. In the past a mild distancing would normally have been in order, with phraseology such as “Canada understands the US action and the provocations that gave occasion for it but believes that conflicts should normally be settled by agreed actions under UN auspices etc. etc.”, but even that slight consolation is now denied us. At the same time our credibility as provider of relatively unbiased peace-keeping forces has disappeared along with much of the Canadian military’s reputation for competence, fairness and courage. Indeed we could conceivably take this opportunity — having disbanded the Airborne regiment — to convert the rest of Canada’s armed forces into an unarmed (or only lightly armed) civilian or paramilitary peace-keeping operation. Our war-fighting capability will not be missed inside or outside the country and it could certainly help the federal deficit. Of course that won’t happen.
What can we do? Where shall we find Gregory Corso’s gold-moustached bombs to sit in judgment on us? Is it a coincidence that the promotion of the US to world hegemony has coincided with the rise of cults and militias inside that troubled country? They are certainly prepared to judge their state but their magisterial manner lacks something. Only if other states become world magistrates within and outside the United Nations, not only for the US but for Palestine, Israel, Rwanda, Britain (in Northern Ireland), Bosnia and Serbia, without looking to short term political and economic advantage, will there be a change of atmosphere. We cannot expect the poor of this world to do this but rich and previously internationally-minded countries including Canada and Scandinavia should do so, not out of pure altruism but to promote our long term prosperity along with that of others. How can we persuade the Canadian government to take the long view? That seems to me the problem that urgently needs a solution.