• Blog
  • November 5th, 2018

We call on Canada to work with Europe to save the INF Treaty


Under the malign influence of U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, who views international law as a tool of the weak, President Trump has recently announced his intention to “terminate” the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  This landmark nuclear arms control agreement helped end the Cold War arms race by banning an entire class of destabilizing U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons that were deployed in Europe.

“The decision [to terminate the INF Treaty] is an unnecessary and self-defeating wrong turn that could lead to an unconstrained and dangerous nuclear arms competition with Russia”, comments Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball.

The ostensible reason for U.S. withdrawal is that Russia is cheating by developing and deploying small numbers of a land-based missile within the prohibited range. But John Bolton has made no secret of his opposition to what he calls an “obsolete treaty“, even without Russian violations. Russia, for its part, points to longstanding concerns over U.S. missile interceptor launchers deployed in Europe that might also be used to deliver prohibited offensive missiles.

Russian disquiet has its origin in an earlier treaty abrogation by the U.S. — in 2001 when George W. Bush unilaterally walked away from the Russia–U.S. Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972. A muted initial response by Russia changed dramatically when the U.S. announced plans in 2007 to build a new missile defence system in eastern Europe.

“We were extremely concerned and disappointed…. It brings tremendous change to the strategic balance in Europe and to the world’s strategic stability.” – Kremlin chief spokesman Dmitry Peskov

It is hard to see what the U.S. gains by ditching the INF Treaty. It removes all further constraints on Russian deployment of hitherto prohibited missiles at a time when the U.S. has no equivalent land-based systems to deploy, and little likelihood of securing allied agreement to their placement on European soil, if they did have them.

If the bigger American worry is China, which is not a party to the INF Treaty and which has focused 95 per cent of its missile force on intermediate-range systems, withdrawal does nothing to constrain China, while the U.S. will face further uphill battles to convince allies in the region to host new American intermediate systems.

But if the military benefits to the U.S. of its withdrawal from the INF Treaty seem dubious, the diplomatic implications are clearly negative, with the controversial American action further splitting the alliance at an already difficult time in transatlantic relations.

Even worse are the potential implications for extending the 2010 New START treaty governing U.S. and Russian long-range systems, another treaty being targeted by John Bolton.

“Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972…. It is now all the more important to get a serious U.S.–Russian arms control dialogue back on track. If not, an even more dangerous phase in U.S.–Russian relations is just over the horizon.” – Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association

For his part, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass has pledged to leave “no stone unturned in the effort to bring Moscow and Washington back to the table one more time.”

Order of Canada Members call on Canada to act

As yet there has been little comment by Canada’s Department of Global Affairs on this extremely negative development for arms control and international stability.  We endorse the Letter sent by Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (CNWC), representing over 1000 members of the Order of Canada, urging Canada:

“to act with urgency and persistence and to stand for a return to the careful, painstaking, and unrelenting diplomacy of nuclear arms control and disarmament.”

For further reaction to the impending INF pull-out, see: INF Termination Is Bad, but It Could Get Worse (Daryl G.Kimball, Arms Control Today, November 2018).

For a lively commentary by Gwynne Dyer on the misguided views on both sides that have led to this decision, see: The INF Treaty: idiots on both sides (The Telegram, 27 October 2018).


Photo credit: Wikimedia images (Gorbachev/Reagan INF signing).

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  • Blog
  • October 23rd, 2018

Canada has real leverage in Saudi arms deal

Crown Prince MBS and KhashoggiSince October 2nd the world has been gripped with the brutal and brazen murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi Arabian hit squad. The unspeakable crime took place in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey and was almost certainly carried out on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman (MBS).

Global outrage has led to the German suspension of arms sales to the Kingdom and American congressional threats to do the same, despite President Trump’s extreme reluctance to jeopardize lucrative arms deals in any way.  U.S. legislators are also calling for the resignation of the Crown Prince, described by one Republican Senator as a human “wrecking ball”.

What about Canada? After all, Saudi Arabia is our largest customer for military goods after the USA, due mainly to the $10-billion-plus contract to sell upgraded armoured vehicles to Riyadh, older versions of which have already been deployed in the brutal Saudi war in Yemen.

Prime Minister Trudeau addressed the issue Monday in Question Period:

We have frozen export permits before when we had concerns about their potential misuse and we will not hesitate to do so again….

But early Tuesday morning, 23 October, he appeared to walk that statement back in an interview on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning with host Matt Galloway:

The contract signed by the previous government, by Stephen Harper, makes it very difficult to suspend or leave that contract. We are looking at a number of things, but it is a difficult contract. I actually can’t go into it, because part of the deal on this contract is not talking about this contract, and it’s one of the binds that we are left in because of the way that the contract was negotiated.

The Prime Minister further explained that suspension of the export permits could trigger a billion-dollar cancellation penalty.

There are two issues here: (1) whether Canada has the legal authority to suspend the export permits or cancel the contract outright and (2) possible contractual penalties should they do so.

There is no doubt that Canada has full legal authority under the Export and Import Permits Act  to cancel arms shipments to the Saudi Royal family in the face of gross human rights violations.

But what about the alleged penalties Canada could face?

What the Prime Minister seems not to appreciate is that Canada holds virtually all the cards here.  Saudi Arabia is extremely dependent on Canadian armoured vehicles for both internal security and the brutal war in Yemen.  Even if they do find replacement vehicles, the acquisition, training and deployment process will take years, during which time the Saudis would not have access to Canadian parts or servicing, rendering their existing armoured vehicle fleet less and less reliable.

And then there is Canada’s ability to impose sanctions on Saudi entities under the so-called Canadian Magnitsky Law, passed in 2017 to give Canada more tools to address “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”.

Finally, there is the very real possibility that the penalty clause would not even be upheld by a Canadian court as contrary to both public policy and Canadian law.

Some of this would undoubtedly be breaking new legal ground.  But isn’t such a proactive approach infinitely better than cowering behind the secret terms of what has become an utterly unconscionable deal?   – Peggy Mason, RI President


Photo credit: Youtube image (Crown Prince MBS and Jamal Khashoggi)

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  • Blog
  • October 9th, 2018

Oil, politics, conflict and Canada


A new book by Canadian energy economist John Foster shines a light on the dark geopolitics of oil and gas. It uncovers the complex and hidden motivations of governments, including our own, that lie behind military interventions, crippling sanctions and other actions in our name.  See: Oil and World Politics – The real story of today’s conflict zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and more  (Lorimer Books).

Oil and World Politics is essential reading for anyone wanting not only a round-up, but also a behind-the-scenes exposé of the players and pundits in what Foster rightly calls the Petroleum Game. He outlines in fascinating and frightening detail the history, geography and culture behind the biggest game of Risk we’ll ever play. – Wayne Grady, author

Foster’s book is particularly timely given the high profile actions that Canada has recently taken ostensibly in support of human rights and democracy in Venezuela. John Foster suggests a quite different motivation may also be at play:

… Canada and Venezuela are in competition for US refineries…. Sanctions against Venezuela are part of a US global push for energy dominance.

For more on the specific case of Venezuela, see: Are actions against the Venezuelan government really about oil? (John Foster, OpenCanada.org, 3 October 2018).

There is much more to say about the role of Canada in this complex, deadly petroleum game!

John Foster will speak in Ottawa at an event co-sponsored by the Rideau Institute and the Group of 78. See: Oil and World Politics – Canada Plays the Oil Game too , October 17th, 7:00-9:00 p.m., St. Paul’s Church, 473 Cumberland St.   The event will be videotaped and made available on our websites.

Petroleum geopolitics are as opaque as they are complex. This vital driver of so many of the world’s conflicts, and in particular, of western military interventions, is rarely if ever part of our public discourse. John Foster’s invaluable book changes all that. The book — and this lecture — are a must for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of global conflict and its potential resolution. – Peggy Mason, Rideau Institute President


Photo credit: Lorimer Books (cover page of Foster book)

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  • Blog
  • September 17th, 2018

It’s time for a Women, Peace and Security Ambassador for Canada


In the lead up to the UN International Day of Peace on 21 September, it is timely to consider a Private Member’s Motion  now before Parliament, that might just gain enough traction for the Justin Trudeau government to take note.

Introduced in February 2018 by MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the key paragraph of Motion 163 reads:

 [R]eaffirm Canada’s commitment to build on our recognized accomplishments and enhance our leadership role in advancing the cause of peace domestically and throughout the world by calling on the government to develop a plan to appoint a Women, Peace and Security Ambassador

Prior to its tabling, this motion was the subject of widespread civil society consultations and is backed by groups like the Canadian Peace Initiative and, crucially, by members of the Women, Peace and Security Network, Canada (WPSN-C). Says Coordinator Beth Woroniuk:

We have long called for a high-level champion to lead robust implementation of Canada’s National Action Plan on women, peace and securityWe have urged the Government to move ahead on this important initiative.

In the view of the WPSN-C, ideally the final mandate of this position will focus on ensuring that Canada is truly a leader on WPS with:

  • policy coherence across diplomacy, aid, trade, defence and related policy areas;
  • significant investments (including increased support for women peacemakers);
  • clear attention to results; and
  • accountability ensured
    • through direct reporting to the Minister of Foreign Affairs;
    • and through building on collaborative relationships with civil society.

The motion is expected to be debated in two different parliamentary sittings, over the next few months, so there is still time to further enhance this forward-looking proposal.

For the full text of Motion 163, click: Women, Peace and Security Ambassador.

For more detail on the WPSN-C recommendations, click here.

Photo credit: UN Women Watch

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  • Blog
  • September 10th, 2018

Senate report chooses human rights over weapons exports


On 4 September the Rideauinstitute.ca blog discussed key pieces of legislation upcoming in the Senate, including in particular Bill C-47, on Canada’s arms export policy, and highlighted the key role that civil society can and must play in strengthening it.

For this vital effort, civil society has received an enormous boost in the form of the June 18 report of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, chaired by Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard, entitled Promoting Human Rights – Canada`s Approach to its Export Sector:

Where there is a substantial risk that exports could be misused to commit or facilitate serious violations or abuses of internationally recognized human rights, or serious violations of international humanitarian law, an export permit should be denied. Canada should not compromise human security for the benefit of commercial interests. (page 22)

And, in fact, the Liberal government has now amended Bill C-47 to introduce just such a rigorous test, albeit with some troubling limitations, as reported in earlier blog posts.

But the Senate Report goes much further than this one amendment.

In order to ensure that the Government has the information and tools to effectively apply the new human rights test, the Committee calls on Global Affairs Canada to:

  • consult stakeholders, including civil society and academics, in the development of assessment tools for use in the export permit application process;
  • regularly consult with stakeholders to provide information on the human rights situation in various countries and provide formal channels for the submission of information regarding the end-use and end-users of proposed exports; and
  • work with stakeholders including civil society to explore “contractual” mechanisms and other ways to better monitor end-use and end-users of military goods exported from Canada.

Problematic Public Sector Support for Arms Exporters

Equally welcome is a section of the report, forthrightly entitled “Problematic Public Sector Support for Exporters”. Here the Committee makes clear its profound concern over Canadian Crown Corporations — including the Export Development Corporation and the Canadian Commercial Corporation — failing to ensure that their practices comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

It goes on to make a series of innovative recommendations to remedy this disturbing misuse of taxpayer monies. [See pages 32–36.]

This report could not be more timely as Canada endures reprisals from Saudi Arabia for its diplomatic activity on behalf of Saudi women’s rights advocates, while continuing to export a new generation of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, even as UN Experts release a new report condemning that country for war crimes in Yemen. — RI President Peggy Mason

For the full Senate Human Rights Committee report, click Promoting Human Rights – Canada`s Approach to its Export Sector (18 June 2018).

Photo credit: Wikimedia images (Haja, Yemen).

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