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Swords into ploughshares

Harriet Eisenkraft — December 1983

On November 17, unnamed Reagan administration officials at a New York conference called Prime Minister Trudeau’s current peace proposals a “cop-out” because Canada’s financial contribulion to NATO is “insufficient.”

External Affairs Minister Allan MacEachen was quick to respond to the U.S. criticism, telling reporters it “would seem to rest on the idea that the sole way of promoting peace is through arms build-up. “

Nevertheless, in the face of criticism from the opposition Conservative Party that the Canadian government spends less than 2% of its gross national product on defense, the Liberal government felt compelled to defend Canada’s military spending and its contributions to NATO. In doing so, the government, despite the initial reaction of MacEachen, seemed to accept the logic that peace initiatives are more credible if they go hand-in-hand with military spending.

One of the national peace groups supporting Trudeau’s initiatives has a different perspective on the relationship between defence spending and the promotion of peace.

Project Ploughshares, a research and educational organisation, asks the question: “Why is military spending increasing in a world that already has an overabundance of weapons, but apparently lacks the resources to meet the most basic needs of millions of people?”

Project Ploughshares is well qualified to question the human costs of military spending, since its main concern is the relationship between militarism and underdevelopment.

Since it. was founded in 1977, Project Ploughshares has been conducting research on the Canadian military industry and Canada’s participation in the global arms race. It also acts as an educational resource body for information on Third World development.

Ernie Regehr, the group’s research director, believes Canada could play an important role in disarmament discussions. But, he adds, “Canada would have increased moral authority if it had acted more consistently and put forward clear policies on matters like cruise missile testing.”

Project Ploughshares attempts to contribute to the development of a more peace-oriented national policy’ by conducting research into and providing information on the Canadian economy and military production, as well as the economic effect of its arms sales to developing countries. This data, published in a quarterly newsletter, is sent to members, MPs and the Department of External Affairs.

The organisation is sponsored by most of the major Canadian churches, as well as several development agencies, including the Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO) and the Development Education Centre (DEC). Project Ploughshares also receives money from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and Regehr says 2,000 individual Ploughshare Associates throughout Canada provide a major amount of additional funding. These individuals have formed local chapters in 25 centres.

Some of the group’s church sponsors also participate in lobbying efforts before MPs in Ottawa, and Project Ploughshares acts as a support and resource agency in this area.

Michael Cooke, a Project Ploughshares board member, agrees that Trudeau’s peace crusade is “a good start.” But, he says, it must be coupled with a strong development policy, including increased aid to the Third World.

“The arms race is not only an east-west situation, but also a north-south one,” Cooke says. “There is a link between peace and justice.”

Project Ploughshares can be contacted by writing to them at Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo Ontario N2L 3G6, or by calling them at (519) xxx-xxxx.