What a year. As Project Ploughshares marked four decades of continuous work in 2016, we witnessed often convoluted global developments that affected virtually all areas of our work on international peace and security. And we have been busy. Not only striving to produce evidence-based research, but communicating the policy implications of such research to a wide range of stakeholders—in and out of government, in Canada and abroad.
Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 37 Issue 4 Winter 2016 by Cesar Jaramillo
Some key moments and developments:
Colombia’s rocky path to peace
Bojayá is a remote rural municipality of African descendants in the Colombian province of Chocó. In 2002 FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and AUC (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia) far-right paramilitary groups were fighting in the region to gain control of the Atrato River, a strategic passageway for drug shipments en route to Europe and North America and critical to the finances of both groups. The area had been largely abandoned by the central government and had become a case study in rampant local political corruption.
On May 2 the Bojayá village of Bellavista, with approximately 1,000 inhabitants, mostly rural peasants or campesinos living below the poverty line, was besieged by the fighting. Residents, including pregnant women and children, took shelter in the church. At 10:45 in the morning a FARC-launched cylinder bomb—an improvised explosive device that has become ubiquitous in the Colombian conflict—ripped through the church roof, landed on the altar, and exploded on impact.
One hundred and nineteen noncombatants were killed and scores more injured. In that moment Bojayá became for Colombians the embodiment of the tremendous human suffering that the half-century armed conflict has caused. With more than eight million victims, the Colombian conflict has produced the second-largest number of internally displaced persons in the world.
Peace in 2016?
This past September, more than 14 years after the Bojayá massacre, the Colombian government and FARC reached a comprehensive agreement to end the only remaining conflict of its kind in the Western hemisphere. The primary bargain was itself the essence of the agreement: FARC would abandon its armed struggle and become a legal political party, eligible to field candidates for public office.
But the peace agreement had to be approved before it could be implemented. From the start of negotiations, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos had pledged that Colombians would have the opportunity to approve—via referendum—everything that was agreed to with FARC. The October 2 referendum had two options on the ballot: YES and NO.
In Bojayá, 97 per cent of the population voted YES to end the bloodshed. They were heartened by pre-referendum polls that indicated that YES would gain as much as 78 per cent of the vote. To their dismay, however, NO won—by less than half a percentage point. Unwilling to accept perceived concessions to the guerrillas and demanding prison terms for rebel leaders, a slim majority of voters rejected peace and rocked an already fragile ceasefire.
Many NO voters were urban dwellers who had no direct experience of the mostly rural war. Paradoxically, they cited justice for the victims as a primary reason for their opposition—victims such as the people of Bojayá who supported the agreement and feared the renewal of hostilities.
What Project Ploughshares is doing
The developments in Colombia are at the very heart of the type of work we do at Project Ploughshares—revealing the promise and possibility of peace, pointing out the concrete transformations necessary to lay down the foundations for sustainable peace.
For years we have tracked the Colombian conflict, which is the only one in the Americas featured in our annual Armed Conflicts Report. In our analysis, the Colombian peace agreement reflected a meticulous, well-intentioned effort to end a conflict in which no party has been defeated militarily. Unilateral concessions were never on the table. But the agreement was widely seen, domestically and internationally, as a thorough document that, while recognizing some longstanding leftist concerns about social and economic inequity, did not compromise Colombia’s economic model or democratic institutions.
With the people of Bojayá and many observers around the world, we were taken aback by the referendum result. At the same time, we remain hopeful, especially in light of the signing of a revised agreement in the days before we went to press. In the peace that we hope lies ahead, we will offer whatever support we can.
Meeting the promise of the Arms Trade Treaty
Irresponsible and unscrupulous arms exports cause much human suffering around the world. But heightened scrutiny and work to curb certain practices offer new hope.
The adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in December 2014 was a rare arms-control victory. Only a decade ago the prospects for its adoption seemed almost utopian. But the inherent worth of its objectives, coupled with persistent, careful work by progressive states and civil society overcame skeptics. Contrary to most initial predictions, the ATT continues to expand its membership.
Two Conferences of States Parties (CSPs) have now been held. Project Ploughshares attended both, liaising with government delegations and international civil society partners to consider the best ways to implement the treaty. During the CSP held in Geneva last August, we addressed the Conference plenary on behalf of the international Control Arms coalition of civil society groups. On the crucial issue of ATT implementation, we referred to
arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, which are fueling the terrible humanitarian crisis in Yemen. These included authorizations of transfers by 9 States Parties and 2 Signatories. Since then, the humanitarian crisis has worsened. More people are dependent on aid now in Yemen than any other country in the world. Nearly 3 million are displaced, and tens of thousands have been injured. The UN estimates nearly 90% of casualties are civilian, and numerous irrefutable cases of violations of IHL [international humanitarian law] have been documented.
Some of the states that continue to authorize arms transfers to Saudi Arabia called, paradoxically, for higher standards and increased transparency around arms exports. They delivered carefully crafted statements that spoke of their unerring commitment to the spirit and objectives of the treaty.
Getting Canada onboard
Canada was absent from the first CSP in Cancun, Mexico, attended the second in Geneva as an observer state, and will, we hope, attend the third, in the fall of 2017, as a full-fledged ATT state party. Although Canada under the Harper Conservatives was the only country in NATO and the G7 not to sign or ratify the ATT, the Trudeau Liberals pledged to accede to the Treaty and are currently working on the regulatory and normative adjustments required for accession. We heartily welcomed this decision.
Project Ploughshares has since engaged in regular dialogue and collaboration with Global Affairs Canada—including the export controls division and the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs—on the process leading to Canada’s accession to the Treaty. We are convinced that, not only is effective Treaty implementation in the best interests of Canada and the international community, but it is aligned with longstanding Canadian values.
The arms deal with Saudi Arabia
While Canada’s accession to the ATT is to be applauded, the unfortunate stain on the whole process has been, and will continue to be, Canada’s multi-billion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a country ruled by an autocratic regime well known to be one of the worst human-rights violators in the world.
Time and again, we have raised questions about the compatibility of this deal with Canada’s military export controls. According to these regulations, no export permit can be granted unless “there is no reasonable risk” that Canadian-made goods might be used against civilians. Evidence of Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record, including documentary evidence of armoured vehicles like the ones at the centre of the arms deal being used against civilians, must suggest the reasonable risk that Canadian-made military equipment will be so used.
Canada’s imminent accession to the Arms Trade Treaty further widens the gap between regulation and practice. The arms deal with Saudi Arabia is widely seen as precisely the type of practice that the ATT was conceived to prevent.
By the time Canada becomes a state party to the ATT, the Saudi arms deal will still be in early stages of implementation. So for several years Canada may find itself sending a mixed message to the international community about its commitment to greater rigour and increased transparency around its military export controls.
What Project Ploughshares is doing
Throughout the year, Project Ploughshares has researched and analyzed efforts to curb irresponsible arms exports, Canada’s own practices, and the implications of the Arms Trade Treaty. We have worked collaboratively with likeminded groups in Canada and abroad, and briefed policymakers, including the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Project Ploughshares has supported the effective implementation of the ATT internationally, in some of the regions most affected by armed violence. In partnership with Asociación para Políticas Públicas in Argentina and The Arias Foundation in Costa Rica, we have been carrying out a project funded by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) through the UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR) that is focused on ATT implementation in Latin America and the Caribbean. The project is expected to foster synergies, encourage harmonization, and identify best practices among regional groups of states parties to the ATT.
In partnership with Amnesty International Canada, Oxfam Canada, and Oxfam Quebec, Project Ploughshares has produced a detailed briefing, with recommendations, on key themes related to the export of military goods from Canada. A summary is included in this issue of The Monitor.
Going forward, we will continue to draw attention to the role that arms exports play in the violation of human rights, the perpetuation of autocratic regimes, and the exacerbation of armed conflict.
Nuclear weapons could be banned. Soon.
The UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with disarmament and international security, considers several resolutions each October when it meets in New York. Areas of concern range from the production of fissile material to the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons; from transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space to ballistic missile proliferation. But this year’s First Committee will likely be remembered for Resolution L41 – Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.
While every other category of weapon of mass destruction has been specifically prohibited under international law, nuclear weapons have not. So, operative paragraph #8 constitutes what is perhaps the most novel, audacious initiative in the field of nuclear disarmament in decades. It calls on the General Assembly to “convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”
Along with most other members of NATO, a nuclear-weapons alliance, Canada voted against the resolution. Still, L41 received majority support and the expectation is that the conference to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons will be held next year. While it is widely recognized that the ban is not tantamount to abolition, it will serve to eliminate any ambiguity about the illegality of nuclear weapons and will further stigmatize these instruments of mass destruction.
Supporters of the ban recognize that buy-in from nuclear-weapon states will be required for the actual dismantlement of nuclear arsenals. As a known, predictable step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, the ban is seen as a positive alternative to the status quo, epitomized by the utter lack of political will by nuclear-armed states for abolition.
Canada’s current view, in common with that of most nuclear-weapon states, is that conditions are not ideal for a ban on nuclear weapons. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Nuclear disarmament negotiations will always occur in less than perfect circumstances.
Ban opponents also allege that efforts to legally ban nuclear weapons sow division in the global nuclear disarmament regime. In reality, profound divisions between nuclear have and have-not states long predate the ban proposal. Any credible effort to advance the nuclear disarmament agenda will necessarily bring these divisions to the fore.
The goal is to eliminate such divisions. There will only be one category of states: non-nuclear-weapon states.
The continued existence of nuclear weapons constitutes a clear and present threat to global security. More than 15,000 nuclear weapons still exist and form a cornerstone of national security policy for many states—even those without nuclear weapons, like Canada. Within NATO, for example, a nuclear-weapon state can make its weapons available to alliance members.
Currently, virtually every state that possesses nuclear weapons is spending huge amounts of money to modernize their arsenals. Such actions work to ensure that the ultimate threat persists for decades to come, and discourage all states from adhering to their nonproliferation obligations.
What Project Ploughshares is doing
Project Ploughshares has engaged civil society partners and government officials in Canada and beyond—including Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion and the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo—to emphasize the urgent need for nuclear abolition and the gravity of the nuclear-weapons threat. With no credible multilateral process toward abolition, we consider the proposed negotiations on a nuclear-weapons prohibition timely and necessary.
Despite Canada’s vote against Resolution L41, its presence and constructive input during negotiations in 2017 would make a concrete, positive contribution to the process. Ploughshares will continue to encourage such a contribution.
Threatened skies, killer robots, endangered migrants
Outer space security
Humans around the globe increasingly rely on outer space for a host of practical and wide-ranging benefits. But continued peaceful use of this domain is under threat, on many fronts. It is vital that Canada actively contribute to activities that improve global space governance, including efforts to ensure that outer space remains free of weapons.
What Project Ploughshares is doing
The annual Space Security Index (SSI) report on outer space activities makes a concrete contribution to space security by providing current, accurate information on which to base decisions. In 2016 Project Ploughshares produced, on behalf of an international research consortium, the 13th edition of this unique publication.
The SSI systematically tracks all major developments that may have an impact on the security and sustainability of outer space. It examines the threat posed by space debris, the priorities of national civil space programs, the growing importance of the commercial space industry, efforts to develop a robust normative regime for outer space activities, and, of course, the militarization and potential weaponization of space.
In June Project Ploughshares presented the key finding of the 2016 SSI to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna. The report was launched at the United Nations in New York—you can find details in this issue of the Monitor. You will also find a statement we delivered on outer space security.
Emerging military technologies
Emerging military technologies could threaten global stability, exacerbate conflict, and challenge the existing regulatory framework for the conduct of warfare. The introduction of fully autonomous weapons into warfare would dramatically shift longstanding conceptions of the laws of war and of our very humanity.
We’re not there yet. But technological advances and research that could be spun off to further the development of these weapons systems will continue at an increasingly rapid pace. At the same time, updating international arms control policy can be painfully slow. And so the gap between policy and capabilities widens.
Are emerging military technologies outpacing the ability of the international community to come to terms with their implications and applications, and to ultimately regulate them? Now is the time to raise—and answer—such questions.
What Project Ploughshares is doing
Early in the year Ploughshares became the sixtieth organization to join the international Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. As the Campaign declares: “Allowing life or death decisions to be made by machines crosses a fundamental moral line.”
Member organizations, from countries as diverse as Libya, Finland, Japan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and the United States, share a profound concern for the policy, legal, ethical, and humanitarian problems surrounding the development of fully autonomous weapons systems—robots with the ability to seek, engage, target, and kill with no human interaction.
With Campaign members from around the world, Project Ploughshares was present at meetings of the third UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons on lethal autonomous weapons systems in Geneva in April. There we pushed for a proactive regulatory approach to these emerging weapons systems, including a preemptive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons systems.
The migrant crisis
The plight of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world continues to test the international community’s ability to adequately respond. More than 13 million Syrians (over half of the total Syrian population) require humanitarian assistance. More than 6-million are internally displaced—the highest number in the world. Approximately 5-million Syrians have left their homeland. But Syria is not the only source of forced migrants. People are also fleeing Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Eritrea, and Kosovo, among other states.
What Project Ploughshares is doing
Project Ploughshares is convinced that any long-term solution to this crisis must address the drivers of forced migration, which cause people to seek safety away from their homes. Significant investments are needed in humanitarian assistance, support to refugees, arms control, security sector reform, political accommodation, and support for human rights and the rule of law.
We are conducting ongoing research and analysis on the governance and policy implications of the current migration crisis, examining the key drivers of migration, the implications of different categorizations of migrants, and different national responses to the crisis. We partnered with Doctors without Borders on a research paper on the humanitarian consequences of restrictive migration policies, and hosted public panel discussions on the refugee crisis. And be sure to check out the last issue of the Monitor, which featured a specific focus on migration and development.
The next 40 years
We will continue to conduct rigorous research, provide fact-based analysis and commentary, engage various stakeholders, propose policy alternatives, and share key findings with our constituencies and the general public on each of the areas highlighted above—and others.
A key concern will be the direction of Canadian defence and foreign policy. We will be monitoring Canada’s involvement in multilateral disarmament and peacebuilding efforts—including the direction of the newly announced reengagement in peacekeeping operations.
We will also observe, with interest, the impact of the shift in the U.S. political landscape following the recent presidential election.
We plan to continue to advocate for actions and doctrines that advance key elements of sustainable peacebuilding, such as recognition of gender dimensions of violence, the importance of the rule of law, support for refugees and human rights, the insufficiency of military-only solutions to conflicts rooted in political grievances, and multilateralism as a source of legitimacy for interventions. We see a clear need to advance a comprehensive security solution in conflict zones that includes not only short-term responses to the most pressing manifestations of crises, but the foundation for sustainable peace and security.
If it takes another 40 years to reach a more just, peaceful, and secure world, Project Ploughshares is ready. Friends and supporters, colleagues and partners, various interlocutors in and out of government can count on us to continue working to advance policies and actions that reduce armed violence and build sustainable peace. The challenges going forward may be many, but our conviction that a better world is possible is unflinching.
We never forget why we do the work we do—or whose support makes it possible. Thanks for taking this journey with us.