Troop Cuts and Open Skies

The ‘bonus’ at the recent ‘Open Skies’ conference in Ottawa was an unexpected agreement on troop cuts in Europe by the USA and USSR representatives. The cuts are of a magnitude to seem exciting, but a partial withdrawal is not a withdrawal. And it can only really be evaluated against what the USA perceives as the minimal force it needs to service and operate its weapon systems effectively and its current view of the present strength and threat of the USSR. However, signs can be portents and this step by the superpowers should be regarded as encouraging.

An Open Skies agreement — for some form of which the way now seems clear — is something to be celebrated unreservedly. It was an idea whose time seemed to have come way back in the Eisenhower years, but was destroyed by political events and forces. Since those days, the notion of national airspace being directly linked to national sovereignty has become so ingrained globally that it will be truly progressive if we actually see ‘a treaty that will allow members of one military alliance to fly over countries belonging to the other, under prearranged conditions.’ (Olivia Ward, ‘Deal Reached on Troop Cuts in Europe,’ Toronto Star, February 14). After years of satellite surveillance of each other’s territories —

All countries agreed that minimal restrictions to flights should apply, and that there should be a quota system that will allow smaller members of each alliance to have ‘equitable’ participation.
They agreed that the sensors gathering data from overflights will be able to operate in all weather, night or day.
And they left the door open to a Soviet proposal that negotiated naval and space surveillance of each other’s territory could follow.

The East Bloc countries also urged that all planes should be equipped with standard equipment, the data obtained should be processed by a multinational group, all Open Skies countries must have equal access to data, and that there should be a dispute-settling mechanism.

However, as news of the first round of actual negotiations comes to hand (Olivia Ward, ‘Superpowers Far Apart on Open Skies Treaty,’ Toronto Star,

February 28) there appear to be many obstacles to overcome. Listed among the problems are —

  • Flights over its nuclear and chemical plants and large population centres objected to by USSR
  • The USSR wants to choose the type of plane to overfly its territory; the USA wants free choice of aircraft
  • The USSR wants a limit of 34 overflights a year, NATO wants considerably more
  • The USSR wants to share all data; the USA resists this
  • The USSR wants overflights of third countries that might be host to superpower military bases. The US insists …only …the 23 European and North American countries (are) included in the agreement.’

Let us hope something worthwhile will emerge and be coupled with presently emerging weapons site inspections on each other’s territories; then it can be said that the world is actually entering a time of better prospects for eventual disarmament than at any in recent world history.

The Budget, Canada’s Military-Industrial Complex, Overseas Aid

The immense rush of change in Eastern Europe and the USSR has dwarfed to insignificance most other international events of recent months. Everyone knows, at the level of daily news reports, what has happened — continues to happen. But what really interests those concerned with world disarmament and peace remains an enigma — I mean the significance of all these incredible events for prospects of a peaceful global future.

Whatever the Canadian government’s perception of these tumultuous times, there seems as yet no clear commitment to a large-scale reduction of Canadian forces and their armaments. Certainly there have been some signs in recent years that the government might be contemplating change: the decision not to buy nuclear submarines indicated no great urge to expand. Now this has been echoed by the February decision not to proceed with the super icebreaker. But otherwise, military spending, though down by $658 million from what had been projected for the next two years, has not been drastically cut, as many in the military and the arms industry had feared. The Government message is ‘Steady as she goes!’

This, as military leaders already proclaimed, is some relief to them, and will, at least for now, postpone the necessity (which some had predicted might be unavoidable) of bringing home 7,000 Canadian Troops from Europe. From the peaceworkers’ point of view this sustained funding for Canadian forces is a problem exacerbated by the substantial withdrawal, under the new Federal budget, of support from universities and colleges. This sustained funding will delay any process of massive reduction in our military, with their consequent transfer into other professions or transformation into a national service to handle man-made or natural disasters, fisheries policing, smuggling, sabotage and terrorism, and to contribute to international peacekeeping with NATO forces. The further point is, that for these many new jobs, roles and responsibilities much reeducation at post-secondary levels will be a vital need, and we had better have the means for this reeducation if we do not want to lose people to better opportunities in other countries.

The new budget raises other, connected problems. Thus, it could logically be supposed that if troops were reduced, arms industry output would also fall. But the budget support for The Defence Industry Productivity Program and Canada’s contribution to the space program will, in fact, continue to rise by 5 percent.

One thing looks clear: the substantial Federal reduction of support for post-secondary education and for science and technology ($40 million less, mostly for the Strategic Technology Development Program, technology opportunity programs, and promotion of microelectronics development, according to the Globe and Mail, February 21, 1990), indicate that the Government is certainly not yet ready to absorb either military personnel or arms technologists into the non-military workforce. If they were seriously thinking of doing so, they would surely have the intelligence not to allow the post-secondary education systems, and the science and technology development, of Canada to slip still further into the doldrums.

Another thing that remains disturbing is the evident inability of either the Prime Minister, or the Minister of External Affairs, to match US President Bush’s expressions of approval or encouragement to President Gorbachev, or to offer ‘emergent’ states such as the new Poland more than paltry economic aid. It must be hoped that, behind the facade of non-rhetoric, there is some sort of appreciation of what is going on.

Indeed, those opposed to war realise that, in the end, peace will only be assured by greater economic equality between nations. An imperative in hastening progress towards peace must be substantially increased foreign aid by wealthy countries, such as Canada. External Affairs Minister, Joe Clark, has been modestly successful in ‘holding the line’ against reductions in foreign aid. But far more should be expected of this country, given its wealth and its international reputation as a society of global goodwill.

Alan H. Weatherley