Canada's Stake in Arms Control and Disarmament
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 13 Nov 1969, p. 112-127
Ignatieff, George, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The present state of the nuclear arms race. The speaker as Canada's representative in the disarmament negotiations in Geneva and New York. A frank account of the situation as the speaker sees it. A series of questions, and some personal responses. "What is the meaning of this new riddle of the technological age, carved in initials?" (ABM, ICBM, FOBS, MIRV, SALT) "What is being done to check the seeming inevitability of the escalating race in weapons, ever more devastating in their effects and ever more dependable in their delivery systems?" "What is Canada's stake in the efforts being made to bring this arms race under control through negotiations; and what is Canada's role in this diplomatic effort, …" A detailed discussion in response to these questions follows. Concluding and summary remarks including some Canadian initiatives.
Date of Original
13 Nov 1969
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Full Text
NOVEMBER 13, 1969
Canada's Stake in Arms Control and Disarmament
CHAIRMAN The President, H. Ian Macdonald


This is a week in which our thoughts turn naturally to the past--to the tragic and heroic years of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945; it is a time to remember loved ones who did not return from battle and a season to ponder the meaning of their sacrifice. However, as those pages of history recede into the past, we conjecture all the more on the future course of mankind. In this particular year, our conjecture takes on an added dimension--that of an infinite universe--for, tomorrow, we will begin to experience, once more, the epic excitement of a trip to the moon.

Between the sentiment and the sadness of the past and the wonder and mystery of the future stands the here and now. The task we face is one of justifying the sacrifices of those who gave their lives and of working to ensure that such a heavy toll will never again be necessary. For these reasons, I am delighted to welcome Mr. George Ignatieff to the Empire Club of Canada in this particular week and doubly pleased that he has chosen to speak on the subject "Canada's Stake in Arms Control and Disarmament." Surely, arms control and eventual disarmament must be our ideal and our goal if those words which we sing on Remembrance Day are to have any meaning:

"O God of love, O King of peace,
Make wars throughout the world to cease;
The wrath of sinful men restrain,
Give peace, O God, give peace again."

Such is the objective of the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament to which George Ignatieff is Canada's Permament Representative, with the rank of Ambassador. These are days when instant communication and economic austerity are combining to close certain of our foreign offices around the world, but Geneva continues to be the symbolic and practical site of movements for world peace as it has been for many years. There can surely be no more significant posting for Canada today and no activity to which our contribution is more necessary.

Equally, it is difficult to imagine any Canadian with a training more suited for this responsibility. Mr. Ignatieff was born in St. Petersburg, Russia but, by family connection and background, is very much a Torontonian. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and, subsequently, attended New College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, and the University of London.

Since 1940, he has served continuously with the Department of External Affairs, becoming familiar with all points of the North Atlantic triangle as well as Eastern Europe. His tours have included the Deputy High Commissionership in London in 1959, the Ambassadorship of Canada to the United Nations in New York from 1966-1968, and the Ambassadorship to Yugoslavia.

Perhaps no Canadian Ambassador truly experiences the full flavour of serving as a Canadian abroad without serving in both London and Paris. This, too, George Ignatieff has done; for four years, between 1962 and 1966, he was Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the North Atlantic Council in Paris. At home, in Ottawa, he occupied the post of Assistant Undersecretary in the Department of External Affairs between the years 19601962.

His distinguished service to his government and to Canada will be recognized tomorrow at the University of Toronto by the receipt of an honorary degree and, for this, we offer to you, Sir, our heartiest congratulations.

While expenditure on arms and weapons grows daily, the innocent perish in Viet Nam, in Nigeria and in the Middle East and, all the while, others starve to death throughout the world. A single but compelling goal remains unchanged: to achieve, at a single stroke, reduction of arms and expansion of economic welfare throughout the world.

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their
spears into pruninghooks; nations shall not lift up sword
against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

That Biblical hope is as apt as ever, but we cannot risk the catastrophic judgment which the Prophet foresaw prior to its fulfilment.

May I now invite Mr. George Ignatieff, Ambassador of Canada to the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament, Geneva, to speak to us on the subject "Canada's Stake in Arms Control and Disarmament."


First of all, I should like to say how much I appreciate the honour of being invited to speak to the Empire Club. Those to whom this opportunity is offered, I realize, have to be brilliant, or original, or both. Since there is difficulty in being brilliant when you are trying to be original, and being original when you are trying to be brilliant, I shall merely try to be informative in thinking out loud on a subject on which I believe much thought is required--Canada's stake in arms control and disarmament.

I had been tempted to give a more frivolous title to my remarks--"Armless in Geneva--or a Diplomat's View of Venus de Milo." (You remember the girl in the popular song some time ago who was "cuter than Venus and she had arms!")

The present state of the nuclear arms race does not lend itself to frivolity, I am afraid. Indeed, the arms race of Canada's two neighbours, the United States and the Soviet Union, ever chasing the rainbow of nuclear and missile sufficiency, threatens to disturb the balance in the balance of terror which has preserved a certain stability in great power relationships.

In speaking to you as Canada's representative in the disarmament negotiations in Geneva as well as in New York, I wish to give you as frank an account of the situation as I see it, in the time available to me.

These days, when weird initials flash almost daily in the headlines, like ABM, ICBM, FOBS, MIRV and SALT, I am reminded of the lines of the sonnet:

"Like him who, in the desert's awful frame,
Notches his cockney initials on the Sphinx."

What is the meaning of this new riddle of the technological age, carved in initials? What is this Martianlike alphabet we are required to learn, which when translated into words like "Anti-Ballistic Missiles", or "Fractional Orbital Bombardment System", sound even more menacing?

What is being done to check the seeming inevitability of the escalating race in weapons, ever more devastating in their effects and ever more dependable in their delivery systems? What is Canada's stake in the efforts being made to bring this arms race under control through negotiations; and what is Canada's role in this diplomatic effort, on which I spend most of my time at Geneva?

There are more replies than answers to these leading questions, but I shall do my best to give you in summary form, my personal view of what these replies might be. Geneva, of course, as you will recall, has been the scene of disarmament negotiations ever since the League of Nations established itself there after the First World War. Negotiations on disarmament in which Canada participated, were therefore a feature of international relations in the 20's and 30's. This activity was regarded as a harmless illusion by some, with enthusiasm by others, and with indifference by most.

The last world war, the coming of the atomic age, and the cold war with the scientific and technological revolution which has followed in missiles as well as the warheads they carry, has changed both the significance and the scope of these discussions, as well as arousing a justified public concern about their progress, or otherwise.

At the dawn of the atomic age, that is, immediately after the first use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States, along with the United Kingdom and Canada, took the initiative to start discussions to try to ensure that this new dread power, so destructive potentially in war, as it is useful potentially as a source of power in peace, would be used for peaceful purposes only. As General McNaughton's diplomatic adviser, I took part in those early discussions.

In the Baruch Plan put forward by the United States, it was proposed that all atomic weapons would be suppressed and that all nuclear activities from the mine to the reactor should be placed under the control of an international monopoly in order to ensure that nuclear reactions would be used for peaceful purposes only.

The Soviet government, ever suspicious of outside controls which might challenge the monopolistic controls of the Communist Party, and fearing that the Baruch Plan would permanently preserve the American monopoly or superiority in atomic weapons, turned down the proposal. The armaments race was on, and was given added fuel by the developing cold war in the late 40's and 50's.

The escalation of the arms race which has proceeded apace through the 50's and 60's can be judged from the fact that world expenditures on armaments rose, according to the United States official figures, from $120 billion in 1962 to more than $180 billion in 1967. The figures have continued to rise so that they are now almost $200 billion a year.

As a result of this escalation we have a situation today where never in human history have such contradictory philosophies dividing the human family been coupled with such devastating military power, especially in the hands of the super powers.

An expert witness in the Senate Foreign Relations Hearings on the ABM in Washington speaking about this process of escalation last July, said: "We are caught up in a sequence of technology developments without any logical end. The first step . . . was the ballistic missile. The second step is the anti-ballistic missile. The third is the anti-anti-ballistic missile, or MIRV as we usually call it. In this sequence, each step is more pointless and more treacherous than the one before it."

The answer to the achievement of national security clearly cannot be found through a competitive application of military technology alone. National security being primarily a political problem, the solution lies primarily through political means. Hence the importance of arms control negotiations, coupled with efforts to moderate the confrontations between the great powers. But we have to admit frankly that arms control and disarmament has so far had only limited success.

Today the bombs that were used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are to current models, as Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" is to the modern jet plane. We are faced today with the intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple warheads, underground missile silos, submarines that can shoot missiles without surfacing, the hydrogen bomb, chemical and biological weapons, to name only some of the items in the arsenals of the two powers which have become so highly developed that thousands of years of civilization could be destroyed in a matter of minutes.

There is an important factor of timing involved. For as William Foster, who until recently was Head of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and Chief US Negotiator put it in a recent article in Foreign Affairs:

"The central fact today in the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union is that progress in technology has made it both necessary and possible to place restraints on the nuclear arms race. The technological stars and planets are now in favourable conjunction, so to speak--and they will not stay that way for long."

The important fact is that the point has been reached in the nuclear arms race where offensive capabilities resulting from technological advance, both in the Soviet Union and the United States, threaten to overtake defensive capabilities and thus upset the delicate balance of Bi-Polar Power which has allowed a certain stability in the relations between the super powers.

Moreover, with MIRV's we are entering into a new darkness about the state of the strategic balance, in which conjecture tends to produce overreaction on the part of one side or the other, unless corrected through negotiations.

Another factor is that both powers, as a result of the strategic arms race, tend towards a position of parity. If both sides--Americans and Russians--are determined to outdo the other, their respective efforts inevitably tend to cancel out. The really serious question is whether that parity is stable or unstable in nature, moderate or excessive in cost.

Therefore, despite the many divergent interests of the United States and the Soviet Union on many issues, there appears to be no question that both sides have a considerable ground of common interest in limiting and controlling the nuclear arms race and in reducing the balance of deterrence to lower and safer levels.

The question is still whether the superpowers will adjust psychologically to recognize this common interest and act upon it. If there is a new-found willingness to discuss arms control, it is because it is being forced upon the super powers by the sheer weight of the strategic, technological and economic facts of life.

The alternative seems to be to accept that the escalation of the arms race is inevitable, because technological accomplishments are limitless and so is the depravity of man. But that alternative would be a counsel of despair that could, indeed surely would, lead to an eventual holocaust that would threaten the survival of mankind.

But let us have no illusions that to bring the nuclear arms race under international control is an easy matter. Even under the Charter of the United Nations, the nation state is sovereign, and nation states tend to take the position of being a "law unto themselves".

Technology, moreover, is no leveller in its effect on the power of nations. On the contrary, technology has favoured those nations which have the highest degree of industrialization, wealth, technological know-how and expertise. As a result it is the United States and the Soviet Union above all who are at the head of the nuclear/missile arms race, with China becoming increasingly important in a triangular relationship with the other two nuclear giants.

I want to focus attention on this triangular relationship as most affecting world peace and security, because Britain, France and Japan, although also great powers (and the first two are nuclear powers as well) have no more than limited influence with any of the three giants, who will ultimately decide the issue of nuclear peace or war in the world.

This triangular relationship is not a very happy one, to say the least. Under the threat of mutual destruction, the USA and USSR have painfully constructed a limited degree of understanding and detente. On the Sino-Soviet side of the triangle, too, although there is mistrust and tension, an effort is being made to remove the dangers of conflict through diplomatic negotiations. The third side of the triangle, that between the United States and China, is a more unknown quantity.

The overwhelming military superiority of the USA and the Soviet Union makes it inevitable that their relationship with each other and with third powers should be the cornerstone of international stability. At the same time, the limitations placed on their power, by the very nature of their weapons and their devastating effect, forces these super powers to take account of the political influences at work in the world.

Indeed, the difficulty of translating military power into influence in this atomic age may well be leading to a decline in the influence of these two super powers. The decline of big twoism may open the way to a greater scope for autonomous action by those less muscle-bound by self-destructive military power, like Canada.

For Canada, because of our geographic location, the important fact is that the triangular relationship of the great powers is one of uncertainty, hostility and distrust, mitigated mainly by the fear of nuclear war and by the consequences that follow from that fear.

The Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons on March 19, pointed to the changed circumstances of Canada in regard to defence and disarmament, resulting from progress in science and technology as well as from Canada's geographic location. He recalled that it was only four and one-half decades ago that Senator Dandurand was able to say in Geneva that we in Canada "live in a fireproof house far from inflammatory materials". This is no longer the case, said the Prime Minister. "Our house is not fireproof and, as we know, inflammatory materials are not very far from it."

In addition to opening negotiations with the People's Republic of China, the Prime Minister outlined the three principles which govern Canadian policy in seeking international peace and security, in the insecure world environment I have described.

First is the stability of the deterrent system established between the United States and the Soviet Union. He said: "This system exists as a deterrent because of the knowledge on both sides that the other has a destructive power capable of annihilating it. It is the credibility of the system which ensures its stability". But he warned: "This is a fragile and dangerous balance."

One of the ways of maintaining this delicate balance is precisely through negotiation of arms control and disarmament measures. Thus the second principle, enunciated by the Prime Minister, is that Canada should continue to participate in the Geneva negotiations: "Because," as he said, "we believe that deterrence is a very delicate, sensitive and dangerous system, and we are working with all our energy to seek out other avenues to arms limitations and reductions than one of a balance of terror."

The third principle mentioned by the Prime Minister is "to prevent further proliferation or indeed escalation of nuclear armament systems".

In a later speech in the House of Commons on October 24 the Prime Minister said: "No single international activity rates higher priority in the opinion of this government than the pursuit of effective arms control and arms limitation agreements. Canada refuses to submit without protest to the present nuclear hegemony."

In the light of these principles, how far have we progressed in arms control and disarmament negotiations? The five main landmarks have been the partial test ban treaty negotiated in 1963; the treaty of banning of mass destruction from outer space in 1967; the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons in Latin America in 1967; the non-proliferation treaty in 1968; and the draft treaty on the prohibition of the emplacement of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction on the seabed and ocean floor submitted by the Geneva Conference to the UN General Assembly this month. To date, I must confess that the measure of achievement in bringing the arms race to a halt is disappointing, dangerously so.

All these, as you know, are preventive arms control measures--non-armament rather than actual disarmament. As one of my colleagues in the Disarmament Conference in Geneva said the other day: "We should not lose sight of the more tangible objectives which are our basic priorities and the daily concern of mankind, that is, to arrive at nuclear disarmament where there is nuclear armament, not where it could theoretically be deployed."

The partial test ban was perhaps the most important of the measures leading to the cessation of the nuclear arms race. It prohibited tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and in the water. But we still have underground tests going on in the United States and the Soviet Union, and atmospheric testing on a limited basis by France and China.

The prohibition of the orbiting of nuclear weapons in outer space was an important concession to sanity by the super powers, because of the unpredictable consequences of extending the arms race to outer space and other planets.

The Latin American nuclear free zone is the first inhabited area of our planet that is to remain free from nuclear weapons and the threat that these weapons might be used against the countries of the zone.

The non-proliferation treaty is important, because it puts a limit to the number of additional countries developing their own nuclear armaments systems and thereby endangering the precarious balance between the existing nuclear powers. By establishing an agreed safeguards system, it also provided a basis for international co-operation for the development of nuclear power, without the proliferation of weapons, in addition to that provided for by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This is where we stood at the beginning of the year.

And yet the prospects are not unhopeful. The main hope lies in the agreement of the two super powers to engage in strategic arms limitation talks, now to begin in a few days time, November 17, in Helsinki.

The issue in these talks (SALT) will be how to stop the process of escalation in nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, without compromising the security of each side and its allies. "The supreme challenge," as Mr. Sharp said in his statement to the UN General Assembly on September 29, "is to find something better than the balance of mutual fear and deterrence on which the present uneasy structure of global security rests."

There is an element of economic compulsion, too, behind these talks. The spiralling costs of the arms race, if it is to enter a new phase of escalation, is not likely to be without serious effect on the economic policies of both the United States and the Soviet Union.

The capital importance of these talks cannot be exaggerated. The fact that the super powers are now prepared to talk at Geneva, in New York at the UN and elsewhere in itself reduced the risks of over-reaction, which is directly dependent on the degree of uncertainty about the intentions and capabilities of the other.

Indeed, the process of negotiation, especially if it leads to the creation of arrangements for prolonged dialogue, can be beneficial and important in itself, whether or not concrete agreements quickly follow. For this kind of dialogue can prevent or mitigate the dangers of escalated misunderstanding, which is an important cause of the escalation of the arms race.

A gradual diplomatic approach will require public understanding and willingness to see the negotiations on arms control and disarmament continuing over an extended period, even though they do not lead to early agreement. It will also require an understanding that there will be no agreement, if early diplomatic triumphs are expected by one side against the other.

President Nixon has said that the period of confrontation which began in the forties with the cold war is over, and that we are now in the period of negotiation. The resolution of the accumulated problems of the escalating arms race will inevitably be a slow process made up of perhaps barely discernable happenings, none of which by themselves may be judged as an adequate response to the dangers I have described, but it means inching away from the precipice of disaster.

The Geneva Disarmament Committee, by providing for a continuous dialogue and negotiated adjustments in the delicate strategic balance between the great powers, offers possibilities which would not be available, if left only to improvised arrangements.

What about Canada's role in the arms control and disarmament negotiations? As the arms race is the product of two factors--the technological revolution and the cold war Canada's contribution has to assume both a political, as well as technical aspect.

The role of a country like Canada is to help the process of negotiation first by participation in the Geneva committee which provides a forum where nations seek common purposes they might agree on, and through continuous discussion try to identify specific issues on which to negotiate arms control and disarmament agreements.

Second, Canada can seek wherever possible to modify the proposals put forward by the Soviet Union and the United States in such a way as to be helpful in finding possible compromises. This can be done directly and bilaterally by discussions with the two super powers, or multilaterally by joining with others in an effort to bring the moderating influences of world opinion to bear.

Thirdly, Canada can help mobilize world opinion on this vital issue of ending the nuclear arms race at the United Nations, at Geneva, and elsewhere.

Every machine has its brake as well as the dynamo. In the CCD it is the nuclear powers who apply the brake. Countries like Canada have to provide the dynamo.

This is precisely what we have been trying to do in regard to three main issues now being negotiated at Geneva: the seabeds agreement; reinforcing the prohibition of chemical and biological warfare; and trying to put an end to all testing of nuclear weapons through helping to build up a system of verification through seismological co-operation.

On all three issues, Canada has taken initiatives which have won wide support, or has brought forward modifications to the proposals of the super powers in order to bring them into closer conformity with the interests of other nations like Canada.

I am hopeful that these Canadian initiatives in Geneva will be fully considered at the current session of the General Assembly, now meeting in New York, and that they will receive the overwhelming approval of the members of the United Nations, so that they can be translated into concrete action.

On the technical side, Canada is particularly well placed to make a significant contribution. We have the necessary expertise and we are located next to the largest fund of expertise in the world, the USA. This asset is being put to good use. For instance, it was a Canadian seismologist, Dr. Whitham, together with his Canadian fellow-scientists, who were the authors of the Canadian proposal, which has gained a wide measure of support, on how to impose seismological co-operation on a world-wide basis, in an effort to put an end to all nuclear testing.

In order to escape from the inevitability of technological advance towards the apocalypse, therefore, at least an equivalent degree of expertise needs to be turned to the question of how to control, and if possible eliminate, the destructive weapons which are the product of technology. In his statement in the House of Commons on April 23, the Prime Minister spoke of the need of a substantial intellectual investment in the realm of arms control and disarmament.

In conclusion, I should like briefly to sum up. Since geographic location places Canada in closest proximity to the historical triangle of the three most powerful nations on earth, the United States, the Soviet Union and China, none of which happen to get along particularly well with one another, Canadians have a vital stake in this relationship. Nowhere is this more evident than in the negotiations to try to end the nuclear arms race.

In a world still polarized between the overwhelming military power of the United States and the Soviet Union, the best hope for peace continues to depend on identification and broadening common interests and common purposes between the super powers.

It lies also in improving relations between all the great powers, including China, whose actions and policies can so profoundly affect the destiny of mankind.

A strategy of arms control and disarmament negotiation is clearly the only alternative to trying to advance the strategic interests of one side by outarming and outspending the other.

The only way of putting this strategy of peace into practice is through the unspectacular, but essential business of diplomatic haggling, and of enlisting the support and influence of world public opinion.

It must be a strategy which substitutes negotiated arms control agreements and disarmament for the shifting sands of deterrence and the inevitability of the escalating arms race, which is all we have at the moment.

"Idealistic" you may call such a concept. It may seem that way when viewed against the stark realities of the nuclear arms race that I have been talking about. But the very unpredictable consequences of modern weapons, particularly in their most sophisticated forms, is already inhibiting their use and leading to the acceptance of the necessity of restraint, whether by unilateral decision or agreement on arms control.

World mastery, or even world leadership in terms of military power, has already become too risky in the atomic age. Even a super power may find it in its interest, therefore, to seek accommodation with another super power, rather than face a confrontation which would risk atomic holocaust.

The brakes thus applied on the conversion of military power into influence with modern weapons undoubtedly gives greater scope for middle and smaller powers like Canada for autonomous action.

In arms control and disarmament, especially, I suggest an opportunity exists for Canada to employ its considerable influence in seeking a stable peace, acting in concert with like-minded nations. This is an opportunity not to be missed, and I can assure you--it is not being missed.

Mr. Ignatieff was thanked on behalf of the Empire Club by Lt. Col. E. A. Royce.

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Canada's Stake in Arms Control and Disarmament

The present state of the nuclear arms race. The speaker as Canada's representative in the disarmament negotiations in Geneva and New York. A frank account of the situation as the speaker sees it. A series of questions, and some personal responses. "What is the meaning of this new riddle of the technological age, carved in initials?" (ABM, ICBM, FOBS, MIRV, SALT) "What is being done to check the seeming inevitability of the escalating race in weapons, ever more devastating in their effects and ever more dependable in their delivery systems?" "What is Canada's stake in the efforts being made to bring this arms race under control through negotiations; and what is Canada's role in this diplomatic effort, …" A detailed discussion in response to these questions follows. Concluding and summary remarks including some Canadian initiatives.