Randall Forsberg discusses her work and the current international situation

Randall Forsberg was awarded the Pomerance Award on May 11 in recognition of her many contributions to the field of disarmament. The Pomerance Award is presented by the NGO Committee on Disarmament to members of the diplomatic community or NGO leaders for meritorious contributions to disarmament in the United Nations context. From 1968 to 1974, Ms. Forsberg worked at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), where she conducted a major comparative study of worldwide military research and development programs. She prepared the widely-quoted estimates of U.S. and Soviet strategic weapons, SIPRI's Yearbook of World Armaments and Disarmament.
The Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, a nonprofit research centre in Massachusetts, was founded by Forsberg in 1980. That same year she wrote the Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race, the four-page manifesto that launched the national Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.
Since 1984, Ms. Forsberg has been studying long-term policy alternatives that would limit the role of military forces to national defence, narrowly defined. She created an international Alternative Defense Working Group and launched a U.S. grassroots outreach and education project, the Alternative Defense Network.
Randall Forsberg spoke at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in March on a variety of topics related to her work and the current international situation. The following comments are from a press conference held at that time.

By Randall Forsberg

Many people see world government as necessary as the only possible solution to our global problems. Do you agree?

The problem with world government is that you face an even worse tyranny than the tyranny of small elite - the tyranny of a misguided majority with no balances, no counter-balancing authority or power. That is my reaction to the traditional image of a world government: an all powerful government with the monopoly on the use of force.

I have been trying to move toward an alternative concept - a "regime" that many people wouldn't call world government. Think of all of the different international agreements in which nations give up some little piece of sovereignty out of their own self-interest. All of those overlapping agreements could form a kind of world government, a joint regulatory world system.

We regulate air travel with air traffic control, we regulate the mail and there is now a growing global regulation of finance. In this notion, each country participates to the extent that it is affected. In such overlapping regimes of mutual self interest, all of the participants give up as much sovereignty as they see being in their own interest.

An example is the INF agreement where only two countries, the United States and the Soviet Union, agreed not to produce a certain class of nuclear weapons. Each of them did so because in their view, they would be better off giving up the right to make intermediate range nuclear weapons, if the other side did so, than keeping the sovereign right to make any kind of weapon they want. This regulatory approach, mutual agreement is self-enforced out of self-interest. I see this form of world government emerging in the 21st century.

We have spent centuries using force to resolve our differences. Can we really achieve peace?

People in the Third World are not tolerating imperialism in the 20th century as they did in the 19th century. This is not just a change of technology or economy, but of people's feelings about the use of force.

The superpowers have to stop sending troops into smaller, weaker countries and telling them what to do with their government and economy. This is incompatible with the kind of confidence that is needed to reduce confrontation between East and West.

As long as the superpowers send troops into small countries where they don't risk escalation to nuclear confrontation, then trust can never be developed in the East-West relations to stop relying upon nuclear weapons to keep the peace. Third World intervention undermines our ability to maintain a stable peace.

There is only one circumstance that justifies the use of force: If someone is attacking you, you have a moral obligation to defend yourself. Applying that rule would lead to a surprising conclusion. If all countries upheld the ethic that the only just war - the only legally, morally acceptable use of force - was for defence, then there would be no war. We wouldn't need military defence. People would use non-violent means of correcting injustices - with protest, with civilian resistance. Paradoxically, if you use armed force only to defend yourself, and if you believe this, what you end up with is a world in which you don't need it.

Not only the superpowers, but also their allies (in the U.S. case, other NATO countries, including Canada) should adhere to the same kinds of guidelines. We should look at what constitutes a really defensive defence, what is provocative, what is escalatory, what tends to be stabilizing, reassuring, and so on. Canada has many options to strengthen truly defensive military capabilities within the NATO framework, in a way that tends to support peace and stability without provoking an arms race.

Can Gorbachev sustain the reforms that have been initiated in the Soviet Union?

There has been initiative and courage in the Soviets' search for ways to cut the Gordian knot of the arms race and move to a different kind of relationship. Yet, with as much boldness and courage as he has shown, Gorbachev is bound by the military establishment and political bureaucracy built up the 20 to 30 years before he came to power.

He has done some extraordinarily creative things to bring about détente - reducing fear and the risk of war, both nuclear and conventional, and building confidence - but he hasn't made deep inroads into the military leaders' empire, the Soviet equivalent of the military industrial complex. No one knows how far he can go in transforming this empire, which drains the Soviet economy. He needs some kind of response from the West before going further.

We in the West need to encourage this movement toward the conditions for a stable peace. We must support the gradual, steady evolution of civil liberties in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I don't think we can develop trust, confidence and stability as long as repression and lack of civil liberties continue there.

Yet it is hard to foresee a smooth political transformation in Eastern Europe, and ultimately in the Soviet Union itself, from a single party state without civil liberties to some kind of multi-party or multi-faction system with freedom of speech. Gorbachev and his aides must be trying to figure out how to conduct a balancing act. I've heard some of his top aides say that they are counting on democracy or liberalization to create the impetus for economic reform. If people learn to express their own desires and opinions, it will pressure those stagnating bureaucrats whose greatest interest is in control, not in productivity or freedom. He and his cohorts are trying to encourage liberalization that will revitalize the Soviet economy and culture, while preventing violent outbursts leading to more repression and to his loss of power.

How do the negotiations on conventional weapons in Vienna relate to nuclear disarmament?

The main focus of my work has been the link between the conventional forces and the nuclear arms race. People's fears of conventional wars, like World Wars I and II have justified the nuclear arms race. If you can get conventional stability, then we can rely less and less on nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war, as a factor especially in East-West relations.

It is imperceptible, but the ball really has started rolling. In the INF treaty we have abolished a class of first line nuclear weapons, and have permitted inspection of the facilities. In Gorbachev's initiatives undertaken in December, he is withdrawing a couple of divisions and getting rid of 5,000 tanks in Eastern Europe. These are really quite striking beginnings.

The new negotiations in Vienna are tremendously important. Few people realize that 75 percent of U.S. and Soviet military spending and about two-thirds of worldwide military spending - about $600 billion a year - is wrapped up in the conventional military forces of the East and West, facing each other in Europe. For the first time negotiations are under way to reduce these conventional forces.

The Soviet Union has offered a radical proposal for asymmetrical cuts. They will cut more and restructure their tactical policy so that instead of having a blitzkrieg doctrine where the best defence is a good offence, they will stick to territorial defence.

Those two initiatives and the fact that the negotiations have involved all of the parties, mean that for the first time since World War II we have an opportunity to cut superpower and world military spending by something like 50 percent. We could save $100-300 billion a year by those negotiations.

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1989

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1989, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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