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Prominent Canadians discuss foreign policy

Murray Thomson — October 1984

On September 7-9, the “Group of 78,” a group of pre-eminent Canadians concerned with the direction of Canadian foreign policy, held a week-end conference at Stony Lake, Ontario, to consider issues related to world problems and peace.

The conference began with a tribute to the late NDP MP Andrew Brewin, a co-founder of the Group of 78. The Group was also addressed by Commonwealth Secretary-General Shridath Ramphal.

Mr. Ramphal warned that despite the optimism often expressed that we have so far avoided George Orwell’s forecasts about 1984, “our global reality in 1984 is essentially Orwellian: a hierarchical international community run by a small superpower directorate, with an ‘Inner Party’ of rich countries dedicated to permanent superiority.” That superiority, he said, is maintained “through an apparatus of economic, political, military, sometimes even cultural domination, bolstered now by increasing observation from outer space.”

The Conference produced a Statement representing a consensus in the thinking of the 83 participants, on six areas of policy. Pricipal recommendations in each area were as follows:

The arms race and Canadian defence policies – The group called for a moratorium on the testing of all space weapons, including all anti-satellite and ballistic missile defense.

It also recommended the beginning of negotiations for a mutual, verifiable freeze by the two superpowers on the testing, production and deployment of all nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles; a moratorium, pending agreement on a nuclear freeze, on the further testing, production and-deployment of cruise missiles; an extensive review of Canada’s defense policy with full public participation as well as parliamentary study; and support for an international arms trade register and for an international satellite monitoring agency.

Collective approach to peace and security – The group urged Canada to seek a seat on the UN Security Council and an enhanced role for the UN in crisis prevention, peacekeeping and conflict resolution; and to contribute to independent initiatives such as the Palme Commission and the Five Continent Peace Initiative.

Productive interdependence — The Group agreed that “improvements in the world economic outlook demand action to reschedule and ease the burden of debt, to roll back protectionism, and to increase international liquidity.” It also urged that “one percent of Canada’s official development assistance be devoted to public participation and awareness activities in international development.”

Human rights – The Group concluded that “Canadian credibility internationally depends upon our effectiveness in protecting and enhancing human rights for all Canadians.” A major test of our performance will come, the Group’s Statement noted, “at Nairobi in July, 1985, at the end-of-decade Conference on Women, and at the Review Conference of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to be held in Canada in May, 1985.”

The environment and the oceans – The Group called for further initiatives on environmental crises such as acid rain and the destruction of tropical forests, “issues which should be considered in such fora as the summit conference on World Conservation Strategy and the Brudtland Commission of the World Environment Toward the Year 2000.”

The Group of 78, an informal association of professors, former ambassadors, former MPs and authors, among others, came into being three years ago. The Group’s name refers to the number of prominent Canadians who participated in the preparation of a statement setting out three interrelated objectives for Canadian foreign policy in the 1980s.

These objectives were the removal of the threat of nuclear war, the strengthening of the UN and regional institutions designed to bring about peacemaking and peacekeeping, foster international cooperation, promote the growth of world law and the protection of human rights; and the mobilization of world resources to achieve a more equitable international order and end the crushing poverty which is the common lot of the majority in developing countries.