Profile: Douglas Roche - Resilient Voice

By Ray Waddle

Senator Douglas Roche, Canadian peacemaker, Roman Catholic layman, journalist, and former politician, thinks in big numbers, big dreams.

He won’t let the world forget that it has spent $12 trillion on nuclear weapons since 1945, an inconceivable sum and a pitiless theft from the world’s poor, the 2.8 billion people who live on $2 a day. Even now, U.S. taxpayers spend $110 million every day to maintain the nation’s nuclear arsenal in a post-Cold War world that no longer justifies such a scale of firepower.

But gloomy statistics of the global war machine don’t get the last word. Roche sees evidence of a rising, countervailing global conscience, a civilizing instinct slowly taking root. The endurance of the United Nations, with its ambitious Millennium Development Goals, is one such evidence. The ten million people who in 2003 protested the looming Iraq War was an unprecedented witness. Barack Obama’s election was a hinge moment too.

“We’re in a transformational moment – the last such was 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, opening up tremendous possibilities,” he says.

“I don’t want to underestimate the massive problems – the proclivity to greed, the militarism. But we are seeing the lifting up of humanity to higher levels of civilization, sometimes in spite of ourselves.”

Another encouraging signal, he says, is the fledgling Alliance of Civilizations, though few people know about it. He blames an indifferent media. The Alliance was started in 2005 under the auspices of the UN (and initiated by Spain and Turkey) in order to promote partnerships across cultures and defy extremism.

“The Alliance of Civilizations is still a tender, tender shoot but, given time, if we can avoid blowing up the world in the next fifty or sixty years, I believe the Alliance of Civilizations will mature and reflect the thinking of generations not yet born, who will have a more intuitive understanding that the culture of peace is a human right,” he says.

Roche, who turns 80 this year, credits his hopeful outlook to his experiences as a public servant, ambassador, and journalist who saw the wounded world revive and take stock of itself after the carnage and genocide of World War II. His resume includes: senator in the Senate of Canada, member of Parliament, Canadian ambassador for disarmament, chair of the UN Disarmament Committee, and special advisor on disarmament and security to the Holy See delegation to the UN General Assembly.

For decades he has campaigned for post-war humanitarian ideas – development, disarmament, human rights, environmental protection – all rudimentary elements of a culture of peace.

The culture of war continues its domination, however. Roche warns that the nuclear powers want to make nuclear weapons permanent instruments of their military strategies.

“During the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia said their nuclear weapons were only for deterrence purposes; now they are part of war-fighting strategies,” says Roche, author of Beyond Hiroshima (Novalis, 2005) and The Ultimate Evil: The Fight to Ban Nuclear Weapons (Lorimer, 1997), and other books.

“The nuclear weapons states refuse to give up their nuclear arsenals, and they feign surprise that other nations, seeing that nuclear weapons have become the currency of power in the modern world, are trying to acquire them. So are terrorists. No major city in the world is safe from the threat of a nuclear attack. The risk of accidents is multiplying daily. All these are characteristics of the Second Nuclear Age.”

But he sees resurging passion for peace in civil society’s efforts to dismantle the weapons. His web site ( lists several kindred organizations. They include the Union of Concerned Scientists (, the Middle Powers Initiative (, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (

In September 2008, Roche delivered the final lecture of the YDS conference on the nuclear threat with a forceful endorsement of human creativity despite a world still roaring with violence.

“When I walk in the mountains and I see a flower growing wild in the rocks, I take such hope, such heart, because there I see that a beautiful flower survived the odds,” he declared.

“So hostile the territory, and yet it overcame the odds. Those of us who want to work for peace, nuclear disarmament, and the human security agenda must have the same attributes. With global conscience, there is now a new hope for humanity. I believe it in my heart: the religions of the world are poised to reach out with commonality to speak to a world that is crying for hope based on faith.”