August 19, 2014.
100 years after the First World War, the world’s strongest military alliance is responding to hostilities in Ukraine by bunkering down in Europe.
This September, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will fly to Newport, Wales for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 2014 Summit. There, political leaders and military brass from NATO’s 28 members, amidst attendees from an additional 32 countries, will carve out polices that will chart Europe’s course for the years ahead. This summit marks a crossroad for the Alliance, for as it works to reaffirm its hegemony over Europe, it will also have to decide whether it wants to stay a warring hawk or evolve into a peaceful dove.
In late March, NATO announced that Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s ex-Prime Minister will head up the Alliance after the current Secretary General Andreas Fogh Rasmussen’s term ends in September. Not only is Stoltenberg more diplomatic than the hawkish Rassmussen, he will also be the first NATO Secretary General from a country bordering Russia and surely the only one to have ever hurled rocks at a US Embassy.
In 2011, Stoltenberg resolved a four-decade dispute between Norway and Russia through negotiations over their Arctic maritime borders and established a personal friendship with then-president Dmitry Medvedev. “If the task for NATO now is to defuse the crisis with Russia over Ukraine, then Stoltenberg will be eminent. He thrives on compromise. If the task is escalation, he won’t be bad, but there are others who could do a better job,” said Frank Aarebrot, professor of comparative politics at the University of Bergen and an acquaintance of Stoltenberg.
“The conflict in Ukraine must be [resolved with] a political solution…. We will not live in a world where the strongest one prevails,” Stoltenberg said.
Given the importance of this summit, Canadians cannot allow another embarrassing episode of The Stephen Harper Show to broadcast its ‘principled’ bullhorn-diplomacy that promotes outdated, counterproductive military responses to complex international problems.
This year’s summit will be about one of two things: ramping up defence spending in order to remilitarize Europe, or transforming the bullish juggernaut into something more suitable to the 21st century. Arms makers, senior military brass and defence hawks in Ottawa, Washington and Brussels will be pushing for the former, it’s up to us, the people NATO claims to protect, to fight for the latter.
As the crisis in Ukraine has unfolded, NATO members have been renewing commitments to increase defence budgets, while sending ‘reassurance packages’ to anxious members east of the old Iron Curtain. Harper – with few Canadian economic interests at stake and his eye on the large Ukrainian-Canadian community – has been one of the most belligerent ‘world leaders’ responding to Russia.
In March, Harper pushed to oust Russia from the G8 and shouted for sanctions in the face of Russia’s “militarism and expansionism” in Crimea. In April, he declared he was sending six antiquated, unarmed, CF-18 fighter jets to Romania. Come May, Harper boasted he was sending an anti-submarine frigate, the HMCS Regina, to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, some 1,500 km from the Crimean Peninsula.
Following, I imagine, a brief consultation with an atlas in June, Harper announced the deployment of 75 soldiers to Latvia — not a neighbour to Ukraine like Romania, but back in Europe at least. By July Harper was thinking forward to August, when our training mission in Romania expires, so he pledged to send a half-dozen more outdated fighter jets to Lithuania, to join NATO’s air patrols over the Baltic member’s border with Russia. And just a week ago, he announced Canada was sending $5-million worth of (non-lethal) military equipment to help defeat pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine, amidst continued complaints from Ukraine’s government that Harper hasn’t made good on the $200-million aid package it promised five months ago.
Is it really helping Ukraine for Harper and NATO to spend millions of dollars to boost the militaries of its European neighbours? Are their actions oriented towards conflict resolution or warmongering? Are hawkish leaders like Harper focused more on boosting arms sales rather than on defusing hostilities? In the end Ukraine must find a way to live with both Russia and Europe. Inspired diplomacy is urgently needed to allow all sides to climb down from the precipice.
Arms manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon Corporation are profiting immensely from Harper’s military policies. Canadians cannot afford to have Harper derail the NATO Summit. The Alliance is at an important juncture where it must choose between restoring a peaceful European order and rearming the continent for a new Cold War. Leaders like Stoltenberg can have a major impact in reshaping an organization’s direction. But the policies the Alliance formulates in Newport, Wales will surely direct the path Stoltenberg can take. It is therefore immensely important that Canadians call on NATO leaders to give the incoming Secretary General a strong mandate to support resolution of the ongoing confrontation with Russia in the only way it ultimately can be resolved – politically, not militarily. It is time for NATO to shed the claws of a hawk and grow the feathers of a dove.
Celyn Dufay has been a campaigner and donor service officer for the Rideau Institute and blogger for Ceasefire.ca since June 2013. He’s starting a Master of Industrial Relations at Queen’s University this September.
“World War I and Contemporary Policy on War and Peace”
Sept. 26 – 28, Barney Danson Theatre, Canadian War Museum
On the centenary of World War I this conference brings together historians and commentators from civil society, the diplomatic and military communities to reflect on how lessons from the “Great War” are relevant today to reduce the incidence of armed conflict and reinforce the foundations of a more stable, peaceful world.
For more information or to register, please visit: http://group78.org/
Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason appeared on CTV News live on Tuesday, August 11 2014 to discuss the conflict in Iraq.
“At the root of the terrible problems in Iraq right now are very serious political grievances. Extremist groups exploit local grievances to get support, and that’s what ISIL is doing.” Mason notes, ”Prime Minister Maliki…is at the heart of the political problems facing Iraq.”
The full interview is available from CTV news.
The need for a real debate on the future of military operations in the Canadian political landscape
August 9, 2014
August 9th is National Peacekeeper’s Day in Canada. Established in 2008, this date was chosen in remembrance of the nine Canadian peacekeepers killed in 1974 as part of the United Nations Emergency Force in the Sinai. This is a national day of commemoration for the largest single loss of Canadian life in a United Nations peacekeeping operation, occurring exactly 40 years ago, and for all fallen peacekeepers since. Peacekeeper’s Day is typically remembered through a message from the Prime Minister’s Office and memorial ceremonies for peacekeeping veterans in Ottawa, Calgary, and elsewhere around the country. Though the term “peacekeeping” has been extended to include tributes to the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, the establishment of a separate National Day of Honour in 2014, may return the focus primarily to those Canadian soldiers who have served overseas in United Nations-led peacekeeping operations.
Unfortunately, apart from the standard PMO statement and small events in towns across Canada, the passing of National Peacekeeper’s Day generally has little impact in the media or on the Canadian political landscape. Indeed, the issue of UN peacekeeping in general is rarely raised in either the pages of Canadian newspapers and websites or in the halls and chambers of the House of Commons. Of the federal political parties, only the New Democrats and Greens even mention peacekeeping in their current policy platforms, and there only briefly. With the exception of a few tireless political advocates such as Romeo Dallaire and Douglas Roche, both now retired from the Senate, there are few voices in Ottawa to raise the issue and lobby for awareness.
The current Government seems eager to file peacekeeping as a part of Canadian history. For all intents and purposes, Canada is no longer a participant in international peacekeeping operations. As of June 2014, Canada contributes a total of just 34 troops and military experts to global UN operations. This should be compared to the almost 3,000 armed service members sent regularly by Canada to the United Nations at the peak of Canadian peacekeeping in the 1990s. At that time, Canada was one of the leading providers of UN peacekeepers. Now, as a troop contributor it is ranked 68th out of 97 countries participating in peacekeeping.
This ranks behind such countries as Honduras, Brunei Darrusalam, and, for the first time, the United States of America — a country so averse to American soldiers being commanded by foreigners that they traditionally shy away from UN “Blue Helmet” operations.
There is, however, an important disconnect between the level of importance given to peacekeeping issues by the Canadian Government or opposition parties over the last decade and the place that peacekeeping still holds in the hearts and identities of Canadians. Poll after poll has found that, when asked to identify Canada’s most positive contribution to the world, “peacekeeping” is consistently the top response among Canadians. A 2011 Canadian Election Study found that 64% of Canadians believe that Canada should participate in UN peacekeeping, even if it puts the lives of soldiers at risk. Yet despite this, in the several years I have spent studying peacekeeping, scarcely a single Canadian that I have talked to about the subject, outside of a small field of experts, was aware of the token contribution levels of 21 Canadian military peacekeepers that the government currently sends overseas.
Conventional wisdom holds that foreign policy issues have little impact on Canadian elections, with issues of the economy and domestic affairs dominating. But when the most important foreign policy priority for the majority of Canadians is scarcely discussed among the main parties, you begin to wonder whether the parties themselves are to blame for leaving the Canadian public under-informed about our international involvement. Despite the scant attention given to peacekeeping in Canada by the Government, by the media, and by political players in Ottawa, UN peace operations are have dramatically increased in size and importance. The UN now fields and supports over 120,000 military, police and civilian personnel in 16 peacekeeping operations in some of the world’s most difficult long-term conflict zones. The Blue Helmets are more than ever in need of the kind of skilled and experienced military contributions that countries like Canada can provide. With the conclusion of the mission in Afghanistan, a lively and open public discussion about the future of the Canadian military is needed to decide whether a return to robust Canadian peacekeeping is a viable option in the coming years. Other NATO allies are already doing this and study after study confirms that UN peacekeeping works.
2014 is a year of important benchmarks in Canadian military history. It has been 200 years since the burning of the White House during the War of 1812, 70 years since the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and, of course, 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. Unlike these other events, however, National Peacekeeper’s Day remembers a cause that has continued to march on without Canada. As the federal parties begin to gear up for the next election, 2014 may be the year to renew the debate on an activity central to global conflict resolution, in which Canada was once a leader and a cause which continues to be close to the heart of the Canadian public.
Joshua Libben research peacekeeping and strategic culture at the doctoral programme at University of Ottawa’s School of Political Studies
Canada’s continuing asbestos scandal: science denied, workers exposed to harm
the Hill Times
28 July 2014
SMITHERS, B.C.—Asbestos is the biggest workplace killer in Canada. A study of workplace death statistics by The Globe and Mail from 2007 to 2012 shows asbestos as the largest cause of workplace deaths throughout Canada. Labour Minister Kellie Leitch is responsible for the workplace health and safety of about 1.5 million workers under federal jurisdiction, such as railways, shipping, pipelines, mining, and government employees.
Canada and all provinces regulate the use of and exposure to asbestos by workers. Recent changes brought in by the federal government make it harder for federal workers to refuse hazardous work and give Leitch authority to dismiss an unsafe work refusal complaint without investigation. Unions are challenging these changes, expressing concern, in particular, about worker exposure to asbestos.
As well as being Labour Minister, Leitch is a medical doctor and a University of Toronto associate professor of surgery. Leitch is a Cabinet minister in a government that supports the use of asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos represents 95 per cent of all asbestos ever used.
Canada and Ontario have adopted the policy of “safe controlled use” of asbestos—allowing its sale, export, and use if it can be safely stored and maintained. Critics of the policy say nothing is truly safe from mishap and the countries to which Canada allows the export of asbestos do not have the regulatory or policing required to safely control its use.
Medical authorities, such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the World Health Organization, condemn the government’s position as deadly misinformation. They repeatedly state there is no safe exposure level to asbestos and that all use of asbestos must stop in order to prevent continuing asbestos-related deaths, such as Canada and all countries that used asbestos in the past are presently experiencing.
Leitch’s medical peers have directly asked her government to stop supporting asbestos. More than 200 doctors and health professionals challenged Leitch to respect the scientific evidence and put her ethical duty ahead of political ambition. Leitch did not respond. Nor did she respond to letters from asbestos victims, questions from The Medical Post, or questions in the House of Commons.
When interviewed by The Globe and Mail, Leitch said that exposure to asbestos had not come up as a concern since Harper appointed her minister of Labour, evading the fact that, over the past three years, she has received repeated appeals to stop supporting asbestos.
Leitch’s response renders her unfit, in my opinion, to be in charge of the health and safety of Canadian workers.
The Harper government says it provides accurate information on asbestos risk and that it has “consistently acted to protect Canadians from the health risks of asbestos.” Both these statements are utterly untrue. The Harper government is endangering the health of Canadians by disseminating inaccurate information about asbestos risk, by allowing continued import of millions of dollars worth of asbestos-containing products into Canada every year and by opposing health regulations, both in Canada and internationally, that would provide minimal safety measures regarding asbestos.
The Canadian Cancer Society and other organizations wrote to then minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq in December 2009, noting that exposure to asbestos is the single biggest cause of worker death across Canada and that Aglukkaq had a duty to address this “terrible, continuing and preventable public health tragedy in our country.”
Like Leitch, Aglukkaq refused to take action.
The Canadian government is decades behind other Western governments in protecting its citizens from asbestos. It permits workers to be exposed to 10 times higher levels of asbestos fibres than that permitted by any Western country and 100 times higher than permitted by Germany and the Netherlands.
In Italy, an asbestos industrialist has recently been sentenced to 18 years in prison for causing a public health catastrophe of asbestos deaths. Yet the Harper government promotes the deadly deception that asbestos can be “safely used.”
During the 2011 election, Harper voiced his commitment not to protect Canadians from asbestos, but to protect the interests of the asbestos industry. His government strenuously opposed the 2011 decision of the newly elected Parti Québécois government to end Quebec’s asbestos industry by cancelling a $58-million government loan intended to revive the industry. According to the Harper government, taxpayers should have financed the industry when private enterprise refused to do so.
Thanks to the PQ decision, Canada no longer mines or exports asbestos to developing countries. But Harper continues to put his ideology ahead of scientific evidence and ahead of protecting health. Canadians will pay a terrible price as a consequence.
Kathleen Ruff is senior human rights adviser to the Rideau Institute. Since 2007 she has worked with health experts and asbestos victims in Canada and around the world for a global ban on asbestos.