A foreign policy that practices what it preaches: Part One

As August draws to a close and we face the certainty of a fall federal election, albeit with the start date still unannounced, we begin our reflections on the foreign policy record of the Justin Trudeau government.

Today we consider key policy questions  in relation to Canada’s role in the global arms trade, addressing the nuclear peril, and Canada’s relations with Iran.

Canada’s role in the global arms trade

Readers of our weekly blog will be only too familiar with Canada’s ongoing complicity in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, engendered by a conflict that is fueled in part by Canadian weapons, especially but not only Canadian-made so-called “light” (although in actuality, very heavily) armoured vehicles.

With respect to this sordid saga, we ask Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Minister Freeland the following:

What does it mean to be a “champion” of human rights and international law if we refuse to join the host of countries that have already suspended arms exports to Saudi Arabia, not only because of their war crimes in Yemen, but their repression inside Saudi Arabia and the official Saudi government complicity in the brutal assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi?

While we wholeheartedly welcome Canada’s accession to the Arms Trade Treaty, which takes effect on 17 September, 2019, how does our membership in that landmark global treaty strengthen international arms trade regulation if our terms of accession fail to meet the fundamental treaty obligation to apply these global standards to all of our military exports, not just those destined for countries other than the United States?

Daniel Turp, a professor at McGill University, tried unsuccessfully to have the Canadian courts suspend our Saudi-destined LAVs, under the pre-ATT regulatory regime, the court having found that the Minister had “wide discretion” to interpret the rules as she saw fit. Under Canada’s ATT-accession legislation, there are now “hard legal limits” on that ministerial discretion, with the result that Daniel Turp is planning to launch a new lawsuit to stop our Saudi arms exports once and for all.

So we also ask:

Why do we need another court case to ensure that the global ATT standard is finally applied in Canada?

And while the provision of Canadian jobs* can never be a justification for complicity in war crimes, we note that employment at General Dynamics Land Systems, the LAV manufacturers, has been assured for some time yet through the announcement by the Government of Canada of a major contract to upgrade the LAV component of the Canadian Armed Forces.

*For a factual discussion, from an unusual source, of the loss of private jobs inherent in every public dollar spend on the military, see: How Military Spending Affects The Economy (Investopedia.com)

 Canada’s role in curbing a new nuclear arms race

Since the October 2015 election, many Ceasefire.ca blog posts have charted the dismal course of Canadian non-leadership in the face of a growing nuclear peril.  Let’s go back to one of the earliest, entitled Call to Action by Five Former Canadian Disarmament Ambassadors (21 June 2016).

RI President and former UN Ambassador Peggy Mason and her four colleagues asked:

How did the world move from the “downward” trend of nuclear weapons [in the 1990s] to an “upward” shift? … The question that preoccupies us, as former Canadian ambassadors for disarmament, is what can be done to get nuclear disarmament back on track and, particularly, what can the new Canadian government do to move the process forward?

Then they called on Canada to support efforts at the UN to negotiate a binding Nuclear Weapons Convention. They concluded:

The new Canadian government, which clearly wants to advance the broad UN agenda, will have to decide if its allegiance to an outmoded NATO [nuclear] policy is stronger than its commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose members have made an “unequivocal undertaking” toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Almost 4 years later, it is tragically clear that retrograde NATO policy on nuclear weapons, not creative, courageous disarmament diplomacy, was the misguided choice of the Trudeau Liberals, cowed as they apparently were by the simultaneously shambolic, yet malevolent, American presidency of Donald Trump.

Click here for the latest assessment of nuclear dangers by veteran American arms control expert Joe Cirincione, who used to work closely with Canada back in the 1980s and 90s when we were global leaders in multilateral arms control verification.

In our most recent blog post on this issue, on 23 August 2019, we posed the following question:

What can be more important to the “rules based international order” that Canada’s Foreign Minister purports to champion than binding nuclear arms control agreements?

To which we now add the following:

Will the Justin Trudeau election platform include specific proposals to inject new energy and urgency into Canada’s nuclear disarmament diplomacy?

Canada and Iran

Canada’s promised (but as yet undelivered) constructive re-engagement with Iran is important in its own right, not least because it better enables our government to address the myriad consular issues facing Canadians of Iranian origin wishing to visit or otherwise interact with their former homeland.

But it is also a prerequisite to a Canadian diplomatic role in helping de-escalate the dangerous tensions between Iran and the United States, which began with the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the historic Iran nuclear deal (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, JCPOA) in May 2018.

There have been many Ceasefire.ca blog posts on this issue, first lauding the historic nuclear deal reached in 2015 under the Obama administration, then charting the inexorable increase in global tensions after the American abrogation of the deal was followed by the imposition of comprehensive, draconian, and utterly illegal sanctions on Iran, under a strategy of so-called “maximum pressure” to force it into new negotiations with the USA.

Time and again we have lamented the pro forma support given by Canada to salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, a performance in marked contrast to the strenuous efforts by our European allies to save the deal and to insulate Iran, where possible, from the most pernicious effects of the American sanctions. These efforts culminated in an extraordinary diplomatic effort by French President Macron on the margins of the G7 Summit in Biarritz in late August.

Our question for Prime Minister Trudeau is:

Will you commit to actively working with European allies to de-escalate tensions between the USA and Iran and to re-establish full adherence to the Iran nuclear deal, as the foundation for further USA and Iran negotiations on other pressing regional and global security issues?


Further blog posts will examine other key foreign and defence policy questions that the Justin Trudeau Liberals need to address with diplomatic peacemaking and peacebuilding options that are commensurate with the scale of the challenges facing Canada and our global community. In due course, we will also consider the policy choices being offered by the opposition parties.

Photo credit: POM (The United Nations, NYC)


Tags: Ambassador for Disarmament, Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), canada-saudi arms deal, Canadian complicity in Saudi war crimes, Daniel Turp, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, General Dynamics Land Systems - Canada, illegal economic sanctions, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), Iran, Iran nuclear deal, Joe Cirincione, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), LAVs, nuclear arms race, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Saudi Arabia, Saudi arms deal, SIPRI, War crimes, Yemen conflict, Yemen humanitarian crisis