Ambassador (ret.) Peggy Mason discusses Canada’s current military role in Iraq

Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason spoke to CBC Radio One listeners across the country Sunday about the Canadian military’s current involvement in an airstrike mission in Iraq, the need for a political and humanitarian strategy, and where the mission will be in six months:

“I think that it’s a seriously misguided strategy, this focus on airstrikes, which has little hope of effectively countering the threat posed by ISIL and which has an even greater prospect of making the situation worse. So, I think that it’s a seriously misguided strategy and Canada should not be part of it.


All of the political complications will be far worse [in six months] unless we really start to get serious about addressing them.”

Listen to the full interview on CBC Radio’s The 180 with Jim Brown here. 

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  • October 10th, 2014

From the killing fields of Flanders to the recurrent Israeli attacks on Gaza: A century later, WWI continues to echo in the Middle East

By Peter Larson

Almost every city and town in today’s Israel has a “Balfour Street”, named after Britain’s foreign secretary during WWI.

It is a poignant reminder of the fact that while WWI was fought mostly in Europe, it had profound consequences around the globe, and its effects still shape today’s world, particularly in the Middle East.

Lord Arthur James Balfour was a proud imperialist willing to shed blood to protect and expand the British Empire. He was also a staunch Christian, a member of the Church of England. Like many Anglicans of his day, Balfour took the bible rather literally, and appears to have accepted the Christian Zionist notion that God had promised Palestine to the Jewish people.

Lord Balfour

Lord Balfour

At the time, Palestine was part of the decaying Ottoman Empire. But in 1917, at the height of WWI, Balfour issued a now famous declaration in which he stated that Britain sympathised with Zionist aspirations and promised it would support the creation of a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine.

The promise was made in response to intense lobbying from British Zionists. But it also seems to have been supported by the British cabinet which had ambitions of replacing the Ottomans in the Middle East and saw advantage in supporting the creation of a colony of pro-British Jews in the region.

(In those colonial times, it did not seem to strike many people as unusual to give part of somebody else’s country to a third party without any consultation whatsoever. What would happen today if Obama were to offer, say Prince Edward Island, to Syrian or Iraqi refugees?)

At the end of the war, Britain successfully convinced the League of Nations to give it a “mandate” to govern Palestine, Iraq and Jordan and quickly moved to take over.

It named Viscount Herbert Samuel, a Jewish Zionist, as the first governor of Palestine.

In short order, Hebrew was made an official language and Jewish firms were given privileges, including for example the monopoly on electricity distribution. With British approval, European Zionists began buying huge tracts of land, often from absentee landlords. The new owners expelled thousands of Palestinian serfs from lands they had been working for generations, to be replaced by a flood of European Jewish immigrants.

It took the Palestinians several years to understand that life under the British mandate was going to be different from the 400 years they had spent under the Ottoman Empire. That Britain’s Zionist objective was to take their country from them.

However, in 1936, the Palestinians revolted against British colonial rule with a massive general strike. It began as peaceful resistance. Stores were closed and ports were shut down. But when the strike was violently suppressed by the colonial police, it evolved into a full-scale insurrection against British colonial rule. The British then enrolled Jewish militias to help them put down the revolt. By 1939, thousands of Palestinian leaders had been killed, jailed, assassinated or exiled. The Palestinian resistance was effectively broken.

Lord Balfour’s project of turning historic Palestine into “national home for the Jewish people” was nearing completion. But it took the horrors of the Holocaust to provide a rationale for the final step, the ethnic cleansing of the area by the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and the creation of the State of Israel.

Many of the Palestinians fled to Gaza, where they and their descendants are still today. For 65 years, Gaza has remained a festering sore, full of refugees from Israel who can’t return to their homes and farms. They are not welcome in the Jewish State because they are not Jewish.

Lord Balfour could not have imagined that the pain and misery he would create for the Palestinians would continue a century later. But as a Christian Zionist, and a British imperialist, he probably wouldn’t have lost any sleep over it either.


Lord Balfour’s famous declaration noted that the creation of a Jewish homeland should not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” (i.e. Palestinians). It’s not clear whether he really believed that was possible. But Britain did not intervene when Zionist militias expelled over 750,000 Palestinian peasants in 1947/48 to create the “Jewish State of Israel’. Many fled to Gaza where they have remained stuck ever since. 

Peter Larson is the Chair of the National Education Committee on Israel/Palestine, a Canadian organization whose mission is to educate Canadians about the complex Israel/Palestine conflict. Our objective is to have Canada take a fair and balanced policy aimed at promoting reconciliation between the parties based on a realistic understanding of historic and current events.

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  • October 5th, 2014

Harper’s Iraq plan may make matters worse, says former Ambassador

by Peggy Mason, Defence Watch guest writer

Originally published by David Pugliese in Defence Watch.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will put Canada’s proposed combat military mission in Iraq to a vote on Monday. Recent polls have suggested that Canadians slightly favour the bombing mission to confront the threat posed by the extremist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It comes as no surprise that Canadians want to help and “do something.”But Harper’s plan to send Canadian warplanes to join the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing of Iraq may just make matters worse.

Stephen Harper and his allies are underestimating their opponents as a bunch of religious extremists bent on spreading wanton mayhem and terror. Islamic State may be brutally ruthless, but they know exactly what they are doing.

Their core is made up of seasoned, motivated fighters and an extremely experienced leadership that go back to the “dirty war” waged by the American and British Special Forces in Iraq between 2006 and 2009.

ISIL is playing a strategical game of chess with its every move, while the West is playing military tic-tac-toe.

ISIL is not just a military organization, it is a political movement with a well-thought-out ideology, however abhorrent it may be to the West. It governs the huge areas it controls in Iraq and Syria. Ruthless in eliminating any potential opponents, it also provides electricity, food and other vital services for ordinary people in the areas it controls.

That is why American air strikes against ISIL recently targeted not only oil and gas facilities but also grain elevators – a highly problematic course of action in both legal and humanitarian terms, particularly if the conflict is to be a long one.

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 the NATO-led military victory in Libya was a pyrrhic one which paved the way for the civil war that followed.

We have to remember how we got to this point. Time and again in the past, we have chosen war over negotiations.

Look at the lessons of Libya. Had we not exceeded the UN mandate in Libya (which excluded regime change), we could have negotiated a power-sharing deal with Gaddafi that would have promoted incremental democratic reform and not left a power vacuum to be filled by extremists, including ISIL.

Exactly the same lesson can be learned from Syria. Had the West not insisted on Assad’s immediate departure and refused to allow Iran a seat at the table, Kofi Annan’s power-sharing arrangement within a transitional government would have paved the way for incremental democratic reforms in Syria and, once again, would have left much less room for extremists like ISIL to operate.

A UN mandate privileging inclusive governance and democratic reforms in concert with robust military support has been central to recent progress in Somalia and Mali. A UN mandate is also possible for effective intervention in Iraq and Syria if all necessary players, including Russia and Iran, are brought fully into the negotiations, and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are at the core of the political strategy, not just token participants.

A comprehensive, broadly supported and UN-mandated approach is long overdue in the heretofore disastrously counterproductive war on terror. Let this enlightened approach be the basis for Canadian action in Iraq and Syria.

Peggy Mason is Canada’s former UN Ambassador for Disarmament and advisor to then External Affairs Minister Joe Clark. She is now the President of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs.

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  • September 30th, 2014

A better way forward in a troubled world? Why radical diplomatic reform is imperative

By Daryl Copeland

It is the end of September, the seasons are changing, and Canadians have every reason to feel uneasy.

The erstwhile global village is today looking more and more like a patchwork of gated communities surrounded by a roiling wasteland of violent and terrifying shantytowns.

Over the course of the summer – and  undoubtedly much to the delight of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi - the media has delivered saturation coverage of the Islamic State on the rampage, Iraq fissuring, carnage in Gaza, civil war in Libya, Russian adventurism in the Ukraine, state failure in Afghanistan, rising tensions in the East and South China Seas…

The torrent of troubles has been unrelenting.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, and just when the ill-starred Global War on Terror seemed finally to be winding down, our political and opinion leaders seem convinced that Western civilization is once again being menaced, this time by new iterations of both threats: a revived, and particularly strident version of Russian revanchism, and a media-savvy, unusually treacherous form of Islamist terrorism operating out of a reconstructed Caliphate.

Be afraid, be very afraid…

Reaching for the gun

What are Canada and our NATO allies doing in response? Talks have been initiated under various auspices, but these have been on the margins. In the mainstream, coalition-of-the-willing cheerleading and military machinations have prevailed, including:

  • Firing precision guided munitions and sending arms, advisors, and special forces back into Iraq
  • Pressuring NATO member states to increase military spending
  • Creating a new rapid reaction force
  • Bolstering air and missile defences and ground forces in Eastern Europe and the Baltic
  • Increasing naval assets in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean.
  • Strengthening alliance relations in Europe and the Western Pacific.

Add to all of this the legacy of NATO’s aggressive eastward expansion 1999 – 2009, a back-to-the-future return of hostile sabre-rattling directed at Russia, and barely concealed efforts at the “containment” of China, and the full gravity of the current situation becomes clear.

The West has again been engaging in the international policy equivalent of putting out fires with gasoline. Doing more of the same old, same old, while hoping against hope that ratcheting up the threat or use of armed force will somehow make matters better.

This outcome is patently unlikely. For starters, much of the present instability – not least the devastating blowback now emanating from IraqAfghanistan, and Libya - is causally rooted in the failure of previous military interventions. Secondly, when your tool of choice is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Not a very supple strategy of statecraft. Finally, all of this ignores the most enduring lesson of the Cold War, namely that militaries work best when they are not used.

Take the sword out of the scabbard, and it makes a dreadful mess.

It all looks too familiar. Like the unpaid “peace dividend” of the 1990s, President Obama’s commitment to weaning the USA off its “permanent war footing” now lies in tatters. Instead, the US “strategy” to defeat the Islamic State consists of one part re-hash and one part long shot - not necessarily the defining elements of a winning combination.

Talk, don’t fight. But first…

The observations set out above may help to make the world today more intelligible, but they do not make it justifiable. If we are to avoid once more reaping the whirlwind generated by an over-reliance upon armed force, an entirely different approach will be required. Specifically, people everywhere will have to insist that diplomacy displace defence at the centre of international policy. Relative to the alternatives, diplomacy’s approach to the non-violent management of international relations through dialogue, negotiation and compromise is highly cost-effective.

Except… Just when they are needed most, most diplomatic institutions and practices are in crisis. Before diplomacy is ready for prime time, the world’s second oldest profession will require major reinvestment and a complete overhaul.

Although doing diplomacy has never been easy, these days the challenges are particularly daunting. With some significant exceptions – China, India, Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia amongst them – the budgets of foreign ministries are being cut, diplomatic missions are being closed or downsized and foreign services are losing staff.

The profession has been slow to adapt to the globalization-driven reconfiguration of the operating environment. It is widely misunderstood, and suffers from debilitating image problems associated with perceptions of weakness and appeasement.

Before a credible case can be made for the infusion of new resources, however, ways must be found to identify new economies, to embrace innovation and to adapt. Radical reform will be required.

Mission impossible?  No, but progress will be complex and difficult.

An outline of ten concrete proposals will appear in the next post on Guerrilla Diplomacy.


Former diplomat Daryl Copeland is an educator, analyst and consultant, the author of Guerrilla Diplomacy and a Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.  Follow him on Twitter @GuerrillaDiplo.

Photo credit: Tom Toles, The Washington Post

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Ottawa Peace Festival event – “Pursuing an Afghan Peace: Women, Civil Society and Blue Helmets”

The Rideau Institute is pleased to invite you to an event it is hosting along with Afghanistan: Pathways to Peace, as part of the Ottawa Peace Festival.

What: Panel Discussion “Pursuing an Afghan Peace: Women, Civil Society and Blue Helmets” 

Who:  Dr. Walter Dorn, Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada
Najia Haneefi, Co-founder of Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee

When: Monday, September 29, 2014

Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm

Where: Auditorium of the Ottawa Public Library (Main Branch) at 120 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa


Dr. Walter Dorn, Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and editor of the new volume Air Power in UN Operations: Wings for Peace, will speak about his new paper, entitled “Peace Talks and a Peacekeeping Force for Afghanistan?”. He will look at how the United Nations might facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan and, in that context, will consider the role that a UN peacekeeping force could play in building a viable and sustainable peace.

Najia Haneefi, Co-founder and Executive Board member of Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee, will speak about efforts to empower Afghan women to promote and engage in a comprehensive peace process.

A question and answer period will follow the panel discussion.

Introductory remarks:
Gerry Ohlsen, Chair of the International Steering Committee of Afghanistan Pathways to Peace, will provide short comments on the role of Afghanistan Pathways to Peace in promoting civil society participation in, and support for, a comprehensive peace process for Afghanistan.

Peggy Mason is the President of the Rideau Institute. Her career highlights diplomatic and specialist expertise in the field of international peace and security, with a particular emphasis on the United Nations, where she served as Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament from 1989 to 1995.

For more information contact the Rideau Institute at operations@rideauinstitute.ca.

We look forward to seeing you at this event!

Unable to attend? Follow the action on twitter using #PursueAfghanPeace.


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