Archive for May, 2007

Indian Nukes

It always fascinates me how people can re-write history with 20-20 hindsight. In reply to my blog on Pakistan, one of my most faithful readers suggested that Pakistan’s current instability accounts for India’s nuclear weapons. Sorry, but India’s first nuclear detonation (composed of about 90% of naive Canadian technology exports) took place in 1974, after Pakistan was split in two and (during the 1970 war) and in no sense a conventional military threat.

The Indian nuclear program was in fact a reaction to Chinese military power: first, the crushing defeat inflicted by China in 1962, then the 1964 Chinese nuclear test. It was only after the Indian test that the Pakistani program was set in motion, under a civilian and secular government. It moved as quickly as it did by virtue of considerable Chinese help. Not a Salafist in sight until the American-led operation against the pro-Soviet Afghan government operated through Pakistan.

India now worries more about Pakistan, because it’s dangerously unstable, but the initial nuclear impetus was China. And, why would India be so keen on a nuclear deal with the US (and China so upset) if the motive were little old Pakistan?



May 22, 2007 at 4:01 am 4 comments

Civil War in Pakistan?

News reports coming from Pakistan are no longer speaking of civil unrest, but of a looming civil war. The causes are complex: ethnic, religious, regional, and economic all melding and overlapping. But the cause doesn’t really matter. The Americans and NATO think life is tough in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now think of a country of 160 million people, armed with nuclear weapons, riddled with religious fanatics, and bordered by a larger, confident nuclear power – India – that could not possibly remain aloof from a civil war on its borders. Back in 1970, at a conference at the Harvard Law School, I predicted that the most likely use of nuclear weapons would be between India and Pakistan. In 1990, I predicted in the UN journal “Disarmament” that the most likely scenario for nuclear use would be in a civil war in a nuclear weapons state. (Sorry, folks, no hyperlinks, e-archives don’t go back that far).

The media have been slow to pick up on this, probably for the usual reason that no Americans have yet been killed. But this could unfold into a genuine “August 1914” scenario in which countries are pulled in one by one. First India, then very likely China, perhaps Russia, certainly the US: all nuclear weapons states. Bismark predicted correctly that the next major European war would be caused by “some damned thing in the Balkans”. Perhaps Pakistan , born as the product of British colonial balkanization, might play the role this time.   

But let’s suppose that Pakistan’s troubles don’t lead to the apocalypse, merely the downfall of President Musharraf. No nuclear war, but the US has placed all its chips on his number on the roulette wheel. And, unlike the scene in the movie “Casablanca”, there’s no Rick to tip the croupier. The US loses its chips. Now who do you pick to start the next war?


May 20, 2007 at 6:05 am 2 comments

Relations with Russia could “spin out of control”

It is shocking how badly relations between NATO (the U.S.) and Russia have deteriorated recently – but what is more shocking is how little media attention is being paid to it.

It’s a car wreck in slow motion, and over the past several days my office has issued four different releases to Canadian journalists sending out a warning – but nobody is listening. The latest went out this morning (below) and it quotes my colleague Sergei Plekhanov. Plekhanov is a Russian and former adviser to Gorbachev.

Feel like losing a lot of sleep tonight? Read Plekhanov’s  article in Truthdig called “the Nightmare Scenario.”

Here is today’s release that everyone ignored…   Media Release

For immediate release

14 May 2007

Canada must help alleviate rising U.S.-Russian tensions, says Pugwash Group

(Toronto) The Canadian Pugwash Group says that Canada should play a lead role in repairing the unravelling U.S.-Russian relationship by addressing NATO’s outdated nuclear policies.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Moscow today to meet with President Putin and others amid escalating East-West tensions. AP quoted Ms. Rice as describing the moment as “not an easy” time in Russia-U.S. relations, adding that she said the tensions do not amount to a new Cold War. But according to AFP, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper wrote on Monday that Moscow and Washington have lost all trust and now see each other as a threat.

The Canadian Pugwash Group, a distinguished group of scientists and diplomatic experts, has urged Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay to take steps to alleviate tensions between NATO and Russia, beginning by dealing with NATO’s nuclear weapons policy.

“It is time to place a debate on NATO’s outdated and dangerous reliance on nuclear weapons squarely before the alliance’s members,” said Dr. Adele Buckley, chairperson of the Canadian Pugwash Group.

“Negative momentum is building, and the West’s relationship with Russia could spin out of control,” said Dr. Sergei Plekhanov, Pugwash member, Associate Professor of Political Science at York University, and former close advisor to President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Foreign Affairs Minister MacKay has told Parliament that he raised Pugwash’s concerns over the alliance’s nuclear policy with NATO’s current president during a NATO meeting in Oslo last month. The Canadian Pugwash Group welcomed this, but said further action is needed from Canada.

The Canadian Pugwash Group is an affiliate of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Inspired by Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs were founded at a controversial meeting of Eastern and Western scientists in the village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, in 1957.

This year, on July 5-8, nuclear scientists and disarmament experts will mark the group’s fiftieth anniversary by once again meeting in Pugwash to discuss nuclear disarmament. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay will address the meeting on July 7.

– 30 –

Dr. Adele Buckley, Canadian Pugwash Group (Toronto) r. 416 491-9307 e.

Dr. Sergei Plekhanov, York University (Toronto) r. 416 229-2397 e.

Krista Chiasson, Pugwash Peace Exchange (Pugwash, Nova Scotia) t. 902 243-2328 c. 902 664-6136 e.

Steven Staples, Rideau Institute (Ottawa) o. 613 565-9449 c. 613 290-2695 e.

May 14, 2007 at 6:07 pm 1 comment

How Americans Do the Taliban’s Job

My May 1st post on the Omar Khadr case continues to draw debate and comments, 25 as of this writing. I think I’ll just stand back and watch, as the arguments are familiar and the debate fierce.

Today a new question: what happened to the Taliban’s much-heralded “spring offensive” that NATO was preparing for? The news has mostly been items on small-scale skirmishes, and reports of large numbers of civilian casualties inflicted by NATO troops, including by Canadians. No less august a publication than the Sunday New York Times devotes a feature article to this subject.

Why are so many civilians being killed by NATO? Going in, NATO planners realized that winning over the Pushtun clan leaders would be the key to success in southern Afghanistan. Civilian deaths provoke them to fury, triggering the blood-feud response rooted in their culture.

But a more important goal of NATO forces – for obvious political reasons at home – is to minimize their own casualties. This leads to “rules of engagement” that tell our soldiers, in effect, to shoot first and ask questions later. Even more deadly for the Afghanis is the American use of air power: when it comes to a firefight, the Americans call in an airstrike rather than fighting their way out, minimizing the risk to their own soldiers at the cost of mutiplying civilian dead. It is the military equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

A conjecture: the Taliban leadership knows it can’t go toe-to-toe in large unit engagements with the vastly better equipped NATO forces. Instead, it hits and harasses with IED’s, car bombs and mortar attacks, knowing that NATO retaliation will kill civilians and provoke fury against it. In effect, they are provoking NATO into doing the insurgents’ work for them, while not risking crippling casualties among their own forces.

Lawrence Martin of the Globe and Mail notes that the mounting civilian casualties is producing a groundswell of popular opinion against NATO’s conduct of the war, and growing demands for a negotiated settlement that now are starting to emerge even from the western-supported Afghan government itself. Meanwhile, NATO press releases focus on body counts, just as the Americans did in Vietnam. And – as the Americans discovered there – winning battles may actually result in losing the war.

The “spring offensive”? You’re seeing it, and so far, it’s working.


May 13, 2007 at 5:34 pm 9 comments

Lawrence Martin joins growing consensus for diplomacy in Afghanistan

As we have been pointing out – there is a growing consensus that there will only be a diplomatic end to the war in Afghanistan – not a military one. Here is the latest analysis from Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin:

On war, a little diplomacy couldn’t hurt
Peace talks with the Taliban? Not if you’re waiting for a push from Canada
May 10, 2007

News reports out of Kabul say the Afghan senate has backed proposals to hold negotiations with the resurgent Taliban to end the bloodshed in Afghanistan. According to the proposals, Western coalition troops should halt their search and destroy missions against Taliban fighters and other militants.

Tuesday’s senate decision was, in part, motivated by escalating discontent over civilian casualties at the hands of foreign forces. Yesterday, right on the heels of the vote, 21 more civilians were killed by U.S. air strikes.

As could be predicted, the Afghan diplomatic push got a ho-hum reception in Canada. Not one party leader in Question Period picked up on it. Although impetus for negotiations with the Taliban is gaining in many quarters – even among some U.S. Republicans – don’t look to Ottawa. Canada used to lead the way on such peace initiatives; now we take a back seat.

The Liberals, once our foremost advocates of the diplomatic solution, have not been heard. The governing Conservatives, so enamoured of people in uniform, are not terribly interested. It is left to the NDP’s Jack Layton to carry the banner of negotiation and diplomacy. And for his troubles, he is derided as “Taliban Jack.”
In Afghanistan, as countless experts have pointed out, there are diplomatic openings. Just this week, a former top Taliban official, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said a settlement with President Hamid Karzai’s government is possible. The Taliban are not monolithic: There are moderate elements, radical elements and elements that aren’t even Taliban. Diplomacy holds out the possibility of at least bringing moderates on board while isolating the extremists. And diplomacy comes at little cost: If it’s tried and fails, it’s back to battlefield, where you were anyway.

But many of our leaders are more inclined to the school of thought of our top soldier, General Rick Hillier. You don’t negotiate with the enemy. You don’t talk to scumbags. You impose military solutions and let the goodwill – we can see this in Iraq – flow from there.

Lessons of history, it goes without saying, are not heeded. Peace with the Irish Republican Army came only after negotiations – with the terrorists. No one thought you could negotiate a peace with the Soviet evil empire. It happened.

If our leaders need more examples, they could ask Peggy Mason, a former disarmament ambassador to the United Nations who’s now with the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute. She drew up a list of civil wars or regional conflicts where people finally awoke from the killing and got to the bargaining table. “Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Sudan. Oh yes, and even Bosnia [Dayton accords].”

You have a choice: You can get to the table early, or you can let the years of killing stack up.

In Kabul, the senate action comes as the war, like so many of those other conflicts, takes on a no-end-in-sight look. The Afghan senate usually works closely with Mr. Karzai, and it’s hoped the President will pick up on its lead this time. In the past, Mr. Karzai has made some unsuccessful attempts to reach out to the Taliban. But diplomacy rarely works with the first tries. In Afghanistan, many feel that the local attempts must be replaced by a comprehensive negotiation under United Nations leadership that goes beyond the internal political process and encompasses neighbouring countries.

A push from Canada wouldn’t hurt. But we’ve been too caught up in our new tough-guy role. Asked about Afghanistan in the House of Commons yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said for roughly the 200th time that the opposition, which supports our troops, should support our troops. His party, with its vision of Canada more as a warrior than a peace broker, could hardly have been expected to push the diplomacy channels.

But how are we to understand the party of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien not shouting from the rooftops, not angling for diplomatic solutions, not trying to build the basis for them – not even when presented with openings?

In turning away from statecraft, they forget their own history, as well as the history of war.

May 10, 2007 at 7:50 am 2 comments

Afghan Senate Calls for Talks with Taliban

Wow! My last post on Afghanistan brought a firestorm of invective pro and con. Some real old fashioned democratic debate for a change. I’ll comment on some of these posts in a day or two. Right now I’m still recovering from a lecture tour (more precisely from the unavoidable interaction with Air Canada).

Meanwhile, a news flash that, as far as I know, was reported nowhere in the Canadian media: on Tuesday, the Afghan Senate passed a formal motion requesting direct talks with the Taliban to avoid further bloodshed. At the same time, the Senate called for an end to the US-led hunt for the Taliban. 

Calls by Canadian peace groups for talks with the Taliban and an end to military operations have been dismissed by the Canadian government and military as naive and a betrayal of the Afghan people. But now those same Afghan people, though their elected representatives, are calling for talks and an end to hostilities.

Now it’s time for Canada’s elected representatives to take action to respect the wishes of the Afghan people. 



May 9, 2007 at 4:24 am 1 comment

Deal or No Deal -­ Stop the Transfer of Detainees

May 4, 2007 Dear supporter,

You are no doubt hearing and reading about the new Afghan detainee transfer agreement struck between Canada and Afghanistan.


The deal was announced yesterday, only minutes before the federal court was to consider issuing an injunction against any further handover of prisoners taken by Canadian troops to Afghan authorities. 

The good news is that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had to concede that there is a problem with the military mission.

It has taken two weeks and thousands of letters of protest, many of them from supporters like you, to make Harper think twice about what he is doing.

The bad news is that this new Afghan deal will not solve the problem.

This morning I consulted Prof. Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law in the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia.

He told me that under international law, given the many specific allegations of abuse reported by the Globe and Mail and CBC, the government must not transfer any more detainees. Transfers should not resume until it is certain that the Afghan authorities will behave themselves – even under this new, improved arrangement.

Prof. Byers’ assessment was echoed by Alex Neve of Amnesty International, who pointed out that this new deal will not prevent torture, and the transfer of detainees must stop.

That’s why I am urging you to keep up the pressure, and to send your letter to Prime Minister Harper urging him to stop the transfer of detainees immediately.



Steven StaplesFounder of Ceasefire.caP.S. Here is a YouTube link to a video  of the Rideau Institute’s press conference with professor Michael Byers. You can learn more by visiting the blog at was formerly a project of the Polaris Institute. For more information, click here.Rideau InstituteAttn. Mohamed Hamdan, Administrative Assistantoperations@rideauinstitute.ca30 Metcalfe Street, Suite 500 Ottawa ON K1P 5L4 CanadaTel. 613 565-4994 Fax 613 237-3359www.rideauinstitute.caIf you received this newsletter through a friend, please consider becoming a subscriber.The Rideau Institute is a public interest research organization federally incorporated as a not-for-profit organization with Industry Canada under the Canada Corporations Act. Unfortunately, donations to the Rideau Institute are not tax deductible.

May 4, 2007 at 4:48 pm 4 comments

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