• Blog
  • March 16th, 2018

What evidence does the UK actually have that Russia is behind the nerve agent attack?

OPCW flag

Is it happening all over again?  Are technical experts being coerced by politicians to sign on to what are, at best, misleading statements?

Here is a summary of the official story right off of the BBC website:

The British government is expelling 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to explain how a nerve agent was used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia in Salisbury on Sunday 4 March. Prime Minister Theresa May said the chemical used in the attack had been identified as being part of a group of nerve agents developed by Russia known as Novichok.”

In other words, there is strong circumstantial evidence of a link between the nerve agent that was used and Russia.  This has then been taken as proof of Russian government involvement at the highest levels.

“We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen, brazen act and despicable act,” Prime Minister Theresa May said during a visit to the site of the attack in Wiltshire.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, writing in the Guardian on Thursday 15 March, urged the UK government to take a “calm, measured” approach – and warned against the drift towards a “new cold war” with Russia:

“To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.”

Those words of caution turn out to be very prescient in light of disturbing revelations in today’s commentary by former UK diplomat, Craig Murray.  His analysis casts doubt on the strength of the evidence behind UK assertions of Russian culpability. Worse still, the semantic games he exposes hearken back uncomfortably to the dark days in the lead up to the disastrous Iraq invasion when intelligence was cherry-picked and manipulated in support of false allegations of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Craig Murray writes:

I have now received confirmation from a well placed FCO [Foreign office] source that Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve gas as being of Russian manufacture, and have been resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so.”

As well as outlining in detail the word games being played to create the impression of evidence where little exists, Murray also includes “some interesting facts” which provide further background to this troubling story:

Returning again to the careful use of language to mislead the public, Murray writes:

“The government has never said the nerve agent was made in Russia, or that it can only be made in Russia. The exact formulation [is] “of a type developed by Russia….Note developed, not made, produced or manufactured.”

Premature judgments of Russian guilt risk further undermining the credibility of experts, multilateral organizations and the very fabric of international relations.

For the full blog, click: Of A Type Developed by Liars (Craig Murray, 16 March 2018).

See also: No evidence Vladimir Putin was behind the U.K. assassination (Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, 16 March 2018.)

Photo credit: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

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  • Blog
  • March 12th, 2018

RI President on CBC Power and Politics

On Tuesday March 6th Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason was interviewed by Terry Milewski on CBC’s Power and Politics about yet another Canadian failure to respond to a UN request for Canadian peacekeepers.

To watch this interview click: RI President interview on Power and Politics (CBC, 6 March 2018).

Mason describes three key factors at play:

– the visceral institutional antipathy in the Department of National Defence (DND) against UN peacekeeping;

– a weak Defence Minister who is much better at conveying what DND wants to Cabinet than the other way around; and

– an absent Foreign Minister, given her overriding responsibility for Canada-USA trade.

With its focus on the peace process and the political issues at the heart of the conflict, modern multidimensional UN peacekeeping offers a country emerging from violent conflict the best chance of building a sustainable peace. Says Mason:

The great tragedy is, after Canada’s long absence from UN peacekeeping, our military leadership is woefully ignorant of its value and why it is so important that we live up to our promise to re-engage.

For the background story to the interview, see: Plan to send Canadian Peacekeepers to Colombia fizzled due to official foot- dragging (Murray Brewster, CBC news, 6 March 2018).

For more detail on Canada’s unfulfilled commitments, see: 15 months on, Canada still has not pledged actual troops for an actual UN peace operation (Rideau Institute blog, 21 November 2017).

Photo credit: CBC Power and Politics video

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  • Blog
  • March 5th, 2018

Bill C-47 leaves majority of Canada’s military exports unregulated

FM Chrystian FreelandIn her address to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament on 28 February last, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland discussed Bill C-47, Canada’s legislation for accession to the Arms Trade Treaty:

Canadians are rightly concerned about how arms could be used to perpetuate regional and international conflicts in which civilians have suffered and lost their lives. We must be confident that our institutions are equipped to ensure we are not perpetuating these conflicts. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard.

On Thursday, 1 March, the Liberal government introduced an amendment to Bill C-47 to place directly in the legislation a new obligation on the Minister to reject export permits where there is a substantial risk that the export will cause or facilitate serious human rights abuses or undermine international peace and security.

Speaking about the impact of this amendment, Peggy Mason of the Rideau Institute stated:

In my view this amendment will set hard legal limits on the previously unfettered discretion of the Minister to grant or deny export permits. Furthermore, and most significant, this assessment of the presence or absence of a substantial risk will be subject to judicial review.

That is the good news!

The bad news is that the government has not closed the glaring loophole that would see all our military exports to the USA continue to be exempted from Canada’s export permit authorisation and annual reporting processes.

A fundamental obligation of the Arms Trade Treaty is for states parties to control all of their conventional arms exports, including parts and components. Individual states do not have the right to pick and choose what weapons to include or what destinations to exempt. Such action by Canada makes a mockery of the ATT objective to establish the highest possible common international standards. – Peggy Mason

In the clause-by-clause consideration of the legislation on Thursday at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Foreign Affairs critic Hélène Laverdière of the NDP introduced two important amendments to further strengthen the legislation:

  • A requirement to reassess existing export permits should new information about human rights abuses come to light; and
  • A requirement to include USA exports in the annual report to Parliament of Canada’s military exports.

Both of these amendments were voted down by the government members of the Committee.

Polls show that a majority of Canadians rightly recoil from the prospect of Canadian arms exports fueling regional conflicts or facilitating serious human rights abuses. Minister Freeland’s own words (quoted above) make this very point.

So please act today!

Email Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Pm@pm.gc.ca or justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at chrystia.freeland@parl.gc.ca

and your local MP and urge them to:

  1. include arms exports destined to the USA in our export permit authorization system; and
  2. require a reassessment of existing permits in light of new evidence of substantial risk.

There is still time for the government to enact Arms Trade Treaty accession legislation that is truly worthy of a country with a proud history of working to strengthen human rights, international law and international peace and security. – Peggy Mason

For further information, see:

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  • Blog
  • February 27th, 2018

Resistance growing against shocking rise in human rights abuses globally

Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, struggles to keep in queue due to pushing as they wait for their turn to collect meals distributed to children and women by Turkish aid agency at Thaingkhali refugee camp, Bangladesh, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Amnesty International, the prestigious global human rights body, has this week released its annual audit of human rights around the world.

Throughout 2017, millions across the world experienced the bitter fruits of a rising politics of demonization. Its ultimate consequences were laid bare in the horrific military campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.Salil Shetty, Secretary-General of Amnesty International

In his Foreword to the 409-page report, Shetty also drew attention to the  “transparently hateful move” by US President Donald Trump to ban entry to the USA of citizens from several Muslim-majority countries based on their nationality, while the chapter on the USA highlighted “major attacks on the rights of women and girls”, and a continuation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

To provide context and analysis, Aljazeera English hosted a superb discussion of key trends illuminated by the Amnesty International Report, beginning with the role that Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and hate-filled rhetoric have played in fanning the flames of bigotry and persecution around the world.

Watch here: What is behind the rise in global rights violations? (Inside Story, Aljazeera.com, 23 February 2018).

The three discussants are:

But it is not all bad news. The Amnesty International Report also highlights growing protest movements in support of human rights around the world:

While the findings remain shocking, it is the events such as those highlighted in the report that galvanised people across the world to stand up in the face of adversity and make their voices heard. – Amnesty.org

For the full report, click here: Amnesty International Human Rights Report for 2017-18 (22 February 2018).

Watch the Inside Story discussion here: What is behind the rise in global rights violations? (Inside Story, Aljazeera.com, 23 February 2018).

Photo credit: Wikimedia images.

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  • Blog
  • February 19th, 2018

Offensive Cyber Operations Endanger Us All

NATO cyber

There is increasing debate and concern over the actions of states and non-state actors alike in the cyber domain.  Annegret Bendiek and Ben Wagner, associates of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), outline key challenges and the dubious utility of offensive cyber operations in their article Making states responsible for their activities in cyberspace.

Ensuring the stability and integrity of the internet is a crucial goal for policy makers. In the words of the GGE [UN Group of Governmental Experts], it is a “key question for international peace and security.” – Annegret Bendiek and Ben Wagner

The two main methods of combatting cyber-security threats are:

  • “deterrence by resilience” — strengthening defenses and cyber infrastructure to ward off attacks; and
  • “deterrence by retaliation” — offensive responses to cyber-attacks.

While enhanced defensive measures can be highly beneficial, “deterrence by retaliation” can be challenged on many fronts, including effectiveness, legality and political legitimacy as well as the potential for serious “blowback”.

Many leading scholars have warned that the build-up of offensive capabilities only repeats the mistakes of the past. It fosters mistrust, leads to a new arms race and might even lead to the internet’s disintegration as states increasingly assert their sovereignty. – Bendiek and Wagner

As highlighted in an earlier Ceasefire.ca blog post, Canada’s new defence policy asserts Canada’s intention to go beyond much-needed enhancements of cyber defences to the “conduct of active active cyber operations against potential adversaries in the context of government-authorized military missions.”

But this new DND cyber mandate pales in comparison to the “vast mandate” outlined in Bill C-59 for the highly secretive Communications Security Establishment to carry out activities:

to degrade, disrupt, influence, respond to or interfere with the capabilities, intentions or activities of a foreign individual, state, organization or terrorist group as they relate to international affairs, defence or security. – Section 20 of the proposed Communications Security Establishment Act (CSE Act)

Such extraordinarily permissive language gives CSE the power not only to undermine fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadian citizens but also to contravene Canada’s international legal obligations.

Using the cyber domain as a battlefield is riddled with perils, with grave potential to undermine the reliability of the internet and the crucial infrastructure that it supports. Clearly our main objective now has to be

to encourage the development of an international order in which there are formidable restraints on the use of cyber force. – Lawrence Freedman

For the full article by Bendiek and Wagner, see: Making states responsible for their activities in cyberspace (The Security Times, February 2017).

Photo credit: NATO website

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