A nuclear disarmament expert told about 200 people at a Halifax Peace conference Wednesday night that big arms firms are blocking efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. During a keynote speech to open a three-day peace conference at Mount Saint Vincent University, Alyn Ware singled out Lockheed Martin, the world's biggest manufacturer of nuclear weapons. He said the company employs 300 lobbyists in Washington to make sure US politicians don't heed growing calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Lockheed Martin was at the centre of controversy last year when peace groups in Halifax sharply criticized the Nova Scotia government for handing the company up to $1.8 million in payroll tax rebates. In return, the military contractor, which enjoyed $45 billion in sales and net earnings of $3 billion last year, promised to create 100 jobs over five years. Lockheed Martin was already working in Nova Scotia on $2 billion worth of federal government contracts to upgrade 12 Canadian naval frigates.
Ware said a threatened boycott of General Electric products led that company to get out of the nuclear weapons business, but a similar strategy would not work with Lockheed Martin because the company does not manufacture consumer goods. Instead, he recommended what he called "divestment" or the withdrawal of public pension investments in Lockheed shares. Peace groups have long criticized the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board for investing in big US military contractors including Lockheed Martin, but so far, the Board has refused to withdraw such investments.
Nuclear disarmament progress
In spite of lobbying by big military firms, Ware said efforts to abolish nuclear weapons are advancing steadily. He mentioned the ongoing campaign by Ban Ki -moon, the United Nations Secretary General. He noted that in May, signers of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty reaffirmed their commitment to get rid of nuclear weapons, although they did not agree on a timetable for doing so. And he mentioned the rapid expansion of Mayors for Peace, an organization in which more than 4,000 city leaders in 144 countries have promised to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons. (Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly has so far, refused to join.)
"Nuclear weapons are the ultimate form of violence," Ware said adding they have made it possible for humans to destroy the planet. "They really are a crime against humanity." He added that 20,000 nuclear warheads remain in military arsenals, with 3,000 of them on high alert ready to be launched at a moment's notice.
Ware is a longtime campaigner for nuclear disarmament. In the 1990s, he helped persuade the International Court of Justice to declare that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law." In the 1980s, he helped persuade the New Zealand government to officially designate the country as a nuclear weapons-free zone.
Education for peace
Ware also spoke about his work in peace education. He helped draft guidelines that became part of the New Zealand school curriculum, and started programs to promote peace in schools throughout the country. He has also served as an advisor to the New Zealand government and the UN on disarmament education.
As part of Wednesday night's program, Ware interviewed 12-year-old Logan MacGillivrary. The Bedford student and filmmaker raised more than $57,000 to pay for two large shipments of sports equipment and school supplies to Sierra Leone. He is currently trying to generate funds for a children's educational centre in the war-torn African country.
"The children are the future of Sierra Leone," MacGillivrary said. "Education and recreation will keep them in the smaller villages." As part of his fundraising efforts, MacGillivrary toured Nova Scotia schools appealing for sports equipment and classroom supplies. "One school gave about 20,000 pencils which is incredible," he said in genuine amazement. "Twenty thousand pencils!"