Bill Curry and I became Quakers effortlessly. We just got sucked into the Canadian community, attracted by its actions assisting US draft resisters, army deserters, and others objecting to the Vietnam war. In 1968 we attended a peace retreat led largely by Murray Thomson.
Murray was enthusiastic about a new project. He was thrilled about the name of it. We were drawn to this vision: Project Ploughshares—a name from the book of Isaiah, Chapter 2, Verse 4: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
With this promise as their motto, Murray Thomson, a Quaker, and Ernie Regehr, a Mennonite, founded Project Ploughshares in 1976. Canadian Friends were not only founding members, but have made a financial contribution and had a representative serving on Project Ploughshares ever since.
Fresh from international work, Murray and Ernie had, in different places and ways, both become incensed by expanding global militarism and the growing value of the arms trade. They envisioned Project Ploughshares as a peace research institute. It found a natural home at Conrad Grebel University College, a Mennonite College, on the campus of the University of Waterloo.
A year after its founding, Project Ploughshares became a project of the Canadian Council of Churches. This means that it is a Christian faith-based organization.
I was privileged to become a member of Project Ploughshares’ management board, as a representative of Canadian Friends Service Committee, in 2020. I am now beginning my second term of three years.
Project Ploughshares publishes the Ploughshares Monitor quarterly. In its pages, it highlights four well-developed program areas:
- Nuclear weapons,
- The arms trade,
- Emerging technology (AI), and
- Space security.
Recently, in response to input from members, another was added, focussed on the intersection of climate, peace, and security.
In a world awash with nuclear weapons and both intra-state and interstate wars, the effect of war on the environment is undeniable. On the one hand, there are national leaders meeting and cooperating on lowering the carbon footprints of their countries. On the other hand some of the same countries are producing military arms, exchanging them, profiting from them, and posturing themselves in combat with one another. It is clearly time to take the secrecy out of the carbon cost of militarism and war.
War destroys the environment directly. One need only view the devastation in Gaza to recognize the extent to which natural and built environments suffer from incendiary weapons. War also destroys the environment indirectly by the manufacture of these weapons. It destroys the environment in a third way, by diverting money and many of our brightest and best researchers and scientists to playing “war games” with technology.
Leadership requires two things: First, redefining security as not dependent on each nation’s military might but instead mutual interdependence (no nation can be secure in isolation if our planet is not liveable for anyone). And second, a plan for widespread public and media education about the need and urgency of action.
“We were drawn to this vision: Project Ploughshares.”
It is possible to change direction. When enough people become convinced that it is necessary to do so, our human capacity for change can be quickly mobilized. The Manhattan Project to develop and deploy the first nuclear bombs did exactly that. Driven by the concern that Germany was developing an atomic weapon, it took a mere two years to convince leaders of Britain, Canada, and the USA that the allied forces should be first.
After that agreement, within three years, starting from practically zero, the project amassed approximately 150,000 people as workers, engaged most of the world’s foremost scientists, built four small cities and huge manufacturing sites, and did the job! The budget was practically unlimited because the project was seen as necessary for the allies’ survival. I have no doubt that if we could be similarly concerned about the environment, we could make the changes necessary to protect it.
Project Ploughshares is one of the kinds of change agents we need. It conducts extensive and much-needed research in the areas of emerging technology and space security. It takes pride in its accurate analysis of the arms trade and supports the Arms Trade Treaty. And it’s not a shallow research institute without opinion. Witness, for example, the winter issue of the Monitor, where it challenges the sale of Canadian military goods to Israel in a report called Fanning the Flames.
I’m delighted that Executive Director Cesar Jaramillo is now taking steps to foucs on the intersection between militarism and environment. It is time to put numbers to the carbon footprint of the military, which isn’t tracked or reported properly as CFSC and many others note. Even the transport and sale of arms extracts a carbon cost. It is not Canada’s national security that is at stake when we ship arms to countries like Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, we can no longer think of wars as being limited to the immediately affected entities. Depleted uranium from the first US invasion of Iraq was spread by the winds across Asia and found in the Punjab. Environmental pollution spreads around the globe.
In the panoply of peace and environmental organizations, Project Ploughshares occupies a unique position as a nationally regarded voice of reason. Its staff are quoted in national media because they have a particular depth of knowledge available only to those whose mandate is research.
Project Ploughshares remains faithful to its purpose: “to work with churches, nongovernmental organizations, and governments, in Canada and abroad, to advance policies and actions that prevent war and armed violence and build peace.”
You can learn more about each of Project Ploughshares’ areas of work by reading The Ploughshares Monitor.
Dale Dewar is a long-time supporter and former member of Canadian Friends Service Committee who currently represents Friends on Project Ploughshares.