Technologies for Peace: Canada Proceeds Cautiously

News and Views from Our UN Representative

It appears that the Canadian government is beginning along a path which Science for Peace has long recommended: the development of technologies (especially airborne and satellite surveillance) for UN peace-keeping and verification.

In his address to the UN General Assembly in September, 1989, the Secretary of State for External Affairs, the Right Honorable Joe Clark, said:

Mr President …In April of this year, Canada completed a comprehensive study the purpose of which was to explore the utility of all forms of aerial surveillance to the peacekeeping tasks now before the international community. The conclusion of the study was that these overhead technologies — satellite or airborne — could significantly increase the efficiency of peacekeeping operations and related verification endeavors. This study will be submitted to the UN for its consideration …It is the sort of pragmatic, concrete work necessary to allow the UN to handle its ever-expanding peacekeeping responsibilities more effectively. It also symbolizes one of the fundamental purposes of the Organization: harmonizing the wonders of modern technology to the tasks of peace-building and not war-making.

It would be timely to recall some of the statements and recommendations made to the Canadian Government by Science for Peace on this subject over the years.

The 1986 Science for Peace ‘Workshop on Peace-Keeping Satellites’ came out with a Statement which included the following remarks:

Airborne surveillance and Canada’s expertise in specialized sensing … could be used to excellent advantage, both in the Canadian forces (UN) peace-keeping duties and in new roles of international arms control verification and crisis monitoring.

(We recommend that) Canada, unilaterally, initiate the use of aerospace surveillance technology for supplying the Canadian UN ground force contingent with a day-night, all-weather aerial surveillance system capability.

Over the years, we encouraged the further development of Canadian capabilities in satellite monitoring. For instance, in 1986 we urged that Canada proceed with the RADARSAT satellite when the program was in doubt. RADARSAT is now scheduled for launch in 1994 and will be able to observe the earth day and night and in all weather conditions using synthetic aperture radar.

Along a similar vein, our second workshop (‘Satellite and Airborne Surveillance for Arms Control Verification, Peace-Keeping, Crisis Monitoring and Sovereignty Purposes’), held in 1987, put forward the proposal that

The mandate for research and development of technologies for arms control verification and crisis monitoring should be included as part of the mandate of the Canadian space agency.

We have also presented briefs to various parliamentary committees on the subject of UN monitoring. The following sections from our 1987 brief to the Standing Committee on Research, Science and Technology were quoted in the Committee’s final report (entitled ‘Canada’s Space Program: A Voyage to the Future’, June 1987):

Canada possesses outstanding technical capabilities in remote sensing and surveillant instrumentation which, with a certain amount of political will, could be put to excellent use in the fields of international airborne and satellite surveillance for peace-keeping and arms verification.

The need for this technology is now coming into international prominence as more arms limitation treaties are expected to be made and as the United Nations is being called upon more and more to undertake peace-keeping and arms-verification activities.

In their final report the Committee also recommended that

… should an alternative to the Space Station Project become necessary, the Federal Government should consider expanding the RADARSAT program to incorporate an arms-control surveillance and verification role in collaboration with other interested and appropriate countries.

In 1982 a delegation from Science for Peace (consisting of Eric Fawcett, Franklin Griffiths, T.C. Clarke, John C. Polanyi and the late George Ignatieff) submitted a brief to the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence (SCEAND). They spoke about developing a United Nations satellite monitoring capability:

We urge the government of Canada to seize the opportunity afforded by the proposal for a United Nations Satellite Monitoring Agency (ISMA) and to bring to bear all Canada’s diplomatic and technical skills to further the crisis prevention and disarmament capabilities of the United Nations through this means …We understand a Canadian reluctance to disagree with such an important ally and trading partner as the United States. But in so important a matter as world security, we would hope Canada would speak to the greater benefit of the larger number of nations.

Members of Science for Peace (including Professors John Polanyi and Lynn Trainor) met with officials at External Affairs as early as 1981 to press upon them the opportunities for satellite monitoring and forms of international verification. Articles in the Globe and Mail were written by John Polanyi (including ‘Arms Monitoring by Satellite — Will Canada Lead?’). Government officials, as well as representatives from industry and the peace movement, attended all our workshops on the subject.

To its credit, Canada is now leading the development of an Open Skies regime for aerial observation. This plan was the main subject of discussion at a February meeting in Ottawa of the foreign ministers of the NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries (an unprecedented occasion in North America). Under the plan, unarmed planes from the two alliances would be allowed to fly over and photograph any part of each other’s territory. A trial flight was conducted in January, 1990, with a Canadian Forces plane flying a huge figure-8 over Hungary, viewing Hungarian and Soviet military bases. A Warsaw Pact plane is expected to fly through Canadian airspace soon. Perhaps, the Warsaw Pact would like to fly a plane behind a US stealth cruise missile in its next test over Alberta?

The Open Skies proposal was first made in 1955 by President Eisenhower, and had its origin in a nongovernmental arms control session in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This shows how non-governmental proposals can be adopted by governments but must sometimes require a bit of time to be realized. The official 1955 proposal was given an immediate and cold rebuff by Khrushchev, who called it a ‘bald espionage plot.’

A completely different response was given by Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze to the more recent Open Skies proposal; he said he would like to expand the idea to include ‘open land, open seas and open space.’ But at the moment the US will not discuss naval disarmament and still harbours plans for weapons in space.

The Soviet Union’s chief disarmament official, Viktor Karpov, recent said: ‘We know Canadian scientists have many ideas about verification. Why not a bilateral Soviet-Canadian project that could study ways to verify arms reductions in outer space?’

The Soviet Union also proposed that the UN operate the fleet of aircraft required for Open Skies, but this idea was immediately and flatly refused by the United States. It seems we will have to wait for political will to mature in the West until these countries can agree to such a good idea.

In short, the remarks by Joe Clark, the studies by the Canadian government, and the development of an Open Skies regime are most laudable. They represent a significant step to the ends that Science for Peace has been promoting since its inception. However, we have asked for even more and we must continue to do so.

As East-West relations are being remoulded and as a new international climate develops, it is essential that the United Nations play a central role, be strengthened as an effective international security body and be given the tools to carry out its important work. This is the best, and perhaps the only, way to build a peace that can last throughout the twenty-first century. We now have an opportunity not seen since the end of the Second World War.

The involvement of the peace movement and concerned citizens is as vital as ever. It is no longer the Soviet veto in the Security Council and other fora that is holding back the development or operation of an effective world-wide security system, but a reluctance on the part of the NATO countries to create new UN capabilities and organs (such as a UN verification agency and a UN capability to implement Open Skies). Now that the Warsaw Pact is not the menace it was once proclaimed to be, it is the UN, not an outmoded NATO, to which we now must turn to build global security. I sincerely hope that Canada displays more boldness and leadership, commensurate with this new era which we are now entering.

Two decades ago, people used to sing ‘give peace a chance.’ Now peace has a chance and we have to do our best to make sure that it succeeds. — A. Walter Dorn

Science for Peace is accredited with the United Nations as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Walter Dorn, our UN representative, makes bimonthly visits to the United Nations to attend meetings of UN bodies, to speak with delegates and to work with other NGO representatives in the field of international security and disarmament.