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General calls NATO role into question

Hamish Wilson — December 1984

TORONTO — Maintaining that “Canada and NATO could get along very well without each other,” retired Major-General Leonard Johnson recently criticized the current Canadian perceptions about our role in NATO and condemned the horrors of nuclear weaponry and militarism in a lecture on November 22 presented by University College and Science for Peace.

Because of his experience in the military, Johnson said he had realized that technology had changed the nature of war, making conventional military strategy and weapons redundant and obsolete. Nonetheless, “nuclear weapons are not capable of serving any useful purpose” in war.

Johnson, the former commandant of the National Defence College, said that any future nuclear conflict would be waged only by technicians manning computer terminals.”

However, Johnson said that “war is a product of human institutions,” an“d called for an “ideology of peace” which will recognize that our well-being is bound up with that of others.

Saying that “the arms race is a mutually-reinforcing mechanism,” Johnson condemned the preparedness for war which only increases its likelihood. To break the cycle, he called upon scientists to refrain from developing new weapons systems, and he also urged a vocal and educated public to stop career generals from making all security and defence decisions.

Johnson described NATO as “an archaic survivor from the days of nuclear monopoly,” and called for a re-evaluation of Canada’s role in that organization. He indicated that our troops in Europe are not of a defensive nature for Canada, and that other countries (such as Sweden and Switzerland) have maintained a defensive role for centuries. At the least, Johnson said, member countries “must insist on the right to dissent publicly.”

Johnson maintained that the way to effect change was through the ballot-box, and suggested that by the next election all politicians should be responding to the concerns of the peace movement. But, while admitting that solutions cannot be completely arrived at by the politicians, he suggested that “nothing will defeat the cause more than violence.” He refused to venture into the philosophy and morality of civil disobedience.

Johnson is a member of Generals for Peace, an organization of over a dozen high-ranking retired military officers from around the world.