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Canada and the Nuclear Arms Race edited by Ernie Regehr and Simon Rosenblum.
Reviewed by John Pendergrast
Outrage comes easily. The current nuclear arms buildup is destablilising, expensive, and wildly in excess of any defensive needs. It is imperative to object, and object strongly. Many books have indeed done this, with power and eloquence. Statistics have been compiled to support this outrage showing how many people will be killed by holocausts of various megatonnages, airburst or groundburst, counterforce or population-directed; how many starving people could be saved at the cost of producing one missile, how many false alarms there have been, how many natural and useful; it is almost the stock-in-trade of the peace movement.
Yet no matter how irrefutable the the arguments and statistics are, many people remain unmoved. It may well be true that the world is mad, and destruction imminent, but it is not sufficient merely to prove this on general principles and then to demand that the world change. It is not sufficient because it is perfectly possible to acknowledge that both sides possess massive overkill capacity; that a nuclear war would be unthinkable destructive; that we are all human, all in the same boat — and then to carry on as before.
Part of the problem is the large gap that usually exists between the generalized knowledge that nuclear weapons threaten the end of the .world and. the actuality of the world as people experience it. The nuclear threat is usually perceived either as something abstract, or as something “extra” not as an integral part of the social process.
It is useful to scare people, but unless . that fear is joined to an analysis of the economic and to an analysis of the economic and political situation, the ultimate effect will merely be further numbing.
Rather than turning away from the world in righteous indignation, it is important to face the present situation in all its particularity. Why is the United States pursuing its present policies, and what exactly are they? What would be the consequences if Canada actually did refuse the Cruise? These are among the many questions addressed in Canada and the Nuclear Arms Race.
Ernie Regehr and Simon Rosenblum have compiled, and in large measure written, an excellent book for cool heads. The contributors are all firmly committed to disarmament, but the tone is for the most part scrupulously objective (though Pauline Jewett is avowedly polemical, she is fair.) It is a wonderful source book, and the best book I know to give to Canadians of sound mind and good heart who are reluctant to believe that the politicians on both sides are vicious maniacs.
Canada and the Arms Race is divided into four parts. The first two parts are by far the longest, and to my mind the most valuable.
“The Race to Annihilation” analyses the present global situation, dealing with the changing nature of the arms race, the character and relative strengths of the U .S. and Soviet arsenals, the economics of the arms race, and the European disarmament movement.
“Canada’s Part in the Arms Race” deals with Canada’s direct involvement with the nuclear weapons industry and also analyses Canada’s own “peaceful” nuclear industry and its role in promoting nuclear proliferation. There is also a description of the likely consequences to Canada of a nuclear exchange between the U .S. and’ the Soviet Union.
“The Failure of Policy” contains articles by David MacDonald, Waiter Gordon, and Pauline Jewett outlining the changing course of Canadian nuclear policy since World War 11 and concludes with a minority report from the 1982 session of the House of Commons Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence.
“Canadian Proposals for Peace” begins with a survey of the past and present Canadian peace movement and goes on to outline proposals for a global referendum on disarmament, the establishment of an international satellite monitoring agency, and the declaration of Canada as a nuclear-weapons-free zone. Each proposal has been thoroughly researched and thought through; each seems eminently practical. They are refreshingly concrete, after the preceding chronicle of pusillanimous vagary.
Canada and the Arms Race should of course be read primarily for its content, but it is also a delight for the sheer quality of the writing, which is almost always clear and concise. I have seen nothing comparable come from the United States; perhaps Canada’s slight removal from from the centre of nuclear policy-making gives a better view.
Canada and the Nuclear Arms Race is available at bookstores or from James Lorimer & Co. for about five dollars.