Read the fine print in Harper’s Afghan announcement, says defence lobby

Oddly now, the revolt over the war is coming from the Right wing, not the Left.

Stephen Harper’s pledge that Canadian troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2011 has been received with a lot of scepticism. And for good reason – Canadians have been fooled before.

Even I was caught wearing rose coloured-glasses when I wrote an oped for the Ottawa Citizen in the summer of 2007 that argued that Harper had finally seen the light and that the mission would end in 2009.

In June of that year, just after Parliament started its summer break, Mr. Harper said that “this mission will end in February 2009.” He added that the only way the mission would continue would be with the agreement of the Liberals.

But…start with one report by John Manley, add a flip-flopping Stephane Dion, then bake with the threat of an election and…presto! By March 2008 Harper had managed to extend the war to 2011 when the Liberals voted with the Conservatives in a Parliamentary vote.

My mistake at the time? Underestimating the power and influence of the defence lobby.

While everyone this week was pointing out “what a change” these new comments from Harper had been, the DND-funded Conference of Defence Associations was telling people to check the fine print.

Discussing the Harper pledge with me on CPAC, CDA director Col Alain Pellerin (ret.) said,

“If you look back to the agreement in the House it does say ‘summer 2011, out by the end of the year.’ Also I think you have to read the fine print of his comments today because he talks about the bulk being out but we might leave some technical capabilities and advisors. So what I foresee is yes the combat mission will end in 2011, summer 2011, to be replaced as we see today.” CPAC Interview – September 10, 2008 (Season 7, Episode 3)

To be sure, defence lobby groups like the Conference of Defence Associations don’t like these end dates. Are they planning their own campaign to help Harper avoid this pledge?

Now, facing criticism from parent of a soldier killed in Afghanistanand having to fire a communications staff member for accusing the father of being a Liberal supporter, Harper may be wondering if his bid to win votes in Quebec and remove the contentious Afghan war issue from the table risks angering his political base.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay rushed out to further clarify Mr. Harper’s comments:

“I was surprised by the reaction,” Mr. MacKay said. “A vote has been taken twice under our government to allow the members of Parliament elected in every riding in Canada to have their say on this issue and what the Prime Minister said [Wednesday] is completely consistent with what he said all along: We respect the parliamentary mandate.”

Is Harper risking his political base? This was debated last night on the CBC’s right-leaning At Issue panel. Chantal Hebert asked, “Where would those angry Conservatives go?” since there was no more right wing party that the Conservatives for war supporters to vote for. Andrew Coyne thought they might just stay home in protest (not very likely, tho).

Oddly now, the revolt over the war is coming from the Right wing, not the Left. Will pro-war Canadians be the ones to keep the issue in the spotlight?


September 12, 2008 at 1:22 pm Leave a comment

It’s a looooong way to 2011, baby…

Updated: CTV National News story on Harper’s Afghanistan 2011 pull-out pledge. Read more here in the Sun and Toronto Star, or watch this longer interview on CPAC last night.


Rideau Institute’s response to Harper announcement on Afghanistan, that regarding Canada’s military contribution to the war in Afghanistan, “We intend to end it [in 2011].”

  • Canadians should greet this election promise with some scepticism, since Mr. Harper is likely to say whatever it takes to win a majority. This is an attempt to remove the Afghanistan war from the election campaign. 
  • The end date of December 2011 puts Canada at less than halfway through its mission in Kandahar, which began officially in February 2006, or 30 months ago. Continuing until December 2011 will mean another 40 months of combat in Kandahar. A lot can happen in that time, including, ironically, a potential escalation of our commitment there in the next year following the U.S. elections. 
  • Mr. Harper’s new position is trying to address a growing public unease with the war. 61% say that the cost to Canada “in lives and money has been unacceptable” (Harris/Decima Aug. 28-31, 2008). It is unrealistic to expect that Canadians will accept another three years of sacrifice. 
  • Instead, Mr. Harper should make a commitment to refocus Canadian efforts to ending the war, not handing it over to the Afghans to fight after we’re gone. 

September 10, 2008 at 12:45 pm 2 comments

Want an election debate on the war? Don’t hold yer breath

Expect to hear a lot of discussion about Canada’s war in Afghanistan during this election? Don’t hold your breath.

The truth is that for the policy elites in this country, the war has been taken off the table by the flip-flop of the Liberals when they supported the Conservatives (again) for an extension of the war to December 2011.

So far, only Global TV has contacted the Rideau Institute to explore the impact of the war, and you can watch our program Director Anthony Salloum in the TV debate.

The lack of interest is surprising, since pollsters consistently put Afghanistan in the top four issues on the minds of Canadians.

But frankly, the war is a wildcard. For instance, a recent Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll found that 61% of Canadians believe the war has been too costly.

But in a bizarre twist, a poll by Environics found that a majority (36%) of Canadians think that the Conservatives are the best party to handle the war, even though they have been running it into the ground since they were elected in 2006.

Of course, with the death toll rising, the war will be thrust back into news again when the 100th soldier is killed in the coming weeks. It’s a morbid deathwatch, but I know of at least one newspaper that is planning a major feature, and I expect that the others are doing the same.

There is a truism that Canadians don’t cast their vote based on foreign policy questions. That’s why you will see the NDP focusing on the same “kitchen table” issues it has in the past, such as jobs and healthcare, and probably won’t discuss the war very frequently.

It’s a missed opportunity, because the war is an important issue for them to distinguish themselves from the flip-flop Liberals. The war is also having an impact of social programs, in that the $150 million per month Canada spends on the full cost of the war is not available for social programs at home.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could redefine what Canada’s national security needs really are? Shouldn’t we be concerned about job security? Energy security? Environmental security? Those are issues that I would cast my ballot for.

September 9, 2008 at 11:05 pm 1 comment

When is it OK for journalists to take money from lobby groups?

In the coming days, the Conference of Defence Associations will announce the recipient of its Ross Munro Media Award for this year, including its $2,500 cash prize.

Should we just shrug it off when someone takes a cheque from a defence lobby group on Saturday night, and then calls their office for a quote on Monday morning? 

Should Canadian journalists accept cash awards from DND-funded lobby groups like the Conference of Defence Associations

We may roll our eyes at journalists in the U.S. sometimes, but lets give credit where it’s due: if you work for a major U.S. defence publication like the respected Defense News, and you accept any kind of gift from the defence lobby – you might be fired for a breach of ethics!

I asked Theresa Hitchens, former editor of Defense News, whether its reporters could accept an award like the CDA’s Ross Munro Media Award. Here is what she said:

When I was there, we had a STRICT policy against such activities – and I believe it would have been grounds for dismissal. We even had a policy that said if someone from industry takes you out to lunch, you have to reciprocate on [Defense News] dime.

Why don’t Canadian media outlets adhere to such high ethical standards? Should we just shrug it off when someone takes a cheque from a defence lobby group on Saturday night, and then calls their office for a quote on Monday morning?  

Here’s my suggestion: Let the CDA give its award to a defence contractor or retiring officer (like Hillier). It’s just too unseemly for journalists.

[A list of past recipients of the CDA’s $2500 Ross Munro Media Award]

August 27, 2008 at 12:22 am Leave a comment

Conference of Defence Associations counterspins its DND funding formula

Obviously alarmed by my letter in the National Post today in response to Dinosaur Jack’s insulting attack against Canadians who don’t agree with his hawkish views, the Conference of Defence Associations rushed out its own counterspin email to its list of hundreds of military and media contacts.

The CDA is worried because when its funding deal with the Department of National Defence was revealed by the Globe and Mail, people were shocked to see the hoops that the DND demands CDA jump through to receive its slice of the military’s budget. (In case you missed it, here is the (once secret) $500,000 funding agreement between the CDA and DND.)

In its email to military and media contacts today, the CDA said:

Jack Granatstein in the National Post (see link below) writes on the current Canadian ‘peace movement’. Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute responds in a letter to the editor (see link below). We remind our readers that the CDA and the CDA Institute together conduct an annual seminar, an annual graduate student symposium, regular roundtables, and publish a reputable quarterly magazine ‘On Track’ and annual ‘Vimy Papers’. Its substantial ‘access’ to public servants, military personnel and representatives of the media is based on presenting credible and balanced information, and we take pride in our work. Contrary to what Mr. Staples says, the CDA does not receive “millions of dollars from the military to write op-eds and be quoted in newspapers” – our funding is $100,000 a year, and we have to fulfill a number of Treasury Board-approved requirements, including running our events and publishing our periodicals.

But of course it undertakes all of these activities – it has to because the military makes it a condition of the CDA’s funding!

For instance, the CDA’s “On Track” magazine mentioned above is part of the funding deal. Here’s what the DND contract requires of the CDA:

“Publish at least 4 issues of “On Track” each year with a distribution of 800 copies per quarter, and at least 1 major study per year with a distribution of 1500 copies, in addition to electronic distribution of all publications to a minimum of 750 targeted recipients.”

The deal also requires the CDA to submit everything to the military. The deal says:

“The CDA must place the [Department of National Defence] Directorate of Public Policy on its distribution list for upcoming events, conferences, and receive this information at the same time as members.”

“The CDA (or the CDAI) will forward a minimum of one copy of all publications produced in the fiscal year being reviewed.”

And the military even ensures it can make “a snap inspection” of the CDA:

“The [Department of National Defence] Directorate of Public Policy reserves the right to attend events for assessment purposes and to visit the CDA throughout the funding cycle.”

Of course all of these activities are absolutely normal. The Rideau Institute holds seminars, publishes reports, and gets calls from the media every day. But we don’t report our work to the military and stand prepared for a visit from a representative of Defence Minister’s MacKay’s office, and this work is not a condition of government funding.

I have urged the Conference of Defence Associations to give up this funding from the military and become truly independent. Come on…is it really worth it?

August 21, 2008 at 7:22 pm 1 comment

U.S.-India nuclear deal a nuclear non-proliferation disaster

I wanted to share with you this op-ed by Rideau Institute Program Director Anthony Salloum, which appears in today’s Toronto Star.

U.S.-India nuclear deal a non-proliferation disaster

Countries like Canada must stand up to Bush and say this is a bad deal with dire consequences

Aug 21, 2008


This week a select group of countries, Canada among them, will vote on a proposed nuclear deal between the U.S. and India that could lead to the further spread of nuclear weapons. With limited attention paid to this issue at home, indications are that Canada may be on the verge of making a grave mistake by supporting this deal. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
If Canada were to courageously stand against this deal, it wouldn’t be alone. Austria, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland all expressed concern last month.

Today and tomorrow, the 45 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group – the alliance of countries that seeks to control trade in “dual-use” nuclear fuel, materials and technology – will be asked to consider the Bush administration’s proposal to exempt India from having to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a condition of receiving nuclear technology and fuel.

The NPT is signed by 189 countries and has three key pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. To be implemented, the U.S.-India nuclear deal requires approval by the Indian parliament, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the U.S. Congress.

So far, India and the IAEA have approved it.

If the U.S. wins exemption for India, the deal would be a non-proliferation disaster. It would be a Bush legacy the world could do without. The deal will lead to greater nuclear proliferation.

Treaties like the NPT, meant to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, have been unravelling. There are four nuclear weapons states that do not belong to the NPT: India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – the first state to actually quit the NPT while announcing its intention to develop nuclear weapons. Negotiations are still ongoing on compensating North Korea for agreeing to relinquish its nuclear weapons program.

Supporters of the U.S.-India nuclear deal argue that this bilateral agreement will help thwart the spread of nuclear weapons because it places 14 of India’s 22 reactors under IAEA monitoring. However, this deal allows India to continue thumbing its nose at the only legal, multilateral non-proliferation treaty the globe has, since it will not require India to join the NPT.

Additionally, unlike 178 other countries, India has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty prohibiting the testing of nuclear weapons, and continues to produce reactor grade material and expand its nuclear arsenal via the remaining reactors not available to the IAEA for inspection. In fact, the deal guarantees India an uninterrupted supply of fuel without obligating it to sign the test ban treaty.

Organizations and experts, including the Rideau Institute, are raising the alarm. An Aug. 15 letter sent to all 45 foreign ministers of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, including David Emerson, by more than 150 NGOs and experts from 24 countries, noted that, “this deal, if approved, would give India rights and privileges of civil nuclear trade that have been reserved only for members in good standing under the NPT. It creates a dangerous distinction between `good’ proliferators and `bad’ proliferators and sends out misleading signals to the international community with regard to NPT norms.”

This special deal for India has not gone unnoticed by its rivals, Pakistan and China.

Adding fuel to the fire, Iran, which is a member of the NPT – unlike India – points to the deal as an example of the dangerous “good-bad” double standard. It is livid at the hypocrisy, pointing out that Israel is probably quietly lobbying for its own special deal. Iran has a right to have a civil nuclear program, but there are ample reasons to distrust its intentions. The U.S.-India nuclear deal does make a diplomatic solution even more difficult to achieve.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, cautioned that, “There is serious concern that the United States has taken this step with the intention to create a precedent and pave the way for Israel to continue its clandestine [nuclear] weapons activities.” In other words, the U.S.-India deal will embolden other countries to undermine the NPT as well. And with the 2010 review conference of the NPT looming, there is much at skate.

Canada has options. This week at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting, Canada could coalesce with Austria, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland, and demand that India signs two treaties – the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty, which stipulates that India halt production of reactor grade material, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – as a precondition for their support of the U.S.-India deal. Who knows, other countries may also be emboldened to stand up and say this is a bad deal with awful consequences. No one country has to be alone in standing up to George Bush.

Alternatively, these countries could ask for more time to study the proposed exemption. Such a delay would spell the end of the deal because the U.S. Congress cannot consider and vote on the deal until the Nuclear Suppliers Group approves it. If this agreement doesn’t land back in Washington by late September, it could not be approved during the remaining lifespan of Bush’s administration, effectively killing the deal.

However, if Canada were to support the U.S. on this deal, it would be abandoning its long-standing position as a strong supporter of nuclear non-proliferation, and instead, be supporting Bush’s legacy of undermining the most effective mechanism we have to avoid the spread of nuclear weapons in the world.

Here’s hoping this Bush legacy doesn’t come to fruition.

Anthony Salloum is the program director of the Rideau Institute, which serves as the global secretariat to Abolition 2000, a network of more than 2,000 organizations working for a global treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons.

August 21, 2008 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment

Asia’s new ‘great game’ is all about pipelines

I wanted to share with you this op-ed by former PetroCanada lead economist John Foster, published in today’s Toronto Star. I was very pleased to contribute the introduction to his recent report “A Pipeline Through A Troubled Land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the New Great Energy Game,” published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. – Opinion –

Asia’s new ‘great game’ is all about pipelines

Secure routes needed to move Central Asia’s vast energy resources to international markets

August 20, 2008

The quest for control of energy resources has been dubbed the “new great game” – a rivalry for pipeline routes to access energy resources in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea.

It’s a geopolitical game that is openly analyzed in U.S. think-tanks, widely reported in the Asian press but rarely commented upon in Canada. It began after the Soviet Union broke up and the five “Stans” of Central Asia became independent.

Recent reports have linked the conflict in Georgia with pipelines that bring oil and gas to Europe but the pipeline rivalry extends far beyond Georgia to the vast oil and gas resources of the Caspian region and Central Asia.
When the countries of Central Asia were part of the Soviet Union, their oil and gas flowed only to the north through Soviet-controlled pipelines. After the Soviet breakup in 1991, however, competing world powers began to explore ways to tap these enormous reserves and move them in other directions.
Pipelines are important today in the same way that railway building was important in the 19th century. They connect trading partners and influence the regional balance of power.

Both Georgia and Afghanistan are seen as energy bridges – transit routes for the export of land-locked hydrocarbons.

Washington has long promoted a gas pipeline south from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. It would pass through Kandahar.

Realistic or not, construction is planned to start in 2010, and Canadian Forces are committed until December 2011. Richard Boucher, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said last year: “One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan,” and to link South and Central Asia “so that energy can flow to the south.”

Unwittingly or willingly, Canadian forces are supporting American goals.
The BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) oil pipeline and South Caucasus gas pipeline that pass through Georgia to Turkey originate in Azerbaijan. Recently built, they are the jewels in the crown of U.S. strategy to secure energy resources that bypass Russia and reduce European dependence on pipelines from Russia.

Two Central Asian countries are rich in hydrocarbons. According to the International Energy Agency, Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas, while Kazakhstan’s oil reserves are said to be three times those of the North Sea. Turkmenistan exports virtually all its gas to Russia. Last year, the presidents of Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan agreed on a new gas line north to expand the export system.
Construction starts this summer.

China is tapping into Central Asia’s treasure, too. There is a new pipeline that brings oil from Kazakhstan to China. And a gas pipeline is being built from Turkmenistan through Kazakhstan to China.

The rivalry continues with plans for new gas lines to Central Europe. The Russians plan a line under the Black Sea to Bulgaria called South Stream, and the EU backs a project called Nabucco that would supply gas via Turkey.
As well, Washington is pushing for new pipelines under the Caspian Sea that would link Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and the pipelines to Europe.

But Russia is blocking these plans. Boucher asserts that European energy security is important to the United States as well as to Europeans and that it “is based on having multiple sources.”

The United States expresses great concern about European dependence on oil and gas imports from Russia. But Europe has imported energy from Russia for 40 years. It imports from the Middle East and Africa, too.

Is Russia less reliable? Much is made of Russia’s temporary cuts in gas supplies to Ukraine and Belarus, but these countries were enjoying highly subsidized gas (a hangover from the Soviet era) and refusing to pay full European border prices. In similar circumstances, what would Canadian energy suppliers do?

Energy has become an issue of strategic discussions at NATO. At recent NATO summits the United States sought to commit NATO to energy security activities, calling for NATO to guard pipelines and sea lanes.

Last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said energy security required “unprecedented international co-operation, … protecting and maintaining the world’s energy supply system.”

NATO proposals could have enormous consequences for Canada. U.S. strategic thinking is to get other NATO countries involved in guarding the world’s oil and gas supplies. Canada is in danger of being drawn into long-term military commitments relating to energy.

Recently, Defence Minister Peter MacKay told a Halifax talk show that Canadian troops were not in Afghanistan “specifically” to guard a pipeline, but “if the Taliban are attacking certain projects, then yes we will play a role.”

Neither Afghanistan nor Georgia is a member of NATO, but both are transit countries in the new great game.

Energy geopolitics are worthy of public discussion. The rivalry for energy resources is a power game – and militarizing energy is a long-term recipe for disaster.
John Foster is an international energy economist and an expert on the world oil scene. He is the author of “A Pipeline Through A Troubled Land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the New Great Energy Game,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

August 20, 2008 at 5:41 pm Leave a comment

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