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Pierre Trudeau’s push for Cold War peace

The Story

"A country can be influential in the world by the size of its heart and the breadth of its mind, and that's the role Canada can play," says Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, trying to rise above the Cold War tensions of the early 1980s. He's been travelling the world with an initiative to end a global build-up of nuclear weapons up and has just pitched it to U.S. President Ronald Reagan. CBC's The Journal looks at the plan and its impact in Washington.

Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Dec. 15, 1983
Guests: Pat Buchanan, Eleanor Clift, Allan McEachan
Host: Mary Lou Finlay, Keith Morrison
Reporter: Susan Reisler
Duration: 22:19

Did You know?

• The peace initiative came at a time when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were particularly tense. In September 1983 the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Airlines 747 that had flown into Soviet airspace. All 269 people on the flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Seoul, South Korea were killed. The Soviets had concluded it was a spy mission, but the Americans deemed it "a cold-blooded barbarous attack."
• Trudeau believed the airliner incident was a tragic "accident of war" caused by "a reckless pilot" and "a misguided commander on the ground." He was deeply concerned about the level of distrust between the two superpowers, and thought the Canadian proposal for peace could ease tensions and lessen the chances of a nuclear war.
• Among the places Trudeau visited to gain the support of other world leaders were: Japan, the Commonwealth conference in India, China, the United Nations in New York, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and the Soviet Union.
• In 1984, Trudeau received the Albert Einstein Peace Prize Foundation's annual award. In accepting it, he said: "Political leaders will decide whether or not a nuclear war actually takes place, yet politicians act as if peace is too complicated for them."
• While Trudeau's peace plan was never adopted, East-West tensions eased considerably shortly after he completed his tour. In 1985, the U.S.S.R.'s newly appointed General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev summoned Trudeau to ask him what to expect from Reagan in an upcoming summit. When the two superpower leaders met weeks later, they issued a statement very similar to the one Trudeau had urged them to make: "Nuclear wars can never be won and therefore must never be fought."


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