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  • September 8th, 2014

Harper sending troops to Iraq

Harper attends NATO Summit

The Harper government is sending troops to Iraq.

As reported in the media, several dozen Canadian soldiers, and possibly many more, will be sent to Iraq to advise that country’s military forces in fighting Islamic fighters.

Rideau Institute calls move “reckless”

On national media, the Rideau Institute’s Peggy Mason told Global National that,

Without a comprehensive strategy it is a reckless step, and it is a step that I don’t believe that Canadians want.

The deployment will place Canadian troops directly on the front lines. The Canadians will join U.S. troops in the northern part of Iraq to provide advice to Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL.

The deployment is for 30 days, but will likely be extended. Canada’s contribution could be further increased once a strategy with its allies has been worked out.

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  • September 4th, 2014

Op-ed: Let’s move from dangerous military posturing to serious negotiations

Embassy News
Peggy Mason
September 3, 2014

Every day we read another article about the senseless slaughter of the First World War in which nine million died on the bloody battlefields of Europe and beyond.

One hundred years after its onset, nuclear-armed powers face off over Ukraine, and the stakes are unimaginably higher: nuclear Armageddon, the end of the world. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the other 27 NATO leaders meet later this week in Wales, let us hope they have read the lessons of history carefully and do everything they can to avoid blustering into a war with Russia that nobody can win.

“There will be repercussions for [Russia’s] blatant act of aggression,” Foreign Minister John Baird sternly intones, after mounting evidence of a further incursion by Russian military forces into Eastern Ukraine. For the Globe and Mail editorial board it is nothing short of the return of the Iron Curtain.

The cacophony of calls from pundits and journalists for NATO to be more resolute and for lethal military equipment to be given to the Ukrainian army is invariably followed by the assertion that, of course, NATO won’t actually go to war with Russia.

So while acknowledging that such a war is out of the question, opinion leaders appear to be demanding that NATO ramp up the very military posturing and charged rhetoric that could bring this unthinkable course of action ever closer.

If we all agree that nuclear Armageddon is not an option, then we need to take a deep breath and carefully consider our available options. Putting aside a total abandonment of Ukraine to an uncertain fate, we are left with ratcheting up sanctions, investing major political and diplomatic capital in a negotiated solution or both.

Turning first to sanctions, Russia must surely be feeling some economic bite from those already imposed; yet they have failed to secure any positive change in behaviour—quite the contrary. Further measures are slated for discussion at the NATO summit in Wales.

While sanctions are widely perceived as a diplomatic tool, they are categorized in Chapter VII of the UN Charter as a coercive measure, one step short of armed force. And like the use of force itself, they often have entirely unintended and quite counterproductive consequences.

Take for example the recent call by the United Kingdom for Russia to be ousted from the SWIFT worldwide interbank transaction system. Experts warn that, while this would undoubtedly be very disruptive to Russian financial and commercial activities in the short term, over the longer term it could encourage Russian development of its own transfer payment system, one far less transparent than the global one and beyond the reach of future sanctions.

Add the fact that the historical record suggests sanctions are rarely sufficient on their own to compel the desired change in behaviour, and this brings us back to the only option left standing: the strongest possible promotion of, engagement in and tangible support for, a high-level, broadly supported and internationally facilitated peace process.

There is nothing new in calling for a negotiated settlement. This has been the position of the United States, NATO and the European Union from the outset. Talks involving the Americans, Russia and Ukraine; negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE; and now mediation efforts led by Germany for the EU have so far borne little fruit.

Continued high-level engagement of the US and the EU is critical, but what is now needed in addition is a comprehensive approach which seeks to address all aspects of this complex conflict and which draws on expert, impartial international mediators acceptable to all sides. Russian agreement is by no means assured, but they have expressed some interest in mediation under UN auspices, so that is a place to start.

While the NATO summit will not be the venue to resolve the Ukraine crisis, leaders must, at a minimum, ensure that they do not make the situation worse. That means maintaining a steady focus on, and careful articulation of, sensible defensive measures to reassure nervous alliance members like the Baltic States, and no more.

But NATO leaders can and must do more than avoid inadvertent escalation of tensions. They can put their full diplomatic weight behind a negotiated solution without preconditions that could doom the talks before they begin.

It is time for the Canadian government to tone down its rhetoric and scale up its diplomatic support for a peace process that can pull us all back from the nuclear brink.

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.

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  • August 26th, 2014

What remains unlearned from the First World War

Originally published in Embassy August 26, 2014.

Guest Blog by Roy Culpepper.

Much has been said, in this centenary year, about the First World War. The print and electronic media have offered up a surfeit of op-eds, documentaries, reminiscences and analyses of the war and its innumerable consequences for the world down to our own day. In fact, since 1918, at least 25,000 books and articles have been written on the so-called Great War.

Can there be anything left to say? Actually, there is, particularly since we need to learn more from the First World War, a senseless conflict that was almost guaranteed to end in stalemate. Yet it killed over nine million and injured more than 22 million.

This horrendous toll was heightened by a number of deadly innovations in the technology of war: poison gas, submarines, tanks, warplanes, and long-range artillery among others. In addition, the war laid the foundations for a century of instability in the territories of the collapsing Ottoman, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Hence, it is certainly worth learning more from the First World War and its legacy—about how senseless armed conflict can be prevented, how to strengthen the tools of diplomacy and peacebuilding, how to inhibit the competition for ever more destructive and costly weapons and how to reduce stockpiles of such weapons.

In addition, we must learn not only from those who fought in the trenches or from those in command, but also from the perspective of the home front. Women lost husbands, sons and fathers in the conflict. As nurses and caregivers, women also bore witness first-hand to the appalling suffering of combatants. In addition, civil society organizations, conscientious objectors and the advocates for peace all had important roles in resisting the war. But the perspectives of such groups, and of women, were dismissed at the time and continue to be under-represented in mainstream histories.

Also, we must learn from the perspectives of former enemy nations. Regrettably, the adage (attributed to Winston Churchill) that “history is written by the victors” retains its validity. Millions of enemy combatants as well as innocent civilians were killed or injured in the First World War. Germany lost around 1.7 million in military deaths, Austria-Hungary lost 1.2 million.

It is overdue, a century later, to acknowledge these enormous casualties sustained by the other side. This is beginning to happen, for example, with the project The World Remembers, led by Canadian actor R.H. Thomson. Over the next four years, this unique initiative aims to commemorate every death among the nations on both sides in the war.

The fact that truth is the first casualty of war also obscures our understanding of what happened and why. Modern propaganda and censorship took flight in the First World War. We need to peel away the layers of disinformation that cluttered the official record, and also resist their imposition in future conflicts.

On the positive side, the First World War led to the creation of the League of Nations. Although it failed to stop the Second World War, the interwar generation accepted that much better international co-operation was imperative to prevent war. This is a lesson we are re-learning with the League’s successor, the United Nations.

But as nuclear weapons continue to proliferate, the stakes today are much higher. In the absence of the UN, the world today would look a lot more like it did a century ago, except that a nuclear Armageddon would be infinitely worse.

Finally, Canadians need to be more honest about the First World War in our own history. Much has been made about the “birthplace of the nation,” the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in which Canadian troops demonstrated unquestionable valour. But neither was the battle of strategic importance in the war; nor was the war itself a breakthrough in Canada’s march to independence. However, World War I did undoubtedly deepen the divisions between French and English Canada.

The lesson for Canadian foreign policy may be that our two solitudes are drawn closer together when diplomacy, peacemaking and international development are its main features. In contrast, war-making in the cause of big-power geopolitics often drives us apart.

Roy Culpeper is a member of the Group of 78, a non-governmental organization focused on foreign policy. The Group of 78′s 2014 Annual Conference is on World War I and Contemporary Policy on War and Peace. It will be held Sept. 26 to 28 at the Canadian War Museum. For further information visit the Group of 78 website.

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  • August 21st, 2014

Michael Byers: The North Pole is a distraction

Read the full article at the Globe and Mail.

[T]he North Pole is … located more than 700 kilometres from land, in 4,000 metres of water covered with drifting sea ice. Powerful winds, frigid temperatures and seasonal darkness add to the misery.

Like all waters more than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from shore, the ocean at the North Pole is international. The only sovereign rights that could possible exist concern seabed resources.

Although Canada has rights over extensive areas of seabed elsewhere in the Arctic Ocean, it has no basis for a claim at the North Pole. This is because international law uses the “equidistance” principle to delimit maritime boundaries. According to this principle, boundaries between adjacent coastal states are drawn along a line, every point of which is an equal distance from the respective shores. …

Like it or not, the North Pole falls on the Danish side of the equidistance line – it will never be Canadian.

[The]  Prime Minister knows that Canada’s claim will fail. But he also knows that the failure will emerge only after he leaves office.

In the meantime, the North Pole presents him with an opportunity to rehabilitate his image as a champion of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

After eight years of inaction, promises of new ice-strengthened patrol ships, a powerful icebreaker and an Arctic naval port have worn thin. But is there any need to dwell on this now? Look, Canadian icebreakers are headed to the North Pole!


Michael Byers, author of International Law and the Arctic, and winner of the 2013 Donner Prize, is a member of the Rideau Institute Board of Directors.


Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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  • August 19th, 2014

Between a Hawk and a Dove: NATO charts its future

Celyn Dufay

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.



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