Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Canadian Defence and Security Policy for the 21st Century

by Peggy Mason - May 13, 2015

Much has been written over the past two years on the budget constraints facing the Department of National Defence and the hard choices that must be made – a dilemma only exacerbated by the Federal Budget released in mid-April. But surely it is putting the cart before the horse to have this discussion without first establishing the policy framework, goals and objectives, and priorities in relation to which the funding decisions must be made.

I argue that there is an urgent need to update Canadian defence policy for the 21st century through a long-established Canadian democratic practice almost entirely abandoned by the Harper government – the issuance of a Green Paper on which broad public and expert consultations are based, followed by a White Paper, firming up the government’s position in light of these consultations.A central theme to be explored in the Green Paper would be whether it is time for a rebalancing of Canada’s focus on NATO (and coalitions of the willing) in favour of UN-led peace and security initiatives. The public consultation document would include a proposed Canadian policy framework of guiding principles and considerations for Canadian intervention in military operations abroad.

A parallel review should also take place regarding our national security policy and whether to re-orient the current counter-terrorism strategy to focus much more on rule of law and governance solutions, and correspondingly less on chiefly military responses.

In a nutshell, then, my central point is that giving priority to UN-led peace and security initiatives is the best way to pursue comprehensive, sustainable political solutions to essentially political problems, albeit generally with an important supporting security dimension.

Why UN Peacekeeping?

The UN has learned a lot about conflict resolution since the first military peacekeepers were deployed in UNEF 1 in 1956 to serve as a buffer between the Egyptian and Israeli forces and to provide impartial supervision of the ceasefire.

The great tragedy for Canada is that, having been such a pre-eminent UN peacekeeper for so long, our disengagement from UN Blue Helmet operations post UNPROFOR in former Yugoslavia in 1995 has left us, institutionally, almost completely unaware of the transformation in the planning, conduct and management of UN-led operations since then. Fundamental reviews have been carried out and key lessons identified. New command and control structures and sophisticated integrated planning mechanisms and field support structures for missions have been put in place. Sadly, the message has not gotten through to the military and foreign policy structures of many NATO member states, removed as they now are from this UN activity.

Specifically the UN has learned that peacebuilding is a complex, long-term process of helping the conflicting parties to create the necessary conditions – political, economic, security – for a sustainable peace. At the centre of this effort is the peace process. Complex political problems lie at the heart of violent conflict and require political solutions, negotiated and agreed to by the parties. A robust security element may be essential in both the negotiation and the implementation phases but it is a supporting element nonetheless. As the Afghanistan debacle has so dramatically and tragically illustrated, no amount of military “robustness” and professionalism on the part of international military forces can make up for the lack of a credible peace process.

Accordingly, today’s multidimensional UN peacekeeping operations are called upon not only to help maintain peace and security and to promote the rule of law, but also to facilitate the political process and support the establishment of legitimate and effective institutions of governance. Increasingly mandates, like that for MINUSMA in Mali, also include security assistance to the transitional government in reasserting its authority nation-wide, in concert with support for the national political dialogue and reconciliation efforts. (Note that the knowledge gained from continued French engagement in UN peace ops led them to insist on a comprehensive follow-on Blue Helmet PKO as a condition of their participation in an initial, short-term, military stabilization effort for Mali.)

For a collective enterprise of this magnitude to succeed – as UN peacekeeping does more often than not – the international effort must be perceived as legitimate and impartial by all or most of the parties to the conflict. And it must have the broadest possible international support within a coherent legal and operational framework.

Only the UN Security Council can mandate such an operation and only the UN Organization can even notionally lead it, if only because there is simply no other single entity acceptable to the international community. Headed by a civilian in the role of the Special Representative of the [UN] Secretary-General (SRSG), with all the other components, including the military and police reporting to him or her, the very structure of the UN PKO reflects the centrality of the peace process. This stands in sharp contrast to NATO-led missions, authorized by the UNSC to assist in stabilizing a conflict. How can the military effectively support the peace process under a separate command structure? My ten years of training exercises with Senior NATO commanders have demonstrated time and again that adivided command structure at the operational level is a recipe for anineffective command structure. And further note that, while the NATO-led mission is typically mandated by the UNSC to “co-operate” with the UN mission, its political guidance comes from the political lead in NATO – the North Atlantic Council – which then has to coordinate with the UN Secretary-General. So the politicalleadership at the strategic level is divided as well.

There is another stark problem with NATO-led stability operations: they lack the perceived legitimacy and impartiality of UN-led operations precisely because their political and military leadership represent a very specific set of countries and interests, UN authorization and the presence of some non-NATO countries within the coalition notwithstanding. This not only undermines coherence in the international effort, but also is a gift to spoilers on the ground decrying “foreign occupation.” Of course narrow national interests are still in play in the capitals of UN troop contributors, but thestructure of a UN peacekeeping mission at least works to mitigate this tendency in both perception and reality.

As recent UN review efforts have underscored, there is also a complete misperception by advanced militaries about UN command and control versus that of NATO. An integrated mission under the overall authority of the SRSG allows UN command and control to be decentralized to the operational level in contrast with the completely centralized, top-heavy and cumbersome command structure operating in NATO. Thus the main problem for UN command and control is the relatively narrow one of how to ensure appropriatestrategic oversight, particularly with a view to maintaining the ongoing support of member states. In contrast, NATO operationalcommand and control is stymied both by the reporting uprequirements before action can be taken and the limitations to those actions being carried out at the tactical level due to national caveats.

To recap, the main comparative advantages for UN peace operations are (1) its integrated command structure under civilian authority, which in turn reflects the primacy of the peace process and which facilitates unity of purpose, and (2) the fact that the UN is the only organization through which the forces of the P5 and all major powers (including the rising and regional powers) can jointly participate. Only the UN therefore offers the option of a politically diverse and operationally capable mission – if, and only if, the P5 and other major powers invest in UN operations.

The demand for UN Blue Helmets has never been greater. Sixteen missions are currently underway, comprising over 120,000 military, police and civilians. (Of these 90,000 are blue helmets – although Canada currently contributes only 34 troops or military experts and 84 police). 

UN peacekeeping cannot begin to live up to its potential to assist countries in transition from civil war to stable governance unless it has the resources to do the job. The almost wholesale withdrawal of Western forces from UN peacekeeping, in favour of NATO-led missions in the Balkans and then Afghanistan, occurred even as UN peacekeeping mandates required increasingly capable and well-equipped military components, operating under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. (To repeat, because this seems largely unknown in Ottawa, the vast majority of the current 16 UN-led peacekeeping operations have “robust” military mandates under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.) The latest Report of the UN Secretary-General on the progress of the Mali mission cites significant gaps in both military personnel and equipment, in one of the most logistically demanding operations the UN has ever undertaken, given the distances involved and the lack of infrastructure (as well as the significant security challenges posed by armed groups including UN-listed terrorist organizations operating in the north of the country).

Significantly, some NATO countries, including France, Germany and Italy, are beginning to re-engage and it is time for Canada to do the same. All rhetoric aside, the only way out of the Libyan and Syrian quagmires is through UN-facilitated, internationally backed peace negotiations, followed by robust, comprehensive UN peacekeeping missions. And without those peace deals in Libya and Syria, there is no sustainable solution in Iraq either. 


[1] This article elaborates on recommendations in the chapter on Defence of the CCPA Alternative Federal Budget 2015. They were first presented to the CDA-CDAI 2015 Conference on Defence and Security.

Peggy Mason, a former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament to the UN, is the President of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, an independent advocacy and research think tank in Ottawa.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Join Ten Hours Against Terrorism, a Nonviolent Protest at CANSEC15 (Ottawa)

Join Ten Hours Against Terrorism, a Nonviolent Protest at CANSEC15 (aka Torturefest15/Terrorfest15), Canada’s largest weapons fair and host to some of the world’s worst human rights violators and torturers (Background on visitors and companies below)

Wednesday, May 27, 8 am to 6 pm (come for some or all of the day if you can)

EY Centre, 4899 Uplands Dr., Ottawa 

(if you cannot make it to Ottawa, consider organizing a vigil at your local weapons manufacturers—there’s hundreds of them across Canada, and we can help you locate the one nearest you)


“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.” Arundhati Roy

May 27 will be a day-long witness against terrorism, war, torture, and the human rights violations that arise from such conspiracies as CANSEC15. 

We will be organizing transportation to and from the site, so consider how long you can stay: a few hours, half a day, or perhaps the whole day. (With that in mind, pack a lunch, bring snacks and water)

We will be hanging lots of banners on the fences. Consider making some artwork that is representative of resistance to war.

We will read aloud the reports of human rights groups, the testimonies of the disappeared and detained, the stories of survivors who have lived in terror under the bombs that come from Canada. We will nonviolently, lovingly lay siege to CANSEC15 by, as Arundhati Roy suggests, telling our own stories and refusing to buy the myths of militarism and CANSEC’s glorification of terrorism and barbaric cultural practices. We will build a large graveyard to commemorate victims of CANSEC’s exhibitors, guests, and hosts. We will sing. We will speak our truth. At the same time, we will refuse to engage in any acts of violence, whether physical or verbal, and will not seek to humiliate CANSEC15 attendees or those hired hands patrolling the vicinity.


1. Coming from out of town? Let us know if you need billeting.

2. Can you provide transportation to help people get to the EY Centre (next to Ottawa airport)? Can you put up out-of-town visitors in your Ottawa home? Can you help provide food and water on the day of the event? Contact or call 613-267-3998

3. Can you donate to help us meet our costs? Cheques can be made out to Homes not Bombs and mailed to PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0

4. Can’t make it? Send us a poem, an essay, something that you want shared at our day-long speakers’ platform. Let us know if you would be able to organize a vigil in your community art a weapons manufacturer, a federal office, etc.

5. Consider endorsing our event.

More information: Homes not Bombs,, 613-267-3998,


“When you are engaged in activities that explicitly promote or advocate terrorism, that is a serious criminal offence no matter who you are." PM Stephen Harper

"I will kill everything in sight, every single time, that’s what F-22 and 10 years of it’s employment has taught us." CANSEC exhibitor Lockheed Martin

(see a video on CANSEC at )

“Children are being routinely detained, ill-treated and tortured in Bahrain.” Amnesty International report on Bahrain, an honoured CANSEC guest.

“I thought they were killing Said, and that I was next. I could hear beating and shouting. I didn’t want to die afraid; I wanted to be strong, honourable. I prayed and thought of my parents. I will never forget the sound of the sticks hitting him.” Basimah Al-Rajhi, human rights lawyer, on being detained in Oman, one of CANSEC’s honoured guests.

The weapons sold at CANSEC, when used properly, are tools of terrorism as categorized under Canada's own laws, given that they are designed to cause " (A) death or serious bodily harm to a person by the use of violence, (B) endangers a person’s life, (C) causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public, (D) causes substantial property damage, whether to public or private property, if causing such damage is likely to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C), or (E) causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private."


CANSEC hosted 31 international delegations last year in cooperation with the Canadian Commercial Corporation, with the beheading capital of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, heading the list. Other regular violators of human rights who are officially touted as 2015 guests include Bahrain (according to Amnesty International, “Children are being routinely detained, ill-treated and tortured in Bahrain.”), Kuwait (repression of women, torture), Israel (well documented by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, as well as war crimes documented by Amnesty International), Mexico (the use of torture has grown by 600% in the last decade), Oman (Human Rights Watch reports “rights routinely trampled” and where “Torture has become the state’s knee jerk response to political expression.”), United Arab Emirates (where torture is commonplace with as many as 75% of detainees experiencing abuse), United Kingdom (intensely complicit in the rendition to torture program) and United States (U.S. Senate report on “ruthless” brutality). Saudi Arabia is not yet officially listed as a guest in 2015 but as the largest purchaser of Canadian weapons, they are sure to be in attendance. As host country, Canada is also complicit in the torture of its own citizens (as established by two separate judicial inquiries as well as Supreme Court and Federal Court decisions) as well as deportation to torture.


A who’s who of the world largest weapons manufacturers (what used to be more properly called “death merchants”) will be selling their wares, as well as smaller companies who provide key components for weapons systems. What they are selling can properly be called tools of terrorism, for their use is intended to make political points, to create fear, and to coerce governments and societies. Also on display will be the tools used by increasingly militarized police forces.


Under Canadian anti-terrorism law, anything that would normally constitute a terrorist act is exempted if it is committed by a member of the armed forces under the “laws” of war.

Below, Kuwaiti military officials attending CANSEC weapons bazaar test out the latest in repression before heading home where, according to Amnesty international, "The authorities increased restrictions on freedoms of assembly and expression, including by prosecuting some social media users. Riot police used excessive force, tear gas and stun grenades against peaceful demonstrations by government opponents."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bill C-51 and the Concept of "Counter-Radicalization"

May 12, 2014

The subject of countering "radicalization" and "violent extremism" was frequently addressed during the senatorial pre-study hearings on Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015. "Counter-radicalization" is being promoted as an integral part of the Canadian government's anti-terror strategy. 

This raises extremely important issues related to freedom of thought and conscience, and the right to privacy which are violated when the intelligence and security forces invade the lives of individuals under suspicion that their thinking and associations may lead them to commit a crime.

Appearing before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on March 30, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney stated that without Bill C-51, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service "can only collect intelligence; it cannot minimize the threat, unlike our allies."

He stated, "CSIS can only question a person with a goal to gathering intelligence but not dissuade the person from carrying out a terrorist activity. We cannot allow ourselves to underutilize this ability when a terrorist threat is developing. 

"This is why we want to ensure that our intelligence officers can intervene upstream in a radicalization process, for example, by turning to the parents whose child may be becoming radicalized. Currently, they cannot do so. This is a threat reduction activity."

Blaney added, "in the area of pre-criminalization, where we can intervene at an earlier stage and potentially prevent an individual from being criminalized, it's a good reason to have the capability to intervene with those who are at the beginning of the continuum of radicalization. We are working on many initiatives on the side of prevention and preventing radicalization."

Blaney said Bill C-51 "will allow our officers to be in a better position to intervene at an earlier stage in the radicalization process. We will therefore be in a position to reduce the radicalization phenomenon at source and avoid the criminalization of these people."

How the Canadian security forces will determine what particular political views and thoughts are indicators of "radicalization" that needs to be countered is a very big concern. This is especially the case when the Conservative government is reported to be cracking down on political activities such as boycotting Israel. Who will decide what is a legitimate political cause and what constitutes part of "the radicalization phenomena"?

"Counter-Radicalization" in Practice

The 2015 federal budget released April 21 allocates funds for RCMP "counter-radicalization" efforts or "countering violent extremism" (CVE), which is said to compliment increased CSIS and police powers by intervening in communities to combat "radical ideologies." 

Public Safety Canada defines "violent extremism" as "the process of taking radical views and putting them into violent action."

"Radical thinking... becomes a threat to national security when Canadian citizens, residents or groups promote or engage in violence as a means of furthering their radical political, ideological or religious views. The motivations and drivers that inspire them towards violent action may be due to real or perceived grievances, for example, animal rights, white supremacy, Al Qaida-inspired, environmentalism and anti-capitalism," states Public Safety on its website. 

"Prevention is a major aspect of countering violent extremism," says the federal department. "The Prevent element of the Counter-terrorism Strategy aims to get at the root causes and factors that contribute to terrorism by actively engaging with individuals, communities and international partners. Research is also critical to better understanding these factors and how to counter them."

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair criticized Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 for what he described as the government's failure to invest properly in counter-radicalization efforts. In the National Post he described what he thinks is lacking: "[G]overnment works to support community and faith leaders by connecting them with counter-radicalization experts, which provides information on recognizing the warning signs of radicalization and training in how to [defuse] it." He commented that "No stranger to the threat of terrorism, the United States under President Obama has taken a proactive approach to combatting radicalization."

An April 17 article by Belén Fernández published by Al Jazeera reveals the U.S. experience of what she calls the "CVE Industry." The field of domestic terrorism prevention, Fernández writes, is "one of refined Orientalist pseudoscience. Among its guiding texts is a 2007 manual, courtesy of the New York Police Department's Intelligence Division, which lists signs that an individual may be on a path to 'Jihadization.'

"According to the report, a person's 'progression along the radicalization continuum' can be signaled by 'giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes' or 'becoming involved in social activism and community issues.'

"Beneath the invented technical jargon is an invitation to unabashed and limitless racial and religious profiling, with the apparent crime of being Muslim further underscored by an expansive list of 'radicalization incubators' and 'nodes' that can host the radicalization process. In addition to mosques, these include 'cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, nongovernmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and book stores.'"

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, like Public Safety Canada promotes a "prevention-focused, community-based approach to CVE, which will ideally render the members of said community 'more inclined to share suspicious information with law enforcement,'" writes Fernández.

Quoted in the Al Jazeera article, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi told the author that CVE "does not include necessary safeguards to protect privacy and constitutional rights [and] risks treating people, especially young people, as security threats based on vague and virtually meaningless criteria."