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CIIA conference: Bureaucrats meet with activists

Matthew Clark — July 1984

On Friday and Saturday, June 8th and 9th, the Canadian Institute of International Affairs hosted a conference, “Disarmament Dialogue,” at the University of Toronto. Participants included activists in the peace movement, academics, civil servants, journalists and politicians.

The purpose of the conference, according to CllA research associate Kim Killeen, was to “provide an opportunity for all those involved in the security debate to discuss their concerns and objectives ‘off the record’ and on neutral territory.”

Killeen and his colleague, Michael Pearson, had conducted extensive interviews during the past year among parliamentarians, bureaucrats and peace activists, and their findings were presented to conference participants in a series of four papers.

According to Killeen and Pearson, government bureaucrats generally believe that the peace movement is composed of two groups: “(I) concerned but naive citizens motivated primarily by the fear of mass annihilation; and (2) concerned citizens generally informed but unfortunately lacking in concrete, realistic alternatives -which take into account the existing realities of our economic and political relations. “

“The views of the disarmament movement regarding the government’s response to their positions and activities can be classified under three simplified categories: (A) Inflexible officials aware of public concern but who are ‘locked into’ and actively defend a traditional security analysis of Canadian defence requirements, the nature of deterrence, and the threat posed by the Soviet Union; (B) Officials exhibiting isoIationist tendencies who do not respond to the disarmament movement, but rather, continue to implement pre-existing policies as if public discontent was non-existent; © Officials who recognize the changing nature of the nuclear arms race and the need to re-evaluate existing security policy, but who have been unable, as yet, to develop a more innovative response to the emerging threat.” It would be interesting to know to what extent the conference changed these perceptions.

In order that the exchange of ideas could be frank and open, the proceedings were off the record, so my report must be somewhat general. For the most part, I found that everyone said pretty much what one would have expected – the peace activists argued that the testing of the cruise missile in Canada suggested that the government’s commitment to disarmament was less than wholehearted, while the government representatives defended the testing as strategy to work for peace with the Western alliance.

Several peace activists tried to extend the definition of security beyond the military sphere, but I feel they met with little success. Within their terms of reference, however, the government representatives did seem to cover a fair range of opinion, from complacent defense of Reagan’s policy to somewhat anxious concern that current political institutions may not be adequate to deal with the dangers. The peace activists, however, seemed largely in agreement.

The program of the Peace Petition was a part of their consensus, but it also extended to include a concern for development issues and opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America. Several activists felt that the whole conference had an air of unreality, and I suspect that some government representatives, from a different perspective, shared that feeling.

I had hoped that more parliamentarians and more journalists would have attended the confer ence; only one of each showed up. As soon as the conference opened, several participants noted that women were rather less than equally represented; further, all the women present were peace activists – not a single woman from the government came; and of the people who had been asked to present positions, not one was a woman. The conference organizers made some attempts to rectify this situation, but an unfortunate tone had been set which to some extent lasted throughout the conference.

I personally found the conference very interesting, if somewhat inconclusive; but I know that some other peace activists who attended did not find it particularly worthwhile.

I feel that the willingness of government representatives to attend demonstrates the impact of the disarmament movement. I also believe that this dialogue was only part of a continuing process which is necessary for our success.

The peace movement must convince the mainstream; we should not dilute our message, but we cannot remain a political fringe. Most of our efforts, of course, should be directed to the grass roots, but bureaucrats are also a part of public opinion, an’d perhaps we have been too willing to dismiss them.

The conference also provided an opportunity for peace activists from around the country to gather and talk to each other. Informal discussion occurred during breaks and meals, and in addition, a more formal meeting was arranged for Sunday, June 10th, for those who could stay. Representatives were present from Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.

Much of the discussion concerned the current state of the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign, and also future plans, including the cross-country caravan and election strategy. The possibility of forming a national co-ordinating committee was discussed; most agreed that some co-ordination would be a good idea, but there were some fears and reservations, particularly about the creation of a peace bureaucracy and about the dominance of major centers, such as Vancouver or Toronto. Others, however, felt that a properly constituted committee could help to protect the interests of smaller communities. We all agreed that it was important to take every opportunity to improve networking across the country.