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  • April 18th, 2017

Canada Prepares to Join the Arms Trade Treaty: Part One

LAV IIIApril 13th the Government of Canada tabled Bill C-47 (ATT) in the House of Commons to enable Canada to accede to the landmark Arms Trade Treaty. Below is the associated press release from the Media Relations office of Global Affairs Canada.

This is the first in a series of blog posts discussing and analyzing this historic legislation to ensure that it fully complies with Canada’s international obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty.

The Arms Trade Treaty can set a real global standard, and thereby help prevent human rights abuses and protect lives. Canada’s existing system of export controls meets most of the treaty’s thresholds, and this legislation will set our standards in law. We must continue to encourage other countries to join this treaty, and we must ensure it is properly implemented globally. We committed to introduce this legislation, and I am very pleased that we will in turn raise the bar with a stronger and more rigorous system for our country.
– Hon. Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs

The press release continues:

Canada believes that regulating the international arms trade is essential for the protection of people and human rights, and is strengthening its existing practices. As part of Canada’s support for a stronger and more rigorous export control system, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today delivered on the government’s commitment to introduce legislation so Canada can accede to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

The ATT is about protecting people from arms. It ensures countries effectively regulate the international trade of arms, so they are not used to support terrorism, international organized crime, gender-based violence, human rights abuses, or violations of international humanitarian law.

To implement necessary changes, in March 2017 Canada announced an investment of $13 million to further strengthen the country’s export control regime. These resources will be used to implement new brokering controls, improve transparency, and support enhancements to Canada’s export controls.

Canada also recognizes the importance of promoting the ATT and is contributing $1 million to the UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation, in order to help other countries accede to the ATT.

For more information see the following:
Backgrounder – A bill to enhance transparency and accountability in Canada’s export controls and allow accession to the Arms Trade Treaty
Minister Dion statement on Canada’s accession to Arms Trade Treaty and reform of export permit controls and reporting system
Export and Import Permits Act

End of the Press Release where the Government of Canada outlines its intentions.

Watch for Part Two where we will analyze this historic legislation to ensure that it fully complies with Canada’s international obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty.

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

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  • April 5th, 2017

A bleak outlook for Afghanistan and a way forward: Part One

ISX2013-0039 Members of the 6 Mobile Strike Force Kandak move into position during their validation exercise at the Consolidated Fielding Centre, Kabul, Afghanistan during Operation ATTENTION on September 2, 2013. Photo: Sgt James Funk © 2013 DND-MDN Canada ~ ISX2013-0039 Des membres du kandak de la 6e Force de frappe mobile se mettent en position, pendant leur exercice de validation au Centre consolidé de mise en service de Kaboul (Afghanistan), le 2 septembre 2013, dans le cadre de l’opération Attention. Photo : Sgt James Funk © 2013 DND-MDN Canada

by Mathieu Potter, NPSIA Masters student and Rideau Institute Progressive Public Policy Intern

As conflict in Iraq and Syria captures the bulk of media attention, ongoing instability in Afghanistan has seemingly failed to generate much interest among the Western public. This is perhaps an indication of a broader ‘fatigue’ with Afghanistan’s ongoing and intractable conflict with insurgent groups like the Taliban. Despite a decade-long NATO-led and UN-sanctioned campaign to stabilize and develop Afghanistan, positive progress has largely been overshadowed by an apparently endless series of challenges and setbacks that continue to plague all major sectors of Afghan society.

Some of the challenges identified in the Afghan security sector include issues of loyalty and high desertion rate, the level of corruption and the lack of full control over government militias, human rights violations and the lack of intelligence capabilities and gathering.

According to a recent report to the European Parliament, Afghanistan’s security is degrading. The Taliban insurgency has made significant territorial gains, with estimates placing them in control of close to a fifth of the country.  To make matters worse, the Islamic state in the Khorasan (ISK), an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), emerged in 2015 and currently operates in Afghanistan’s eastern region in reported collusion with the Pakistani Taliban. While the ISK’s ambitions have been stymied by conflict with the Afghan Taliban and pro-government forces, the group (should claims of responsibility be taken seriously) has shown itself capable of inflicting serious casualties with an attack on Kabul’s main military hospital. As violence escalates, the brunt of the conflict is borne by Afghan civilians who, according to UNAMA, suffered their highest number of casualties in 2016 since reporting began in 2009.

With all this politicking, it’s easy to see why Afghans and Afghanistan’s allies alike are frustrated and confused.

Afghanistan’s woes are not solely attributable to its deteriorating security situation. Political power struggles and rampant corruption have severely undermined the legitimacy of the central Kabul government and harmed its support among the population. The delivery of public services remains inefficient and rife with corruption. Meanwhile, meaningful reform and development initiatives have taken a backseat to infighting within the ironically named ‘national unity government (NUG) between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The power struggle extends beyond the executive, with Afghanistan’s parliament voting to oust seven NUG ministers for a perceived failure to achieve their mandates.

With Afghanistan muddling along at best and teetering towards collapse at worst, it is evident that a new approach is required if the beleaguered nation is to have some hope at sustainable peace.

See  Part 2 (later this week) for further analysis and a proposed way forward.

For the European Parliament report, click on: Afghanistan: Challenges and perspectives until 2020 (Directorate-General for External Policies, European Parliament, February 2017)

For more on the Kabul military hospital attack, see: After Deadly Attack on Kabul Hospital, ‘Everywhere Was Full of Blood’ (Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed, The New York Times, 8 March 2017)

On civilian casualties in Afghanistan, see: Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2016 (UNAMA, February 2017)

For more on Afghanistan’s struggle with corruption, see: Corruption in Afghanistan – What Needs to Change (Transparency International, 16 February 2016)

For more on the conflicts within the Afghan government, see: Power Struggle Continues Inside Afghan Government (Catherine Putz, The Diplomat, 29 November 2016)

Photo credit: Canadian Forces Combat Camera

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  • March 31st, 2017

ICG report examines pitfalls of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy


A new report by the International Crisis Group examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit. See: Counter-terrorism Pitfalls: What the U.S. Fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda Should Avoid (Special Report N° 3, 22 March 2017).

A main dilemma facing the Trump administration is to find the right balance between military action against jihadists and policies aimed at tackling the conditions they exploit.

Counter-terrorism pitfalls which the report examines include:

  • Angering local populations whose support is critical, through indiscriminate air strikes and failure to rebuild “liberated” cities;
  • Aggravating regional rivalries between Turkish and Kurdish forces, between Shiite and Sunni tribes, and between Iran and Saudi Arabia;
  • Picking unnecessary fights with Iran, China, and others;
  • Defining the enemy too broadly to include political entities like the Muslim Brotherhood rather than isolating it; and
  • Neglecting peace processes, foreign aid, and other vital diplomatic efforts to build stability.

…[C]ounter-terrorism does not exist in a vacuum. The U.S. administration’s executive order banning entry from certain Muslim countries; the troubling rhetoric of some of its officials; the calling into question of some of the restraints imposed on military operations… all undermine its goal of protecting Americans from terrorism.

For the full report click on: Counter-terrorism Pitfalls: What the U.S. Fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda Should Avoid (Special Report N° 3, 22 March 2017).

For a related analysis by Professor Paul Rogers, see: Washington’s wars: in a fix  (Paul Rogers, Open Democracy.net, 23 March 2017).

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  • March 20th, 2017

President Donald “Blowback” Trump: From Iraq to America

2544451047_fb6b720baaNation Fellow Tom Engelhardt traces the rise of Donald J. Trump from the blowback caused by the illegal 2003 American invasion of Iraq. See “If You Want to Know Where Donald Trump Came From, Look to Iraq” (The Nation, 16 March 2017). While this might not be the entire answer, it does help explain the fear factor that Trump so effectively exploits.

[In response to the 9/11 attacks]… the United States would set off a series of wars, conflicts, insurgencies, and burgeoning terror movements that would transform significant parts of the Greater Middle East into failed or failing states, and their cities and towns, startling numbers of them, into so much rubble.

Needless to say, that was not the dream! What George W. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had in mind was the “friendly” occupation of Iraq (and its oil), leading inexorably to the downfall next of Assad’s Syria and then of theocratic Iran.

Instead, a victory-less “permanent war” across the Greater Middle East came home to America, with the militarization of its police forces, the rise of the national security state, and the emergence of a terrorist adversary that even the world’s greatest military could not crush. All of this set the stage for con man extraordinaire Donald J. Trump and his winning electoral message of “America First,” which Engelhardt suggests actually means “a country walled off and walled in”.

Think of the road traveled from 2003 to 2017 as being from sole global superpower to potential super-pariah.

But it also means the “blowback wars” are only going to get worse, with a proposed $54-billion-dollar Pentagon budget increase and the “revving up [of] American military power in Yemen, Syria, and potentially Afghanistan” by the Trump administration.

For the full article, click on: “If You Want to Know Where Donald Trump Came From, Look to Iraq” (Tom Engelhardt, The Nation, 16 March 2017).


Photo credit: Flickr

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  • March 13th, 2017

Liberals should say “no” again to American BMD



Both Conservative and Liberal governments have concluded, in 1985 and 2005 respectively, that participation in American ballistic missile defence does not accord with Canadian defence and security priorities. The Trudeau Liberals would be wise to do the same. — Peggy Mason (9 May 2017, Esprit de Corps)

At the beginning of April 2016, the Liberal government decided that it would launch a review of Canada’s defence policy and, as part of that, has reopened the issue of Canadian participation in Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).

Since then a chorus of defence lobbyists and their academic and journalistic echoes have urged the government to seek Canadian participation. See, for example, an extraordinarily silly and inaccurate piece in the National Post by John Ivison, arguing that Canada can help make up its alleged NATO budgetary shortfall by contributing to a non-NATO ballistic missile defence system. That article also dismissed international concerns that BMD “would weaponize space” because the interceptor missiles are ground based (which is why the system is known by the acronym “GMD” for ground based missile defence). One has to assume that Ivison is unaware the aim of the American GMD system is to try to shoot down the incoming missile in outer space. As such:

So-called defensive missiles designed to intercept and shoot down incoming missiles in space have an intrinsic offensive anti-satellite weapon capability, which is precisely why the fear of weaponizing space is such a serious one. — Peggy Mason

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Defence heard testimony on the pros and cons of Canada re-opening the BMD participation issue during its hearings in May 2016. Particularly relevant was this admission by Professor James Fergusson, one of the strongest proponents of Canadian participation:

The American research and development program is well advanced across the board in missile defence. The likelihood that there are any opportunities for Canadian firms or Canadian technology is extremely low.

While Canadian firms would likely get little or no benefit, the Canadian taxpayer would be on the hook for as much as $4 billion dollars for Canada’s share of the programme.

And did we mention that this astronomically expensive system does not work?

Shooting down an enemy missile going 15,000 mph out in space is like trying to hit a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph. And if an enemy uses decoys and countermeasures, missile defence is like trying to shoot a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph and the green is covered with black circles the same size as the hole. — Hon. Philip E. Coyle.

There are many other reasons why Canada should continue to stay as far away as possible from the American missile defence boondoggle, including its destabilizing effects on international security, the lack of any meaningful operational role for Canada in the American command and control structure for GMD, and the likelihood that, despite all the monies expended, there will not even be an American guarantee that Canadian cities would be defended by the system (assuming the system worked, which it does not).

For an elaboration of these arguments see the May 5th testimony and Peggy Mason Speaking Notes by Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason to the Standing Committee on National Defence.


Photo credit: US Government

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