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  • July 28th, 2016

Canadian diplomacy urgently needed for nuclear disarmament



The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilisation and the entire ecosystem of the planet. (International Court of Justice, 1996)

In the days before the 71st anniversary of the horrific Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic bombings, on August 6th and 9th respectively, we must reflect on how we can move away from the nuclear brink.

15,350 nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of nine states, approximately 1,800 of which are on “high alert” status and can be launched within minutes.

Worse still, the United States has committed to a massive, 1 trillion dollar nuclear weapons modernization programme, with the other nuclear weapons states following suit to one degree or another. The latest to commit to a hugely costly modernization programme is the United Kingdom. For an impassioned argument on the illegality of the use of nuclear weapons, published on the eve of the UK Parliamentary vote, see: Using Trident would be illegal, so let’s phase it out, by Geoffrey Robertson (The Guardian.com, 15 July 2016).

Alarming new risks include an attempted coup in Turkey involving the very military base where American tactical nuclear weapons are stored. See: The H-Bombs in Turkey by Eric Schlosser (The New Yorker, 17 July 2016).

Warns William J. Perry, former American secretary of defence in his new book, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, (Stanford Security Studies, 2016):

Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War … and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.

In light of these alarming developments, which put the very future of the planet at risk, the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and 44 sponsoring civil society organizations including the Rideau Institute have issued a Call to Action to the Government of Canada to PLAY A GREATER LEADERSHIP ROLE IN THE ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

We urge vigorous diplomatic action and civil society engagement towards the negotiation of a comprehensive, legally binding convention that prohibits nuclear weapons and requires their verifiable elimination.

Click here for the full text of the Call to Action and the list of sponsoring organizations.

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  • Blog
  • July 21st, 2016

Tony Blair: “the lies, deceits, duplicities and fudges”

A soldier serving with Number 1 Company 1st Battalion, The Irish Guards, looks for possible Iraqi enemy positions, as Royal Engineer technicians prepare to cap one of the burning oil wells within the city of Basra.

Philippe Sands is professor of law at UCL and a barrister at Matrix Chambers.  His review of the Report of the Iraq Inquiry by John Chilcot appears in the latest issue of the London Review of Books. See: A Grand and Disastrous Deceit (LRB, Vol. 38 No.15, 28 July 2016).*

Professor Sands introduces the 12-volume, 6,275-page report, seven years in the writing, thusly:

It offers a long and painful account of an episode that may come to be seen as marking the moment when the UK fell off its global perch, trust in government collapsed and the country turned inward and began to disintegrate.

Professor Sands highlights the trenchant conclusions that have been singled out in most of the media commentaries on the report, namely that:

–          Peaceful options for disarmament had not been exhausted,such that military action was not a last resort;

–          The evidence did not support the judgments made about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction;

–          Despite explicit warnings the consequences of the invasion were underestimated and the post-war planning was wholly inadequate;

–          The government failed to achieve any of its stated objectives; and

–          The report does not identify even one positive outcome of the invasion.

Philippe Sands assiduously takes us through “the lies and deceits, the duplicities and the fudges, the techniques” that then British PM Tony Blair used to secure Cabinet and parliamentary support for the American invasion. And he reminds us that, despite these manifold manipulations, the Cabinet was not misled:

…the necessary information [was] available to the decision-makers if they had wanted to see it: on Iraq’s WMD capability, on the consequences of the war, on the strife and mayhem that would follow.

Quite appropriately given his painstaking account of the failure of the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to stand up to Blair’s maneuverings, Sands ends his review with an extract from the resignation letter tendered in 2003 by the Foreign Office legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst, whose position he notes has been “vindicated” by the inquiry:

I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force without a second Security Council resolution … I cannot in conscience go along with advice within the Office or to the public or Parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

For the full review of the Chilcot Report, see: A Grand and Disastrous Deceit (LRB, Vol. 38 No.15, 28 July 2016).

For our earlier blog post on the Chilcot Report, see:  The Iraq Inquiry: then and now (Ceasefire.ca, 6 July 2016).


*(A subscription is not necessary to read the LRB online but registration is required.)

Photo credit: UK MOD.

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  • Blog
  • July 15th, 2016

Afghanistan Faces Serious Challenges

A recent blog post entitled: Future Development Challenges? Afghanistan Remains at the Top of the List, (CIPS, 7 July 2016) by Nipa Banerjee, visiting professor at the University of Ottawa Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and Senior Advisor at the Rideau Institute, disputes the claim made in Maclean’s magazine that the Afghan people are better off today than they ever have been before.

Despite over a decade’s worth of efforts by the Afghan government and the international community many critical issues persist in Afghanistan today. Banerjee writes:

Last year was Afghanistan’s most violent of this century, with civilian casualties reaching record proportions. Afghans are desperate to leave the country to escape violence, insecurity, and economic woes. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that they form the second-largest group of asylum seekers after Syrians. 

Afghanistan is struggling with unemployment, a lack of strong governance structures, corruption, and a weak rule of law. Overlaying all of this is a resurgent Taliban, which the Afghan National Security Forces are struggling to confront.  In Banerjee’s opinion:

The international community’s training and advisory missions have not produced desirable results. There are clear indications that the Taliban insurgency poses serious challenges to the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). 

Without adequate security it is impossible to effectively complete the development work the country so desperately needs. Poor police training compounds the problems:

In fact, police behaviour is turning people away from a government perceived as complicit in the violation of citizens’ rights to be treated with respect in their own country. For the government to earn support and loyalty, having the civilian police be civil to their fellow citizens is a priority.

In Banerjee’s view, while the international community must accept its fair share of blame for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, ultimately it is the Afghan government which must lead the way in addressing these issues, with the international community in a “supporting role”.

For Nipa Banerjee’s full blog post see: Future Development Challenges? Afghanistan Remains at the Top of the List, (CIPS, 7 July 2016).

Photo credit: Canadian Forces

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  • Blog
  • July 14th, 2016

Majority of Canadians say NO to selling arms to despots

Thai police juntaA new poll by NANOS Research shows a strong majority of Canadians oppose selling military goods to Saudi Arabia, China, and Algeria, countries in the top ten buyers of defence and security gear from Canada, but with dismal human rights records.

Saudi Arabia, as we have reported many times over, consistently ranks among the “worst of the worst” human rights abusers.

Here is what Human Rights Watch has to say about Algeria and China.


Despite the Algerian government’s promises in 2011 to introduce reforms, Algeria has made little progress since then on improving human rights. Authorities curtail free speech and the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and peaceful protest. They also arbitrarily arrest and prosecute political and trade union activists. Perpetrators of torture, enforced disappearances, unlawful killings, and other serious rights abuses committed during the civil war enjoy impunity. The Algerian government blocks the registration of Algerian nongovernmental human rights organizations and has maintained its non-cooperation with UN human rights experts.


China remains a one-party authoritarian state that systematically curbs fundamental rights. Since President Xi Jinping assumed power, the government has detained and prosecuted hundreds of activists and human rights defenders. Between July and September 2015, authorities interrogated some 280 lawyers – the backbone of China’s human rights movement – in a nationwide sweep. The government has moved to tighten control over nongovernmental organizations, activists, and the media through a slew of new laws that cast activism and peaceful criticism of the government as state security threats. The “Great Firewall” used to censor the Internet has been expanded. Despite legislation to curb torture in custody, police and interrogators have found ways to evade legal protections.

The NANOS poll also indicated that nine in ten Canadians want Foreign Minister Dion to reveal his decision on an application to export military items to Thailand, a country ruled by a military dictatorship since 2014. Despite being required, under various UN transparency mechanisms, to report this very information, the Liberal government has refused to reveal it to Canadians on the basis that it would harm the “commercial interests” of the companies involved.

Peggy Mason, RI President and former advisor at Foreign Affairs when the export control guidelines were first developed in 1986, finds this reasoning to be utterly without merit:

This is a manifestly absurd justification. While legitimate commercial interests may dictate keeping some aspects of the deal private, particularly sensitive proprietary information about the products in question, secrecy should never extend to whether or not the transaction actually took place.

In her view, such a rationale makes a mockery of the transparency the Trudeau Liberals have repeatedly pledged to provide, as well as rendering meaningless any notion of democratic accountability.

And what of the Liberal government’s promise to put a renewed emphasis on the UN, multilateralism, and diplomacy? Says Mason:

Canadians will rightly ask how doubling down on the Harper policy of selling arms to despots conforms to Liberal promises to “restore constructive Canadian leadership in the world… and to make a real and valuable contribution to a more peaceful… world.” (Prime Minister’s Mandate Letter to FM Stéphane Dion).

For the full details of the NANOS poll, see: Majority of Canadians oppose selling military goods to countries with poor human rights records: poll (Steven Chase, Globe and Mail, 13 July 2016).

For a recent, comprehensive review of the sordid Saudi arms deal which also provides some explosive new evidence of the degree of complicity of the Liberal government, see: Canada isn’t being totally honest about its plan to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia (Justin Ling, Vice.com, 12 July 2016).

See also: Ottawa Cannot Continue to Deny Dangers of Saudi Arms Deal   (Cesar Jaramillo, Huffington Post, 14 July 2016).

Photo credit: Wiki-media

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  • Blog
  • July 12th, 2016

Chris Westdal: Now is the time for diplomacy with Russia

Simulating attack in Poland

We wrote about Canada’s ill-advised decision to establish and lead a rotational multinational NATO battlegroup in Latvia in our blog post of 30 June entitled Trudeau government: Room for improvement on key security issues.

In that post we noted how the German Foreign Minister has variously described NATO’s actions in deploying four battlegroups on Russia’s very doorstep as “sabre rattling” and “war mongering.”

Since then former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, architect of the peaceful transition of his country from Communist bloc to Russian Federation, has described NATO’s actions thus:

They only talk about defence, but actually they are preparing for offensive operations.

Canadians elected the Justin Trudeau Liberals to forge a new relationship with Russia and to re-engage in UN peacekeeping, not to waste Canadian troops and equipment on a provocative NATO deployment, to which most European members of NATO are apparently contributing little.

Chris Westdal, the only Canadian Ambassador to have served as Head of Mission in both Russia and Ukraine, believes Canada’s Defence Minister understands the urgent need for diplomatic as well as military steps.

Defence Minister Sajjan gets the point. He says the work underway “behind the scenes” to re-establish a NATO dialogue with Russia “really is the most critical piece … We need to make sure the tensions are reduced because it doesn’t help anybody.”

However, Westdal also points out that, whatever NATO is doing multilaterally, there is precious little evidence of Canadian diplomatic efforts at the bilateral level:

Six months into his mandate, notably, Global Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has yet to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

He ends his analysis, Trudeau in NATOLand by Chris Westdal, with a plea:

If we [Canada] have anything to say, anything to contribute beyond a largely symbolic military gesture, any vision of Eurasian security to offer and help fulfil, now is the time.

For the full article, click Trudeau in NATOLand by Chris Westdal. It is also available to subscribers at Trudeau in NATOLand (The Hill Times, 8 July 2016).


Photo credit: Canadian Forces

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