• Blog
  • January 22nd, 2018

Nuclear Deterrence does not deter.

epa04973097 A handout picture made available by the defence ministry's official website on 11 October 2015 shows, a mid-range surface-to-surface Emad (Assertiveness) missile being launched at an undisclosed location in Iran. Media reported that Iran has successfully test-fired a mid-range surface-to-surface Emad (Assertiveness) missile, Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan said on Sunday 11 October 2015 in Tehran. EPA/HO *** Local Caption *** 52301455

Nuclear deterrence is a myth and a lethal one at that.

Nuclear deterrence continues to dominate international relations. Yet there is no proof it ever worked, nor that it ever will… “(David P. Barash, Guardian.com, 14 January 2018)

According to recent articles in the New York Times and Huffington Post, President Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review will propose many more uses for nuclear weapons than has hitherto been the case.

That is why the examination by David P. Baresh of the alleged justifications for nuclear deterrence is such a timely one.

He starts with a central point that is often overlooked:

“Importantly, deterrence became not only a purported strategy, but the very grounds on which governments justified nuclear weapons themselves. Every government that now possesses nuclear weapons claims that they deter attacks by their threat of catastrophic retaliation.” [emphasis added]

But what is the evidence that nuclear weapons do, in fact, deter attacks? The USA and Russia never fought a war prior to the nuclear age. The Cold War record is glaringly absent of evidence that either side wanted to go to war. And while it is possible that the post-1945 US–Soviet peace came ‘through strength’, that need not imply nuclear deterrence but sufficient conventional armaments to discourage adventurism. And as for the Cuban Missile Crisis:

“The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 — when, by all accounts, the world came closer to nuclear war than at any other time — is not testimony to the effectiveness of deterrence: the crisis occurred because of nuclear weapons. It is more likely that we have been spared nuclear war not because of deterrence but in spite of it.”

So while the evidence is sketchy that nuclear weapons kept the peace between the Soviet Union and the USA during the Cold War, it is indisputable that they did not prevent other forms of war.

During the Cold War, each side engaged in numerous conventional wars. Nor have their weapons deterred attacks upon nuclear-armed states by non-nuclear opponents. For example:

–          China in support of North Korea in 1950;

–          Argentina attacking the British-held Falkland Islands in 1982; and

–          Iraq lobbing Scud missiles at Israel in 1991.

Deterrence, in short, does not deter.

Baresh also goes on to demonstrate how nuclear weapons are spectacularly unsuccessful as instruments of coercive diplomacy:

“In Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (2017), the political scientists Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann examined 348 territorial disputes occurring between 1919 and 1995. They used statistical analysis to see whether nuclear-armed states were more successful than conventional countries in coercing their adversaries during territorial disputes. They weren’t.”

But the evidence against the utility of nuclear deterrence is only part of the problem. One must also consider the extraordinary risks associated with nuclear deterrence from escalation, miscalculation, accident, unauthorized or irrational use, or false alarms.

“The above describes only some of the inadequacies and outright dangers posed…. when it comes to nuclear deterrence, we’re all in over our heads.”

Click here for the full article.

For an even deeper analysis, see: The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence (Ward Wilson, Non-Proliferation Review, Vol. 15, No. 3, November 2008)


Photo credit: Wikimedia.

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  • Blog
  • January 15th, 2018

Will Vancouver meeting on North Korea help or hinder peace?


“The conference can be expected to reaffirm sanctions and policies that have not worked, rather than discuss new approaches. In this regard, it is unfortunate that China is not among the listed invitees. Without China, the conference risks being an echo chamber of the like-minded.”James Trottier

According to Global Affairs, the upcoming Vancouver meeting, entitled Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula Vancouver 2018 has several aims, including

…to demonstrate solidarity in opposition to North Korea’s dangerous and illegal actions… to strengthen diplomatic efforts… and …to increase the effectiveness of the global sanctions regime in support of a rules-based international order.

But the opaque agenda and even more curious list of participants has succeeded in raising the ire of several countries who are critical to achieving a peaceful resolution to the crisis. See: China heaping scorn on North Korea meeting next week in Vancouver (Lee Berthiaume, Canadian Press in CBC News, 11 January 2018).

“It will only create divisions within the international community and harm joint efforts to appropriately resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue,” Chinese spokesman Lu Kang was quoted as telling reporters in Beijing.

And the Canadian Press article went on to say that

Russia is also expected to be absent along with China, meaning two of North Korea’s most important and influential neighbours will be missing when Freeland and Tillerson sit down with other foreign ministers.

Bloomberg news reported a day earlier that one of the invitees and a key ally—Japan—had also criticized the list of invitees and the lack of information on both the form and substance of the meeting.

Commentators also wondered whether recent events, notably the Olympic diplomacy now underway between North and South Korea, had put into further question the timing and scope of the Vancouver meeting. See: Vancouver’s North Korea meeting: Opaque agenda, odd group of participants (John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, 9 January 2018):

With nothing specific on the agenda, one wonders what is to be gained by reassembling the coalition of nations that fought against North Korea, other than to antagonize North Korea.

The Vancouver meeting takes place against a backdrop of extraordinary events in relation to nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament efforts, ranging from the sublime:

–          global NGO ICAN wins the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in achieving a UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and

–          the main diplomatic negotiators of that treaty are awarded the prestigious American Arms Control Association award of Arms Control Persons of the Year;

to the ridiculous:

–          Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls the Treaty—approved by 122 countries—“sort of useless because the nuclear armed states have yet to come on board, and

–          President Trump boasts about his nuclear button being bigger than that of North Korean leader Kim Yong-Un.

For a trenchant Canadian commentary on these lamentable actions by Trudeau and Trump, see: Fingers off the buttons, boys: Women’s voices are crucial to the prevention of nuclear war (Elizabeth Renzetti, Globe and Mail, 5 January 2018).

Another timely and relevant disarmament effort is that of Liberal M.P. Pam Damoff, with the assistance Dr. Barbara Birkett, member of Physicians for Global Survival. It is Parliamentary e-petition 1402: Nuclear Weapons. The required 500 signatures to trigger the obligation of a written response from the Government of Canada were reached in only three days. Now the goal is to reach 1000 signatures as soon as possible.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland asserts that feminism is a guiding principle of our global policies. While we applaud this goal, it is surely put into question by our flouting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, our ongoing arms exports to the murderous Saudi regime, and our general preoccupation with avoiding any action that might irritate President Trump.

In contrast with this distinct lack of courage and imagination, click here for information on efforts by an amazing array of Canadian and international women’s organizations to promote a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula.


Photo credit: Niana Liu

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Justin Trudeau must face up to Afghan detainee torture allegations


FILE- A prisoner leans against the entrance to the wing where political prisoners are kept at Sarposa prison in Kandhar city, in this 2009 file photo. Opposition threats to stall all parliamentary business seem to have helped break a log-jam in negotiations over access to sensitive Afghan detainee documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dene Moore

We believe this is unfinished business of the most serious kind — accountability for alleged complicity in torture — the only appropriate remedy for which is a public inquiry. – Peggy Mason

In September 2015, in the midst of the federal election campaign, the Rideau Institute released a report — Torture of Afghan Detainees: Canada’s Alleged Complicity and the Need for a Public Inquiry — calling for a transparent and impartial judicial inquiry into the actions of Canadians in relation to Afghan detainees, a cause the Liberals themselves had championed in the face of implacable stonewalling by the Harper government.

That report was followed by other actions, including an Open Letter to the Prime Minister signed by 41 human rights experts, former and current parliamentarians, and other eminent Canadians, including former prime minister Joe Clark.

In December 2015, Craig Scott, a former M.P. and law professor at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, launched a parliamentary e-petition, which subsequently received enough signatures to obligate the government of Canada to provide a written response.

Shockingly, the Prime Minister left it to Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan to provide the official government response, which denied the need for an inquiry despite all of the evidence to the contrary. This decision was all the more problematic since, were an inquiry to be held, Harjit Sajjan himself would be a witness, given his role as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan when the alleged mistreatment took place.

…. there remains an underlying conflict of interest in that Sajjan is blocking an Afghan-detainees commission of inquiry for which he would be a crucial witness. – Craig Scott

Canadian media coverage of this terrible inaction by a government that professes to value international law has been rather sparse, and perhaps the Liberals were hoping the issue would just fade away.

However, they clearly misjudged the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity where the responsible national government either cannot or will not take action itself. In December 2017 the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC sought approval from the Court for a formal investigation into the actions of the Afghan government, the Taliban, and USA forces regarding Afghan detainees.

Shortly after that announcement, Craig Scott delivered a 90-page 90-page brief to the ICC arguing that the investigation should be widened to include Canada.

On 5 January 2018, Globe and Mail columnist and human rights advocate Erna Paris highlighted the issue once again in her powerful article entitled Will Canada finally deal with its Afghan war skeletons?   She concludes:

How ironic that Canada, whose current leader has fashioned his mandate on human rights and the rule of law, may be subject to an international investigation for having failed to respect the rules of the world’s first court to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity — the very tribunal this country worked so hard to create.

Only a full investigation will serve the interests of justice. Canada’s reputation in the world may soon depend upon its willing compliance.


Click here for the full Globe and Mail article. Click here for the Rideau Institute Report. Click here for the brief by Craig Scott to the International Criminal Court.


Photo credit: Dene Moore/Canadian Press

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Holiday Greetings and a sneak preview of our work in 2018!

holidays-slider-1-2Warmest holiday greetings.

The Rideau Institute offices will close for the holidays at noon on Friday, 22nd December, re-opening on Tuesday, 2 January 2018. However, our indefatigable Office Manager, Sarah Bowles, will check in occasionally to make sure urgent matters do not go unattended.

There will be no new blog posts before the week of 2nd January 2018. We will continue to post on Facebook and Twitter, albeit at a much reduced pace.  (Zzzzzz)

2018 promises to be even busier than 2017. Here are some of our plans:

  • Issuing report cards on the Justin Trudeau government’s Foreign and Defence policies.


  • A new Rideau Institute Report on Arms Control Issues raised by the new Defence Policy. Click Cyber and Cdn Defence Policy for a preview chapter on why offensive cyber weapons are a very bad idea.


  • Relentless efforts to secure meaningful amendments to Bill C-47, the legislation on the Arms Trade Treaty, will continue. Click ATT- Report Bill C-47 for our ground breaking report on that Bill.


  • More opportunities to weigh in on nuclear disarmament and the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Click here for a link to the text and here for the extremely moving video of the speeches by Canadian Hiroshima survivor, Setsuko Thurlow, and ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn on the occasion of their acceptance of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.


  • Relentless efforts to ensure the Trudeau government lives up to its promise to re-engage in UN peacekeeping. Click A UN Renaissance for a new publication including an article by RI President Peggy Mason.

And much, much more!

It is a tremendous privilege to be able to work with our dedicated, creative Rideau Institute team and especially our outstanding interns.  Special thanks to Vice-President (and founder) of the Rideau Institute Steve Staples as well as to the other valued members of  our Board of Directors.

“Our aim is always to provide both solid information and practical options for building sustainable global peace.”

And we cannot do any of this without your support! If you have not already done so and are able to help with a financial contribution, please click here to go directly to our donation page for charitable donations to our Rideau Institute Research Fund.  You can also contribute to our ongoing advocacy on foreign and defence policy by clicking here.

All the very best for 2018.

In gratitude and peace,


President of the Rideau Institute

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  • Blog
  • December 5th, 2017

Professor Paul Rogers on the Trump wars era


In his latest article, The Trump wars era (OpenDemocracy.net, 30 November 2017), Professor Paul Rogers, International Security Advisor at Open Democracy, outlines the terrifying augmentation of military force by the Trump administration. Because of its importance, we include it below in its entirety.

“A new era is opening almost by stealth. Its defining feature is military expansion, ordered by the United States president and conducted by the Pentagon. Underlying it is Trump’s fusion of elements from the strategy of his two predecessors, George W Bush and Barack Obama.”

A recent, low-profile Pentagon document gives a hint of the US’s current projection of military power:

“The U.S. has 8,892 forces in Iraq, 15,298 troops in Afghanistan and 1,720 in Syria, for a total of 25,910 troops serving in the three war zones as of Sept. 30, according to DoD. The figures were released to the public Nov. 17 as part of DoD’s quarterly count of active duty, Reserve, Guard and civilian personnel assigned by country by the Defense Manpower Data Center” (see Tara Copp, “26,000 troops total,” Military Times, 27 November 2017).

The total figure alone is much higher than previous numbers. But by itself it is misleading in that the United States defense department normally excludes two further categories of troops: those rotating for short periods and, of far greater significance, many of the special forces. These are waging much of the combat in all three theatres – Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. That means the true number is probably close to, or even over, 30,000. To this could be added troops involved in operations across the Sahel, Somalia or Yemen.

Such indicators give only part of the picture. Another is a Pentagon request for $143 million to expand its operations at the Azraq base in the Jordanian desert, the largest single overseas financial commitment now being considered. This base has been key to operations in Syria and Iraq, and been used by other states including the Netherlands and Belgium. So just as the wars in Iraq and Syria are supposed to be winding down after ISIS’s much-vaunted defeat, the Pentagon wants to go the other way and prepare for yet more conflict in the region. A growth in overseas bases, such as a huge one for surveillance drones costing $100 million in Niger, fits the trend.

All this must be seen in the perspective of the sixteen years of “war on terror”. Again, troop numbers are a signal if not the whole story. In 2007-08, at the height of George W Bush’s campaigns, close to 200,000 US troops were in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as Barack Obama started to withdraw troops from Iraq, he was “surging” them in Afghanistan: an extra 30,000 troops by 2011 took the US total in that country to around 100,000.

That short-term policy failed in its aim of forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table, and most troops had been withdrawn by the end of his second term in 2012. In parallel, Obama was moving rapidly towards “remote warfare. This relied much more on strike-aircraft, armed-drones, and special forces – all involving far fewer “boots on the ground”.

“Now, the Trump wars era brings a reconfiguration: plenty of remote warfare and far more military personnel abroad. Bush was all about crushing al-Qaida and similar groups, as well as regime termination; Obama moved more towards “shadow wars” at a much lower intensity, if still controversial. Trump, in combining these, is going back to the future.”

The Egyptian parallel

Destroy your opponents; forget the sixteen years of failed wars; do not try to understand where these enemies are coming from, and why they retain support. If these tenets guide Trump’s approach, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime has followed them in Egypt’s arena.

Since al-Sisi became president after ousting Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, his forces have pursued a tough line against any kind of religious-based dissent. The Islamist-linked rebellion in northern Sinai was a prime target. The terrible attack on the Al-Rawda mosque in nothern Sinai on 24 November, which killed 305 people, is the latest incident in this escalating conflict. The immediate response to the massacre was air-raids by strike-aircraft, which the insurgents would have expected and taken precautions against.

But the problems in Sinai go much deeper than al-Sisi’s policies, damaging as these are. This part of Egypt has long been neglected and marginalised. Its younger men are particularly angry that the oil and tourism industries bring local communities little or no benefit. Thus, the now dispersed ISIS leadership see al-Sisi’s Egypt in general and Sinai in particular as fertile ground. For the movement, Cairo’s policy of hardline suppression could hardly be better. An objective view of Sinai’s recent decades suggests that the chances of Sisi’s approach working are close to zero.

“So the comparison works in reverse. For al-Sisi, read Trump – on a much bigger scale. This may still be an early stage of the Trump wars era. An increase in the worst excesses of the post-9/11, such as rendition and torture, can be expected as problems multiply. Clear indications of new thinking remain scarce. “Liddism” still rules. It is better to be prepared for the long haul.”


Photo credit: OpenDemocracy.net

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