Canada-US relations, arms trade scrutiny and the CBC Tandem outrage

Can we re-engage with the USA in pursuit of global security?

During the Trump administration, there has been no real possibility of American allies engaging in meaningful dialogue on much of anything, let alone on the subject of profoundly reorienting our thinking about national and international security. With the election of Democrat Joe Biden, there is renewed hope of a more productive engagement. In the words of the President-elect:

As a nation, we have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again….

The Biden foreign policy agenda will place the United States back at the head of the table, in a position to work with its allies and partners to mobilize collective action on global threats.

But as Peter Beinart cogently outlines in both his Beinart Notebook article (free) and in more detail in  his paywalled New York Times opinion, a return to the old model of American interaction with its allies and others is not a good idea at all.

In the post-Trump age, “leadership” is a misguided, and even dangerous, vision for America’s relationship with the rest of the globe.

Among the reasons advanced by Beinart are:

  • The USA no longer commands the economic leadership position it has held in the past.
  • Its claim to “moral leadership” and advancing the “aspirations of all” is belied by the history of its actions in foreign election meddling, illegal wars, failure to ratify scores of international treaties and the sheer magnitude of violence it promotes through its arms sales and drone attacks.
  • International cooperation does not collapse without America “calling the shots” as the departure of the USA from the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization have demonstrated.

Beinart argues:

The point isn’t that American participation in common global efforts is unnecessary. To the contrary — it’s vital. But most of the time, America best serves these efforts less by dictating the rules than by agreeing to them.

And apparently a majority of Americans agree, with polls consistently demonstrating they prefer their country to play a “major” or “shared leadership” role rather than “the leading role” in world affairs.

Beinart concludes:

The Biden team should make solidarity — not leadership — its watchword for approaching the world. In so doing, it would acknowledge that while the United States can do much to help other nations, its first obligation — especially after the horrors of the Trump era — is to stop doing harm.

Isolationism versus interventionism is a false choice

For a further examination of what should constitute America’s global engagement going forward, see: “Isolationism Is Not a Dirty Word” (, 27 September 2020).  Author Charles A. Kupchan makes a powerful argument for the United States rediscovering the middle ground between doing too much and doing too little:

Working to spread democracy through advocacy and example rather than more intrusive means will help the United States find the middle ground between isolation and overreach.

American allies like Canada need to encourage American partnership over dominance

All of this offers a crystal-clear message for American allies, like Canada. It’s time to pivot from “damage limitation” as the key organizing principle for interactions with the USA and prepare instead for a relationship that strengthens Canada’s multilateral engagement and commitment to a rules-based international order, and which eschews double standards and turning a blind eye to the actions of our “friends”.

We call on the government of Canada to commit to a renewed partnership with the United States based on mutual respect for, and adherence to, the founding principles of the UN Charter.

Foreign Affairs Committee hears from civil society on Canada’s arms trade

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs recently began hearings into the granting by Canada of arms export permits, with a particular focus on permits granted to Turkey.

On Thursday, 10 December, meeting virtually, the Committee heard testimony from representatives of three civil society organisations long involved in Canada’s arms trade policies and practices: Justin Mohamed and Stacia Loft for Amnesty International Canada, Cesar Jaramillo and Kelsey Gallagher for Project Ploughshares and Peggy Mason for the Rideau Institute.

Justin Mohamed raised the incomprehensible failure of Canada to incorporate the Arms Trade Treaty Article VI absolute prohibitions on certain arms transfers into Canadian law:

The consequences of failing to do so … are that Canada continues to export weapons where there are significant concerns about their use in the commission of serious international crimes.

Both Project Ploughshares witnesses underscored the lack of any reasonable explanation for Canada deciding, in contravention of its own embargo, to allow the export of drone targeting technology to Turkey:

Given Turkey’s brazen behaviour in Libya, it should have come as no surprise to Global Affairs Canada that the same Canadian weapons would also be found illicitly fueling the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. By all accounts, Turkey’s provision of weapons to Azerbaijan substantially influenced the outcome of that conflict.

Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason focused her opening remarks on the need for Canada to establish an independent, impartial Canadian arms export control agency, in light of the repeated failures of Global Affairs to do the job adequately:

We have seen a cynical pattern of Global Affairs suspending new export permits under the glare of media scrutiny, announcing an internal investigation and then lifting the suspension when the media hype dies down, all the while in most cases continuing the actual exports anyway under existing permits.

To view the video of the full proceedings including the question and answer session, click on the arrow below:

Steven Chase, in a Globe and Mail article on the Foreign Affairs Committee proceedings entitled Ottawa urged to set up independent scrutiny of arms exports (10 December 2020), wrote:

Human-rights and arms-control advocates told MPs Thursday they fear the department of Global Affairs cannot be relied upon to effectively police exports of military goods and suggested ways to boost or augment scrutiny.

In addition to the Rideau Institute proposal for an independent agency, Chase also highlighted a complementary proposal by Project Ploughshares for a foreign affairs sub-committee first proposed by former NDP MP Hélène Laverdière, noting that:

Back in 2016, the governing Liberals used their majority on the Commons foreign affairs committee to defeat a motion by former NDP MP Hélène Laverdière to create such an oversight role for MPs.

Hopefully, a minority Liberal government will need to pay more heed this time round to good ideas from the NDP.

The study will continue when the House of Commons resumes sitting on 25 January with government and other witnesses to be heard and written testimony to be received.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to be as forthright as possible in the provision of documents and in oral testimony from officials to ensure the Foreign Affairs Committee has all the necessary information for a comprehensive and forward looking set of recommendations on effective regulation of Canada’s arms trade.  

Postscript: Stop the CBC Tandem outrage

An unprecedented Open Letter from more than 500 current and former CBC/Radio Canada journalists and colleagues begins with this shocking question:

Why is Canada’s public broadcaster disguising ads as news?

The letter goes on to describe a new marketing division launched by the Corporation called CBC Tandem. They write:

They call what they produce “paid content”. And it’s insidious. It looks and sounds like the news stories and podcasts we produce. It’s found on the same websites and apps. But it’s not news, or even information. It is advertising that pretends to be news. And we believe strongly it must stop.

In an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, former host of CBC’s The Fifth Estate, Linden MacIntyre, writes:

To make this bad idea worse, a CBC initiative called Tandem – another word for partnership – was explicitly designed to “leverage the credibility of our network….” [emphasis added]

Quite aside from the fact that this kind of deception should be completely forbidden for all journalistic outlets, never mind the public ones, it flies in the face of an advisory panel recommendation earlier this year which urges the government to make the CBC:

a public media institution with a singular focus on serving the public rather than a commercial purpose….

Never has that recommendation been more important than now, with the ever-diminishing credibility and capacity of much of the mainstream media.

For the full text of the Open Letter and ways to get involved to stop this despicable plan, click: The integrity of CBC News must not be for sale.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to act forthwith on the Advisory Panel recommendations to fully restore an ad-free CBC as Canada’s trusted public broadcaster.

Photo credit: Prime Minister’s office (Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau)

Tags: Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), Beinart Notebook, Canada-U.S. relations, CBC Tandem, Charles A. Kupchan, drone technology, FAAE study into the granting of arms export permits, House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, isolationism, Libya arms embargo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Peter Beinart, Stop Paid Content on CBC, Turkey, WESCAM EO/IR sensors