New Peace Centre needed to balance defence industry-funded think tanks

Professor Paul Rogers, a leading UK peace and security analyst (who is featured regularly on CBC’s Sunday Edition (link to last time), wrote recently about how the military industrial complex fuels the arms race:

One way out of this [new arms race] is a negotiated regional arms control regime in which each “side” agrees to slow things down, thereby avoiding unnecessary spending and the increased risk of confrontation.

The problem, as ever, is the power of the military industrial complexes in both the United States and China and with politicians all too ready to oblige it.

Canada is not immune to this problem either. Pressures from the defence industry in Canada relate not just to their desire for profitable contracts. The biggest destination for Canadian military exports is the United States. While the the amended Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA) now requires export approval (albeit on an expedited basis) for major weapons systems exported to the USA, the bulk of the defence trade is in Canadian-made parts and components for American weapons systems and this continues to be unencumbered with export permit requirements

Ensuring a continuation of such untrammeled access to the huge (and ever-growing) American defence market is therefore a key priority of the Canadian defence industry.

Given these “bottom line” financial preoccupations, the dangers for “independent” policy think tanks of an over-reliance on Canadian defence industry funding should be clear.

Defence industry-funded policy conferences will not help us strengthen strategic stability

Consider the recent one-day conference hosted by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) on Modernizing North American Defence.

Click here for conference information, including the list of Canadian defence industry sponsors and the presence of industry representatives on policy panels.

With few exceptions, panelists painted the threat from Russia and China in apocalyptic tones — Russia was out to “destroy”, and China to “own”, us. The Canadian public was both complacent and ignorant of the dangers and seemingly content to “free ride” on the U.S. despite “direct threats” to Canada. Speakers opined it was long past time for the Government of Canada to abandon its “childish sovereignty concerns” and outdated fixation with the non-weaponization of space and engage, instead, in “straight talk” with the Canadian public.

It would take another blog post to do the counter-arguments justice. Suffice it to say here that this alarmist vision of the perils facing Canada flies in the face of testimony presented by both military and civilian intelligence officials to the Standing Committee on National Defence for their study on Canada and the Defence of North America (and reiterated in more recent hearings). These officials testified that they:

do not see a state actor that has both the capability and the intent to harm Canada militarily. [emphasis added]

To be fair, there were at least a couple of moderate voices to be heard at the conference. An analyst from the Rand Corporation, discussing perceived threats in the “grey zone” beneath the threshold of actual warfare (such as Chinese scientific undertakings in the Arctic), promoted “diplomatic responses”, including joint research ventures and “inclusive Arctic governance”.

A Canadian Air Force general made perhaps the sanest comment of the day, following a harrowing discussion on the likelihood of nuclear war fighting. In his view:

Deterrence and de-escalation must be our focus since, once [such a] war begins, there will be no winners.

But the overall tone and focus was on the need to vastly upgrade our defensive and offensive capacities in the Arctic and in space to counter the perceived Russian and Chinese threats.

A useful background paper for the conference (although not presented as such) is the third in a series of NORAD modernization studies by two Canadian academics from the University of Manitoba, Andrea Charron and James Fergusson.

While both of the authors support Canada going “all in” on NORAD modernization, including full participation in the American strategic ballistic missile defence programme and an end to our policy against the weaponization of space, their study nonetheless does not minimize the rather formidable impediments to our government actually acting on these woefully wrongheaded recommendations. Among the challenges:

  • Costs of modernizing the North Warning System (NSW) of radar surveillance could be as high as $11 billion Canadian (not counting formidable environmental clean-up costs), with no guarantee the U.S. will honour the current 60% U.S., 40% Canadian formula (p. 31);
  • Significant Canadian investment in national missile defence capabilities would be required for the U.S. to even consider giving NORAD (and therefore Canada) an operational role and, even then, there would be no guarantee that Canadian cities would be prioritized relative to U.S. cities (p. 46). (Not noted in this report is the fact that, to date the U.S. has spent over $40 billion dollars for a system that is notoriously unreliable even under highly scripted testing scenarios);
  • Russia is a cooperative actor in the Arctic and it is therefore vital that neither Canada nor the U.S engage NATO in Arctic military exercises; these would be provocative and undermine regional cooperation (p. 32).

The CGAI conference ended with a board member addressing participants in front of a banner listing the 12 defence industry sponsors. Without a semblance of irony, he described the day’s discussions as yet another demonstration of the important contribution that an “independent think tank like CGAI” was making to defence policy dialogue in Canada.

A new, independent financially viable Canadian peace centre could make a huge difference

One thing is for sure. This conference provided compelling evidence of the urgent need for a government-funded but arms-length Canadian peace and security institute like SIPRI in Sweden, PRIO in Norway, JCCP in Japan or the USIP in the United States.

The rationale for such a Centre was the subject of a recent commentary by RI President Peggy Mason and Senior Advisor Peter Langille in the Hill Times on 29 January entitled: A new Canadian peace centre could make a world of difference (under a paywall). With the permission of the authors a PDF version is attached here.

While commending the government’s proposal for a new Centre of Peace, Order and Good Government as a good starting point, the authors suggest that certain key adjustments to the approach outlined in ministerial mandate letters are warranted:

  • An independent, rather than interdepartmental, centre is required if new ideas and approaches are to be forthcoming; and
  • The mandate needs to be broad enough to address urgent global peace and security challenges.

Accordingly, they recommend:

As one of the few leading OECD members without such an institution, Canada should establish an expert, arms-length, non-partisan, domestic institute for sustainable common security, with long-term financial viability…. Its Board of Directors should be diverse and include academic, non-governmental and international expertise.

For the full article, click here.

Such an independent centre might also have a positive effect on other Canadian think tanks. It will no longer be so easy to fill the security policy dialogue space with one-sided, Cold War redux positions that do not well serve our urgent need for a Canadian defence and security dialogue firmly grounded in the principles of international co-operation, peaceful conflict resolution and inclusive sustainable common security that underpin the UN Charter.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Development to engage in consultations with civil society on the proposed new Centre for Peace, Order and Good Government. The aim should be to develop a mandate for an independent institute focused on international peace and security policy analysis and dialogue from a Canadian perspective but grounded in the global values that underpin the UN Charter.

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Tags: Arctic cooperation, arms control, arms race, Ballistic Missile Defence, Canadian Centre for Peace Order and Good Government, Canadian defence industry, Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI), China, Defence of North America, House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence, Howard Peter Langille, Military Industrial Complex, NORAD modernization, Prof Andrea Charron, Prof James Fergusson, Professor Paul Rogers, Russia, strategic stability, The Hill Times