A Canadian professor’s perspective on disaster capitalism

Simpson, E. (2018b, forthcoming). A Canadian professor’s perspective on disaster capitalism. Peace Review. Special theme issue on disaster capitalism. May/June 2018. [Refereed paper].

Was Nicholas alive, dead, or injured in the earthquake in Nepal? Nicholas
DiClemente, an intern working in Nepal for the United Nations, had completed a Master of Arts degree in political science under my supervision in 2012. Since then, we had seldom been in touch—unless he wanted another reference letter. One of my most important tasks is writing references so students can go onto graduate school, obtain internships, or pursue careers. Like Nicholas’, most of the internships are outside Canada, due to the lack of opportunity here.
A few days after the April 25 earthquake, Nicholas wrote to me: “I was
in fact in the middle of the earthquake and nearly died. It was a surreal expe-
rience. I am finally safe now in Malaysia, I haven’t slept in three days. Off to
Thailand still. I’ll be back in Kathmandu on Monday.” Later, when he caught up on his sleep, he wrote again: “I will never forget the sounds and images of the two major tremors. The people I’ve met in Nepal have shown me such an incredible capacity for compassion that I couldn’t bear simply leaving. The situation over here however is dire and to be quite frank with you, I think this may become far worse. If it gets to the point where I fear my own safety, I will leave.”
The April 2015 Nepal earthquake killed 9,000 people and injured nearly
22,000. But Nicholas saw damage beyond the physical. “The media tells
the tragic story of the lives and monuments lost, but what they have failed to
mention is the growing anti-government sentiment among the people. Prior to the earthquake, there was already widespread political unrest. Quite often,
there would be “bandt.” People would not be allowed to go to work and cars were not allowed on the roads; those who did not comply would be punished,
their shops destroyed and their cars burned. Due to the earthquake and the
dismal response by the government, Nicholas wrote that the situation was reaching a breaking point: “On my way out, I witnessed a mob attack police and military caravans. I feared for my own car, but we were allowed to pass with no issues.
Nicholas completed a six-month internship in Kathmandu with the
United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific. My former students often send hard-earned advice to the next generation of students. Nicholas’ advice was valuable: “I have learned many lessons whilst searching for work in this field and I believe I have some advice for your students who may come to you for career advice: Intern. Don’t bother looking for paid work. Find an internship or co-op and get real professional experience. Even if you have to pay for the placement, such as you do with the UN and other organizations, it will pay off.” We can all be proud of the next generation of young people, like Nicholas, who work hard to help others caught in all types of disasters. Nevertheless, it is also a professor’s responsibility to teach them how capitalism abroad profits from such environmental catastrophes, natural disasters, and the imposition of undemocratic regimes due to extraordinary circumstances.
As a postmodernist professor who teaches undergraduate and graduate students to question the implicit assumptions and biases of established theories, my task is to help them undermine traditional hierarchies and deconstruct reality.
We often begin by talking about how the “capital” in capitalism refers to
a set of goods that are used in producing other goods; so a factory produces
goods, just like a university produces students, and a government produces
military soldiers (and well-meaning interns). In the race to acquire more consumption goods, like yachts and cell phones, such goods may have value but they do not directly contribute to the production of other goods and services. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels explained in The Communist Manifesto that capitalism is the system of private ownership of capital that relies on market forces to govern the distribution of goods. Nowadays supply and demand forces and market forces include the stock market; thus a stint working for an investment firm trading stocks will contribute more to the growth of capitalism, say, than a job screening potential refugees entering the country. Naomi Klein is famous for writing about the demerits of capitalism and consumerism, and generations of professors have taught development theory using class system theory. Young students are no longer much exposed to Marxist literature that explains the rise of the proletariat and references classes such as the bourgeoisie. The notion that when the cycle of accumulation produces a surplus, it should be called profit, and reserved for the owners of the capital that produced the surplus (after the government takes out the taxes), tends to be unquestionably accepted, not critiqued. Even the strongest
defenders of capitalism in the university classroom can appreciate that coun-
tries like Canada and Sweden offer an impure mix of capitalist and socialist
policies, but capitalism still rules the international system in the Global North.
The flow of capital becomes a problem, however, when it moves around from less productive countries and firms to more profitable economic sectors, as it did during the Mexican peso and Asian Tigers crises. Canadian university students visibly lose interest when shown screen shots of the philosophers who conceived of Communism, namely Marx and Engels (more “old white men” with flowing beards). And when they are told about the stages of feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and how communism never came to fruition, they tend to assume communism will never come about through the proletariat’s battle to overthrow the capitalist oppressors (in this context they have already forgotten about the Occupy Wall Street movement). Few young people know that socialism (not capitalism or communism) fomented the concept that workers should wield more political power; the principle that regimes should favor considerably more government planning; and the idea that states should help redistribute wealth more equitably. Socialist parties and governments abound around the world, including in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia with New Democratic Party governments rooted in socialism. Still, the idea that China, Cuba, and Russia are Communist and not socialist remains more deeply embedded in enemy stereotypes, and so difficult if not impossible to question or undermine. Since their professor bicycled on a ten-speed all through Eastern Europe before the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall came down, grainy pictures of threadbare Communist apartments in Budapest and Sofia, as well as privatized and bountiful markets in Yugoslavia interest them. Nevertheless, whether and how the superstructure shapes the economic base of countries and the mode of production, are the sorts of questions better left in the past annals of time.
What about Marx’s classes? Would they venture to say their parents are members of the petty bourgeoisie? Is the lumpenproletariat confined to prison cells and row-houses in suburban concrete cities? Why did the peasant class in China—never predicted by Marx to be influential—rise to power? Asked to identify a union leader, like Lech Walesa in Poland, or to consider why blue-collar workers wore indigo overalls in the Communist world (including in present-day North Korea), students like to fasten their interest on the personality cult of Lenin because his concept of imperialism resonates in a world many of them see as ruled by American hegemony. Lenin predicted European capitalists would invest in colonies, and competition over scarce resources would lead to war—World War I. Compared to Lenin’s intellectual legacy, however, it is most exciting to learn about Leon Trotsky, whose grand plan to militarize Russian industry gave rise to the epithet Trotskyism (and my own Russian grandfather’s attempt to assassinate him!). Students can appreciate world system theory that explains how class divisions are regionalized according to the center-periphery concept, so the core concentrates surplus from the periphery, and inside the periphery, there can be a core. Confusingly, the semi-periphery can be an area in which some manufacturing occurs and some capital concentrates, but to a lesser extent than in the most advanced core. Could it be that Canada and Mexico are part of the semi-periphery, along with the Asian tigers (Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan)? Sooner or later in their intellectual development, they lose attention to capitalism and Marxism, seduced by the tenets of postmodernism and constructivism. Frankly, radical Marxism’s effect on modern-day feminism and postmodernist feminist theory is more fun to debate, along with the conundrums confronting essentialist feminism and liberal feminism. It seems more relevant to debate issues related to equal pay for equal work, and how women were excluded but could be included in positions of power. I daresay the next generation of disaster specialists and stock brokers will be more passionate about whether female politicians—Margaret Thatcher, Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, Hillary Clinton—are more peaceful and cooperative than men in higher places, and whether if more women held positions of power, world politics would relate differently. Future cohorts will have less patience for Marxist and dependency theory, and their sympathies may lie more firmly in the European tradition (Foucault,
Habermas) as well as postmodernism and critical theory (Derrida and R.B.J. Walker), as opposed to positivism and political “science” types of thinking.
Where do we go from here then?
A caravan of gypsies surprised me once, when I was biking through
Eastern Europe. Their horse-drawn carriages, with gigantic wooden wheels,
passed me on a country road somewhere in Yugoslavia. The Roma caravan towed three brown bears in straw-laden trailers. Because it was swelteringly hot, the three bears looked forlorn and definitely not in the mood for dancing. I think about those internally displaced people with their dancing bears whenever I lecture about the persecution of refugees—and how our semi-capitalist country handles natural and human-made disasters overseas—along with the people that claim refugee status. An official refugee is a person (and not a dancing bear) who is outside his or her country of nationality and has a well-founded fear of persecution in that country based on one or more of five grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Most desperate people crossing borders illegally do not fit the legal definition. They may be victims of immense hardship. They may suffer persecution or death. But if they have not been singled out on one of the five grounds—if, for example, they have not been persecuted because they are of a certain ethnic origin or religion—they are not UN Convention refugees under international and Canadian law. Wars, climate change, conflict, and persecution are forcing more people than at any other time to leave their homes and to seek refuge and safety elsewhere, according to a 2015 report from the UN refugee agency. Globally, one in every 122 humans is now a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. At the end of 2014, that meant 60 million people. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States will take only a handful of those millions. Successive Canadian governments—Liberal and Conservative—have accepted about a quarter-million immigrants and refugees a year, with refugees making up only a small, fluctuating portion of that total. Since Canada’s population is declining due to our low fertility rate, we need more immigrants and arguably more refugees. In more than 40 countries, including Canada but also in Eastern Europe and Asia, population size is expected to decline in coming decades. About 95 percent of world population growth
will occur in the developing countries. The combined population of the 49 least developed countries is projected to double by 2050. World population growth means that every second—60 times a minute, 3,600 times an hour, 86,400 times a day—three babies are born into the world. That is more than a quarter-million babies a day and more than 100 million babies a year. Millions of those kids will move into mega-cities, each with a total population in excess of 10 million. The UN projects that by 2025, 630 million people will live in 37 megacities, including Tokyo-Yokohama, with a population of 38 million, Mexico City with 21 million, and Delhi with more than 30 million. Conversely, Canada’s official medium-growth scenario projects the total Canadian population will increase from a relatively paltry 35 million in 2009 to 44 million by 2036 and then to 53 million by 2061.
There is a strong case for opening the country’s doors and creating
incentives to help nurture many thousands more official refugees—
not only more Roma from Hungary, but also more Afghans, Bangladeshis,
Chinese, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Iranians, Libyans, Nigerians, North Koreans,
Pakistanis, South Sudanese, Syrians, Ugandans, and so on. Perhaps by 2061, a few world-class multicultural cities will emerge in the country with the second-largest land mass in the world. Still, we will live in an ongoing state of emergency that will not be solved by band-aid solutions. It will not be enough to train more students to serve overseas as interns, to accept many more refugees, and to build more megacities in North America. On the one hand, the human species is good at setting goals and achieving them. We have walked on the moon, sent a rover to roam Mars—and many years ago the United Nations General Assembly agreed to pursue an ambitious set of Millennium Development Goals. Good progress on the goals since 2000 has meant that the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has halved from 18 years ago, more than two billion people have gained access to improved sources of drinking water, and remarkable gains have been made in the fights against malaria and tuberculosis. As well, the UN’s target for reducing hunger is within reach and the proportion of slum dwellers in the metropolises of the developing world is declining. On the other hand, the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed on in September 2015 have more than 169 objectives and 17 broadly thematic objectives. Sustainable development has become a common global ethic since 1987 when the Brundtland Commission’s report, “Our Common Future,” drew links among poverty, the environment, and peace. Back then, the importance of “meeting the needs of today’s generation without compromising future generations”—as the report said—was not well understood. Now, a new motto—“No one should be left behind”—is being matched with the enthusiasm from a growing sense of global citizenship, fostered in an increasingly connected world. The proposed goals, however, that range from “ending poverty in all its forms everywhere,” to “opposing unsustainable consumption,” to tackling “gender inequality,” have a hefty budget. To achieve all 17 goals is estimated
at more than $1 trillion US a year—although to put this in perspective that is
less than the $1.7 trillion US spent annually on militarism. All global citizens need to be reminded of humankind’s shared aspirations as we consider the new and expensive SDGs. Moreover, we need to keep that outlook in mind as we think about the factors that should determine where and how countries distribute their development aid.
Foreign aid is one of the instruments of Canada’s foreign policy, but voters seldom contemplate capitalism’s priorities when they decide how to vote. For those who do take an interest, however, questions continue to swirl about whether Canada’s disaster assistance should be “tied” to the purchase of Canadian goods and services. This practice requires aid funds provided by the Canadian government to developing countries—some of the world’s poorest countries—be used to procure only Canadian goods and services. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and various UN studies estimate that donor money with these kind of strings attached cuts the value of aid to recipient countries by 30 to 40 percent because they cannot search the international market for the best price. Usually only four countries—Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom—are singled out as donors breaking away from the concept of tied aid. As well, the UN urges each donor country to contribute 0.7 percent of its gross national income to official development assistance. But in Canada, successive federal governments—Liberal and Conservative—have consistently eroded the official development aid budget until today it is a paltry 0.24 percent and still declining. Canada is not alone in falling short. Only five countries have achieved the goal: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. In 2015, however, a historic debate and vote in Britain’s parliament committed its current and future governments to spend at least 0.7 percent of its national wealth on development aid, currently around $23 billion Cdn. It joins Belgium, Finland, France, and Spain in making a commitment to a timetable to reach the target.
North America is a wealthy, resource-rich continent, with the world’s longest coastlines and the most fresh water, so North Americans could afford to give more. Civil society leaders are calling on the United States and Canada to align their development agenda with the proposed sustainable development goals, tackle inequality, integrate environmental concerns into decision making, and take a more holistic approach to development. This means tackling these issues not only abroad but also at home, where
we will one day have to answer for the poverty endured among Indigenous
communities. To reach the next 15-year goals by 2030, we will need politicians
with the courage to keep their promises and we will need to keep watch on whether those promises are delivered. In the meantime, critics see larger objectives of neo liberalization, private sector development, and mining in the Canadian government’s approach to aid. Ottawa’s strategy of “economic diplomacy” has formalized and expanded what our country’s diplomats have been doing through the federal government’s Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Until 2013, CIDA was the federal government organization that administered the budget for Canada’s official development assistance. Then it was merged into the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, which was renamed the Department of Global Affairs. The department is now a complicated hydra with four cabinet ministers—the ministers of foreign affairs, the minister of international trade, the minister of international development, and the minister of state (foreign affairs and consular)—at its head. The question is: should “dollar diplomacy” trump Canada’s traditional foreign policy values? Arguably, Canadians are entitled to derive benefits from Canada’s aid money. More university students could undertake subsidized internships, like Nicolas’ stint in Nepal. Indeed, North American mining projects in Africa and Latin America could be templates for future development work. And in Canada, CIDA’s so-called “corporate shift” could
reflect the necessity for Canadian investments to also promote Canadian values, Canadian business, and the Canadian economy. On the other hand, the danger is that governments make investments and economic interests the driving force behind the country’s entire foreign policy, not just foreign aid funneled through foreign aid institutions, like CIDA. Previously, Canada’s priorities for economic and social development overseas emphasized the importance of helping the poorest of the poor. That approach changed and now diplomats must ensure Canadian priorities abroad
favor Canadian economic interests, first and foremost. Critics of the new policy have already assailed the Canadian government for dangerously lower ing Canada’s traditional diplomatic priorities, such as aid, diplomacy, human rights, and peacekeeping, in favor of promoting Canadian industry overseas, especially in China. They say the battle for democracy in development areas will become a dangerously low priority compared to Canadian business interests, especially the mining sector.
Canada is now the largest state actor in the global mining industry. At the same time, the overseas operations of Canada’s extractive companies—now carried on with support from our diplomats—are expanding and thus undergoing increased scrutiny and mounting criticism. Canada’s purportedly unethical behavior is seen to be setting a bad precedent in the international community. Instead Canadian official development assistance should be used for proper development, not to facilitate extractive industries
in developing countries. Critics would prefer the country’s aid money continue to go to fighting poverty caused by natural disasters, such as the typhoon in the Philippines and the earthquake in Nepal, instead of helping Canadian businesses extract natural resources from the developing world. Advocates of the new policy, however, argue Canadian taxpayers should benefit from this “tied aid,” which promotes the Canadian economy as well. They argue Canadian aid money should be more effectively used, for example to assist in the technical redrafting of mining legislation in poorer countries. But others say the redrafted laws will help mining companies put in place business plans that do not benefit lower-class populations in those poorer countries. These critics are concerned that financial aid provided to mining companies in various forms by the Canadian government will be used to subsidize corporate lobbying against the corporate responsibility movement in Canada, which counsels using more ethical development strategies to help local populations. Questions are already surfacing about whether diplomats in Foreign Affairs should be used, directly or indirectly, to subsidize lobbying in favor of Canadian businesses abroad. It is probably not a good idea to use any country’s embassies as a primary vehicle to promote broad neo-liberalization measures. Neo-liberal ideas tend to percolate on their own without diplomats having much say. Those who say that using mining as a tool for development is an efficient use of aid
money are countered by those who argue that it is worse than inefficient—it is helping to create the kind of protection for investment that includes reductions and exemptions for corporate taxation. This will result in more problems than solutions for true long-term development. The worry, too, is that if wealthy countries like the United States and Canada act more forthrightly to help prohibit local sourcing requirements in poorer countries, such questionable practices will become the norm rather than the exception.
Already, many experts are cautioning that Canadian values should not include 100 percent foreign ownership of mines; instead, locals should be expected to manage and direct their own natural resources, even if they do not have an ownership share in the Canadian businesses operating on their own soil. Development should not mean unrestricted repatriation of profit for corporate companies; arguably arranging mining royalties of only 1 percent to 3 percent for developing countries will spell trouble for our broader interests in those countries. The record so far of extractive-sector activity as the primary vehicle for economic and social development is poor and might not improve much in the near future. Instead, the stated goals of diplomacy should be to lead international efforts to help people living in poverty. A country’s economic priorities should not hold sway over its traditional diplomatic interests abroad. Canadian disaster relief forces have helped in many places, most recently in Haiti, the Philippines, and Sierra Leone. It does not make sense to reshape foreign policy to prioritize capitalism’s interests abroad.

Reckless and Ruthless

Given their personalities, don’t expect much rational from the Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit

U.S. President Donald Trump has offered to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in face-to-face negotiations. Is it possible for both these leaders to engage under duress in rational decision-making?

Kim will come to the bargaining table as the commander of a million-strong conventional army. He controls operational and test-fired missiles that can credibly range thousands of kilometres through space. Trump is promising to develop a new branch of the U.S. military he calls Space Force specifically for war efforts in space.

Kim knows Trump could make up information, as he did in a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump says he insisted the U.S. runs a deficit with its neighbour to the north without knowing whether that was true. If Trump lied to his country’s closest military ally, and boasted about it later, he may tell Kim more untruths.

Trump is a seasoned negotiator, but Kim may be more ruthless. After all, he has to negotiate his own regime’s survival.

Kim was born to one of three mistresses of his father and predecessor as leader, Kim Jong-Il, sometime between 1982 and 1984. Donald Trump, born in 1946, is twice his age.

Kim is the cut-throat leader of a dynasty that has ruled North Korea for decades. He presided over a meeting of the politburo during which his uncle was publicly stripped of his posts and the nephew had him executed.

Kim also ordered the execution of his former girlfriend, along with 11 other state entertainers, for allegedly making sex tapes and possessing Bibles. His girlfriend’s family, along with singers and dancers in her orchestra, were forced to watch as she was killed by machine gun before a firing squad. Strangely, a year later, his ex-lover turned up alive and well on state TV.

Kim’s older brother, Kim Jong Nam, died last year in a Malaysian airport, the result of what authorities determined was an assassination conducted by North Korean agents using nerve gas.

Will Kim be open to negotiation and compromise? When he became the supreme commander of the People’s Army, with the military rank equivalent to a general, experts hoped his Swiss schooling and nonmilitary training in computer science would soften him. But refugees have reported thousands of spectators were forced to watch the hangings of more than 80 people in stadiums.

We have learned a lot more about Trump’s negotiating style. Trump likes to appear tough — this week he is calling for the death penalty for drug dealers — but in North Korea, estimates are that from one million to 3.5 million people have been deliberately murdered out of a total population of approximately 22 million, and another possibly 3.5 million have died from starvation or hunger-related illness.

From Trump’s perspective, the greatest threat from the brash young leader stems from his outspoken threats against the United States. Kim has repeatedly threatened to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and the regime has proved its nuclear weapons capability with many underground nuclear detonations, including a possible hydrogen bomb.

The Americans could threaten their own pre-emptive strike, but the actual size and location of the North Korean arsenal is unknown. The intelligence community puts North Korea’s stockpile somewhere between six and 20 nuclear bombs, possibly spread around the country in hardened underground silos.

North Korea test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017, the second of which had sufficient range to reach the continental United States. Last fall, the country announced its further perfection of a hydrogen bomb.

Once Trump hinted about withdrawing the 28,500 American soldiers stationed in South Korea. Adm. Harry Harris, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the U.S. Senate armed services committee last week that he believed Kim would do a “victory dance” if Trump followed through.

Such a move would also abrogate the United States’ defence agreement with South Korea. The U.S. soldiers are armed with land mines that serve as a credible deterrent to an invasion by North Korea and are also one of the principal reasons why the U.S. continues not to sign and ratify the international land mines treaty.

It is evident China — not so much the United States — could exert the upper hand in any peaceful negotiations so as to ensure a soft landing for North Korea. Ensuring stability in the Korean peninsula is important for China since a North Korean regime collapse would result in an unmanageable influx of emaciated refugees into China.

Instead of hoping leaders remain rational under all circumstances, diplomats need to take rapid steps to denuclearize the peninsula. The first-ever UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament takes place May 14-16 at UN headquarters in New York. The conference will draw attention to the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, already signed by 122 nations (but not the U.S. or North Korea), and it will exert positive influence for dialling down the Korean situation. Erika Simpson teaches international politics in the department of political science at Western University and is the author of NATO and the Bomb. These comments are based on her contribution to a panel on May 15 during the UN disarmament conference.

On the defensive

Simpson, E. (2018b, Jan. 7) On the defensive. Syndicated Opinion Piece (Op.Ed) in the Postmedia Network, Canada’s largest chain of online and hard copy newspapers [hereafter Postmedia Network Op Ed.].

Just before Christmas, the U.S. Congress rushed through the Pentagon’s request for US$4 billion to detect, defeat and defend against ballistic missiles.

“We are ordering $4 billion worth of missile defence equipment and missiles themselves. Very important,” President Donald Trump said at the White House. “Top of the line. Best in the world. We make the best military product in the world, and nobody is even close.”

There are few details about what the money will be spent on, but $2.1 billion is earmarked for 20 missiles that will attempt to intercept incoming ballistic missiles above Earth’s atmosphere, along with a network of radars and ground-based interceptors.

Now that Trump has made nuclear modernization his highest national defence priority, concerns have arisen that the U.S. administration will again ask Canada to participate in the U.S. ballistic missile defence (BMD) project.

Despite widespread fears about militarizing outer space, the U.S. has long sought the co-operation of its NATO allies in BMD. But concerns are widespread that America plans to dominate space militarily, including possibly place deadly lasers and nuclear weapons in orbit.

The last time a U.S. president requested Canada’s co-operation in BMD, George W. Bush made a high-profile public plea on Canadian soil. Prime Minister Paul Martin decided no. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper promised that, if elected, he would reverse the Liberal decision and put the question before Parliament for a free vote. But as prime minister from 2006 to 2015, he didn’t and the issue lay dormant.

The development of a safe and successful BMD system remains far off, Most U.S. tests have failed.

The U.S. BMD system would need the capability of conducting a first strike from space. If U.S. nuclear weapons were deployed in space, they would be hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Joining in BMD could make Canada more insecure, especially if nuclear debris from errant or colliding ballistic missiles rained over Canada.

In the 1950s, top-secret U.S. plans were for nuclear-armed American Bomarc missiles based in Canada to intercept Soviet bombers carrying nuclear payloads over Canadian air space, thus raining nuclear fallout over southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. But Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and his minister of external affairs Howard Green ultimately decided not to equip the Bomarcs with nuclear warheads.

Now Kim Jong-Un, among the world’s youngest and most inexperienced leaders, is supreme commander of a formidable (albeit malnourished and pitifully underequipped) million-member conventional army. In his new year’s address, he said, “The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table” and “The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range. . . . The United States can never start a war against me and our country.”

The next day, Trump tweeted in reply, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works.”

Will Trump’s newly-confirmed security advisers refrain from reigning him in because his threats serve a wider purpose of full nuclear capabilities? Are they trying to frighten North Americans into pinning their hopes on a space-based missile defence system?

It’s a system not yet feasible. It is unlikely any nation will be able to 100 per cent reliably shoot down an adversary’s nuclear rockets in space. And just one miss means nuclear devastation below.

Canadians in “Fortress America” should ask themselves what is the use of walls without a roof? Will America, Russia and China engage in an arms race in outer space? Could the Canadian government be stuck with a mounting tab as costs of developing a BMD rapidly escalate? And how might Canadian firms benefit from research and development on space-based weapons of war?

In the 2000s, U.S. deputy defence secretary John Hamre told Canadians our involvement in missile defence would be pivotal but not integral to a missile defence success, while the deputy commander of U.S. Space Command, Vice Admiral Herbert Browne, made headlines when he warned the U.S. would have no obligation to defend Ottawa from attack if Canada is not part of a missile defence system.

During the last round of debate, polls showed more than 60 per cent of Canadians opposed participation. That figure was even higher in Quebec, a province where every party needs support to win an election.

The U.S. and Canada will co-host a major international meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the North Korean crisis on Jan. 16 in Vancouver.

American moves to build a more robust nuclear enterprise will also undergo diplomatic scrutiny when the UN holds the first High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament from May 14-16. Many delegates will feel more comfortable with a push for disarmament than with joining the Trump administration in setting up systems to destabilize arms control. Wary of Trump’s aggressive tweets and unilateral threats to destroy North Korea, as well as tear up the arms control agreement with Iran, diplomats will share an interest in keeping Earth’s orbit a demilitarized zone.

Associate Prof. Erika Simpson is the author of NATO and the Bomb and other scholarly publications. This is an excerpt from her Feb. 8 address to the Women’s Canadian Club in London, Ont.

With nuclear war raising its ugly head again, Canada must act for disarmament

The stormy relationship between Russia and the West raises questions about whether we are heading into a renewed Cold War.

Russia deployed nuclear-capable missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea last month, and NATO officials are seeking commitments to send 4,000 new troops to the Baltic states and eastern Poland in early 2017.

Angry about Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO plans to station four battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Recently Canada, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. committed to lead, and NATO is asking for more support from its 28 allies along with assistance to defend against cyber attacks in Ukraine.

At the same time, worries are that NATO’s nuclear weapons deployed in Turkey’s Black Sea region are threatened by the terrorist organization ISIL as well as Russia’s military presence. Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are expected to shore up air and naval patrols while the newer NATO allies, like Poland, are demanding NATO allies honour their Article 5 commitment, outlined in the 1949 Washington Treaty, promising that an attack against one NATO member is an attack against all.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently suspended the Global Partnership Program, which was designed to ensure the safety of Russia’s weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. Canada and the United States were paying billions to inspect Russian facilities and pay Russian scientists stipends so they would not sell their knowledge on the black market to terrorists.

ISIL is now the world’s wealthiest terrorist organization, and about US$10 million of its stolen cache might purchase a grapefruit-sized amount of nuclear materials ladened with conventional explosives. An explosive like that could be set off in New York City or Washington, causing millions of Americans, fearing more so-called dirty bombs, to panic and flee the inner cities into the countryside.

Meanwhile the U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its air, land and sea triad of nuclear weapons, including 160 to 200 short-range B-61 warheads deployed in Europe.

And Putin vows to develop new arms systems to neutralize the U.S.’s ballistic missile defence project, which the Russians and the Chinese see as a breach of the now-defunct Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

In the face of nuclear threats and renewed spending on nuclear arms, 50 nations from Austria to Brazil to Ireland — not including Canada — proposed a UN resolution calling for a global conference in 2017 to establish a legally binding process to ban the manufacture, possession, stockpiling and use of these weapons. The draft resolution, known as L41, was put forward on Oct. 28 and won an overwhelming majority of 123 votes in the 193-member General Assembly, paving the way for historic negotiations to begin.

But nuclear-armed states exerted intense diplomatic pressure on their allies to vote against it. The U.S. voted no and is refusing to participate in negotiations. Among its NATO allies, the Netherlands was the only one to abstain, while Canada voted no.

Among the eight other nuclear-armed states, North Korea voted in favour and India and Pakistan abstained.

Canada’s vote against L41 puts us on the wrong side of history. Peggy Mason, former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the UN, says, “Canada was one of only a handful of countries to vote no. In so doing, we joined with most other NATO member states, in blatant contradiction of our legal obligation under the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) Article VI to enter into good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.”

The diplomatic negotiations during the NPT’s review conferences in 2010 and 2015 ended last spring in debacle and deadlock. Parallel negotiations in the UN’s Conference on Disarmament are stalled. In fact, they have not been able to agree on even an agenda for discussion over the last 20 years, so diplomats from all over the world wine and dine themselves at the public’s expense in Geneva, New York and Vienna, while negotiations go nowhere.

But the plucky disarmament movement drew public attention to the humanitarian impact of use of nuclear weapons. Scientific predictions say even a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using about 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons would lead to a drop in the world’s temperature of 1.25 Celsius degrees; a war fought with U.S. and Russian high-alert nuclear weapons would lead to a drop of four Celsius degrees and the detonation of 4,400 strategic nuclear weapons out of the world’s remaining stockpile of 15,500 would lead to a drop of eight Celsius degrees. Such a nuclear winter would endure for decades, effectively decimating the globe’s economic production and killing billions of people.

Growing worries about whose finger could be on the nuclear trigger after Tuesday’s U.S. election also incited renewed calls for the nuclear-armed states to step down from their first-use nuclear postures.

Canada must somehow join the UN negotiations beginning in 2017 in order to prevent a disaster of unimaginable and unprecedented proportions.

Nestling under the United States’ nuclear umbrella should still allow the Trudeau government to spearhead a review of NATO’s reliance on nuclear deterrence during the runup to NATO’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2019.

Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian minister of foreign affairs, wisely called for questioning the untested assumptions of nuclear deterrence by threatening first-use. Similarly the new Liberal government should question American policy that advocates first-use of nuclear weapons against conventional, biological or chemical threats.

Despite opposing the UN resolution, Canada could still participate in the talks. There is no UN dictum preventing abstainers and nay-sayers from participating in negotiations that will assuredly go ahead.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations at Western University and was a speaker at the Building Momentum for Nuclear Disarmament conference in Ottawa on Oct. 24

Totally fluent in what it meant to be a professor

Simpson, E. (2017, Nov. 22. Totally fluent in what it meant to be a professor. The Hill Times.

Professor Robert Young exemplified what it means to be a professor and one of Canada’s most prominent public intellectuals. The Western University political science professor passed away on Aug. 15 from complications of lymphoma and his memorial celebration, last Friday, drew dozens of professors from across Canada and even New York City to honour his lasting and innovative legacy.

Many of us had the privilege of counting ourselves as one of his closest friends, and at the Nov. 10 memorial gathering, we learned “Bob,” as he was widely known, had dozens of close friends who benefited from his wisdom, never-failing attention, and big and caring personality.

Bob exemplified what it meant to be a professor in Canada, during an age when so many people wonder what professors accomplish and what they do all day, and over the summer holiday. Bob worked hard six days per week, 12 months per year, in his campus office and even after official retirement, he kept working on his scholarship and dropped by almost every day to see his colleagues in the Social Science Building at Western University.

Bob eschewed modern technology—he wasn’t one to take a quick look at Google on an iPhone for answers. Prof. Young carried file cards and if he wanted to remember something important, he took them out of his worn blazer pocket and wrote concepts down. He tended to keep all his correspondence short and, sometimes, cryptic because he never wasted words. When others wrote pages upon pages, he wrote a paragraph, or replied with one sentence, not a screen full.

Bob completed his doctorate at Oxford University, which means that after a master’s at McGill University and the Institut d’Études Politiques (Paris), he married Louise Gadbois and they moved to England. And like other doctoral students from Canada at Oxford before and after him, he was brilliant. He wrote so many papers and books that his official curriculum vitae was more than a 100 pages long. Accordingly between 2003 and 2017, he was awarded with a Canada Research Chair in Multilevel Governance, and he also served as President of the Canadian Political Science Association between 2003 and 2004.

He tackled important topics that required considerable background reading so he was renowned for his books and papers on federalism and secession, such as The Secession of Quebec and the Future of Canada. He was knowledgeable about separatism (recently the British government asked for his advice on Scottish separatism) and he edited and contributed to so many books on federal-municipal relations when that topic was newly emerging that his longtime publisher, McGill-Queen’s University Press could fill an entire bookshelf with his co-edited tomes, most recently Image-Building in Canadian MunicipalitiesSites of Governance: Multilevel Governance and Policy Making in Canada’s Big Cities; and Immigrant Settlement Policy in Canadian Municipalities.

He also turned his fine intellect to public policy topics, using esoteric game theory or dwelling upon the practical implications of positivist research methods. Writing about La Gouvernance Multiniveau et les Politiques Publiques au Sein des Municipalités du Canada or the Foundations of Governance: Municipal Governments in Canada’s Provinces, co-edited with Andrew Sancton, another professor at Western and former Rhodes Scholar, he remained fascinated by the implications of multilevel governance for public policy.

Due to his time in England, he adopted a professorial garb, which meant bare feet and sandals in summer, mismatched ties with blazers and often patches on his elbows in winter, and he carried hard copies of The Globe and Mail or The New Yorker in his suit jacket pockets, along with dog-eared file cards.

Prof. Young was also totally fluent in what it meant to be a professor and all which it involves. For that reason he was admired as a mentor among many young faculty and middle-aged scholars because he knew how to reason, how to write and how to be succinct as well as credible. Having been an oft-recipient of scholarships and fellowships himself, he knew about the intricacies and frustrations of writing research proposals for grants, like from Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and most recently, he was part of an expert review panel in the United Kingdom that determined the recipients of large research grants on Scottish independence offered by the British equivalent of SSHRC.

Often asked to critique important written work, Bob was very generous with his time and attention. He often returned work with his handwritten comments, usually in red, and every word he wrote was well advised and well taken. He knew how to write well and how to construct research proposals and get ahead in academe without losing integrity, becoming bitter, cynical or jaded.

He was self-effacing about his own accomplishments, like the Ontario Distinguished Researcher Award. Economists thought he was good at economics (he won the Douglas Purvis Memorial Prize in 1995-96 for the Best Work in Canadian Economic Policy) while historians thought he knew a great deal about history (he received the Canadian Historical Review Prize in 1988 for best article). In our department of political science, he was known for his large-scale comparative research, his breadth of knowledge about the changing Canada-Quebec environment, his strong background in public policy about Canadian municipalities, his understanding of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the political economy of New Brunswick, as well as his knowledge about the university’s governance, gleaned in part from having served as the chair of our department.

His students, as well as professionals and public servants deeply admired him and although his PowerPoint skills were by no means cutting edge, he mainly relied on his spoken words to persuade, illuminate and explain. Often he would lecture for about six hours straight, yet another long day standing before professionals in municipal government, who took notes from his spoken words and based upon chalkboard diagrams he drew during packed classes.

Bob received Western University’s highest award for achievement in research scholarship, the 2015 Hellmuth Prize. His lecture at the awards ceremony, which was also attended by many luminaries and leading lights, highlighted the importance of social science research at universities, at a time when science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research is vaunted. But as was typical of Bob, his Hellmuth Prize lecture on “Nurturing Research” did not cajole but appealed to our higher sense of reason, as to what our society values and holds important.

For Bob, money, movie stars and climbing the corporate ladder held no meaning. His purpose was intellectual and academic but he did not see his position in the lofty tower of academe as removed from public service, but rather as part of a life of meaningful service to the ideals of the university. Life at the university was not a 9-to-5 job for him but the best way to live a full and meaningful life. We will miss him greatly.

Associate professor Erika Simpson, in the political science department at Western University, was a colleague and friend of Robert Young since 1996.

The Hill Times

Time to dismantle nuclear weapons

Simpson, E. (2017b, Aug. 18). Time to dismantle nuclear weapons. [Postmedia Network Op Ed].

President Donald Trump’s threats to pre-emptively strike North Korea continue to alarm citizens as well as international diplomats and military personnel around the world. His tweets indicate the U.S. commander-in-chief could behave angrily or vengefully without using a level head. Now that he has proclaimed that his finger is on the nuclear trigger, ready to destroy North Korea, what can ordinary citizens and diplomats do to calm the situation?

There is not enough time and the technology is underdeveloped to erect space-based lasers and reliable ballistic missile defence systems to protect ourselves against a nuclear attack from North Korea.

Meanwhile, Trump’s latest threat to hit North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” has led experts to talk more urgently about the effects of a limited nuclear war on the global environment and climate.

The most-studied scenario has been a hypothetical, limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, involving 100 Hiroshima-sized warheads. Fires would throw millions of tons of soot into the atmosphere, blocking the sun and causing a worldwide temperature drop of at least 1.25 Celsius degrees. An estimated 20 million people would die within a week from the direct effects, while an estimated two billion would be at risk of dying by famine over the next decade due to a huge drop in the production of grain.

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is much smaller than Pakistan’s. The CIA estimates there could be about 60 nuclear weapons cached around the country in underground, hardened silos.

Despite Trump’s threats, any U.S.-led decapitation of the leadership surrounding North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, even with the utter destruction of his country’s capital Pyongyang, could not assuredly destroy the North’s hidden nuclear arsenal.

Experts also worry a large-scale conventional war would destroy Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and send millions of refugees out of the Korean peninsula throughout Asia.

Rather than shrug our shoulders and accept the reality of the 33-year-old Supreme Leader ruling a nuclear-armed state, we should urge diplomats around the world to shore up the nuclear non-proliferation regime, revive the United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament, jump-start negotiations toward a treaty banning fissile material production, and sign the newly-negotiated UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

But reviving diplomatic negotiations will not be enough.

We need to speak more urgently about the dangers of placing our faith in nuclear deterrence, about mistakenly believing our sides’ nuclear weapons will deter conventional warfare and about our faulty perception that brandishing nuclear weapons means nuclear war will never be fought. Limited nuclear war is a burgeoning possibility, although even limited use would threaten the entire globe’s environment and Earth’s survival.

Trump’s comments, while playing on a golf course, about possibly raining death and destruction on North Korea, are yet another indication that he perceives his power to unleash nuclear devastation as very important to him. But many world leaders share that kind of perception. To continue to allow the preservation — indeed, the expensive modernization — of the strategic nuclear weapons of China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. could encourage states without nuclear weapons to seek them for their own deterrent purposes, leading to further nuclear proliferation and a growing possibility of accidental or even calculated use.

The non-nuclear countries — including those like Canada that are in military alliances with countries that have nukes — must press for more stigmatization of the nuclear-have states’ reliance on nuclear deterrence.

Diplomats and high-level UN representatives and state parties from all over Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America might join forces to press Chinese officials to rein in Kim.

We must also criticize countries, including Canada, that voted against the UN’s new ban treaty. (So far 122 have voted in favour).

We should harshly condemn world leaders like Trump and Kim who dare to taunt each other with possible nuclear use. After only eight months in office, Trump has already threatened to use nuclear weapons long before all options have been put on the table. Forebodingly, his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, says a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea may be necessary if its threat reaches a level that “requires action.”

In other comments, Tillerson said, “All options are on the table.” If that’s the case, one peaceful option would be to work harder toward the total denuclearization and demilitarization of the Korean peninsula. A few middle powers like Canada could offer to deploy peacekeeping troops, perhaps as part of a larger UN rapid reaction capability.

Clearly a nuanced, comprehensive deal laden with economic incentives and disincentives, including long-term security guarantees, is needed along with face-saving measures for all sides. Perhaps Kim might grudgingly accept onto his soil Chinese officials who temporarily take on the UN’s atomic inspection role. Perhaps British, Cuban or Irish diplomats might deal with the U.S. administration’s threats to go to the brink.

Experienced diplomats have known since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis about how to wield carrots and sticks, how to avoid climbing the ladder of nuclear escalation and how to refrain from overtly threatening to use the nuclear option. Rather than watch in incredulous disbelief as Trump and Kim rush headlong toward limited nuclear war based on their ignorance, misunderstandings and misperceptions, it’s time for all world leaders to promise to refrain from threatening nuclear first-use.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University. This is excerpted from her commentary prepared for working groups at the 62nd Pugwash Conference on Science & World Affairs on “Confronting New Nuclear Dangers” on Aug. 25-29 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Where was Canada?

Simpson, E. (2017c, Jul. 14). Where was Canada? [Postmedia Network Op Ed].


In a historic move at the United Nations last week, a large majority of the world’s nations voted to adopt a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons. Affirming that any use of nuclear weapons would be abhorrent, 122 countries voted for the treaty.

But none of the countries that actually possess nuclear weapons agreed to participate.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the final product of three international conferences hosted by the Austria, Norway and Mexico since 2013. Participants wanted to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons and the grave implications they pose for human survival, transcending national borders.

The first conference attracted 127 states — but not Canada — and more states attended each followup conference. They drew worldwide attention to the horrors that await humanity in the event of accidental or deliberate use of nuclear weapons, including the consequences of a limited nuclear war between the United States and North Korea, or against Israel or Iran.

High-level diplomats decided to write a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Impelled by the urgency of achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world, and in the interest of serving collective security, the 10-page treaty is a result of the fear of “nuclear have-nots” have of “nuclear haves.”

It is the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than 20 years.

Early on, the United States decided not to participate, and nearly all its allies followed suit. Austria tried to cajole countries such as Canada to join the negotiations, but the Netherlands was the only NATO member to participate. In the end, it voted against it.

American and Russian diplomats argued such a treaty would be worthless, and that countries should continue the step-by-step approach toward disarmament under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But the NPT’s deep-seated problem is that it has made very poor progress over the nearly half-century of its existence in reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. Despite the end of the Cold War, there are still 15,500 nuclear weapons around the world, of which 95 per cent are owned by the United States and Russia.

While the two superpowers continue to emphasize the merits of the NPT, the nuclear have-nots have become increasingly disenchanted, especially in the wake of the 2015 NPT Review Conference when the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom reneged on any chance of a final consensus document.

The countries that chose to negotiate last week’s treaty argued any agreement that helps further stigmatize nuclear weapons was worth pursuing.

At the same time, everybody is worried that countries pursuing nuclear weapons, such as North Korea and possibly Iran, could impel other countries to develop their own weapons of mass destruction, leading to arms races around the world.

By choosing to side with the U.S. hegemon on this issue, Canada is criticized by the other non-nuclear-weapon states for its non-participation. It is unusual for Canada not to seek a seat at the table. Moreover, last week’s voting record indicates Canada could have taken part and voted against the treaty, as the Netherlands did. As well, Singapore abstained and other nations chose not to show up to vote.

Not surprisingly, the United States and North Korea skipped voting on the treaty banning nuclear weapons. A few days earlier, Pyongyang tested an intercontinental ballistic missile rocket — a weapon designed to carry nuclear weapons. Neither the U.S nor North Korea are expected to sign a treaty in which signatories promise never to develop, test or produce nuclear weapons, nor to use or threaten to use them.

American officials and media pundits who worry about deterring North Korea are fastening on its threatening behaviour. So it does seem unrealistic that this treaty will help to get rid of nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, all this means we must work harder to persuade the United States and Russia to sit together at the UN’s bargaining table.

After all, the U.S. plans to spend a trillion dollars to modernize its nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years. Russia has withdrawn from the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and remains angry about NATO expansion into its former allies in the Warsaw Pact. At NATO headquarters, the NATO-Russia bargaining forum is on indefinite hold. U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for his actions in seizing Crimea from Ukraine, and while NATO deploys more soldiers in Latvia and Poland, Russia has deployed tactical nukes in Kaliningrad, its nearby enclave. Canada has contributed 300 human trip-wire troops to Latvia’s defence.

It is a pity Canada, the only country that unilaterally rid itself its own nuclear arsenal during the Cold War, has not taken stronger action. The conviction among diplomats around the world — as evidenced by the treaty — is that the potentially catastrophic consequences of nuclear war, whether accidental or deliberate, means all states share responsibility to prevent their use.

Canadians can no longer side with Americans in outmoded thinking that declares nuclear weapons to be essential and core capabilities in the West’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University who has long advocated for a nuclear weapons ban. This is an excerpt from her speech at Dalhousie University to be delivered on July 24 to an international audience.