The Ban Treaty comes to Canada’s Senate, Trump foreign policy landmines pile up and more

Canadian senators to receive expert NGO briefing on TPNW

The historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), popularly called the Ban Treaty, will enter into force on January 22nd as we noted in last week’s blog.

We are therefore pleased to announce that, from noon to 1:30 pm EST on 19 January 2021, Canadian senators will receive a virtual briefing from three former Disarmament Ambassadors — Douglas Roche, Peggy Mason and Paul Meyer — and from the dynamic young Director of Reaching Critical Will, Ray Acheson.

For an idea of what the senators are likely to hear, see a recent article by Paul Meyer entitled: The nuclear ban treaty is entering into force. What now for Canada? (Paul Meyer,, 23 November 2020). Meyer writes:

Canada needs to be bolder about joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and press NATO by disavowing support for nuclear deterrence.

We will be featuring a number of Canadian and international events in support of the Ban Treaty’s entry into force in our 22nd January blog and we will also post the texts of the presentations made to the Senators..

Outdoing Trump administration strews foreign policy landscape with political landmines

An 11 January 2021 Foreign Policy Report, entitled Trump Team Makes Last-Minute Moves to Box In Biden on Foreign Policy, begins:

On Taiwan, Yemen, and Cuba, the Trump administration is laying political landmines for Biden on its way out the door.

Blowing up a decades long status quo of  “restraint” on Taiwan and further undermining Democratic intentions to renormalize relations with Cuba are bad enough, but the decision to designate Yemen’s Houthi movement as a terrorist organization reaches new levels of depravity.

In the words of David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) and a Trump administration nominee:

We are struggling now without the [terrorist] designation. With the designation, it’s going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of innocent people in Yemen….

David Milliband, President and CEO of International Rescue Committee (IRC), was blunter still:

This is pure diplomatic vandalism. After four years of a failed war strategy that has created the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe, the last thing the Yemeni people need is further interruption of aid and economic flows. This policy, in the name of tying up the Houthis, will actually tie up the aid community and international diplomacy. The opposite is needed – effective pressure on all parties to the conflict to cease using civilians as hostages in their war games.

Yemen imports 90% of its food. Nearly all that food is brought in through commercial channels. The designation freezes any US-related assets of the Houthis, bans Americans from doing business with them and makes it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement.

In their statement, the prestigious International Crisis Group (ICG), also drew attention to the negative impact the terror designation would have on fragile peace negotiations:

The outgoing Trump administration has designated Yemen’s Huthi rebels a terrorist organisation. Proponents argue the measure will provide leverage with the Huthis, but in reality it will hurt efforts to end the war and could precipitate famine. The incoming Biden administration should rescind it immediately.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to immediately increase its humanitarian assistance to Yemen and to end its role in perpetuating the conflict by ceasing all arms sales to warring parties, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

We continue our Biden foreign policy look ahead

One of the most promising discussions — of many — over the likely direction of American foreign policy under President Joe Biden has been from progressives, like the bipartisan Quincy Institute, in support of America seeking partnership, not domination, going forward.

The latest inspired commentary to this end comes from Professor Sharon Squassoni, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Why Biden should abandon the great power competition narrative (, 12 January 2021).

She explains:

the phrase [great power competition] is shorthand for the struggle for dominance among the United States, Russia, and China in economic, political, military, and technological arenas.

A key assumption underpinning the cliché: That the competition is zero-sum, meaning that one country’s loss is the other’s gain.

Professor Squassoni decries the “utter illogic” of the great power competition paradigm when it comes to nuclear weapons, writing:

There is no winning a nuclear arms race and no winning a nuclear war…. In the nuclear weapons realm, stability, not dominance, is the name of the game. In that realm, the United States, Russia, and China have a lot more to gain by cooperation than confrontation, and cooperation is all but impossible within a great power competition paradigm.

She concludes her analysis with a plea for approaching competition with Russia and China with “different tools and a different mindset”.

Re-engaging with China — the trade conundrum

US President-elect Joe Biden says he will not make any significant changes to America’s China policy until he conducts a full review of the existing “phase one” trade agreement and consults with allies in Asia and Europe.

But Gavin Bade, writing for, notes that many are skeptical that these trade issues can or should be put “on pause”:

China’s not just a U.S. adversary; it’s also America’s second largest trading partner, and the interdependence of the two is next to impossible to unshackle.

He continues:

Trump put pressure on Beijing through aggressive rhetoric, import restrictions, and tariffs on steel, aluminum and a variety of goods.

But throughout his term, Beijing only asserted itself more in foreign policy, taking a more aggressive stance in the South China Sea, expanding its Belt and Road Initiative to finance foreign infrastructure projects, and signing a regional trade deal with 14 Asia-Pacific nations that includes U.S. allies like Australia, Japan and South Korea.

The article also queries whether Biden will have success in fashioning a coordinated effort with the EU and other market-based economies to “confront” the ruling Chinese Communist Party. In addition to domestic pressures, Bade notes that:

The EU has already signaled its China policy won’t be dictated by Washington. It just negotiated a major investment deal with Beijing, even as Biden’s foreign policy advisers pressed Brussels to delay the talks.

In a similar vein, Zhang Jun and Shi Shuo, writing for the paywalled Project Syndicate, urge Biden to abandon Trump’s failed trade war with China:

Instead of upholding Trump’s confrontational China policy, Biden should accept China’s central role in the global economy, and pursue a mutually beneficial, non-discriminatory trade agreement.

Whither Canada?

In our view it is manifestly in Canada’s national interest to support an end to Trump’s confrontational China policy, in respect of which Canada and Canadian citizens have been, and continue to be, collateral damage.

Reviving the Iran Nuclear Deal

Regular blog readers will know that one of the important areas where President-elect Biden has pledged to move swiftly is in bringing the USA back into the Iran Nuclear Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action.

A google search of this important Biden objective brings up an array of headlines all underscoring the same message: it won’t be easy.

A new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) outlines how it can be done and why it matters:

The 2015 nuclear deal enters 2021 clinging to life, having survived the Trump administration’s withdrawal and Iran’s [subsequent] breaches of its commitments. When the Biden administration takes office, Washington and Tehran should move quickly and in parallel to revive the agreement on its original terms.

The pay-off will not only be considerable non-proliferation benefits, but also the potential for wider US–Iran diplomatic engagement:

The JCPOA was not a silver bullet that could end the decades-long hostility between Iran and the U.S. Nor was it intended to resolve every issue that strains Tehran’s relations with the West and its neighbours. But what it did achieve, and can still deliver, is a strong non-proliferation agreement that makes those other concerns easier to address.

For the full report see: The Iran Nuclear Deal at Five: A Revival? (, Report no. 220, 15 January 2021).

Whither Canada?

We have long been too timid in our support for this vital arms control agreement. At an early moment after the Biden inauguration, Canada should signal its strong support for immediate steps to reinstate this deal.

RI President on Steve Paikin’s The Agenda

For a lively discussion on some of the hard lessons from 2020 and what to expect in 2021, check out the 11 January edition of TVO’s The Agenda.

Hosted by Steve Paikin, the guests included RI President Peggy Mason, Shuvaloy Majumdar, Munk Senior Fellow with the hard-right Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and Professor James Steinberg, former Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Click below for the full discussion.

Canada must do more to ensure equitable global access to coronavirus vaccines

One area of the TVO discussion where Peggy Mason now believes she was unduly optimistic concerns her assessment of Canadian efforts to ensure equitable global access to coronavirus vaccines. She comments:

The latest warning by the Head of the World Health Organization (WHO) – that we are on the edge of  a “catastrophic moral failure” in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines – makes is crystal clear that, notwithstanding recent Canadian announcements of increased financial support, concrete steps are also needed to enable poor countries to actually obtain the vaccines.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Senate of Canada chairs)


Tags: 19 Jan 2021 TPNW briefing for Senators, Cuba designated terrorist entity listing, diplomatic vandalism, great power competition, great power competition narrative, Houthi terrorist designation, International Crisis Group (ICG), International Rescue Committee, Iran nuclear deal, partnership not dominance, re-engaging with China on trade, Senator Marilou McPhedran, Steve Paikin, The Agenda, The Senate of Canada, Trump and Taiwan policy, TVO, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO), Yemen and famine