(Green Party of Canada platform background paper – 24/06/2015)
Canada is fundamentally a peaceful country. We should be constructive participants in our global community, enhancing our peacekeeping capabilities and providing a robust international commitment to United Nations’ missions and disaster-relief. Instead the current government has placed Canada on a dangerous trajectory in ill-advised wars with poor strategic planning, coupled with complete mismanagement of the Canadian Forces’ assets. At the same time, this government has purposely engaged in a campaign of misinformation to exaggerate terror threats to Canadians. The world faces few armies lined up on battlefields. Our challenges are very different: failed nation states, climate change, illegal drug and weapons trades, and cyberwarfare. As defenders of human rights, we must support international institutions and join other nations in protecting human security. Open and accountable decision-making processes would prevent the repetition of recent defence procurement disasters.
Almost every aspect of our daily lives has a global dimension. All the serious challenges we face – from global warming and energy security to nuclear proliferation and terrorism, from global poverty and economic inequality to the lethal arms trade fuelling regional conflict – require global cooperation, global solutions, and bold visionary national leadership. Much to our discredit, the petty partisanship of the inward-looking Harper Conservatives has gravely diminished our standing in the global community. The time is overdue for Canada to take its place as a global leader again.
The conflict in Afghanistan which lasted more than a decade, the disastrous results of Canadian involvement in Libya, and now the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), confirm for Canadians how even well-intentioned efforts can make matters worse. Global law and global politics are no longer confined to the framework of nation-states and the protection of state security or sovereignty. The international community is now called upon to respond to the claims of both states and non-state actors which operate across state boundaries. Power is increasingly fragmented and disorganized.
The Green Party believes our military commitment must be selective since we cannot maintain armed forces that are capable of deploying anywhere, any time. In particular, our peacekeeping capabilities must be significantly increased. Polls indicate that almost half of Canadians acknowledge that the UN is “the best current option available for ensuring world peace and security.”
The Green Party opposes the current Canadian mission in Iraq and now Syria. Through its failure to understand the worldview of ISIS, the Conservative government has engaged Canada in military operations of uncertain scope and purpose which are not in Canada’s national interest and do little to strengthen global peace and security. We should have learned the dangers of shortsighted thinking from the ill-conceived military action in Libya which made the terrorist threat across North Africa even worse. Once again, the Harper Conservatives have no clear direction, end-goal or exit strategy for the Iraq mission, one which has grown from a non-combat role to a combat mission on the ground, and now includes airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, the Conservatives refuse to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty which would reduce the flow of conventional arms fuelling these senseless tragic conflicts. Nor are they doing enough to crack down on the money flowing to ISIS and other terrorist groups, or to collaborate with our allies to relieve the immense humanitarian suffering caused by military action.
A more responsible approach to national and global security involves something beyond greater transparency and accountability. It requires clarity in defining what interest is served by a particular Canadian Forces’ initiative. The government should not settle for our indifference.
Canada should be an active and constructive participant in the movement to build a new international legal order which focuses less on “state security” defined by borders, statehood, and territory, and much more on “human security”: the protection of persons and peoples. We should lead the 21st-century recasting of international humanitarian law, the laws of war, and international criminal justice.
Both war and peacekeeping have been transformed in recent decades. According to a 2011 report, The Global Burden of Armed Violence, over half a million people now die each year in violent circumstances, but only 10% of these die in conventional wars and almost all are civilian casualties. Dealing with today’s armed conflict requires re-conceptualizing traditional notions of war and peace, political conflict and street crime. For example, the UN Security Council now routinely includes civilian protection in peacekeeping mandates and calls on UN contingents to stand up to extreme violations of human rights. In Guatemala, the UN has provided assistance to the national government in investigating crimes and violence, and by strengthening the institutional capacity to confront illegal groups rather than sending in peacekeeping forces.
Canada is well suited to contribute to practical, innovative means of civil-military cooperation and to provide essential support to deliver humanitarian and development assistance in complex conflict zones. We should also support the United Nations’ “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine. In the ill-advised Libyan intervention, Canada initially used R2P to justify its involvement, only to shift to the goal of regime change, leaving Libya a failed state and allowing Gaddafi’s warehouses of weapons to end up in the hands of violent terrorist groups. Despite that setback, R2P is gaining support as the legal and ethical framework within which to protect vulnerable populations at risk from civil wars, insurgency, state repression, and state collapse.
Canada has historically been a dynamic and creative voice for the protection of human rights and the application of international law. However, our diplomatic expertise has been seriously undermined under the Conservative government together with our international reputation, as we sit on the sidelines while others tackle huge global challenges, notably climate change, mass poverty, drug trafficking, the illegal trade in arms (especially lethal small arms), nuclear proliferation, and the dispersal of insecure nuclear material. The 2010 decision of the UN General Assembly to choose Portugal over Canada for a seat on the Security Council was evidence of our loss of status that sadly continues to this day.
Indeed Canada is marginalized in the global community. Among other things, Canada is the only NATO member that has not signed the Arms Trade Treaty on conventional weapons, the only country to withdraw from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the only nation to have withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, and has effectively disengaged from NATO except for a modest reinforcement in Eastern Europe to manage the Ukraine crisis, notwithstanding our loud and inflated rhetoric. Canada is the world’s largest producer of medical isotopes, but our continued reliance on highly enriched uranium instead of the safer low-enriched material undermines global efforts to shut down the manufacturing of nuclear weapons by both states and rogue actors. More generally, Canada is often no longer asked to informal meetings where states devise strategies on international issues.
For too many years our federal government has done little to deal competently and multilaterally with the tragedy of human trafficking, an illegal modern-day slave trade in women and children that closely follows drugs and guns in profitability. The UN says 2.4 million individuals are victimized through human trafficking each year. Canada has the legislation in place to deal with both increased penalties for human trafficking and to assist the victims of trafficking, yet only recently have some promising initiatives been announced.
There is much we can do to reverse this trend. Canada needs to engage in a review of peacekeeping operations, strengthen our capabilities, and contribute an effective range of engineering, airlift, reconnaissance and surveillance services, as well as mobile medical facilities and other humanitarian initiatives. We must recommit to arms control, including working towards new rules governing drones and robotic weapons, and we should champion the International Criminal Court. Once again we must leverage relationships and enhance both our voice and our credibility in international affairs.
As it has done with so many other issues, the Conservative administration has insisted on rushing national defence expenditures through Parliament by executive action with inadequate transparency, poor ethical standards, and scant parliamentary oversight. Overall defence expenditures are headed to an unprecedentedly low 0.89% of the GDP.
We can and must do a better job of defence procurement. Even the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy which led to the long-overdue granting of $33 billion in shipbuilding contracts to Nova Scotia and British Columbia yards in early 2012 seems to be unraveling. The navy no longer has a ship that can refuel our frigates at sea. Search-and-rescue missions on the West Coast rely on planes built in the 1960s. We have been trying unsuccessfully to replace our Sea King helicopters since 1983. We only recently replaced rifles purchased in 1947 for the Canadian Rangers!
Parliament must have much more substantial oversight of national defence expenditures. The federal government finally created a special secretariat led by the Department of Public Works and overseen by a committee of two deputy ministers to monitor and manage the purchase of fighter aircraft. The government has also committed to providing Parliament with annual updates on defence procurement. While these institutional changes are a move in the right direction, a fundamental shift in attitude on the part of elected representatives in order to gain the trust of the Canadian people will take much longer.
How did we get to the F-35 fiasco, for example? How would Canadian ownership of F-35s promote national or international security? It now appears clear that the choice of such an advanced aircraft was dictated by American military assumptions that within 30 years China will reach military parity with the U.S. Canada chose to purchase the F-35 in hopes of gaining contracts for our aerospace industry as subcontractors to the Pentagon, but the decision was made without any consideration of whether the F-35 met our security needs.
In Canada, our federal government engaged in little or no open discussion of the premises behind the purchase of the F-35 aircraft until forced to do so by the April 2012 Auditor General’s Report. The Canadian people were continually misled as to its costs and purpose. If Canadians had been aware from the start of the long-term assumptions behind the deal, we would have sent a clear message to our elected representatives that the Canadian national interest would not be served by investing billions in a scenario that would have us at war with China before mid-century. Instead, we should attend to our very real national responsibilities, such as maintaining our extensive coastlines with much better communications and monitoring, and equipping an agile military to assist in global hot spots. An open discussion of what we really need would likely lead to support for alternatives to the F-35s, such as upgrading our aging F-18s, investing in unmanned drones for sovereignty patrols, and relying on any modern fighters we purchase to defend Canadian cities, which would require moving their bases to less remote locations. The purchase of Fixed Wing Search and Rescue aircraft has been stalled for years. We need to move to request proposals to supply these aircraft and prioritize those tenders made by Canadian manufacturers.
Canada’s preparedness along our extensive coasts especially in the Arctic leaves much to be desired. We are currently building the Nanisivik Naval Facility, and after a huge delay, three of our four submarines are finally seaworthy, but they are still not fully capable of under-ice operations. We also urgently need to improve our remote surveillance capacity. Although we cannot match the efforts of the U.S. Defense [sic] Advanced Research Projects Agency which funds cutting-edge technology for futuristic remote surveillance, we do not have to settle for less than mediocre defence strategies.
On yet another front, a new cyber-security threat involves hacking into government operations. Russia crippled Georgia in 2008 by jamming national communications. China and others are investing huge amounts in cybercapacity designed to paralyze a country in a future conflict and undermine its ability to mount a serious military response: its banking system, flight tracking, emergency services system, even traffic lights can be knocked out. China has hacked into the National Research Council, potentially compromising Canadian technological advances and companies’ intellectual property. Already, other countries or extremists have successfully infiltrated segments of Canada’s intelligence systems, both governmental and corporate, and we must be much better prepared to defend ourselves.