NATO report suggests Alliance still “brain dead”, more Canadian gun control and worries over Biden’s China policy review

NATO high-level “reflections” on next ten years a total bust

NATO defence ministers met on 17-18 February 2021 in Brussels to discuss the next steps in the NATO 2030 “reflection” process and to review a high-level expert group report, NATO 2030: United for a New Era. This is a process that will ultimately lead to the alliance’s first new Strategic Concept since 2010.

In a 30 November 2020 interview with the New York Times, the co-chair of the NATO report, Wess Mitchell, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe (2017-19), described its main message as being:

NATO has to adapt itself for an era of strategic rivalry with Russia and China, for the return of a geopolitical competition that has a military dimension but also a political one.

In the view of NATO Watch, the leading independent, non-governmental organization promoting public awareness and debate on the role of NATO, there are grave implications flowing from this perspective. In a 16 February 2021 press release they stated:

This approach will help entrench a systemic three bloc rivalry between China, Russia and NATO-EU-US, with all the attendant risks – from nuclear war to weakening cooperation when addressing the existential threat of climate change and future pandemics.

Concerned by these developments and the “group-think mentality” of the NATO 2030 process, NATO Watch asked a group of 10 leading peace researchers to assess the NATO “reflection group” report. Their analysis is published in a superb new collection of essays entitled Peace research perspectives on NATO 2030: A response to the official NATO Reflection Group.

In his introduction to the report, Ian Davis, founding Director of NATO Watch, writes:

In contrast to the NATO report, the essays in this volume are written by a group of leading peace researchers, academics and civil society practitioners who broadly fall within a human security paradigm: a worldview in which the focus shifts from the state to a ‘human–centric’ vision.

It is a multifaceted concept that embraces contemporary thinking from peace, post-colonial and feminist studies, and international humanitarian and human rights law.

Of particular interest, given our ongoing focus on rethinking security, is the opening essay by Richard Reeve, coordinator of the Rethinking Security network, who demonstrates, in an article entitled NATO and human security: Obfuscation and opportunity, how NATO has co-opted and reshaped the notion of human security. He concludes:

perhaps the end-point of the conversation … is a recognition that real human security is not something that a military alliance, let alone one committed to weapons of mass destruction, can reasonably be tasked with delivering.

Yes, NATO should work to rapidly reduce its carbon footprint. Yes, troops may bring useful expertise and labour to help respond to epidemics or natural disasters where normal resources fail.

But military actors should not be leading responses to threats and challenges that are not military in nature. And if those challenges to our human security are far larger than threats from militarised violence, NATO should not be competing for resources with those that really can protect us.

For the full article by Richard Reeves, click here.

In a searing critique of the NATO report’s “patriarchy problem,” Ray Acheson argues that

the expert group has co-opted the human security and ‘women, peace and security’ agendas in order to reinforce rather than challenge or change the patriarchal structures and systems that have created the militarised world order.

Other essays propose more constructive approaches toward Russia and China, detail the urgent need for “de-securitized” solutions in North Africa and the Sahel, and make a compelling case for greater diversity within the Alliance, especially in relation to nuclear policy. On the diversity issue, Paul Ingram, in his essay entitled Concluding reflections on the value of false unity, writes:

The glaring problem in current practice is NATO’s enduring track record of placing overwhelming emphasis on deterrence (and in particular nuclear deterrence) at the expense of arms control and dialogue, and pressurising its member states to accept this imbalance in the name of unity.

The [high-level] report appears to endorse this approach.

For the entire volume of essays, click here.

We need a Global Demobilization Fund, not a NATO armaments bank

For another cogent essay on the NATO Watch website, see The mother of all bad ideas: US think tank wants a NATO bank to grease the financial wheels for new weapons by Dr. Ian Davis. It begins:

A new report from the Washington-based Center for American Progress wants the incoming Biden administration to support the creation of a NATO bank in London. Wealthier NATO members would initially capitalize the bank, or help it achieve a AAA credit rating, gradually setting in motion a self-sustaining financial enterprise for underwriting new military investments.

He goes on to say:

The fear (at least among US military contractors and their friends) is that the economic downturn of the coronavirus pandemic may jeopardise the recent surge in military spending within the alliance.

Bear in mind that the current Pentagon budget of $740 billion amounts to $2,235 for each American man, woman and child, while total NATO military spending reached $1.04 trillion in 2019.

Ian Davis has a rather different idea in mind, based on the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Óscar Arias’ proposal from the mid-1990s to establish a Global Demobilization Fund, writing:

a NATO Demobilization Fund could be established, perhaps in cooperation with Russia and China, to fund a climate-focused pandemic recovery roadmap.

The rationale for such a redirection of excess military spending is clear:

It is humanitarian investments that need to be stabilized, and not aid for military contractors. It is estimated, for example, that $35 billion is needed to reach 160 million people impacted by conflict, acute hunger and the devastating impact of COVID-19 with life-saving support across the globe in 2021.

But this kind of inspired post-pandemic thinking is light years away from the dangerously narrow, retrograde and, dare we say, “brain dead” thinking on full display in the NATO 2030 Reflection Group report we discussed earlier in this blog.

Liberals follow up on assault weapons buy-back program and other important measures

Through a Cabinet order-in-council amending regulations to existing legislation in the Criminal Code of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday, 1 May 2020, that the federal government was banning a range of 1,500 “military-style” assault weapons, effective immediately. In the words of the Prime Minister:

Weapons designed for the battlefield have no place on our streets or in our communities. Canadians gave us a clear mandate to ban these dangerous weapons. That is exactly what we are doing with the targeted measures we are announcing today.

The order had a two-year amnesty period for current owners, for whom the government promised a compensation program that would, in turn, require legislation to be introduced.

On 16 February 2021 the government tabled legislation in the House of Commons to amend the Criminal Code to introduce a range of new gun control measures including:

  • A voluntary assault rifle buy-back programme
  • Strict conditions on those who keep “blacklisted weapons”
  • “Red flag” and “yellow flag” laws to allow concerned individuals to apply to a court for the immediate removal of someone’s firearms
  • Increased penalties for gun trafficking and possession of prohibited weapons
  • New offences for altering a firearm magazine
  • Tighter restrictions on importing ammunition, and
  • Allowing municipalities to ban handguns through by-laws restricting their possession, storage and transportation.

In response to criticism that the buy-back program is not mandatory, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair replied:

Under our legislation current owners of these weapons will be required to comply with strict new regulations which will effectively eliminate all legal use of these firearms by private owners.

He also explained that the “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws are intended as a way to remove guns from people believed to pose a risk of using firearms in intimate partner or gender-based violence, or self-harm.

Commenting on the new powers for municipalities regarding handguns, Toronto Mayor John Tory stated:

The federal government has said the changes announced today would allow municipalities to ban handguns and include federal penalties for those who violate local bylaws. The City looks forward to receiving details from the Government of Canada on how such a ban would work and what its impact would be on gun violence.

A rigorous May 2020 poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that nearly four in five Canadians supported a complete prohibition on military-style assault rifles while two in three supported a ban on handguns.

Erin O’Toole (aided significantly in his leadership bid by Quebec gun rights advocates) quite predictably opposed the changes as unfair targeting of “hunters” and other law-abiding Canadians.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to move forward expeditiously with this welcome legislation and to prepare for the introduction of a national handgun ban should leaving it up to individual municipalities result in a patchwork of less-than-effective measures.  

Some good advice for President Biden on his China review

For a really smart, somewhat depressing, commentary on Biden’s policy review of China, see The Beinart Notebook: Bull in a China Shop (, 15 February 2021). Commenting on the decision to hand the lead agency responsibility for the China review to the Pentagon, he writes:

China is not primarily, or even secondarily, a military threat. Ordinary Americans are endangered far less by its tanks and drones than by its wet markets, which incubate pandemics, and its coal-fired power plants, which stoke environmental disaster. And in sharp contrast to the Soviet Union, China’s power stems above all from its economic and technological dynamism, not its nuclear warheads.

Why not ask officials at the agencies that handle climate and global public health to quarterback a reimagined US China policy?

And the man tasked to head this effort, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Ely Ratner, makes Peter Beinart even more worried, describing him as “climate clueless” and radiating “indifference to both climate and global public health”.

In perhaps the most telling part of his commentary, Beinart notes that, in today’s Democratic Party, domestic and foreign policy are “parallel universes”. He continues:

In health care or criminal justice, Biden could never appoint someone to lead a major policy review who has shown such disregard for the priorities of the people who elected him. On China, by contrast, such disregard passes almost without notice.

One thing is for sure, this appointment is not going to make climate czar John Kerry’s fight to make climate change the priority issue in the USA–China relationship any easier.

Photo credit: NATO (Trudeau/Stoltenberg 2017)


Tags: Angus Reid Institute, Federal firearms buy-back programme, Human security, Ian Davis, military-style assault weapons, NATO 2030, NATO 2030: United for a New Era, NATO Alliance, NATO budget, NATO patriarchy, NATO Watch, Paul Ingram, Peace research perspectives on NATO 2030: A response to the official NATO Reflection Group, Pentagon budget, Peter Beinart, President Biden China policy review, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Ray Acheson, rethinking security, Richard Reeve, Wess Mitchell