Archive for March, 2007
A March 26 article in the British paper The Telegraph says that “flushing out the Taliban and holding the terrain in the Pushtun heartland is proving immeasurably difficult for NATO. In Kandahar, the Canadian army has had to scale back its ambitious plans… to drive into the militant heartland… it proved too dangerous to run supplies to the troops there… “assets” have been shifted to corridors around the provincial capital”.
Hunh? On the same day the Telegraph article was rolling off the presses, a spokesperson for the Canadian government in New York said “the Canadian government intended “to bolster efforts to consolidate security gains on the ground”, while the Canadian Press reported that Canadian troops have “forced the insurgency underground”, so that the “Afghan army and police [can] stabilize the area”.
Are these folks talking about the same place? I search in vain for a mention in Canadian media sources of reverses in Kandahar. Perhaps the Minister of Defense might tell the public and the House just what is really going on there. Right now I think DND and its “embedded” media friends are engaged in the old “mushroom” strategy: “Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em bull****”.
Last Thursday Dr. Walter Dorn gave this presentation to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee as part of its study on Afghanistan.
Professor Dorn is Associate Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and the Canadian Forces College, and in the last year has been an outspoken critic of Canada’s abandonment of UN peacekeeping.
In his hard-hitting presentation he documented how Canada, which was once the greatest contributor of troops to UN “Blue Helmet” peacekeeping missions, has fallen far down the list of nations supporting the UN.
But even more impressive was Dr. Dorn’s assessment of Canada’s current military mission in Afghanistan, and how far it deviates from the essential requirements of effective peacekeeping and nation-building (an excerpt is below).
Walter and I are both members of the executive committee of the Canadian Pugwash Group, so I was very pleased to host him for a luncheon following his presentation at the Rideau Institute’s offices where he spoke to a group of people working to put the UN back on Canada’s agenda. He is an important voice for a return to Canada’s contribution to world peace through the United Nations, and a good friend.
An excerpt from Walter Dorn’s presentation to the Common Foreign Affairs committee on March 22, 2007.
The three central principles of peacekeeping are impartiality, consent, and minimum use of force. Let’s see how these principles apply to Kandahar today.
Impartiality doesn’t exist in Kandahar. We have a declared enemy, given to us by President Bush when he said in September 2001 that the US would make “no distinction between the terrorists … and those who harbour them.” At the time I recognized this as a recipe for an expanding and endless war. Instead of isolating Al Qaeda, he widened the war to the country’s regime, giving us the first regime change in the Global War on Terror. The US has not sought and did not receive UN authorization for its war on terror or the operation designed to carry this war out, “Operation Enduring Freedom” (OEF). Unlike ISAF, OEF has no UN-sanction. Yet Canada entered Kandahar under the banner of OEF and from that moment on, we could not be labelled as impartial or objective or having the population’s interest foremost in mind. We have become increasingly identified with the global perception of the US around the world as seeking to find and defeat enemies in its national interest. We became one of the conflicting parties and we remain so to this today, even though we are currently serving under NATO.
There is no peace agreement. We do not have the consent of the main parties to the conflict for our deployments in Kandahar. Even the consent of the local population is in doubt. We do have the consent of the Government of Afghanistan, though many inhabitants see President Karzai as a leader hand-picked by the US and legitimized by an election in which they did not vote.
Without winning the hearts and minds of the locals you can never win either the war or the peace, nor obtain their consent to your presence. Canada has for decades urged parties in vicious conflicts around the world to come to the peace table. But we can’t do it ourselves.
3. Minimum use of force, as a last resort
Finally, we are clearly on the offensive in Kandahar. The posture is not one of self-defence or protection of civilians but is rather characterized by “search and destroy” missions and large scale offensives, in which civilians are all too often unfortunate casualties. We seem to be producing as many enemies as we are killing, as angry brothers, sons, clan members and other displaced people fill the ranks of the fallen.
We too are losing our young and courageous: namely the 45 soldiers and one diplomat dead on the fields of Afghanistan [The diplomat - whose job, incidentally, I was offered and declined, coincidentally, the day before he died in a “Iraq”-style suicide attack on his convoy. I chose, instead to serve UN peacekeeping.]
We have lost more soldiers in Afghanistan than in any UN operation over a period of 60 years. This was not because Canada did not take risks in peacekeeping operations. As you can see from Table 1, Canada has the second highest level of fatalities in the history of peacekeeping. But the stance the Canadian Forces chose in Kandahar—and its leadership chose early this region and the current posture–under Operation Enduring Freedom and then NATO, has meant that to many we appear as aggressors not defenders.
We deviate from the three principles of peacekeeping (impartiality, consent, and minimum use of force) at our peril.
In a posting to the Ploughshares peacelist yesterday I promised to comment on the recently-released report on the current state of Afghanistan by the Senlis Council, a prominent European think-tank. Since it runs to hundreds of pages and covers dozens of topics, where to start?
On the CBC and other Canadian media, the first priority is the portrayal of Canadian soldiers as heroes slogging their way through a difficult task, but with a light at the end of the tunnel. During the Vietnam War, it was commonly said that the light at the end of the tunnel was probably an oncoming freight train. Reading the Senlis report, you can almost hear the whistle…
But I’ll get to Canada’s role in future posts. This is about Afghanistan, so let’s begin with the Afghanis. One of the most heart-rending sections of the Senlis report is the description of the grinding poverty in that embattled nation. This grim picture just hasn’t made it onto our TV screens past the mind-numbing interviews with self-assured majors and colonels.
The alpha and omega of Afghanistan’s problems is its poverty. The section of the report entitled “The Hunger Crisis” is the stuff of nightmares: ”…the country remains ravaged by severe poverty and the spreading starvation of the urban and rural poor… the situation of women and children is particularly grave… One in four children in Afghanistan cannot expect to live beyond the age of five… the worst maternal mortality rates ever recorded in the world… the country has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world… “
By any standards, the situation in Afghanistan is a humanitarian disgrace of epic proportions. According to the Senlis report, the underlying problem in Afgahnistan is not the Taliban, but the poverty that fuels and sustains it. So why does the Canadian government believe that tanks, bombs, and more troops can solve Afghanistan’s problems?
To be continued…….
Last Saturday morning I stopped by the Mariott hotel in downtown Ottawa where hundreds of NDP activists and future election candidates from across the country had gathered for an intensive election “bootcamp” called Breakthrough 2007. Many of the sessions were designed to help local, riding-level campaigns on everything from preparing election materials, doing media interviews, and staying “on message” during the election campaign.
Over breakfast with a good friend who will be running in the next election, he said that the war in Afghanistan did not appear to be a high-priority issue for the national NDP election campaign, and instead the focus was on pocketbook issues.
One look at the new NDP election commercials available on the party website bears this out: the three videos focus on the environment, heath care, and something called the prosperity gap. No sign of Afghanistan here. Click a bit further to the “Issues” section and there are nine more – but still not a word about Afghanistan. Hey, here’s Jack Layton’s speech to folks at the Breakthrough conference – but still no mention of Afghanistan.
This likely seems a bit odd to most folks since the NDP has made the war in Afghanistan such a central part of their work this year. Sure, in the last election in January 2006 the NDP barely mentioned Afghanistan. But soon after the party devoted two solid MPs to the issue: Defence critic Dawn Black and Foreign Affairs critic Alexa McDonough. Then in September, party leader Jack Layton decided to make the NDP national convention the “Afghanistan Convention” and issued a strong call for a pull-out of troops. And in the last two months Jack Layton has given two major speeches on the war.So why is the war not seen as a major issue by the NDP’s election strategists?
Is it concern about the media? The generally pro-war press leaves few friends for the NDP in newsrooms, and worse, the war has slipped down the media’s priorities where a soldier’s death doesn’t automatically warrant front page coverage anymore.
Or is it the polls? Public opinion is divided on the war, and tends to be somewhat conflicted, even though a majority is critical of the combat mission.
As my friend noted as he got up from the table to join the NDP election planning meetings inside, a spring election in Canada could coincide with many new Canadian casualties in Afghanistan. If the war becomes an election issue, could the NDP election machine be caught unprepared?
And if they don’t seize the anti-war position early, could it be claimed by a rival party?
To wit, the day after my breakfast at the Mariott, Green Party leader Elizabeth May announced she would run in the Nova Scotia riding currently held by Conservative Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay. In her speech, she took a line from the NDP and accused the Conservatives of pursuing a war that has brought us too closely into line with U.S. President George W. Bush.
It sounded to me like the Green Party was setting itself to be the home for the anti-war vote. I wonder if the NDP strategists were listening too.
Not many surprises in the budget today for military spending. While Finance Minister Jim Flaherty did not announce any new spending increases, the budget did include a shifting of $175 million from 2009-10 to be spent much sooner this year (2007-08).
Here is what the today’s budget said about defence:
Implementing the Canada First Defence Plan
Over the past year, the Department of National Defence has made significant progress towards the implementation of the Canada First defence plan to strengthen Canada’s independent capacity to defend our national sovereignty and security. The transformation and expansion of the Canadian Forces are underway. The procurement of major equipment has progressed with the approval and announcement of the acquisition of joint support ships, a medium-sized logistics truck fleet, medium- to heavy-lift helicopters, as well as enhanced strategic and tactical airlift capability.
Budget 2007 accelerates the implementation of the $5.3-billion, five-year Canada First defence plan. Through this plan, the Canadian Forces will receive $3.1 billion over the next three years.
Canada First Defence Plan (Budgetary Basis)1
2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 Total
(millions of dollars)
Budget 2006 725 1,000 1,400 3,125 Budget 2007 175 0 -175 0 Canada First defence plan implementation 900 1,000 1,225 3,125
My view: the fact is, the Conservatives didn’t need to add any more money to the defence budget, because previous spending increases announced in 2005 and 2006 over a multi-year period already provide the military with more money than it knows how to spend. The last two years’ budgets have marked the complete victory of the defence lobby in Ottawa, and an utter abdication of the government to the demands of the military, defence contractors, and especially the White House.
The respected Alternative Federal Budget, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, had this to say about military spending:
Canadian military spending is poised to rise dramatically in the coming three years. The Liberal government’s 2005 Budget committed an additional $12.8 billion over five years. The Conservative government’s 2006 Budget stayed the course and topped-up the 2005 Budget with an additional $5.3 billion over five years. Military spending for 2006–07 is estimated at $16.2 billion (though this estimate has already been increased once because of the rising cost of the Afghanistan mission, specifically the government’s decision to deploy Leopard tanks to Kandahar), surpassing for the first time spending (inflation-adjusted) at the end of the Cold War.The military spending increases approved by Parliament in 2005 and 2006 will send Canada’s military spending skyrocketing to $21.5 billion in 2010–11, according to Defence Minster Gordon O’Connor — even though today’s military spending is already sixth highest within the 26-member NATO alliance and 15th highest in the world.
Today, the objective of the defence lobby has changed from winning big spending increases, to ensuring that the money is spent as quickly as possible on as many big ticket arms and equipment programs as possible. That’s why the Conservatives announced nearly $20 billion in arms purchases last year, and are driving through non-competitive purchases to get contracts signed quickly.
Warplanes, helicopters, warships, trucks – spend, spend, spend.
As the war rages on in Iraq and Afghanistan, another disaster is unfolding slowly with almost no coverage in the media at all: the world is slowly sliding toward a new arms race – this time in space.
One of the best tools available to us to monitor developments in space is called the Space Security Index. It is an annual assessment that looks not just at the possible deployment of weapons in space, but a whole range of indicators including the space environment, space security laws, civil space programs, and more. You can download previous editions of the index at Spacesecurity.org.
On Thursday this week as I participated as an observer at the annual meeting in Montreal of the space experts who compile the Space Security Index. It an impressive roster, including international academics, lawyers and diplomats. Even the US Air Force is represented.
One of the the main subjects of discussion was the test by China this year of an ASAT, or anti-satellite, weapon. China used a missile to crash into one of its own orbiting satellites, destroying it. The test creating a huge amount of debris, and the fallout from the test also included heightened tensions about the risk of the weaponization of space in response to the Chinese test.
But the indicator that really gets the pulse racing is saved for the end of the Space Security Index: space-based strike weapons. Research for this year’s report indicates that while no space-based strike weapons have been tested or deployed in space (yet), the United States continues to develop a space-based interceptor for its missile defence system. And apparently, other nations are responding in kind, as a growing number of countries are developing technologies needed for space-based strike weapons of their own.
It’s not surprising that the Space Security Index is largely a Canadian invention. Our country is probably the only place in the world that has had such an intense debate about space weapons. In the last election, the Liberals even tried to make a splash at the eleventh hour by promising to lead international talks to prevent space weapons (which are sorely needed…but Paul Martin lost anyway). And despite being in favour of joining Bush’s missile defence, even Stephen Harper doesn’t want to step into another fray about “Star Wars,” at least not while he is in a minority government.
The Space Security Index is “policy-neutral” which allows it to keep the US Air Force at the table (but I think they may have already cottoned on to the fact that everyone else sitting there wants to keep weapons out of space). Therefore it is up to concerned people and advocacy groups to take up the index and use it to stop a new arms race in space – before it starts in earnest.
Steve Staples notes below that a sign in the War Museum explains that the massive nuclear “overkill” during the Cold War was due “in part to the decades of military and scientific miscalculation about the effects of nuclear explosions”
It’s difficult to imagine a statement more erroneous or misleading. The precise effects of nuclear weapons were well understood by the early 1950′s, and this information was declassified with the publication of the Glasstone Report in 1957. So the effects of nuclear weapons in all their horrid detail have been known for half a century.
The real reasons for the Cold War nuclear arms race and its consequent massive overkill lie in the self-feeding interaction between the military-industrial complexes in the U.S. and the Soviet Union. (A tale of woe too long and complex for a blog).
In the debate over some of the displays at the War Museum, it has been rightly noted that the first job of any museum is to get the facts right. Often they do, but they really dropped the ball here.
Almost without exception, the North American media have portrayed the NATO soldiers in Afghanistan as saviours, welcomed by the population, and grateful for their deliverance from the Taliban religious fanatics. But a recent article in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel explodes this myth. It portrays a confused and deadly mêlée that pits trigger – happy NATO soldiers and pilots against a loose coalition of clan chiefs, religious zealots, border smugglers, and poor peasant mercenaries collectively but misleadingly referred to as the “Taliban” in the West. Most of the civilian population is caught in the middle. On the one hand, they know the Taliban coalition offers a bleak future. But NATO bullets and bombs have produced so many civilian casualties that a rapidly increasing number of ordinary Afghans have turned against them. The fear engendered in the population by NATO troops is palpable, as most Afghans have come to believe that they will “shoot at anything that moves”. Most poignant is the heartrending plight of the chidren. To protect them, their parents teach them to freeze in place like little statues when they spy NATO troops or vehicles, fearing – and not without reason – that the slighest movement could trigger a burst of machine-gun fire. These “frozen children” are a metaphor for a population paralyzed and fearful, caught between forces it cannot control. Reporters “embedded” with NATO forces often speak of the number of Taliban killed as a measure of NATO’s success. But in reality, the mission’s success will truly be measured by the number of Afghan children who can play and laugh in the streets without fear.
This afternoon we held a luncheon for human rights groups in the Ottawa area to come and hear about the Rideau Institute’s newest project, RightOnCanada.ca. The featured speaker was RightOnCanada.ca founder and Rideau Institute senior advisor Kathleen Ruff. Kathleen has a long history in the human rights field, including serving as the head of the BC Human Rights Commission.
RightOnCanada.ca will be an important tool for groups and individuals concerned about human rights to express their concerns directly to the government. Like Ceasefire.ca, another project of the Rideau Institute, RightOnCanada.ca will use the Internet to let Parliamentarians hear directly from citizens.
It was a pleasure to speak with so many dedicated people from such a variety of organizations, including Canadian Council for International Cooperation president Gerry Barr, and representatives from the North-South Institute, the Halifax Initiative, Mining Watch Canada, Inter Pares, Mines Action Canada, Canadian Biotech Action Network, the Council of Canadians, University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran, Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, and many others.
The photo here is of Kathleen Ruff sharing her ideas and vision with the folks present, which sparked a lively discussion and sharing of ideas.