• Blog
  • May 13th, 2015

A Canadian defence and security policy for the 21st century

Peacekeeper Monument

Canada is in urgent need of a progressive, innovative and effective defence and security policy for the 21st Century.  Peggy Mason provides insight into why the United Nations is central to making that happen.

Embassy News: A Canadian defence and security policy for the 21st century
Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute
May 13, 2015

Much has been written over the past two years on the budget constraints facing the Department of National Defence and the hard choices that must be made – a dilemma only exacerbated by the Federal Budget released in mid-April. But surely it is putting the cart before the horse to have this discussion without first establishing the policy framework, goals and objectives, and priorities in relation to which the funding decisions must be made.

There is an urgent need to update Canadian defence policy for the 21st century through a long-established Canadian democratic practice almost entirely abandoned by the Harper government – the issuance of a Green Paper on which broad public and expert consultations are based, followed by a White Paper, firming up the government’s position in light of these consultations. A central theme to be explored in the Green Paper would be whether it is time for a rebalancing of Canada’s focus on NATO (and coalitions of the willing) in favour of UN-led peace and security initiatives. The public consultation document would include a proposed Canadian policy framework of guiding principles and considerations for Canadian intervention in military operations abroad.

A parallel review should also take place regarding our national security policy and whether to re-orient the current counter-terrorism strategy to focus much more on rule of law and governance solutions, and correspondingly less on chiefly military responses.

In a nutshell, then, my central point is that giving priority to UN-led peace and security initiatives is the best way to pursue comprehensive, sustainable political solutions to essentially political problems, albeit generally with an important supporting security dimension.

Why UN Peacekeeping?

The UN has learned a lot about conflict resolution since the first military peacekeepers were deployed in UNEF 1 in 1956 to serve as a buffer between the Egyptian and Israeli forces and to provide impartial supervision of the ceasefire.

The great tragedy for Canada is that, having been such a pre-eminent UN peacekeeper for so long, our disengagement from UN Blue Helmet operations post UNPROFOR in former Yugoslavia in 1995 has left us, institutionally, almost completely unaware of the transformation in the planning, conduct and management of UN-led operations since then. Fundamental reviews have been carried out and key lessons identified.

New command and control structures and sophisticated integrated planning mechanisms and field support structures for missions have been put in place. Sadly, the message has not gotten through to the military and foreign policy structures of many NATO member states, removed as they now are from this UN activity.

Specifically the UN has learned that peacebuilding is a complex, long-term process of helping the conflicting parties to create the necessary conditions – political, economic, security – for a sustainable peace. At the centre of this effort is the peace process. Complex political problems lie at the heart of violent conflict and require political solutions, negotiated and agreed to by the parties. A robust security element may be essential in both the negotiation and the implementation phases but it is a supporting element nonetheless. As the Afghanistan debacle has so dramatically and tragically illustrated, no amount of military “robustness” and professionalism on the part of international military forces can make up for the lack of a credible peace process.

Accordingly, today’s multidimensional UN peacekeeping operations are called upon not only to help maintain peace and security and to promote the rule of law, but also to facilitate the political process and support the establishment of legitimate and effective institutions of governance. Increasingly mandates, like that for MINUSMA in Mali, also include security assistance to the transitional government in reasserting its authority nation-wide, in concert with support for the national political dialogue and reconciliation efforts. (Note that the knowledge gained from continued French engagement in UN peace ops led them to insist on a comprehensive follow-on Blue Helmet PKO as a condition of their participation in an initial, short-term, military stabilization effort for Mali.)

For a collective enterprise of this magnitude to succeed – as UN peacekeeping does more often than not – the international effort must be perceived as legitimate and impartial by all or most of the parties to the conflict. And it must have the broadest possible international support within a coherent legal and operational framework.

Only the UN Security Council can mandate such an operation and only the UN Organization can even notionally lead it, if only because there is simply no other single entity acceptable to the international community. Headed by a civilian in the role of the Special Representative of the [UN] Secretary-General (SRSG), with all the other components, including the military and police reporting to him or her, the very structure of the UN PKO reflects the centrality of the peace process. This stands in sharp contrast to NATO-led missions, authorized by the UNSC to assist in stabilizing a conflict. How can the military effectively support the peace process under a separate command structure? My ten years of training exercises with Senior NATO commanders have demonstrated time and again that a divided command structure at the operational level is a recipe for an ineffective command structure. And further note that, while the NATO-led mission is typically mandated by the UNSC to “co-operate” with the UN mission, its political guidance comes from the political lead in NATO – the North Atlantic Council – which then has to coordinate with the UN Secretary-General. So the political leadership at the strategic level is divided as well.

There is another stark problem with NATO-led stability operations: they lack the perceived legitimacy and impartiality of UN-led operations precisely because their political and military leadership represent a very specific set of countries and interests, UN authorization and the presence of some non-NATO countries within the coalition notwithstanding. This not only undermines coherence in the international effort, but also is a gift to spoilers on the ground decrying “foreign occupation.” Of course narrow national interests are still in play in the capitals of UN troop contributors, but the structure of a UN peacekeeping mission at least works to mitigate this tendency in both perception and reality.

As recent UN review efforts have underscored, there is also a complete misperception by advanced militaries about UN command and control versus that of NATO. An integrated mission under the overall authority of the SRSG allows UN command and control to be decentralized to the operational level in contrast with the completely centralized, top-heavy and cumbersome command structure operating in NATO. Thus the main problem for UN command and control is the relatively narrow one of how to ensure appropriate strategic oversight, particularly with a view to maintaining the ongoing support of member states. In contrast, NATO operational command and control is stymied both by the reporting up requirements before action can be taken and the limitations to those actions being carried out at the tactical level due to national caveats.

To recap, the main comparative advantages for UN peace operations are (1) its integrated command structure under civilian authority, which in turn reflects the primacy of the peace process and which facilitates unity of purpose, and (2) the fact that the UN is the only organization through which the forces of the P5 and all major powers (including the rising and regional powers) can jointly participate. Only the UN therefore offers the option of a politically diverse and operationally capable mission – if, and only if, the P5 and other major powers invest in UN operations.

The demand for UN Blue Helmets has never been greater. Sixteen missions are currently underway, comprising over 120,000 military, police and civilians. (Of these 90,000 are blue helmets – although Canada currently contributes only 34 troops or military experts and 84 police).

UN peacekeeping cannot begin to live up to its potential to assist countries in transition from civil war to stable governance unless it has the resources to do the job. The almost wholesale withdrawal of Western forces from UN peacekeeping, in favour of NATO-led missions in the Balkans and then Afghanistan, occurred even as UN peacekeeping mandates required increasingly capable and well-equipped military components, operating under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.(To repeat, because this seems largely unknown in Ottawa, the vast majority of the current 16 UN-led peacekeeping operations have “robust” military mandates under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.)

The latest Report of the UN Secretary-General on the progress of the Mali mission cites significant gaps in both military personnel and equipment, in one of the most logistically demanding operations the UN has ever undertaken, given the distances involved and the lack of infrastructure (as well as the significant security challenges posed by armed groups including UN-listed terrorist organizations operating in the north of the country).

Significantly, some NATO countries, including France, Germany and Italy, are beginning to re-engage and it is time for Canada to do the same. All rhetoric aside, the only way out of the Libyan and Syrian quagmires is through UN-facilitated, internationally backed peace negotiations, followed by robust, comprehensive UN peacekeeping missions. And without those peace deals in Libya and Syria, there is no sustainable solution in Iraq either.

Peggy Mason, a former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the UN, is the president of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, an independent advocacy and research think tank in Ottawa.

Read the full article here: Embassy News: A Canadian defence and security policy for the 21st century

Photo credit: Jamie in Bytown

Read More
  • Blog
  • May 5th, 2015

Military assistance at a price

Artizans Nepal

As Nepal suffers in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the small nation on 25 April 2015, aid has been pouring in from countries ranging from neighbouring India to distant Canada.

Last week, the Government of Canada pledged $5 million dollars in humanitarian aid and deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). The government also promised to match the individual Nepal Relief Fund contributions of Canadians to registered charities until 25 May 2015 (one month after the announcement). With the death toll in Nepal over 7,000 and rising, the government has since added another $5 million in aid to address the immediate needs of the displaced and wounded.

In the past, DART missions have moved rapidly, in some situations before official requests for assistance have come through. The last mission of the DART dates back to November 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, leaving over 6,000 dead and countless displaced. Then Foreign Minister John Baird made it clear that rapid intervention was the key to Canada’s response to global disasters: “Obviously, we’ve moved incredibly fast, probably faster than we’ve ever moved [...] we’re not going to get into arcane bureaucratic discussions about paperwork and what not. There’s people who need our help, and we’re going to do all we can to provide assistance.”

Like the response to the earthquake in Nepal, Canada’s response to Typhoon Haiyan came in two forms: military assistance and humanitarian aid. After the initial DART response, $5 million pledge of humanitarian assistance, and government-match for individual contributions to the Philippines, a decision to add another $15 million was announced to Filipino-Canadians at a church in Toronto. While private donations totalled over $85 million, which were then doubled with the government’s matching funds, the cost of the 33-day DART mission was $29.2 million. The previous DART relief effort, responding to the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, cost $52.3 million.

With the Canadian Armed Forces involved in military operations in Iraq and Syria and training troops in Ukraine, disaster relief enables the government to showcase the Canadian military in a different light. Specialized UN agencies and partnering NGOs are the real experts in disaster relief. Yet, despite the significantly higher cost of such operations, military assistance has now become an integral part of the international response. The Nepal relief effort is no different.

Help Nepal by donating to the Humanitarian Coalition here. The Government of Canada will match donations until 25 May 2015.

Photo credit: Artizans.com, Bruce MacKinnon, 30 April 2015

Read More
  • Blog
  • April 20th, 2015

Military spending and the federal budget

The 2015 Federal budget will be released tomorrow.

With the 2015-2016 Federal Budget slated for release on 21 April 2015, have a look at the CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget 2015 (Alternative Federal Budget 2015: Delivering the Good, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 19 March 2015).

With Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan ending in 2014, the ongoing fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and the military support provided to Ukraine, the cost to Canadians in relation to military spending needs to be understood and justified. Our focus is on the Defence chapter (authored by the Rideau Institute). Here are the CCPA recommendations on Defence:

The AFB will:

    • Take immediate action on veterans and procurement oversight: Former veterans ombudsman Colonel (retired) Pat Stogran has called for a public inquiry as the only way to address the “culture of denial” that plagues Veterans Affairs Canada. The AFB would immediately convene consultations with veterans groups on the mandate for an independent public inquiry into the department’s failure to help Canada’s fallen in need. With respect to procurement, the AFB would revise the DPS to include a single point of accountability. In particular, this would address the accountability deficit in a process with multiple departments and stakeholders.
    • Reduce defence spending over five years: The AFB will reduce the size of the Department of National Defence to its pre-September 11, 2001 level (adjusted for inflation). The 2000–01 DND budget was just under $11.9 billion, or about $16.1 billion in 2014 dollars, which is where it will be again by 2017–18 under AFB plans. As spending is projected to decline slightly in any event, the AFB will further reduce the Department of National Defence budget by $1.5 billion by 2017–18.
    • Fully review Canada’s defence policy: These spending reductions are reasonable but will require hard choices about priorities, affordable force structures, and capabilities. To get there, a “root and branch” defence policy review is mandated to identify and prioritize key defence tasks and roles, and their funding envelopes. This would involve an established democratic practice almost entirely abandoned by the Harper government — the issuance of a Green Paper based on broad public and expert consultation, followed by a White Paper that establishes the government’s new position in light of this input. A central theme to be explored in the Green Paper would be whether it is time to shift Canada’s focus from NATO to UN-led peace and security initiatives. The consultation document would include a proposed Canadian policy framework of guiding principles and considerations for Canadian intervention in military operations abroad. A hard look at the appropriate balance between military and criminal justice responses to the challenges posed by terrorism would be another key theme. This review, together with the recommended spending reductions, would provide urgently needed public dollars for other priorities, boost efficiency in national defence, and lay the foundation for a strong Canadian military that is better capable of protecting Canadians and supporting UN peace operations.

 *DPS: Defence Procurement Strategy

Find the CCPA Alternative Federal Budget chapter on Defence here: AFB Defence Chapter, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Find the full CCPA Alternative Federal Budget here: Alternative Federal Budget 2015: Delivering the Good, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Find the 2015 Federal Budget here: Federal Budget 2015, Government of Canada

Photo credit: 401(K) 2012, Flickr

Read More
  • Blog
  • April 8th, 2015

Poll: Majority of Canadians oppose expansion into Syria

Tim Naumetz of The Hill Times informs us that a majority of Canadians oppose the expansion of Canadian combat operations into Syria
(“Canadian majority opposes Syrian airstrikes: poll,” Hill Times, 7 April 2015).

According to a recent Forum Research poll conducted after the parliamentary vote to extend Canada’s military operations in Iraq and expand them into Syria on 24 March, 55 percent of those surveyed opposed conducting air strikes in Syria. In addition, only 39 percent of respondents were in favour of the Iraq mission being extended, compared to 66 percent support for involvement in Iraq back in November 2014, around the same time the air strikes in Iraq began.

While 48 percent of respondents now oppose the Iraq mission, Conservative Party voters view the mission favourably, with 71 percent approval. Regarding the move into Syria, 62 percent of Conservatives were in favour. New Democratic Party voters were against expansion, with 72 percent opposed. Liberal Party voters were also in opposition, with 65 percent against expanding the Iraq mission into Syria.

Due to civil war in Syria, ISIL has been able thrive while rebelling local factions fight against the Assad regime for political legitimacy. The Forum Research poll suggests that if the Conservative government expects the threat of ISIL terrorist attacks on Canadian soil to be a major concern for Canadians at the polls, they are headed for disappointment.

Read the full article here: Canadian majority opposes Syrian airstrikes: poll

Find the poll here: Minority support Iraq mission

Photo credit: Theo Moudakis

Read More
  • Blog
  • April 3rd, 2015

Peggy Mason: Countering Islamic State: A failing strategy

By Peggy Mason

CCPA Monitor, April 1, 2015

The U.S.-led air campaign being waged in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State features a cast of regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, whose repressive governance, gross human rights abuses and stifling of political dissent fuel the very terrorism the West says it is fighting. The current military campaign is a recipe for a long conflict and further regional destabilization, the very conditions in which violent extremists like Islamic State thrive and grow. What we need instead is a comprehensive political strategy, with regional Arab allies at the core of a solution, that privileges rule of law and governments in the Middle East that have legitimacy in the eyes of their people.

To date Western military action has been disastrously counterproductive. Prime Minister Harper says we are not responsible for the chaos in Libya. Yet it is absolutely clear that our military victory in Libya was a pyrrhic one that paved the way for a civil war that rages to this day. We armed ISIL fighters in Libya in their fight against Gadhafi, and, when the president fell, they got the mountains of weapons released from his arsenal—weapons that helped destabilize not only Libya but the broader sub-region including Mali. We armed ISIL fighters opposing the government of Syria until we realized they were more dangerous than the Assad regime. Now the West is bombing ISIL in Syria, leaving Assad free to bomb our allies, the so-called “moderate” opposition.

While Iran is fighting with Assad in Syria (and therefore against the forces the West backs), the main ground force countering ISIL in Iraq today—all the rhetoric about the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters notwithstanding—is the Iranian-backed Shia militias, necessitating de facto military co-ordination between the USA and Iran.

Does this sound like a winning strategy?

We have to constantly remind ourselves how we got to this point. The West chose war over negotiations. Had NATO not exceeded its UN mandate in Libya (which did not authorize regime change), a power-sharing deal could have been negotiated with Gadhafi, which would have facilitated incremental democratic reform under international supervision, and not left a power vacuum to be filled by violent jihadists including ISIL. And despite Harper’s cavalier denials of responsibility, we now know that Department of National Defence intelligence officers warned his government that a Western bombing campaign against Gadhafi forces could play into the hands of extremists and lead to a lengthy civil war. Journalist David Pugliese reports that some military officers even began to privately joke that Canada’s CF-18’s were part of “al-Qaida’s air force,” but the government was not listening.

Exactly the same argument can be made for Syria. Had the West not insisted on regime change and refused to allow Iran a seat at the table (in deference to regional rival Saudi Arabia), Kofi Annan’s peace plan might have had a chance to take root. Canada’s largely rhetorical contribution to this effort was to help undermine the chances of success by siding with Saudi Arabia, which at the time was actively funding ISIL and opposing Iran’s participation.

So the West, in effect, offered Gadhafi and Assad, in turn, a choice between surrendering or fighting. Rather predictably, they each chose the latter, with utterly devastating consequences for their respective countries.

More than a military organization

As security experts like Paul Rogers of Bradford University in the U.K. and journalist and author Loretta Napoleoni have repeatedly emphasized, ISIL is not just a military organization. It governs the huge areas it controls in Iraq and Syria, providing basic services and collecting taxes. It is organized and coherent, with a well-developed ideology, however abhorrent to the West. The core is made up of seasoned fighters and an extremely motivated leadership with origins in the “dirty war” waged by the U.S. and British Special Forces in Iraq between 2006 and 2009. They survived intense air attacks and relentless special forces operations in Iraq for years.

In early February of this year, Western publics and their governments were rightly outraged by the horrific burning, then burying in asphalt, of a Jordanian pilot captured by ISIL in late December. Yet, it clearly was meant to mirror the grisly and almost certainly illegal “shake and bake” tactics of U.S. forces in Fallujah and other cities, where white phosphorus was used to burn up Iraqi fighters driven into tunnels by the relentless bombing. The orange jumpsuits of hostages held by Islamic State echo another part of the experience of these fighters and their leader, Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi—their detention in Camp Bucca or another of the black sites run by the United States in Iraq and the region, the squalid conditions of which were veritable breeding grounds for radicalization.

Central to the Islamic State ideology is the belief that the West is out to humiliate and destroy Islam. Western military intervention validates ISIL’s role as would-be saviour of Islam from the “Christian-Zionist” crusade. Incursions, whether ground- or air-based or both, into Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Mali, Syria and Iraq once again, together with the failure to take any meaningful steps to staunch the open wound that is Gaza and the Occupied Territories, provide ample evidence for the Islamic State narrative of malevolent Western intentions.

Using extremely sophisticated social media tools and psychological techniques, they are instilling fear simultaneously in opponents and subjugated populations, titillating with video images of sadism and violence and promulgating a potent message of a new “Caliphate” to disaffected Muslim youth all over the world. Canadians, with our own “souverainiste” history in Quebec, should recognize the appeal that a political philosophy promising “maître chez nous” can engender.

ISIL capitalizes on local grievances to gain local support. The key to neutralizing its appeal is to begin to effectively address this huge array of legitimate political injustices and marginalization that ISIL so effectively exploits to get and maintain support. Sunnis, who make up 20% of the Iraqi population, were systematically victimized by the Western-supported, viciously sectarian Nouri al-Maliki regime in Iraq between 2006 and his departure in late 2014, and many are now supporting ISIL. For these Sunnis, Islamic State is a lesser evil than the Iranian-backed Shia militias, who see their role not so much in terms of fighting for Iraq as in defending their own long-persecuted Shiite sect.

The unity government now in place in Baghdad has a very long way to go to repair these deep sectarian rifts. Perhaps the best example of this dilemma (and the shortsightedness of a military focus that gets ahead of the politics) is the major Iraqi offensive now underway to push Islamic State out of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein in the Sunni heartland.

So concerned are the Americans about the prominent role of Iran in this military action—with leadership from experienced Iranian commanders and troops composed of mainly Shia militiamen—that the operation is proceeding without U.S. air support. There are huge fears that atrocities will be committed against the civilian population of Tikrit, as has happened in the past in other areas captured from ISIL. The danger is immense of achieving, at best, a tactical military victory, which further deepens the sectarian cleavages, drives more Sunnis into the ranks of ISIL, and further undermines basic security for ordinary Iraqis.

What should Canada do?

Our military contribution to the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition, up for renewal in early April, is symbolic at best. This is so despite a very real risk to the 69 Canadian special forces advisors who are “forward deployed” in Northern Iraq and directly engaged in ground combat targeting activities, despite their parliamentary-approved non-combat training mission.

For a government that has turned most serious foreign policy issues into props for pandering to specific voting constituencies, no matter what the cost to the merits of the issue, this is almost the perfect war. It features bloodthirsty bad guys, a reasonably low cost (if only because Canada is dropping so few bombs)—the costs can be completely hidden anyway for “operational security” reasons until the election is safely over—and just enough risk of casualties to keep the “support the troops” mantra in play.

Oh, what a lovely war.

But if the Harper government actually wanted to do something meaningful, it would make a concerted effort to support what actually appeared to be U.S. President Obama’s preferred strategy (before the shrewdly calculated ISIL beheadings of American journalists forced his hand): “no American military solutions in Iraq; only Iraqi political solutions.” The same holds true in equal measure for Libya and Syria, the latter entering the fifth year of a civil war that a new UN report says has plunged 50% of the Syrian population into poverty and reduced the life expectancy by 20 years.

Canada could help find those urgently needed political solutions by getting fully behind the UN-led negotiations in Libya and Syria and by urging other NATO members to do the same. The Americans are apparently now backing Libyan talks but remain curiously ambivalent about the Syrian negotiations, almost as if they feared a solution being found where they were not playing a central role.

Canada’s latest contribution to Syrian peace talks was the announcement on January 21 by then foreign minister John Baird that Canada would not attend a high-level meeting, chaired by his Norwegian counterpart, on the future of Syria at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland—a meeting that included Iran. Happily for those championing a peace deal for Syria, the presence of Iran at the table is far more important than the absence of Canada.

Jason Kenney gave his inaugural speech as the new Minister of Defence on February 19 at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute 2015 Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence. In his closing comment (after remarks that referenced “bombs” or “bombing” in almost every other sentence), Kenney promised that Canada would no longer be an “honest broker as what could be more dishonest than that?”

It seems that the most Canadians can hope for is that the Harper government lets others, like Norway, take on the role of respected peace-builder.

Peggy Mason is the president of the Rideau Institute. This article is an amplification and update of a piece that first appeared in Embassy Magazine in October 2014.

Read the full article here: Countering Islamic State: A failing strategy

Addendum by Peggy Mason: Since this article was submitted for publication, the Harper Government, through its majority in the House of Commons, has obtained Parliamentary approval for an extension by one year of the Iraq mission as well as an expansion of the air combat campaign into Syria. As such, Canada becomes the only NATO country to join the Unites States in Syria in what is unquestionably an illegal bombing campaign under international law.  The other development of note is that, after several weeks without progress in the battle to retake Tikrit from Islamic State, the United States put aside its grave concerns about human rights abuses by Shia militiamen and resumed air strikes in support of the Iraqi forces.


Photo credit: Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND

Read More