On Guard for Thee: Global Citizenship and Canada-U.S. Relations

May 27, 2020

Simpson-crop-750x375U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and International Development Minister Karina Gould. In February, Trump proposed slashing 21 per cent of foreign aid, while Canada recently quietly announced $159.5-million in humanitarian aid to a plethora of worthy organizations. White House photograph by Andrea Hanks, The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade.

Canadians have a chance to gain more ground in the UN Security Council seat race by sharply contrasting our values with the current American political leadership; a growing divergence that is notable.

To suggest the United States would station troops along the longest undefended border in the world slashed a psychological wound between Canada and the United States. COVID-19 shut the Canada-U.S. border down, but it was the speed with which leaders of historically friendly countries agreed to go their separate ways that left indelible scars.

Under the pressure of a tiny virus, our paths are diverging; our common border is widening. As our economies strain and our health-care systems are tested, the world cannot help but bear witness to our growing divisions. Statistically, the political philosophy of “me first” is losing.

According to Worldometer, more than 95,000 people in the United States have succumbed to the virus, as of May 21. Public opinion in the U.S. is marked by negative ratings and political divisions, with few having confidence in the president. Canada has lost more than 6,100 souls. A considerably smaller rate of 126 fewer people per million. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s popularity has increased dramatically in the polls, with almost two-thirds of Canadians approving of his handling of the virus.

Liberal internationalism and an evidence-based “feminist” approach, marked by co-operation and level-headed thinking is winning the day—and not just in Canada.

Canada-U.S. relations are being judged in the courts of domestic and international public opinion. In February, Donald Trump proposed slashing 21 per cent of foreign aid. Canada quietly announced $159.5-million in humanitarian aid to a plethora of worthy organizations, like the Red Cross and UNICEF, followed by a $600-million pledge to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

In the midst of a pandemic, Trump withheld more than US$400-million from the World Health Organization, claiming a Chinese bias. Canada paid our dues and then voluntarily increased our contribution by millions.  

While Trump threatened to ban the export of personal protective equipment, including to his neighbours in Canada, our Minister of International Development, Karina Gould, stepped up to help convene the international Group of Friends on Food and Nutrition Security, confronting the growing international fear of a global “hunger pandemic.”

This is an additional pandemic, catalyzed by the virus, that the head of the World Food Programme warns could kill 300,000 people per day of the world’s increasing poor. Perhaps most indicative of America’s growing isolation and Canada’s increasing solidarity in the community of nations, was the recent proposal at the UN Security Council proposing a ceasefire for all nations to stop armed conflict and all fighting while humanity faces the common threat of COVID-19. It was an international call for common sense, in which the U.S. was the lone voice of opposition by blocking the vote.

COVID-19 is a global threat and, in the words of Gould, we will not be able to rest until it is wiped out in every corner of the globe.

Our path forward for health, well-being, and a virus-free world is linked to many of the other global challenges we face, such as poverty, food security, human security, and climate change.

None of these global challenges can be tackled alone.

Ironically, the very path forward to future resilience has been eloquently laid out in an agreed-upon plan called Agenda 2030, which describes 17 interlinked sustainable development goals (SDGs) we must accomplish in the coming decade.

The secretary-general of the United Nations has appealed for “accelerated” change in the coming “Decade of Action” on Agenda 2030. It is a common path forward, which desperately needs world leaders whose vocabulary champions the words “together” and “solidarity,” versus “me, first” and “us/them.”

Canadians uphold values like working together—mantras that have become the approved working language of today’s federal government speeches and press releases.

A digital Movement Map of Canadian organizations identifies almost 12,000 civil society groups in that work on the SDGs, the internationally agreed-upon way forward to a resilient common future. It is an astounding number and proof of our solidarity.

Nowhere is leadership needed more than at the Security Council of the United Nations where global security concerns are hotly debated.

Prime Minister Trudeau is competing with Norway and Ireland for only two elected seats this year. Norway and Ireland are both generous donors when it comes to international aid and co-operation.

Former Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson originally set the agreed-upon standard of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (now gross national income) as the bar nations should aspire to. Norway is exceeding it and Ireland is far ahead of Canada.

Despite Canada’s duly lauded Feminist International Assistance Policy, our measure of international development aid was, and still is, distinctly lagging, at approximately 0.28 per cent GNI.

Canadians share a global identity marked by international co-operation and concrete actions that cherish global citizenship. In the coming weeks, before the official secret vote among UN ambassadors takes place in June (or perhaps in the fall, due to the pandemic creating lags in UN voting procedure), Canadians have a chance to gain more ground on the Irish (whose peacekeeping record is stellar) and the Norwegians (whose financial contributions to development are unparalleled) by sharply contrasting our values with the current American political leadership; a growing divergence that is notable.

It is time for Canada—with our feminist, internationalist leadership, and caring international reputation—to sit across the Security Council table facing the U.S., China, and Russia and speak up strongly for a better world. A world that is surely listening.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University, president of the Canadian Peace Research Association, and author of NATO and the Bomb. Michael Simpson is the executive director of the British Columbia Council for International Co-operation.



After the Great Lockdown, Far-sighted Global Cooperation Will Be Heralded and Lauded as Wise

May 25, 2020

kremlinIn an appeal released last month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19: ‘The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,’ he said. ‘It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.’ Photograph courtesy of the Kremlin.

With our allies in the United States and Europe, Canada faces an economic crisis and worldwide depression; apparently long-term government budgets will need massive amounts of public money to boost recovery in critical sectors such as basic income, development, education, employment, energy, and health.

The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs has just released a report, Rethinking Unconstrained Military Spending as a follow-up to its 2019 report on United Nations Efforts to Reduce Military Expenditures which pushes governments to move the money and spend taxpayers’ funds on caring and repairing, not preparing for combat and killing.

Yet defence experts in the U.S. and at NATO and the EU say that, although we are rightfully focused on fighting the COVID-19 crisis, the reality is that with significant geopolitical challenges currently facing the West and Europe, this is no time to cut or under-invest in expensive defence capabilities. They assume COVID-19 will likely make the world more unstable and insecure, therefore military capabilities and spending must better protect defence investments and industry.

Drops in GDP in 2020 could foreseeably be two and three times higher than after the 2008 crisis, therefore during economic recovery, maintaining and increasing defence spending should not return to be a high priority for North American and European leaders. We must do all we can to halt world leaders from self-reinforcing cycles of insecurity; their mutual suspicions and fears spur arms races.

As the security dilemma foretells, efforts by one country or group of countries to increase their security by pursuing more offensive military forces creates more insecurity among rivals and neighbours, prompting similar increases in spending, and growing cycles of hostility.

Last year, the world spent $1.9-trillion on the military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest report released last month.

Once again, Canada ranks 14th highest at US$22.2-billion, which is 1.2 percent of GDP; but over the next ten years, Canada still plans to devote billions to reach NATO’s target of two per cent of GDP. The 2017 defence policy report, Strong Secure Engaged promised greater increases to buy equipment including for combatting high-intensity warfare in Europe.

Rather than devote more resources to research and development of next-generation fighter aircraft, battle tanks, new frigates, lethal autonomous weapons systems in space, and killer drones to ensure our military and technological edge is credible, we need to focus on sustaining critical industrial and technological capabilities that undergird human security, not militarization.

Many valuable non-defence sector industrial capabilities—like the airline, service and tourism industries around the world—are experiencing incredible risks and may well disappear.

To mitigate devastating climate crisis effects and preserve humankind’s long-term future, we need to learn the lessons of the pandemic and understand militaries are not the primary guarantor of security.

We should not repeat our past mistakes by allowing defence spending to absorb political attention and material resources that could otherwise be devoted to far more pressing human security challenges.

Canada’s renewed $14-billion export of light armoured vehicles to the Middle East contributes to an arms build-up in the most militarized and conflict-prone region on the planet. The UN’s special envoy has welcomed the start of the cessation of hostilities on 10 April of a conflict described by the UN Secretary-General in 2018 as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

The Yemen crisis was a human-made disaster, not a natural disaster like the COVID pandemic; now faced with a looming global food security crisis, we must do all we can to prevent already dire unemployment conditions witnessed around the world from deteriorating into a global famine.

To ensure more efficient use of public spending, we need to redouble our diplomatic peacebuilding efforts, and leverage more spending on nurses, hospitals, medical equipment and Indigenous Peoples, not on combat-capable soldiers, cutting-edge weaponry, threatening war exercises and fomenting armed conflict in Europe and the Middle East.

As Canada and the world gradually emerge from the pandemic, there must be no ‘new normal’ based on traditional ideas about the percentage of GDP, and the amounts of dollars that should be spent on defence, not development.

In an appeal released last month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19: “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

Appropriately, a mid-April extraordinary meeting by video conference of NATO defence ministers decided upon coordinated military support of civilian missions to combat the virus. But the UN chief is calling for warring parties to entirely pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, and “silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes.”

With our allies in the United States and Europe, Canada faces an economic crisis and worldwide depression; apparently long-term government budgets will need massive amounts of public money to boost recovery in critical sectors such as basic income, development, education, employment, energy and health.

After the Great Lockdown, far-sighted global cooperation—not short-sighted spending on militarization—will be heralded and lauded as wise.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University, president of the Canadian Peace Research Association and author of NATO and the Bomb.


We Don’t Know How This Virus Began, But We Know How We Can Learn From Our Response

April 8, 2020

michelle leeThe United Nations Security Council has not been able to schedule face-to-face emergency summits because physically convening all UN-recognized countries to discuss realistic strategies for quarantining citizens creates problems, especially in New York City, and at international ports of entry.  Flickr photograph by Michelle Lee.

Our goal should be not to erode the moral authority of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention—to the detriment of all nations—but to strengthen it in the aftermath of this pandemic.

The internet is awash in conspiracy theories that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was due to an accidental or deliberate escape from a Chinese facility engaged in covert weapons development.

A March 17 Nature Medicine article considered the possibility that the outbreak resulted from an inadvertent lab release of a virus under study but concluded “we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”

The Washington Post has debunked a claim that the outbreak can be tied to deliberate bioweapons activity, with help from Professor Richard Ebright of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology, a biosecurity expert.

Yet it was reported March 30 in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that Ebright thinks that it is possible the COVID-19 pandemic started as an accidental release—not a deliberate release—from a laboratory such as one of the two in Wuhan that are known to have been studying bat coronaviruses.

All such claims and suspicions are so far reliant on hearsay.

Credible media sources are careful not to propagate widespread claims by the Chinese, including from trolls, that the virus actually originated in the United States.

But we should begin to call into question the effectiveness of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention. Our goal should be not to erode its moral authority—to the detriment of all nations—but to strengthen it in the aftermath of this pandemic.

The convention, commonly referred to as the BWC, established confidence-building measures (CBMs) in 1986 that aimed to “prevent or reduce the occurrence of ambiguities, doubts, and suspicions, and in order to improve international co-operation in the field of peaceful biological activities.”

The BWC includes the obligation to “exchange …. information on all outbreaks of infection diseases and similar occurrences caused by toxins that seem to deviate from the normal pattern of development.”

Back in the 1980s, the release of an aerosol of anthrax spores from a Soviet military microbiology facility led to the formal adoption of this CBM by the United Nations.

The problem is that few states have submitted annual reports to the UN, and when they have, their information is often too sketchy and incomplete to be useful to determine compliance to the BWC.

Now that much more attention will have to be paid to global patterns of disease—driven largely by concerns about the coronavirus—we will need to revolutionize the flow of information by reducing non-co-operation. We need to reduce delays in information sharing from years, months, and weeks, to days and hours.

We need to act fast to provide many more direct channels for information sharing across international borders from all types of medical, veterinary, and agricultural professionals.

The United Nations Security Council and the World Health Organization (WHO) have not been able to schedule face-to-face emergency summits because physically convening all UN-recognized countries to discuss realistic strategies for quarantining citizens creates problems, especially in New York City, and at international ports of entry.

But the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, has suggested nations act fast to consult using virtual meetings.

Last week, for instance, the UN delayed the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference that was planned to start in late April until sometime before April 2021.

In the future, we will need quicker international agreement on more international benchmarks for appropriate self-quarantine measures, and stricter guidelines and strategies that cruise ships should implement when travelling throughout ports in Asia and Oceania.

Unfortunately, the People’s Republic of China was under no obligation under international law to update the number of patients affected by the COVID-19 in a more open and transparent way. Global miscommunication means we have lost valuable time to take stronger steps to prevent international travellers from re-entering their own countries without voluntarily self-quarantining.

The WHO will need to provide more specific guidelines and requirements on protective equipment that should be worn, and minimum international standards that factories must meet when producing medically approved face masks and hazmat suits for health-care workers and the general public.

The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination (UNDAC) team did travel immediately to Wuhan and other areas of Hubei Province, with the permission of Chinese governmental authorities; but in future crises, no such national permission should be needed before taking swift action.

If a country is too poor to prevent the spread of an outbreak, we need a Global Emergency Response Fund at the UN or NATO headquarters that can help pay.

Authorities must be prevented, globally, from censoring content and from refusing to share information on social media platforms, like Facebook and WeChat.

In the future, many different scenarios for accidental or deliberate biological weapons use may be imagined. Military scenarios often envisage the dissemination of substantial quantities of anti-human agents, like a new form of anthrax, in aerosol form.

In the case of the coronavirus, the pandemic spread from a point source that was likely due to a natural disease, not an accidental release, and certainly not a terrorist attack with biological weapons. But in future, covert attacks may employ natural processes, like sneezing and coughing, to spread disease from the point of attack.

We will need more mechanisms that distinguish natural and unnatural outbreaks from one another.

Rogue leaders will also need to be strongly prevented from concealing the use of biological weapons. We need to deter them by using today’s crisis to strengthen tomorrow’s international norms and agreements.

Important conferences that focus on controlling weapons of mass destruction are being delayed; meanwhile we need to plan for the future by demanding more effective global governance and international co-operation. World leaders and civil society representatives should use their cell phones and email to speedily communicate with each other.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University, president of the Canadian Peace Research Association, author of NATO and the Bomb.


Potent Threat of Biochemical Weapons Deserves Greater Attention

November 20, 2019

us armySoldiers in the 20th CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives) Command are pictured at the U.S. Army’s Yongsan Garrison in South Korea. The American government and NATO allies have spent billions on preparing against possible attacks from biological weapons since 2001—Canada needs to spend more, writes Erika Simpson.  Photograph courtesy of U.S. Army

Canadian taxes are better spent on countering biochemical threats than on expensive equipment for undertaking high-intensity conventional operations like the overpriced F-35.

There were approximately 10,000 ISIS prisoners in camps across northeastern Syria, but already more than 800 suspected detainees have escaped due to Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria.

ISIS was ranked by Forbes in 2018 as the world’s richest terrorist organization. Its annual turnover, estimated to be $2- to $3-billion, was due to occupying oil and gas fields in Iraq and Syria. Its escaped prisoners may regroup, return to their foreign countries, and spend more on acquiring biochemical weapons, rather than conventional weapons, to conquer territory and spread fear.

The remaining al-Qaeda facilitated group may decide to spend money on biological or chemical, rather than nuclear weapons, because the cost of causing civilian casualties, per square kilometre, is much less with biochemical weapons.

Terrorists are more likely to use biological weapons than nuclear weapons, according to the 2008 International Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Biochemical weapons are more difficult to detect, and are easier for terrorists to hide and disseminate than nuclear weapons. They are inexpensive to produce, and costly and time-consuming to counter.

Transforming a pathogen can take a few years, but developing a new biodefence vaccine can typically take up to a decade and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Adding to the problem is the high number of trained microbiologists, far more than the number of nuclear physicists. Plus, biological agents are available in all sorts of civilian industries, such as in wine and beer manufacturing, the food and agriculture sectors, and pharmaceutical research and development.

Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) events refer to the uncontrolled release of chemicals, biological agents, or radioactive contamination into the environment, or explosions that cause widespread damage. North American security experts tend to agree that, among these, biological weapons are the gravest security challenge we face. The American government and NATO allies have spent billions on preparing against possible attacks from biological weapons since 2001—Canada needs to spend more.

A biological attack could occur silently and go unnoticed for days. Then, the attacker could attack again after exhausting our domestic resources, like hospitals and border patrols. Infected individuals who become biological vectors may unknowingly spread diseases. Highly communicable pathogens could incite epidemics in which first-responders and health-care workers become infected.

Biological weapons can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than the most lethal chemical warfare agents—so a little goes a long way. The 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States led some to demand gas masks and antibiotic prescriptions creating serious shortages in ciprofloxacin. Effectively combatting biochemical threats necessitate that the international community strengthen the United Nations’ Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The BWC was violated by the Soviet Union, which maintained an offensive biological weapons program after ratifying it. The United States also expressed concerns about lack of compliance by Cuba, Iran, Libya, and Syria, but in a 2017 report on compliance, Russia was the only state to have outstanding compliance issues. Now, we should worry about sub-state terrorists.

The international community must exert more pressure to submit biochemical weapons arsenals to inspection. It looks like North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un ordered the murder of his half-brother Kim Jong-nam with chemical weapons; the two women who assaulted him in a Malaysian airport used a chemical VX agent embedded in their handkerchiefs. We need to work very closely with the United States and our NATO allies on bio-defence and verification.

The U.S. and Russia have eliminated most of their chemical weapon stockpile storage sites and are obligated not to engage in military preparations that use biochemical weapons. Under international law, however, states can build defences against biochemical warfare.

At Canada’s Defence Research and Development research stations in CFB Suffield, Downsview, and Ottawa, experts in detection, hazard identification and assessment, medical countermeasures, and toxicology are assessing and neutralizing such threats. Canadian taxes are better spent on countering biochemical threats than on expensive equipment for undertaking high-intensity conventional operations like the overpriced F-35.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University, president of the Canadian Peace Research Association, author of NATO and the Bomb.

Hybrid Warfare NATO’s Next Headache

February 28, 2020

                      Getty Images

Troves of digital treasure rest beneath hackers’ fingertips because of the enormous surplus data that is collected by industries and organizations.

Last week, high-ranking diplomats at NATO headquarters in Brussels explained to us, the writers of this column, that hybrid threats combining military and non-military instruments could significantly complicate the alliance’s future unified response.

All 29 allies pledged at the 2014 Wales Summit to prepare to defend against hybrid warfare, including cyber attacks and the targeting of critical infrastructure such as banks, businesses, courts, government and news media.

The timing of ourvisit corresponded with confirmation from the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency that it had experienced data breaches last year exposing personal identifiable information, including Social Security numbers. The agency is responsible for combat support to the U.S. Department of Defense and White House communications.

We interviewed diplomats at NATO as part of a research trip to learn about deterrence and diplomatic negotiations.

Last year, Georgia accused Russia of a series of cyber attacks on the country’s infrastructure that targeted tens of thousands of websites. While Georgia is not a member of NATO, the alliance is reaching out to figure out ways to help it deal with the perpetrators of the attack.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Andrei Rudenko, told the Interfax news agency that Moscow denies any involvement in the attacks on Georgia. However, violent protests outside Georgia’s parliament last year led Russian President Vladimir Putin to ban all direct flights to Georgia, undermining Georgia’s important tourism industry.

China’s People’s Liberation Army is also a potential adversary in hybrid warfare. Members of the PLA were recently indicted by the U.S. for hacking Equifax’s computer systems. In that September 2017 attack, the personal information of 145.5 million Americans, 400,000 Britons and 19,000 Canadians was exposed, including credit records, addresses, and credit and debit card numbers.

In October 2019, hackers obtained personal identifiable information from three hospitals in southwestern Ontario: Listowel, Wingham and Michael Garron (formerly Toronto East Hospital). At Garron, the malware targeted computer systems that collected information, demanding a ransom to retrieve data that had been encrypted by the attack, and causing major disruptions for patients and staff, who had to resort to transcribing patient data by hand onto paper.

The City of Woodstock fell victim to a cyber attack. It chose not to pay a ransom, but it spent $1.04 million on recovering and re-equipping its system.

On the other hand, the City of Stratford paid $75,000 worth of Bitcoin to obtain encryption keys to unlock its system information after a cyber attack

The RCMP is urging malware victims not to pay ransoms. It says unlocking files is uncertain even after payment, and paying also increases the chances of more money demands and more attacks.

Our meetings with senior NATO policy-makers underlined that a new era of conflict has begun. We learned NATO is making a strong effort to collect and evaluate information about hybrid attacks directed against its member states.

It is also developing rapid-reaction cyber-defence teams that can be sent at an ally’s request in a crisis. The cyber teams work on civil emergency planning, critical infrastructure protection, counterterrorism and energy protection.

This is an inexpensive way to respond to threats below the threshold of Article 5 — the collective defence obligation enshrined in the 1949 Washington Treaty at the founding of NATO.

But could a hybrid attack trigger Article 5? Diplomats rather implausibly asserted NATO’s response would be context-driven based on decisions rapidly arrived at by all the allies by consensus.

Hackers operating at the sub-state level could be difficult to name and shame. Attribution difficulties would also prevent discovering their motives.

NATO wants to prevent conflicts from escalating and seeks to develop counter-strategies that would improve intelligence sharing. Beyond NATO, more units are being dedicated to deal with hybrid threats, such as the European Centre of Excellence established by Finland. But all this work requires the sharing of confidential information and classified documents, which means significant trust must be built.

Yet much of the burden will be on individual NATO member states to develop sufficient resilience to counter cyber attacks. All allies will need to improve their resilience, and NATO is producing benchmark guidelines to facilitate an alliance-wide common approach. Some allies are expected to ask NATO to protect them against low-level hazards, but they will likely be told they should learn to cope with those on their own.

NATO is working to defend allies trapped in protracted engagements in this grey zone of warfare. All of us will need to look at hybrid threats without rose-colored glasses.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University and Ryan Atkinson is a PhD candidate in the department of politics.

Ottawa Should Ditch F-35, Buy Better-Suited Super Hornets for RCAF

January 31, 2020

                    Boeing will offer Canada an advanced version of the Super Hornet fighter jet, shown in this company produced graphic. Source: Handout image from Boeing For 1119 Boeing

Over the next few weeks, the Trudeau government could decide among three competing companies to place a $19-billion contract for some 88 new fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s.

The procurement process began in 2006 under Stephen Harper, and initially attracted bidders such as Airbus, Boeing, Dassault, Lockheed Martin and Saab. Europe-based Airbus and Dassault withdrew their Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale fighters from the running last year because they could not meet Ottawa’s abrupt request that their fighters meet Norad’s intelligence data-sharing and interoperability standards.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II would be an unwise choice because it is a single-engine fighter that would be tasked with patrolling North American airspace — including the vast,  unforgiving climate of the Arctic — in co-ordination with the U.S. As Arctic specialist and international law expert Prof. Michael Byers points out, if an engine fails, a second engine is the only thing that can keep the plane in the air and prevent a crash. Accordingly, the U.S. fields all-weather, twin-engine F-22 stealth fighters in Alaska.

During the 24-year history of the single-engine CF-104 Starfighter with the Royal Canadian Air Force, 110 out of 239 jets were lost and 37 pilots killed. Fourteen of those crashes were directly attributed to in-flight engine failure, according to CF-104 historian David Bashow, a former RCAF pilot.

Last September, American officials quietly demanded Canada amend its procurement rules to allow the F-35 to stay in the race. The Liberal government removed standard requirements for some measure of reinvestment in Canada’s economy. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production scheme did not allow for the same kind of economic benefits, or industrial offsets, offered by other competitors.

Indeed, as one of nine partners in the F-35 project, Canada has contributed more than $500 million to the plane’s multibillion-dollar development costs since 1997, the Canadian Press reported in January 2019. Each country pays a share of those development costs, based on the number of F-35s it is expected to buy, to remain in the program and allow its companies to vie for supply contracts.

In contrast, when Boeing pitched its F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III fighter, it included billions of dollars of work for Canadian companies. This would include aircraft component production contracts, along with guarantees for in-house maintenance work in Canada.

Unlike the Super Hornet, the F-35 is plagued by reliability, maintenance and training issues that are raising eyebrows in Canada, Australia and the Pentagon. Availability of spare parts, skyrocketing costs per hour in service, software flaws and system-related deficiencies that mar dropping of air-to-ground weapons to support ground troops are among many concerns.

F-35s break down more often than planned and take longer to fix, warned Robert Behler, the Pentagon’s director of operational testing. In his 2018 report to the U.S. government, Behler added that the F-35 trailed by “a large margin” in attaining fully mission capable status. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan also has harshly criticized the F-35.

Sweden’s Saab Aeronautics promises to build its Gripen-E fighter jet in Canada. It has promised to create high-tech jobs and maximize the production expertise of Canadian technology firms. “Certainly, if that is what the customer values for Canada that is something that we can easily do,” Patrick Palmer, senior vice-president of Saab Canada, said in an interview with Postmedia.

But the Gripen-E is also a single-engine fighter.

Canada should buy Boeing’s Block III Super Hornet, a more modern, significantly reworked development of the current CF-18. Not only would Super Hornets help patrol Canadian airspace in the Arctic, they would offer Canadian taxpayers enormous service and maintenance cost savings. They also will ensure that the economic benefits of a contract, worth substantially more than Canada’s entire annual defence budget, stay here at home for the long term, helping to create thousands of high-tech jobs.

Canada’s Defence Minister Harjitt Saijjan has expressed interest in acquiring pilotless drones for Arctic surveillance. But Canada will need some kind of piloted fighter jet to replace the aging CF-18s, especially if we want to participate in NATO and Norad as full-fledged partners.

This spring, Ottawa should say no to the F-35. It’s a dead-in-the air offensive weapon system designed for shock-and-awe warfare. Canadian fighters have been used mainly to bomb targets with weak or non-existent air defences in the past. We should plan to buy Super Hornets, which are well suited for the missions that Canada typically trains for using CF-18s.

There is no way of knowing what our future challenges will be. But it is not the right pie-in-the-sky plan for a minority government to choose to invest for the next 30 or more years in unsustainable and prohibitively costly highly advanced jet propulsion technology.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics and Sakhi Naimpoor is a PhD candidate in the department of political science at Western University.


War Planners’ Wish List

December 6, 2019

                       U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney look on during a bilateral meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Watford, Britain, December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump continues to lambast NATO allies for not meeting the alliance’s target of spending two per cent of each member’s GDP on defence.

At the NATO summit this week, he said: “Some countries aren’t fulfilling their commitment and those countries are going to be dealt with. Maybe I’ll deal with them from a trade standpoint. Maybe I’ll deal with them in a different way.”

American and NATO policy makers are threatening to increase the readiness of NATO forces for high-intensity warfare. Like a kid’s letter to Santa Claus, the types of toys they want to buy make a long wish list.

They want army tactical missile systems, extended-range artillery systems, future-attack reconnaissance aircraft, land-based hypersonic missiles, long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, optionally manned fighting vehicles, precision-strike missiles, short-range air defence systems and strategic long-range cannon.

As U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy warned last month: “Our adversaries are investing in tomorrow today, unconstrained by a continuing resolution and singularly focused on shifting the current balance of power.”

Canada is expected to field forces in NATO with equipment that over-matches Russia and China. Expect further warnings that not to integrate with NATO’s and NORAD’s cyber operations could be a threat to the modernization of Canada’s defence services network.

Canada’s contributions of combat and training teams in Latvia and Iraq will be expected to develop all sorts of capabilities for fighting high-intensity wars, including assured position navigation and timing capabilities as well as individual visual augmentation systems.

To deal with peer competitors, we will need to train for high-tempo, high-lethality, multi-domain operations, including the possibility of limited nuclear war.

It won’t be long before the wish list lengthens to include futuristic robotic systems. As well, pressure will ratchet up to operate with upgraded Black Hawk helicopters, Stryker combat vehicle fleets, guided multiple launch rocket systems and Hellfire missiles.

Trump has agreed to — and the U.S. Congress is considering — a defence budget for the 2020 fiscal year in the range of US$738 billion (C$981 billion). According to the Canadian government’s 2017 defence policy statement, Strong, Secure, Engaged, Canada’s annual defence spending should increase from $17.1 billion in 2016-17 to $24.6 billion in 2026-27 and $32.7 billion in 2026-27.

The Liberals promised, for example, to provide $17.5 billion to buy equipment for the Royal Canadian Navy, including $14.6 billion over the next 20 years for 15 surface combatants, a fleet of warships that is expected to be in service for 30 years. Canada’s auditor general has already reported the defence department underestimated the costs for the overpriced F-35 jets.

Canadian taxes would be better spent on health care, including countering biochemical threats, than on expensive equipment for undertaking high-intensity conventional operations in Europe.

Previously, NATO officials profusely thanked Canadians for their substantial contribution to fighting the Taliban. But that kind of mid-intensity, slow-motion warfare is now part of Afghanistan’s forgotten war.

NATO’s narrative now is that we cannot allow our enemies an advantage in preparing for the next fight. Such arguments are akin to saying children should get AK-47s for Christmas because the poorer kids down the block will no doubt want toy pistols and BB guns.

While high-level policy-makers at NATO headquarters emphasize Russia’s invasion of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 as sufficient evidence of Russia’s expansionist intentions, they tend to give little or no consideration to the impact on Russia’s insecurity of NATO extending membership to Eastern European countries that were once Russia’s allies.

Now Russia is protecting Syrian forces against Turkey as it invades Syria to push Syrian Kurds away from their shared border. This is seen by NATO as more evidence of Russia’s intransigence, but less so as evidence of NATO member Turkey’s egregious behaviour. Even France’s President Emmanuel Macron talked openly just prior to the NATO summit about crisis decision-making processes as “brain death.”

Canadians are not pacifists, doves nor “bunny-huggers.” But we must explain to war planners with dreams about high-tech weaponry that Santa is not real. The true bearers of gifts under the tree are hardworking parents from around the world who struggle to make ends meet. Global citizens should not be expected to sacrifice more for out-of-reach toys that rob the family treasury.

To drastically increase the defence budgets of the soon-to-be-30 NATO allies to two per cent of GDP would end any chance of having funding to reach the United Nations’ lofty and widely-agreed-upon sustainable development goals.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University, president of the Canadian Peace Research Association, author of NATO and the Bomb.


Kurds’ Plight a Result of Failures All Around

October 18, 2019

              Kurdish Syrian civilians flee the town of Kobane on the Turkish border on Wednesday as Turkey and its allies continue their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. (Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images)

The lacklustre Canadian election campaign, combined with the looming Canadian winter exacerbated by climate change, could depress even the most stalwart Canadian. My elderly mother in Saskatoon has weathered 60 winters in Canada since landing in Montreal by boat. When another young woman she met suggested she head out to Saskatoon Sask., my mother set out for the west.

I think of similar Kurdish wives heading west, east, north or south — anywhere to get away from bombs and air strikes targeting towns along the 400-kilometre border between Turkey and the Kurdish-controlled region of Syria as Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fans out his troops to cleanse the area of Kurdish populations.

Syria’s despotic President Bashar al-Assad has rushed in from the other direction to attack the incoming Turkish army, as well as the Kurds, who were America’s strong ally against the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaida.

NATO’s fight against terrorism will become even more difficult because ISIS has room to regain strength in the chaos. As Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted, Turkey’s unilateral action risks reviving a battered Islamic State.

By pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, President Donald Trump allowed Turkey to carry out its long-planned attack on Kurdish forces in northeast Syria — unopposed even by its allies in NATO. The narrative at NATO headquarters in Brussels recites the time-worn line that the consensus rules of its North Atlantic Assembly tie the allies’ hands in dealing with Turkey’s incursion.

The allies’ failure to act, despite the prospect of genocide and ethnic cleansing as well as other types of war crimes, is what international lawyers are talking about, as it seems the undemocratically elected Turkish leader is intent on systematically wiping out an ethnic group, deliberately and mercilessly.

The UN’s 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide explains in Article II that genocide means killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with the intent to destroy them in whole or in part. Arguably Turkey, and now Syria, are deliberately inflicting on the Kurdish group conditions of life calculated to bring about its “physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Canada’s response has been to belatedly impose future sanctions on military arms exports to Turkey.

Here in Canada we could have helped stop such war crimes if we had properly invested in the right kind of equipment, institutions and policies. Instead, the Liberal and previous Conservative governments have increased Canada’s defence budget to buy war toys meant for high-intensity warfare.

The Liberal government’s 2017 defence policy statement said it will increase annual defence spending from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27, an increase of more than 70 per cent over 10 years. At the same time, the government is making some of Canada’s largest-ever military purchases

The government will provide $17.5 billion to fund equipment for the Royal Canadian Navy over the next 20 years, including 15 surface combatant warships. The ship program, including associated costs such as training and ammunition, was originally budgeted in 2008 to cost $26.2 billion. In 2017, the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated the cost would be $61.82 billion, almost 2.4 times more.

The Royal Canadian Air Force will acquire 88 new fighter jets at a cost of $19 billion. The bid process has been bogged down for years by accusations that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter has been favoured. Bids are expected by next year with the contract awarded in 2022.

So what is a Canadian voter supposed to do? Defence spending — and how to spend wisely and efficiently — has not been debated this election campaign. None of the leaders has talked about whether, and how, Canada should prepare for the full spectrum of missions — from peace support and peacekeeping to regional collective defence operations within and beyond Europe to high-intensity combat within and beyond North America.

Peace support and crisis management operations should become more central functions of Canada’s defence. While some capability to conduct high-intensity combat operations should be retained for the sake of NATO’s collective defence, the emphasis of Canadian force planning and structuring should be on greatly strengthening our ability and the UN’s capability to conduct peace support missions.

Otherwise Kurds, who number at least 30 million including the diaspora in Canada, will watch in despair as their compatriots in Syria are slaughtered.

My mother fled the Russians on a cattle car with no possessions. Now she is on the telephone with me relentlessly, bewailing the plight of Kurdish mothers with no place to flee despite the oncoming winter’s cold blasts.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics in the department of political science at Western University, the author of NATO and the Bomb and the president of the Canadian Peace Research Association.


To the Moral High Ground

August 17, 2019

General Dynamics Land Systems Canada Lav 6 vehicles are shown carrying troops in 2016. SGT JEAN-FRANCOIS LAUZÉ/COMBAT CAMERA/GENERAL DYNAMICS

Canada, Ireland and Norway are competing for two United Nations Security Council seats which will be voted on next June. The three countries already have begun lobbying countries from Latin America and the Southern Hemisphere.

Canada is in a difficult position because of the federal election on October 20 that could change everything.

Whether Canada deserves a seat on the UN Security Council for two years, beginning in January 2020, depends on the Canadian government’s contributions to the UN during the last four years. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau self-describes as a feminist and strongly supported the We Deliver conference in Vancouver this June — the largest conference of feminists in human history — which attracted more than 6,000 world leaders, civil rights and human rights activists from all over the world.

On UN peacekeeping, the Canadian government’s record slightly improved with a deployment of approximately 250 peacekeepers in Mali, withdrawn this summer before the Romanian replacements arrived. There were no Canadian troop casualties.

We can do more though, especially relative to the front-runner for a UN Security Council seat. The 645 men and women of the Irish Defence Forces are deployed in 13 countries, continuing Ireland’s record of the longest unbroken peacekeeping service of any country in the world.

Additionally, Norway is a stronger contender than Canada because it is one of the most generous donors, providing 0.99 per cent of its gross national income (GNI) to development assistance. Canada falls short of the international commitment of 0.7 per cent GNI, a black mark that troubles our efforts to score a UN seat.

Most Canadians probably would not mind paying a few cents more on their taxes to restore our once famous commitments to peacekeeping and international development.

When we competed for a UN seat last time, critics cited Canada’s poor UN peacekeeping record, lacklustre support for nuclear disarmament and minuscule contribution to international development under then-prime minister Stephen Harper. This time, we may be on a better footing if Trudeau is re-elected with a minority government, because Trudeau will be pressured by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Green party leader Elizabeth May to develop more progressive, globalist policies.

Canada needs to signal stronger support for the new UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

The NATO allies — except Canada — already have acceded to the ATT. Canada passed Bill C-47 and deposited its instrument of accession this year so it will finally become bound by the treaty on Sept. 1.

However, Canada’s good-faith efforts to implement the ATT will be highly questionable if Canada’s exports of London-built light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia continue.

Reports indicate the full order from the military regime in Saudi Arabia is for 742 vehicles (decreased from the original 928). The federal government’s report, 2018 Exports of Military Goods confirms 127 full-system armoured combat vehicles were exported to Saudi Arabia last year.

Yet, Trudeau told Canadians six months ago the government was trying to see if there is a way of “no longer exporting these vehicles to Saudi Arabia.” Meanwhile, Conservative leader Andrew Sheer has promised to broker an improved relationship with the Saudis, if elected.

The United Kingdom has suspended weapons export to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Congress has voted repeatedly in favour of banning arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the situation in Yemen is horrendous and there is a high risk that Canadian-made equipment could be used to violate international law there.

Ethically, whether we should end our military transfers to Saudi Arabia so as to abide by the UN’s ATT is not debated in the London-Fanshawe constituency where the General Dynamics plant is located in London, partly because that riding still has not put forward a Liberal candidate for election.

Another problem is Canada has said it will not accede to the UN’s new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. All the NATO allies are refusing to sign the Ban Treaty because it outlaws nuclear weapons and NATO allies want to rely on nuclear deterrence. The Canadian diplomats’ narrative is Canada will not sign and ratify the 2017 UN treaty that bans nuclear weapons, because we would rather support the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty although its stymied negotiations have unsuccessfully dragged on for decades.

If Andrew Scheer becomes prime minister, will voters at the UN General Assembly choose Ireland and Norway over Canada? Norway’s right-wing administration is lobbying hard for the seat and Ireland’s foreign service, despite its Brexit woes, is seen to be first in the running.

It is up to Canada’s current prime minister, therefore, to decide whether he desires a UN seat enough to announce new and credible UN-focused foreign policy initiatives.

If I were the prime minister, I would visit the General Dynamics plant in London and promise to immediately convert its 3000 jobs to building vehicles that instead enhance sovereignty by patrolling Canada’s harsh melting Arctic ice and permafrost. And I would divert some of the Liberal government’s secretive increase in defence spending (to try to abide by President Trump’s admonition to NATO allies to spend two per cent of GNI on defence) to spending on international development. Or else Canada surely will be on the chopping block and it will be hard to find pride in Canada’s guilty conspiration with Saudi Arabia to starve millions of Yemeni families.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University and president of the Canadian Peace Research Association.


A New York State of Infrastructure

July 19, 2019

                 People walk along a dark street near Times Square area, as a blackout affects buildings and traffic during widespread power outages in the Manhattan borough of New York on July 13. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Every year in July, the world debates the future of our planet at the United Nations in New York.

New York is a dazzling location for world leaders to meet.

But this year, as my brother was driving us toward Times Square in Manhattan, the billboards that normally illuminate the area abruptly went dark. At 6:47 p.m. last Saturday, a large area from Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River south of 72nd Street lost electrical power.

As darkness grew that evening, a flood of police sirens began to blare around us and the area was perforated by the red and blue of emergency lights. Car horns blared and the police used loudspeakers to try to move the gridlocked traffic.

We were blocked on both sides of our car by stalled traffic as well as a bus in front of us. The voice on the police car’s loudspeaker kept commanding us to move. At one point, a police officer bent down and screamed in frustration at us to move forward. My brother — who prides himself on having survived driving the congested traffic of Lagos, Nigeria — was simply stuck.

It is certainly disconcerting, if not petrifying, to be surrounded by police cars and entrapped in a darkening street with thousands of other confused people, unsure of the reason for chaos.

At first, we thought the police at intersections were directing us away from a terrible accident, perhaps a terrorist attack. But this was contradicted by all the darkened skyscrapers that we could see through the car windows.

Ironically, Goal 9 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals has a target to “develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure.”

The situation in New York that day exemplifies the necessity of disaster preparedness, especially as the climate crisis evolves, and threats like terrorist attack loom large on everyone’s minds.

We later heard the outage affecting approximately 72,000 people in lower west Manhattan was due to a simple fire in a manhole — although other causes have since been identified, including a transformer fire and a substation fire. None were considered suspicious.

It raises questions about how a city’s electrical services can be so easily affected. In the future world of climate crisis, events like this promise to be commonplace.

Questions need to be asked of all mayors of big cities about how ready their infrastructure, services and emergency planning are.

If we had experienced a terrorist attack, I fear the richest and most educated city on the planet simply could not cope. As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: “You just can’t have a power outage of this magnitude in this city. It is too dangerous. The potential for public safety risk and chaos is too high. We just can’t have a system that does this.”

In the wake of the blackout, Cuomo says he is working to find out why there was not a backup system in place, and how one can be implemented. He says New York needs a better power system.

On the other hand, apart from cancelling Broadway shows and Jennifer Lopez’s concert at Madison Square Gardens, nobody suffered much and there were no reports of fatalities or heart attacks. A few people had to be rescued from elevators and some had to walk out of their subway cars through the dark tunnels. Perhaps it speaks to the resilient character of New Yorkers.

For us, the situation was relatively calm as we waited at intersections without working traffic lights to take the tunnel under the Hudson to where we were staying in New Jersey.

New York City’s summer blackout taught thousands of party-goers and revellers that Manhattan — part of “the city that never sleeps” — relies immensely on an electrical grid that is worrisomely vulnerable.

For the rest of us, including tourists and visiting dignitaries, it was a reminder that the United Nations’ call for resilient infrastructure is best met through preparedness. As we drove away from the darkness I felt grateful this was the very topic world leaders were discussing at United Nations headquarters in New York .

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University and president of the Canadian Peace Research Association.