• Blog
  • June 19th, 2017

Armed drones may be prone to targeting errors


We learned on June 7th that Canada intends to acquire armed drones for “precision targeting”. Despite widespread concerns about their misuse both in situations of armed conflict and otherwise, the government has provided no real rationale for why Canada needs them nor any policy framework to guard against their abuse.

The use of armed drones to date has been characterized by a lack of transparency, particularly in relation to the number of civilian casualties and a commensurate lack of accountability for their misuse. For a comprehensive examination of the problem, see the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s drone warfare database.

Proponents of armed drones argue that they are better than the alternatives — manned aircraft and cruise missiles — but an American military analysis found that:

“Drone strikes in Afghanistan were… an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement [than manned aircraft].” (page 46)

In trying to understand why this could be so, an analysis published in the International Journal of Human Rights by Canadian law professor Craig Martin examines the unique characteristics of drone systems and the policies and practices surrounding their use. He concludes that both the “means” and “methods” of drone use may contribute to targeting errors.

“Paradoxically, the very features that are most likely to make the drone compliant with IHL [International Humanitarian Law] — its ability to linger undetected for protracted periods over potential targets, feeding intelligence back to an operations team that can make targeting decisions in a relatively stress-free environment — may facilitate targeting errors caused by misperception and misinterpretation of the data.”

Click here for a summary of the article and here for the full text in PDF format.

In light of these problems, the Rideau Institute and a range of other Canadian civil society organizations have called for:

“…. the establishment of an international control regime for armed unmanned aerial vehicles and other armed drones. Canada should actively pursue, preferably through the United Nations, the creation of a tight international regulatory regime for the restricted deployment and use of these weapons. This regime should build on current international law, be rooted in the principles of responsibility, transparency and accountability, and focus on protection of civilian populations and property.”

Prime Minister Trudeau says we’ll wait until we’ve acquired the drones and are ready to use them before we develop a policy on their use.

Surely, the innocent civilians that could be mistakenly targeted by Canada’s armed drones deserve far better.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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  • Blog
  • June 12th, 2017

New Canadian defence policy neither credible nor affordable

Trudeau, Freeland and Trump
On June 7th, following a year-long policy review, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced a staggering, not to mention completely unrealistic, $62 billion increase to military spending over the next twenty years.

Though this is a clear capitulation to President Donald Trump’s demands for increased military spending by NATO members, the federal government has shrewdly framed the issue as Canada forging a new, sovereign path in light of a turbulent international political climate.

But one can look in vain throughout the new Canada defence policy for any actual evidence of Canadian leadership and independence. On the contrary, the goal of greater “interoperability” with the USA and allied military operations is repeated no less than 23 times.

In the one area where Canada could exercise real military leadership and independence from the USA – UN peacekeeping – the new defence policy simply repeats Canada’s aspiration to “lead and/or contribute” but offers no actual commitments to do so, despite more than a year of promises. And while $313 million is allocated for defence research and $102 million for university and private sector outreach, there is not one penny for a new international peacekeeping training centre. And this lack of training support is despite the clear acknowledgement in the new policy of the complex challenges of modern UN peacekeeping.

“The majority of UN missions are being deployed into complex political and security environments…. Indeed two-thirds of peacekeepers now operate in active conflict zones.”

Despite Defence Minister Sajjan’s assertion that the so-called “Strong, Secure, Engaged” defence plan is “the most rigorously costed, fully and transparently funded defence policy ever produced in Canada,” enormous questions remain about exactly that — namely, where the government plans on getting this money from, and where, exactly, it is actually going. In addition, by the Minister’s own admission, the hugely expensive commitment to NORAD modernization and the cost of future major operations are not included in the $62 billion figure.

“Rather than making hard choices and delivering a credible new defence policy with an equally credible funding envelope, the Liberal government has, on the one hand, promised the moon at an astronomical cost to taxpayers, and on the other hand, devised a funding timeline where the really big dollars only begin after the next election. — Peggy Mason, RI President.”

To add insult to injury, the new “feminist foreign aid policy” announced by Minister Bibeau on June 9 is being widely slammed for offering no new funding, despite urgent global needs.

Closer to home, consider the 60% of First Nations children on reserves who still live in poverty.

For an example of equipment choices for a defence policy that is both credible and affordable, see: Smart Defence: A Plan for Rebuilding Canada’s Military (Michael Byers, Rideau Institute and CCPA editors, June 2015).

For key policy considerations to underpin Canada’s global leadership on peace and security, see A-Shift-to-Sustainable-Peace and Common Security, (Submission to the Defence Policy Review by 11 Leading Civil Society Organizations, July 2016).

Photo credit: Government of Canada.

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  • Blog
  • June 5th, 2017

Canada foot-dragging on nuclear disarmament



In a 31 May article in the Hill Times, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament Douglas Roche castigates the Canadian government for continuing to drag its feet on nuclear disarmament, even as over 130 UN member states are in the midst of negotiating a legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

For a subscriber link to the article as it appeared in the Hill Times, click: Canada on wrong side of anti-nuke movement (Hill Times, 31 May 2017).

For a pdf. version of the article, click here.

The article is repeated in its entirety below:

Leaders of the Canadian government who in the past few months have contented themselves with vapid excuses for not supporting efforts at the United Nations to prohibit nuclear weapons will have to work overtime to find credible reasons to maintain resistance now that the draft text of a convention has been released.

The heart of the matter is contained in Article 1 (a), in which each state party undertakes never under any circumstances to “develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

In other words, nuclear weapons are stigmatized, put beyond the pale and never to be a part of a nation’s armoury. The Canadian government, tied so closely to the nuclear policies of Washington and NATO, will not accept this. And more’s the sorrow. The integrity of the Canadian position that it really wants to do away with nuclear weapons, but not just yet, is in tatters.

“The integrity of the Canadian position that it really wants to do away with nuclear weapons, but not just yet, is in tatters.”

For the past three years, a humanitarian movement, led by like-minded states and civil society activists, has gathered support from a majority of nations to develop a legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons because of the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of any use of such weapons. A resolution to start such negotiations was adopted at the U.N. last fall with 113 states in favour, 35 opposed and 13 abstentions. Canada voted no and refuses to participate in the process.

The United States instructed all its NATO partners to vote against the resolution on the grounds that the negotiations aimed to “delegitimize the concept of nuclear deterrence upon which many U.S. allies and partners depend.” The U.S. was quite correct in this assessment. Delegitimizing nuclear weapons is exactly what this effort is all about.

“Delegitimizing nuclear weapons is exactly what this effort is all about.”

The negotiations started in March with 130 states attending the opening round under the chairmanship of Ambassador Elayne Whyte of Costa Rica, who this week issued a draft text, which will be completed at the final round of discussions June 15-July 7.

The document is called a “convention,” which is an agreement between countries on particular matters that is less formal than a treaty. This terminology was used so as not to confuse the exercise with the existing Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which in its nearly half century of existence has failed to produce the elimination of all nuclear weapons. The draft convention holds that the NPT maintains its “crucial importance” as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime. Rather than competing with the NPT, the new instrument is declared to be “an important contribution towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament.”

“Rather than competing with the NPT, the new instrument is declared to be an important contribution towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament.”

The reasons for this new boost to nuclear disarmament efforts are set out clearly: “… the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons transcend national borders, pose grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and for the health of future generations.”

The leitmotif of the draft convention is the survival of humanity now threatened not just by the existence of some 15,000 nuclear weapons (about 95 percent in the hands of the U.S. and Russia) but the modernization process now under way in which all nine nuclear weapons states are increasing their power to inflict devastating damage on adversaries. The draft convention is basically the highest-level appeal to humanity ever made to end the nuclear arms race.

“The draft convention is basically the highest-level appeal to humanity ever made to end the nuclear arms race.”

Although it will come into force when 40 states have ratified it, the convention will bind only those states which sign it. The disarmament process will be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency and disputes resolved by the International Court of Justice. The nuclear weapons states show every sign of ignoring all this. They will challenge the legality of the process and without the participation of the nuclear weapons states, the convention will likely be crippled.

But to take the legalistic view of the convention is to miss its importance as a milestone in the long struggle to rid the world of what has rightfully been called “the ultimate evil.” The new convention will help mobilize world public opinion to develop a universally binding ban. Nuclear disarmament is a moral issue of the highest order. It has to do with human beings seizing the power to annihilate life. Only a few days ago, Ban Ki-moon, the former U.N. Secretary-General, warned that “the world is moving closer to nuclear annihilation.”

“….the world is moving closer to nuclear annihilation.”

In such a dire situation, the call to humanity to save itself is of a higher order than bureaucratic wrangling over legal points. That is the point more than 100 members of the Order of Canada made to Prime Minister Trudeau in appealing to him to reverse Canada’s present negative attitude towards the development of the convention and start putting Canada’s weight behind it.

“The issue is not legality but humanity.”

It’s hard to imagine that Canada — that most trusted of world states — is boycotting a process to develop a legal measure to prohibit nuclear weapons just because the United States insists on maintaining its nuclear arsenals. The issue is not legality but humanity.

Former Senator Douglas Roche served as Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament 1984-89 and is the author of Hope Not Fear: Building Peace in a Fractured World.

For a pdf. version of the article, click Hill Times, May 31st, 2017.

For a subscriber link to the article as it appeared in the Hill Times, click Canada on wrong side of anti-nuke movement (Hill Times, 31 May 2017).


Photo credit: Douglas Roche

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  • Blog
  • May 29th, 2017

Trump pressures Canada to double defence spending

Family portrait of NATO Heads of State and Government

U.S. President Donald Trump tried to dress down fellow NATO members for not spending enough on their armed forces in a speech at the NATO summit on Thursday.

Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, condemned the President’s comments:

“I was appalled by his condescending remarks to NATO leaders today, which were an embarrassment for our country.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded by defending Canada’s record in the organization, while asserting that he will not be increasing Canada’s presence in Iraq or sending troops back to Afghanistan:

“We have no troops in Afghanistan at this time, but we are happy to be supportive in other ways.”

President Trump claims that “23 of 28 members are not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defence.” In response, the PM maintained that Canada is actively engaged in the fight against terrorism and is supporting NATO in other ways, including through intelligence-gathering by the Communications Security Establishment.

Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason noted that:

“For Canada to do Trump’s bidding and meet the NATOaspirational targetof 2% GDP, it would have to double defence spending from $18.7 billion to just over $40 billion. This is an enormous sum, and many Canadians believe that this money would be better spent on various social, environmental, peacebuilding, and humanitarian programs.”

With the long-awaited defence policy review due to be released on June 7th, we will soon find out whether Canada will continue to stand strong in the face of external pressures to increase our national defence budget. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s assertion that “The defence policy was done by and for Canadians” will be put to the test…

Photo credit: NATO

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  • Blog
  • May 24th, 2017

Bipartisan efforts in U.S. Congress seek to ban further Saudi arms deals

A boy and his sisters watch graffiti artists spray on a wall, commemorating the victims who were killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, May 18, 2015. Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Yemen's Shiite rebels resumed early on Monday in the southern port city of Aden after a five-day truce expired amid talks on the war-torn country's future that were boycotted by the rebels. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

The highly reputable American Arms Control Association, in its latest Issue Brief, chronicles bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Congress to stop new arms deals and new shipments under existing deals to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. See: Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain Should be Rejected (Jeff Abramson, Arms Control Association Issue Brief Volume 9, Issue 3, May 2017).

“The Trump administration initiative [to sell precision-guided missiles worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Saudi Arabia] ignores Saudi Arabia’s repeated failure to avoid civilian targets and would compound the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen that is largely the consequence of the devastating conflict there.”

UN expert reports, in addition to chronicling likely war crimes by Saudi Arabia in its indiscriminate targeting of civilians, also conclude there is no military solution to the Yemeni conflict, and that the flow of new weapons into the region will only further exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation.

“On average, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen every ten minutes.”

A press release supporting a bipartisan bill in Congress to block the precision guided missile sale stated in part:

“The Saudis are important partners in the Middle East, but they have continued to disregard [USA] advice when it comes to target selection and civilian protection. We have an obligation to ensure U.S. military support is not being used to kill innocent civilians….”

The Issue Brief also questions how U.S. security goals are being advanced by continued support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen:

“…[A]s long as the United States provides weaponry and assistance to Saudi war-fighting, the Saudis appear to have no incentive to offer a political solution.”

The Arms Control Association also cites the “landmark Arms Trade Treaty” to which the USA is a signatory as a further reason for denying arms transfers at risk of being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.

Turning now to Canada, Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason comments:

“The fact that the American Congress is currently looking at ways to prevent new Saudi arms deals as well as shipments of weapons under existing deals surely begs the question as to how exactly Canada can continue to justify business as usual with our 15 billion Saudi arms deal”.

For the full Arms Control Association Issue Brief, click here: Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain Should be Rejected (Jeff Abramson, Arms Control Association Issue Brief Volume 9, Issue 3, May 2017).

For a recent Ceasefire.ca blog on Canada’s impending accession to the Arms Trade Treaty, click: Key Questions about Canada’s Arms Trade Treaty Legislation (27 April, 2017).

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