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Interview with Doug Roche: Leaving politics for peace work

Roy McFarlane — February 1984

Douglas Roche’s most recent book, Politicians for Peace, chronicles the formation of Parliamentarians for World Order, a nongovernmental organisation, formed prior to the 1982 U.N. Special Session on Disarmament. Mr. Roche, . a Progressive Conservative MP representing Edmonton South, has been a strong advocate of disarmament and development. First elected to the House of Commons in 1972, he has recently, decided not to seek re-election.

Mr. Roche was interviewed at his office in the East Block of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.

CANDIS: In Politicians for Peace you touch very briefly upon your own history prior to your involvement with PWO. Is there any particular instance which sparked your interests in the global issues of disarmament and development?

Douglas Roche: My whole life has been a process of experiencing global reality. In fact, I went into politics in 1971, because of my concern about the global reality. My years in the House of Commons have enabled me to further develop my understanding, to travel, study, international conferences, the months and months I have spent at the United Nations.

I do not think there was any one event, but a process.

CANDIS: Your position on disarmament and development issues appears to be dramatically out of line with the majority of the Progressive Conservative caucus. For instance, you have voted, on an NDP motion, against cruise missile tests in Canada. Have your positions created any problems for you within your party, or with your own constituents?

Roche: I cannot accept the ,premise of your question. My positions. on development and disarmament. are not out of character with the PC Party. I draw to your attention Brian Mulroney’s speech in Toronto in which he outlined a seven-point program for progress in disarmament, two steps of which break ground — these two steps being: Urging NATO to consider a no-first-strike policy and calling for the intermediate- and long-range missile negotiations to be combined into one set of negotiations. I support that, and it is my distinct impression that the Party overwhelmingly supports that program. So I do not accept your premise.

In development, our policy in the PC Party has been to reach 0.7% of the GNP in official development assistance by 1990. That is a commitment that the Party made in a formal resolution in 1981, and it also was ahead of the Liberal position which was to make best efforts to reach .7% by 1990. In the latest throne speech of December 1983, the Liberal Government shifted its language to make a commitment; it said it will reach .7% by 1990. The PC Party had said that before. So I think that the fullness of the Conservative positions in these two areas has not been adequately conveyed to the public, and I believe that people, often in looking at the Conservative Party, are prone to see, or exaggerate, differences of opinion that are brought into the Party which are very often resolved. And I have to tell you that Brian Mulroney is exercising his considerable skills at conciliation.

CANDIS: What are your reasons for deciding not to run in the next federal election?

Roche: Because I want to work full-time in the areas of peace, which I define as disarmament and development. I want to work internationally, and I believe that I can make a contribution to the formulation of Canadian government policy applied to the areas in which the United Nations are most active, which again are the areas on development and disarmament.

CANDIS: Much of the formation of Parliamentarians for World Order and the gathering of the signatures for the Call for Global Survival centered on’ the Special Session on Disarmament in June 1982. The First Special Session was able to produce, in the final hours, the unconditionally unanimous Final Document. But the Second UNSSOD did little more than ratify that document. What changes in the intervening four years, do you feel, caused the regression, or stagnation?

Roche: The deterioration in the international political climate. The invasion by the Soviets of Afghanistan was certainly a significant factor in the deterioration of that climate. The continuation of the arms race by the two superpowers in that four-year period, the Final Document of UNSSOD I notwithstanding, that further enlarged the difficulties. The inflammation of Central America,. the growth of terrorism, a reduction of support by the west, generally, of the U.N. In the west, and in the U.S. particularly, the growth of a hard line attitude as a reaction, by and large, against the demands of the Third World. I believe that this essentially caused the international climate to deteriorate … the lack of trust between the two superpowers. I do not believe that that’s a permanent condition. I believe that there is a realpolitik starting to take hold. And that is a recognition in the public, and I say the public of the west as well as the public of the east, that in this one world we have to get along for our mutual survival. I think that is beginning to take hold, and I think that will gradually take effect in the construction of policies that win enable us to survive into the next century. New politicians who are being born in the ’60s and ’70s will come to their maturity in a time of greater appreciation of global realities.

CANDlS: You write of the political will on the part of parliamentarians to deal with the issues of disarmament and development. Prime Minister Trudeau used the term in launching his peace initiative. Does this imply that current parliamentarians do not have the will to work on these issues, and if so is this a result of their inability or a lack of motivation?

Roche: As I move around the world, visiting many countrie! and parliaments, I observe a minority of parliamentarians everywhere who are alive to these issues, and want to have public policies constructed which are sensitive and sensible. My job in PWO is to try to mobilise these creative minorities everywhere.

I think that it became a truism at the conferences conducted by the U.N. in the 1970s on all the main subjects to end these conferences by saying “Here’s the strategy, but what we need is the poliical will to implement it.” We don’t have the political will. If there was political will today, we would have disarmament, we would have development, we would have the far more rigorous methods of protecting human rights, and we would have international institutions with some teeth in them. That political will has not been active in a major sense in elections. l’ve been through four federal elections and I can tell you that the political will does not manifest itself to make politicians respond. As a result of the crisis into which the world has been plunged in the past year or two, and brought to a head by the deployment issue, there is some hope within me, as I said a moment ago, that the construction of policies for survival may now get a higher priority. The public has a lot to do with further developments in this area. By that I mean the whole non-governmental organisations’ approach. The way they mobilised a million people to march in New York on June 12, 1982 during UNSSOD II may not have had the direct effect of making UNSSOD II a success — we have to say that UNSSOD II was a failure; it was a failure for reasons that were too late to do anything about at that time — but the continued manifestation of the public will, again, that creative minority within the public, will gradually make itself felt.

CANDIS: In the past few years the issues of nuclear weapons and disarmament have risen to the top of many people’s agendas, while development, the other major theme of your book, is not given equal priority by these people. What effect do you see the inattention to this issue may have in the near future, particularly on the relations between developing and industrialised nations?

Roche: Well, both the north and the south are today suffering as a result of a lack of policies to increase international trade, the strength of international financial institutions. When the south doesn’t have the money to — and it doesn’t as a result of its inability to find markets at prices that are compensatory — then it cannot import from the north. And that volume the north needs to export in order for it to stay healthy. So the interpenetration here of the global condition affecting north and south is obvious.

Development is taking a back seat to the disarmament issue, which is intensive. People are out mobilising and marching on the disarmament issue, and I don’t see anybody marching on the development issue. I suppose this is a factor of the human condition — marching to save our own skin on disarmament, but not many of us want to get out and march to save somebody else’s body from the ravages of poverty and malnutrition. It is a scandal that the world is spending $1.3 million a minute on arms, certainly, but it is an equally greated scandal that some 22 children die in that same minute, allover the world, all under the age of one. 22 children per minute’ under the age of one from neglect, disease, waterborne diseases, malnutrition, from starvation.

Not many people yet see the connection between disarmament and development.

CANDIS: You write very highly of Apollos Njoku, a Member of Parliament for Nigeria. As well, the Nigerian parliamentarians comprise more than one third of all African signatories to the Call for Global Survival. What effect do you think the recent coup in that country will have on your efforts in particular, and on African involvement in the disarmament process in general?

Roche: That is a factor of concern to us. We don’t know the answer to that question yet, it is too soon. We’re going to be holding an executive meeting soon at which we will be examining this kind of question. I plan to go to Africa later in the year and l’ll have to make my own judgment based on the facts as I observe them at the time.

CANDIS: In surveying the list of signatories to the Call for Global Survival, we find the majority are from western and non-aligned governments. Are you making any inroads to Warsaw Pact parliamentarians?

Roche: Well, we’re trying. Our mail-out went to parliamentarians around the world in eleven languages, and we expect progress in reaching into the east and Communist countries to be. very, very slow. This is something that is bigger than us. We are trying to make a contribution to enlarged understanding among parliamentarians, but we’re still a very young organisation. I think we are going to have to develop ourselves, and develop our own capacity to do this kind of work. We’re just not there yet.

CANDIS: What progress has been made with Parliamentarians for World Order since the completion of your book?

Roche: The centrepiece of our current work is the Middle Power Initiative on which we are working with a number of leaders of countries urging them to increase their own sphere of influence on the two superpowers to make progress in nuclear arms negotiations. We are also mustering political support in order to impress on these leaders the unique opportunity tney have to influence the course of world events through their access to the leadership of the two superpowers. We are working very hard in that area.

CANDIS: Would you say that you are optimistic or pessimistic about the future of disarmament and development?

Roche: I cannot afford to be defeatist! [transcriber’s note: incorrect quote in original print edition]