Keeping the gunpowder dry? -North by Northwest


This brief op-ed discusses the securitization of the North. As the author,  Marc Lanteigne, points out, securitization does not mean that there is an imminent threat. Rather it means that an issue is being framed as a security issue, which usually means it seen in realist terms: It is conceptualized in terms of potential threats that need to be contained or perhaps leveraged, and the issue becomes the object of competition and a 0-sum thinking. The North has escaped securitization for the most part, but perhaps not for much longer:

  • “The Arctic, despite the unlikelihood of a military confrontation or unfriendly economic competition, has nonetheless been securitised by many Arctic and non-Arctic actors, including governments, as the region falls under greater international scrutiny. This securitisation process is coming from a variety of different directions:
    • Resources: Although oil, gas and commodity prices have remained largely depressed going into the new year, as more uncovered land and more open water appears every summer in the Arctic, the possibility of more resources being easier and cheaper to access grows in tandem. While most of these riches lie in uncontested areas, environmental strains and differences over demarcation in the central Arctic Ocean could still create future tensions.
    • Access: It is still largely a matter of guesswork as to exactly when the NSR and other Arctic sea routes will be usable to the point where transits become commonplace, and provisions are being put into place, including the Polar Code, which entered into force last month, but as long as jurisdiction over some of these routes remain disputed, the possibility of access becoming a source of insecurity and even conflict should not be dismissed. This matter may be further complicated as non-Arctic actors, such as those in Western Europe and East Asia, also vie to make use of Arctic sea routes to lessen travel time and trading costs.
    • Power: As the report stated, the Arctic has been distinguished as a place where adversaries can and have ‘checked their grievances at the door’. Whether that situation can continue indefinitely, however, is another question. The United States has recently expressed concern over Russian remilitarisation of its northern regions, and the two great powers remain at odds over the Ukraine conflict and possible future instability along Eastern European borders. Maintaining the Arctic as a cordon sanitaire in the face of these disputes is unlikely to get easier in the short term.
    • Governance: The Arctic, at present, has no dedicated security community despite various security issues appearing from many different directions on the margins. The Arctic Council is not (yet?) equipped to address emerging hard security concerns, such as those suggested above, due to its lack of a security mandate and its structure, which has begun to resemble a pyramid. Eight states form the core membership, but several major non-Arctic governments, including China, Germany, India, Japan and the United Kingdom sit as observers, with another, the European Union, possibly attaining that status in May. As the Munich report noted, ‘Arctic affairs have become a matter of global attention.’ This situation situation is unlikely to reverse itself even if a resource scramble never comes to pass. Differences between Arctic and non-Arctic actors over the direction of regional governance, and worries about the Arctic becoming a ‘closed shop’, could create tensions and strain the council’s ability to address future security issues.”

How a Donald Trump presidency could affect Canada -CBC


From a purely academic perspective, Trump would make a fascinating president. More than any other president in recent memory, he is a political outsider. Not only is he reviled by Democrats and the left, he gets love from the republican establishment. Even George W Bush, who cast himself as a maverick surrounded himself with advisers from the Reagan era. If he were to take the presidency, it would provide a great opportunity to see exactly how much impact an individual can make in office -for better or worse…

This article takes an interesting look at how his election might impact US relations with Canada.

“There is also a concern that while Trump might not build literal walls at the Canadian border, he could thicken them by calling for more border security out of fears that Canada’s recent influx of Syrian refugees could somehow pose a threat to the U.S.

He has said he would ban Muslims coming into the U.S. and send back Syrian refugees. “I suspect someone  like Trump would easily buy into the immediate post 9/11 rhetoric that Canada was somehow at fault for allowing some of the hijackers to cross our borders into the U.S., which was obviously incorrect,” Abelson said.

Still, other observers, such as political scientist Brian Bow, the director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University, says much of Trump’s talk on issues that could affect Canadians is just that — talk. And in that respect, he may not be that much different than past candidates.”


Trudeau’s Middle East Policy Takes Shape -Various


It took a while, but Justin Trudeau is putting his mark on Canada’s policies in the Middle East. Last week, the Trudeau government announced that it was removing some sanctions on Iran, and Stephan Dion said Canada wanted to restore ties with Iran, albeit slowly, and “with its eyes wide open”. The rational so far has largely been economic. With Iranian President Rouhani visiting Europe to drum up investment and trade, Canada is losing its chance to get into Iranian markets. The kicker was the Iranian deal with Airbus for new aircraft, which left Canadian company Bombadier with one less potential customer for its struggling C-Series airliner. The economic argument works two ways though. Of course, trade is an end in itself for the Canadian government. However at the same time, the Trudeau government had campaigned on renewing ties with Tehran and was looking for the right opportunity. The trade angle gives the Trudeau government an easy way to deflect conservative criticism for opening dialogue with Iranian government. The Globe and Mail article linked below gives a summary, and shamelessly, includes a short quote from myself.

Canadian exporters buoyed by reduction of sanctions against Iran

This week, the Trudeau government also announced its new Iraq policy. Again, Justin Trudeau campaigned on reversing the Harper government’s policies, this time the commitment to bombing missions against ISIS. Trudeau waited several months before keeping his promise, which was not surprising given Canada’s alliance commitments, not to mention the Paris bombing. The new policy, as promised, does put an end to the bombing mission and increases humanitarian aid. However it does not mean Canada is reducing its involvement in the conflict. Indeed, Ottawa is more than doubling the military personnel deployed to the fight against ISIS and promising a two year commitment. Trudeau seems to be looking for a middle ground on this policy, keeping his election promises without alienating Washington. According to the CBC the details are as follows:

“It will also increase by 230 the 600 Canadian Armed Forces members deployed as part coalition mission.

Canada’s military effort under Operation IMPACT will also include maintaining aircrew and support personnel for one CC-150 Polaris aerial refuelling aircraft and up to two CP-140 Aurora aerial surveillance aircraft. Canada will also send troops to mark targets for the coalition partners.

Canada’s new contribution will total more than $1.6 billion over the next three years and include:

$264 million to extend the military mission in Iraq and Syria for one year until March 31, 2017.
$145 million over three years in non-military security efforts, such as counter-terrorism initiatives.
$840 million over three years in humanitarian assistance.
$270 million over three years to “build local capacity” in Jordan and Lebanon, where there are a large number of refugees.
An increased diplomatic presence in the region.”

ISIS airstrikes by Canada to end by Feb. 22, training forces to triple

Canadian-Saudi relations in the spotlight -Globe and Mail


The Harper government signed a deal to sell armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Despite growing criticism, the new Trudeau government is honoring the deal. The criticisms are focusing on two things. First, the nature of the vehicles and how they will be used:

“Let’s be clear: These are weapons. The Canadian light armoured vehicles, or LAVs, that will be sold to Saudi Arabia are not jeeps. They are big, 8×8 armoured vehicles with gun turrets on top. And they are being sold to an internal security force, not Saudi Arabia’s regular army. That force, the Saudi Arabian National Guard, is tasked with protecting the royal family. It deploys its armoured vehicles at protests. There can be no assurance they will never be used against Saudi civilians.”

The Saudi National Guard is indeed an internal security institution, and its chief task is protecting the regime. These vehicles could be used to put down civilian unrest, including Shi’a protesting against discrimination and potentially pro-democracy demonstrations. They could also be used against extremist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. The National Guard also acts as a check against the regular Saudi army, lest they ever get the idea to stage a coup. Not surprisingly, the national Guard is heavily armed in Saudi Arabia.

The Trudea government is also coming under criticism for the Saudis human rights record, and whats written in its own appraisals of the regime.

“The Liberal government is refusing to make public a recently completed assessment of the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia even as it endures criticism for proceeding with a $15-billion deal to ship weaponized armoured vehicles to the Mideast country.

Saudi Arabia, notorious for its treatment of women, dissidents and offenders, became the focus of international condemnation this month over a mass execution of 47 people, including Shia Muslim cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, an exceptionally vocal critic of the ruling Al Saud family.

A country’s human rights record is an important consideration in the arms export control process that determines whether Canadian-made weapons can be exported there. The Saudi deal was brokered by Ottawa, which also serves as the prime contractor in the transaction.”


Finally, the Globe and Mail has also had a look at policy briefs that suggest Ottawa needs to deepen its ties to Saudi Arabia, because of the country’s strategic position and because of potential economic opportunities.

“Current bilateral engagement includes a particular focus on Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” it says. “Saudi Arabia is a regional power, the only Arab country in the G20. It is a key contributor to global energy security and Canada’s largest trading partner in the region.”

“The memo says there are trade and investment opportunities for Canada in the Gulf region because its economies are “diversifying into areas of Canadian strength, including financial, education, health care services, agriculture, as well as infrastructure.”

The briefs make no mention of civil rights, and the public versions have the references to political reform within the Saudi Kingdom redacted.

“The censored version of the memo makes no mention of human rights, including the case of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife now lives in Quebec.

But a section on how Canada can support “gradual, consensual political and social reforms” in the region is almost entirely blacked out.”

Will Canada change its policy toward Iran? -Al Monitor and CBC


The Trudeau campaign promised to improve diplomatic relations with Iran, which had been cut by the Harper government, at least in part,  because of security concerns in Tehran. However, as this al Monitor article argues (please excuse the shameless self-promotion), the issue does not appear to be high on the agenda for either country.

“Pointing to the fact that Tehran is not a key trade, investment or security partner for Ottawa, James Devine, assistant professor of politics and international relations at Mount Allison University, told Al-Monitor, “On the Iranian side, there is less need for better relations with Canada. Tehran had previously seen Canada as a gateway to better relations with the West. However, since the July 14 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] was signed, relations between Iran and the Europeans have improved significantly. I don’t think Canada is as important to Tehran as it once was.” Adnan Tabatabai, a Berlin-based Iranian political analyst told Al-Monitor, “Iran-Canada relations have not been essential for either side. It is rather the presence of Iranians traveling back and forth to Canada that connects these two countries.”

Read more:

Links to further reading on the Harper government’s policies can be found below. The first provides the details of how Canada managed the closure.  The move, which was announced by the PM while he was visiting Moscow smacked of grandstanding at the time. This CBC report confirms that impression arguing that the Canadian delegation left Iran quickly and quietly because as Canada’s Foreign Minister himself admitted “frankly, we didn’t want them to discover what our actions would be and then try to expel us before we could expel them.”

Inside Canada’s top-secret diplomatic exit from Iran
CBC News gets an inside peek at how Canadian diplomats got out — and left little behind

The second link suggests the threats sighted as a cause for leaving Iran were exaggerated.

Iran embassy report suggests little threat months before closure




Up to 27 Iraqi civilians may have been killed in Canadian airstrike, Pentagon document reveals -CBC


“An internal Pentagon document obtained by CBC’s the fifth estate raises questions about the quality of the investigation conducted by coalition forces into an allegation that as many as 27 civilians were killed in Iraq by a Canadian airstrike.”

The Canadian military does not believe the allegations are valid: “The [Canadian Air Force] review identified that there were no substantive grounds to believe that civilians had been killed,” Canadian Armed Forces Public Affairs Officer Capt. Kirk Sullivan told the fifth estate in an email.”

However, the source was a member of the Kurdish Peshmerga, giving the allegation some credibility: “It wasn’t a question of some civilian or some individual off the street, for lack of a better description, saying, ‘I heard this,'” says Stuart Hendin, a Canadian lawyer who teaches international military law to governments and armed forces around the world. “When one of your allies is saying we have a report of this, it’s something that ought to be taken with much more than a grain of salt. It has to be taken a little bit seriously.”

Disturbingly, “internal Pentagon documents also reveal the Canadian military’s legal assessment about Canada’s duty to investigate the incident.
The U.S. authors of the document note “[Canadian Joint Operations Command Legal Advisor] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), there are no obligations for the [Canadian Air Force] to conduct an investigation.”

The CBC report provides a pdf of the Pentagon report on the strike. It also makes reference to a web site, The Airwars Project, that monitors coalition bombing missions in Iraq and Syria. here is the link to that site:

Leaked internal report warns of Canada’s declining world influence -Globe and Mail


During the recent Munk Debate on foreign policy, both the Conservatives and the Liberals claimed the Harper government’s foreign policy had undermined Canada’s international status and influence. Status and influence are notoriously hard to measure, and this type of criticism often fails to have much of an impact because its hard to back up. This Globe and Mail article suggests there is something to the claim, or at least the Canadian foreign policy bureaucracy thinks so.

“Canada’s international clout is “under threat” as its honest-broker role is replaced with a more assertive stand that plays down traditional multilateralism, an internal Foreign Affairs briefing document is warning senior federal government insiders.

The presentation, obtained by The Globe and Mail, is stamped “Secret” and was prepared by senior Foreign Affairs officials for a deputy-minister-level meeting Sept. 9. Departmental officials do not lay blame at the feet of the Conservative government, which has run foreign policy for the past nine years, but their analysis echoes criticism of Prime Minister Stephen Harper levelled by ex-diplomats, foreign observers and his political opponents.

“Despite Canada’s reputation as an active player on the world stage, by many measures, its relative influence has declined or is under threat,” they say.”

For a replay of the Munk Debate, see:

We can’t turn back the clock on Canada’s foreign policy -Globe and Mail


A brief but provocative article from a group of Canadian foreign policy specialists:

“In principle, nothing would prevent a new government from adopting a different style, beginning with rhetoric. Canadian diplomacy could be less virulent in its tone toward Russia and Iran, more constructive in negotiations on environmental issues, less suspicious of international institutions and less inclined to constantly proclaim itself to be “Israel’s best friend.”

But in substance, a return to alleged past glories is unlikely, for three reasons that fall largely outside the control of political leaders.”

The big myth about refugees -Washington Post


“research that has looked at the effect of refugees around the world suggests that, in the longer run, this view is often wrong. From Denmark to Uganda to Cleveland, studies have found that welcoming refugees has a positive or at least a neutral effect on a host community’s economy and wages.

…beyond the upfront costs of processing and settling refugees, the perceived burden of refugees on a host economy may not be as significant as it seems. “There’s not any credible research that I know of that in the medium and long term that refugees are anything but a hugely profitable investment,” says Michael Clemens, a senior fellow who leads the Migration and Development Initiative at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank.”