Science for Peace Panel Discussion: Can Canada have an independent nuclear weapons policy?

Stephen Clarkson: Canada is a willing partner in US hegemony, and is able to pursue any independent policy within the limits that this implies. US power may be classified within the categories: coercive, financial, cultural, and structural.

Coercive: while the USA clearly dominates Canada militarily (e.g. in 1962 when Diefenbaker refused to put Canadian military on alert during the Cuba missile crisis, the US high command by-passed him and went directly to the military), it is inconceivable that it could so in any but such an extreme crisis.

Financial: while the USA has used financial power in extreme cases (e.g. the overturning of the Allende government in Chile), again it is inconceivable that it could do so against Canada in normal times.

Cultural: this “soft power” is tremendously effective in propagating US values through Hollywood movies and advertising, but it would be ineffective in trying to implement US government policy.

Structural: the USA can manage access to its own markets to some degree, but is now severely constrained by FTA and NAFTA regulations, and by the structural changes these agreements have brought about. Thus Trudeau’s National Energy Program was defeated by trade retaliation, but today so much of the Canadian economy is within the US corporate structure that this would be impossible. If the USA tried to apply trade pressure, Canada could protest under NAFTA and/or appeal to US corporate interests.

In conclusion, Canada in the post-Cold War era can do what it wants, and Lloyd Axworthy has successfully challenged the USA in:

  1. Opposing the Helms-Burton act regarding trade with Cuba
  2. Establishing the Landmines Treaty despite US opposition,
  3. Establishing the World Criminal Court

But the problem is WITHIN Canada, e.g. the notorious posture of “co-operation and compliance” adopted by some sections of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). In particular, the Canadian military define themselves in US terms, and need “toys for the boys” so that they can be accepted as paid-up members of the US-dominated NATO club.

Joseph Jockel: In brief, agrees with everything Stephen Clarkson says, though his own position on nuclear weapons is that of Paul Fussell, as described in an article in the New York Review of Books, entitled: “Thank God for the Atom Bomb.”

Negative linkage, i.e., punishing in one area for action in another is not in the pattern of USA-Canada relations, and trade sanctions are now explicitly forbidden by NAFTA and WTO. The exemption of culture from NAFTA is the exception that proves the rule, by permitting sanctions in this area.

In striking at Canada, the USA always hurts some of its own constituency, e.g,, the US building industry was hurt by sanctions against the Canadian lumber industry.

In the short-run the USA will not accept No-First-Use for NATO, and if necessary will resign in protest. Thus the USA does not take seriously efforts to adopt a NFU policy, and regards them as only aggravation. The same is true for any effort to persuade them to abandon strategic nuclear weapons.

The key to changing this in the long-run is through the US public; if they could be gradually persuaded, then like the frog that doesn’t notice the water is warming until it dies from the heat, the US government could be driven into changing its nuclear policy.

Discussion comments:

Joseph Jockel: Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) has NEVER been US nuclear policy; they have always sought ability to fight a nuclear war, euphemistically termed “extended nuclear deterrence.”

Stephen Clarkson: Opposition by the Canadian media to change in Canadian nuclear policy would be ineffective, since they have little influence on the Canadian public mind; e.g., cruise-missile testing was strongly opposed by the Canadian public despite media support.

Stephen Clarkson: Who runs Canadian foreign policy? The Prime Minister looks after the “big stuff” — G7 summit, APEC, etc. The Foreign Minister is left with “minor issues”—Landmines Treaty, WCC, etc.

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