Canada gets Cuba policy right, why DND does not need new subs and much more

Canadian Cuba policy opposing trade embargo and urging dialogue is the right one

In an “analysis” entitled As Cuba erupts, Cuban-Canadians accuse the Trudeau government of turning its back, CBC’s Evan Dyer references this statement from Global Affairs Canada:

Global Affairs Canada urges all sides to exercise restraint and encourages all parties involved in the crisis to engage in peaceful and inclusive dialogue.

He then contrasts this Canadian stance with our policy towards Venezuela writing:

The GAC statement departs from the language Canada typically uses when talking about other authoritarian regimes in the region in that it contains no call for a return to democracy — no suggestion that it’s time to end Cuba’s 62-year-old one-party state.

Dyer seems oblivious to the fact that, unlike the sanctions against the Maduro regime in Venezuela (about which there are decidedly mixed views), the 60-year-old trade embargo against Cuba has been the subject of virtually unanimous international condemnation, with the UN General Assembly in 2021 calling for the US to end the Cuba embargo for the 29th consecutive year.

Equally absent from the CBC analysis is the terrible economic havoc being wreaked by the  draconian sanctions implemented by the Trump administration, reversing the Obama initiative to gradually open up economic and diplomatic relations.

In the words of Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

Cubans are facing profound hardship because of the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, the entrenched culture of corruption and mismanagement among Cuba’s leadership, and the strict sanctions callously imposed by the Trump Administration.

Nor is there any mention of the effort by a group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Meeks, to convince President Biden to lift these sanctions as he promised during his election campaign:

I call on President Biden to help alleviate the suffering in Cuba by rescinding the Trump era sanctions and offering additional humanitarian and vaccine assistance to the Cuban people.

In the view of

This article by Evan Dyer is not so much an analysis as an uncritical recitation of the views of one segment of the Cuban-Canadian (and American) population.

Much more nuanced Canadian viewpoints are presented in a recent AlJazeera Inside Story panel discussion featuring Canadian Professor Emeritus of History and Strategy at the Royal Military College of Canada Hal Klepak, a Cuba expert, and another Canadian analyst based in Havana, Gregory Biniowski.

The black and white position outlined in the Dyer article is also represented on the programme by Rosa María Payá, founder of CubaDecide, a pro-democracy movement based in Florida.

Hal Klepak highlights the danger of simplistic thinking when it comes to Cuba:

I think it is very dangerous to start speaking in these black and white terms. There is a crisis… an explosion of ire amongst a large percentage of the Cuban people and frustration among the whole of the Cuban people.

But to put this in black and white terms of dictatorship against people is really not very helpful and doesn’t reflect in any way the experience of the last 62 years of the island.

He then goes on to outline the central questions.

What we have at the moment is a real issue, a real problem and we want to advance in human rights and democratic terms. How would you do that?

Well, you have to have dialogue or violence. And the idea that this is going to be the people rising as one against this government and that therefore it’s just going to topple is simply not on.

Against the backdrop of a “generalized loss of confidence” in the Cuban government’s ability to respond to the overall situation, but at the same time a widespread rejection of the “Miami solution” of insurrection, both Klepak and Biniowski argue that the only way forward is dialogue.

In Biniowski’s words:

The starting point should be dialogue between the Cuban and American governments on lifting the 60-year trade embargo and returning to Obama’s policy of engagement.

Viewed from this light, Canada’s statement “urging all parties to engage in peaceful and inclusive dialogue” does not represent a gap with the Biden administration “wider than the straits that separate Havana from Key West”, as Dyer argues.

In reality, the Canadian statement is too deferential to the US President (and a vocal segment of the Canadian diaspora), in its omission of any reference to lifting the arms embargo, consistent with our long UN voting record and Biden’s own election commitments.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to support renewed US presidential engagement with the Cuban government with a view to ending the inhumane and counterproductive trade embargo as soon as possible.

For more on the need for a complete rethink of the use of economic sanctions in response to human rights violations, see this authoritative article by two international experts, Sanctions Are Inhumane – Now, and Always (Asli U.Bali, Aziz Rana,, 26 Mar 2020).

Afghanistan is in peril. Can peace talks help?

It is hard to be optimistic in the face of all the horrific news coming out of Afghanistan as the Taliban relentlessly consolidates its gains in the wake of the American — and NATO — troop withdrawals.

On the other hand, it is important to note that efforts to expand peace talks to all relevant regional actors are also ramping up. For example, a recent report states:

At a meeting in Uzbekistan that opens on Friday, more than a dozen leaders and foreign ministers from regional powers will gather with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, and senior American diplomats including the top US envoy for peace, Zalmay Khalilzad.

For a more in-depth look at how a key regional player with influence over the Taliban — Pakistan — can help buttress the fragile Afghan peace process, see: Pakistan: Shoring up Afghanistan’s Peace Process (Briefing No. 169,, 30 June 2021).

Whither Canada?

At a minimum Canada must get its own act together and heed the calls from retired senior Canadian military and others to help Afghan civilians who worked for Canada and who are now endangered because of that service.

Beyond that, it is long past time for Canada to play a diplomatic peacemaking role in Afghanistan more commensurate with our considerable past military and development contributions.

We call on the Government of Canada to restart a resettlement program for Afghan civilians who worked for us in Afghanistan and to prioritize all those in danger because of that service.

We also call on the Government of Canada to give far great priority to diplomatic peacemaking efforts in Afghanistan.

End Canadian submarine programme full-stop

As if the new funding that will be required for NORAD modernization were not enough, Canadian defence officials revealed on 14 July plans to replace Canada’s “beleaguered” submarine fleet. In the words of navy spokesman Lt.-Cmdr. Jordan Holder:

The CAF is establishing a Canadian patrol submarine project to inform timely governmental decision-making about a potential replacement class of submarines, and avoid any gap in submarine capability.

The only hopeful word in that announcement is “potential”. In the view of

If there is one thing the last 23 years — since Canada purchased the four second-hand vessels from Britain in 1998 — have demonstrated is that the Canadian navy can function perfectly well without submarines.

Lee Berthiaume in a Canadian Press article notes:

the vessels have since spent more time in dock for repairs and maintenance than at sea, with Ottawa sinking billions of dollars into the fleet over the past 20-plus years to address a series of problems and incidents including fires and faulty welding.

Berthiaume also acknowledges a project go-ahead is anything but certain, writing:

Yet the decision to move ahead also kick-starts what is expected to be a tough conversation for the navy around the need for new submarines given the high cost of building and operating such vessels, and the many problems that have afflicted its current fleet.

Back in June 2015, a Rideau Institute Smart Defence Report called for an end to the submarine programme. We include the relevant recommendation (from page 24) in its entirety here.

  • The Victoria-class submarines have been a misadventure from the outset. Bought second-hand from the British Royal Navy in 1998, they have required considerable expenditure while providing almost no operational ‘at-sea’ time.
    • Submarines are of little use for operations against non-state actors, as they are ill-suited for boarding other vessels, and their ability to provide covert surveillance of suspect boats is outmatched at much less cost by small, unarmed, commercially available drones.
    • Nor is there much risk of an interstate war that necessitates small-country submarine capability.
    • Having submarines does not enhance Canada’s Northwest Passage claim, because any voyages through that waterway by foreign submarines are covert and thus unable to influence the respective US and Canadian legal positions.
  • The fact that Canada has managed without operational submarines for the better part of two decades indicates that such vessels are unnecessary.
  • Canada should follow the approach taken by Denmark, which in 2006 de­commissioned its submarines and increased the capability of its surface fleet, including by constructing offshore patrol vessels ….[which Canada has done].

In June 2015 the projected savings for the cancellation of the programme to maintain the Victoria-class submarines until 2030 (a promise repeated in the 2017 defence budget) was 2 billion dollars. This pales in comparison to the untold billions that would now be saved by abandoning a replacement programme, for which no funds are currently allocated.

The Canadian Press article relates the alarming Australian cost-overun experience:

The Australian government, which has been working for more than a decade to buy 12 French-designed submarines, revealed last year that the diesel-electric vessels will cost more than $80 billion — or more than $6 billion each.

The new cost was nearly double Canberra’s original estimate, and more than the $60 billion Canada plans to pay for a whole new fleet of 15 state-of-the-art frigates to replace its fleet of Halifax-class warships over the next two decades.

See also a March 2021 article by Anthony Galloway in The Sydney Morning Herald with the heart-stopping opening line:

The Morrison government is forging ahead with the $90 billion submarine program…. [emphasis added]

Whither Canada?

There is no operational requirement that can possibly justify the enormous expense of a replacement submarine programme.

We call on the Government of Canada to unequivocally shelve plans for a “potential” replacement class of submarines and, instead, announce definitive plans for the decommissioning of the Victoria-class submarines.

And now for some Notable Notes and quick updates of ongoing priority issues.

UN considers role of sanctions in strengthening women’s role in peace processes

But what about the participation “pillar” of the women, peace and security agenda? Could sanctions be used to actually bring women to peace tables? And how should they be used?

For the answer to that question, see a thought-provoking article that lives up to its headline: Thinking Outside the Box: How UN Sanctions Can Be Used to Bring More Women Into Peace Talks (Sophie Huvé and Rebecca Brubaker,, 13 July 2021).

Rethinking Security – UN Trust Fund on Human Security

Human security is an approach to assist Member States in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people (General Assembly resolution 66/290)

For a comprehensive look at the groundbreaking UN work on Human Security, see the UN Trust Fund on Human Security website, which includes:

  • The latest Human Security Newsletter
  • The history of the evolution of Human Security through relevant UN resolutions, Reports of the UN Secretary-General and the establishment of the Trust Fund, and
  • Programming through the UN Trust Fund on Human Security

Rideau Institute ranks among Top Forty Foreign Policy Blogs on the Planet for 2021!

(So it turns out this is a moving target, folks. From 22nd June when rankings were announced until today, we held the rank noted above. Now we have moved to #45 of top 60 and #4 in Canadian foreign policy blogs. Fame is fleeting, it seems. But our work goes on!)

RI President and two other former Canadian Disarmament Ambassadors talk disarmament diplomacy

Check out this lively discussion moderated by world-renowned Canadian journalist Michael Petrou by clicking on the arrow below.



Photo credit (UN photo/Eskinder Debebe (UN General Assembly voting))


Tags: Afghanistan peace process, Aljazeera Inside Story, Australia submarine cost over-runs, Canada and Cuba policy, Canadian International Council (CIC) National Capital Branch, Canadian replacement submarines, Canadian Victoria Class submarines, Cuba trade embargo, Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks, economic sanctions and international law,, Gregory Biniowski, International Crisis Group (ICG), Professor Emeritus Hal Klepak, UN PassBlue, UN sanctions and "participation pillar", UN Trust Fund on Human Security