Ottawa approval bypassed in proposed Canadian arms exports to Iraq

Conventional Weapons, News

By Kenneth Epps

Canadian companies may soon supply military equipment to Iraq that is approved by the U.S. government, but without oversight by Canada. Although United States–Canada defence trade agreements have long circumvented Canadian export controls, the sale illustrates how these agreements also breach fundamental provisions of the new global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Last week the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) at the Pentagon notified the U.S. Congress of a $790-million “Foreign Military Sale” to Iraq of 24 turboprop aircraft, related equipment, and logistical support. Although Congress has 30 days after notification to stop a military export sale, history tells us that there is virtually no chance that this will happen. Even so, DSCA notices provide a level of detail about military export equipment and contractors that is rarely seen in other countries. In this case, the details include notice that three of the nine “principal contractors” for the sale are based in Canada and a fourth is a U.S. subsidiary of another major Canadian defence corporation.

In particular, the proposed sale to Iraq of 24 AT-6C Texan II aircraft built by Beechcraft Defense Company of Wichita, Kansas will include:

  • PT6A-68 turboprop engines, including two spare engines, produced by Pratt & Whitney Canada of Longueuil, Quebec;
  • CMA-4124 airborne global positioning and tracking systems built by Esterline CMC Electronics of Montreal, Quebec;
  • MX-15Di infrared electro-optical surveillance systems manufactured by L-3 Communications Wescam in Burlington, Ontario; and
  • Simulation and training systems produced by CAE USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of CAE Inc. in Montreal.

The AT-6C is a multirole, upgraded, “light attack” version of the T-6 trainer aircraft developed for the U.S. Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) that was first exported to the Iraq Air Force in 2009. In addition to providing basic pilot training, like the T-6, the AT-6C can be used for surveillance and counterinsurgency attacks against rebel groups. The aircraft comes equipped with “hard points” for mounting rockets, bombs, and machine guns.

The U.S. export notification exposes major weaknesses in the Canadian export control system. As documented by the Project Ploughshares Armed Conflicts Report, Iraq remains embroiled in a protracted civil war. Canadian export control guidelines call for the “close control” of the export of military goods to countries that are “involved in or under imminent threat of hostilities.” The guidelines argue against authorizing Canadian-built military equipment, including military aircraft components, for export to Iraq and other sites of armed conflict.

Canadian guidelines also call for close control of military exports to governments with persistent records of serious violations of human rights. In recent years Iraqi security forces have been criticized repeatedly for human rights abuses. The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch noted in February that “credible experts, including the International Crisis Group and the Institute for the Study of War, have also extensively documented [Iraqi] security forces abuses. These reports should have been a strong indicator to the [U.S.] administration that the sale of significant defense items for counterterrorism purposes might lead to greater instability, not less.” In cases like Iraq Canadian guidelines require restraint “unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the [military] goods might be used against civilian populations.”

No such demonstration occurred because the Canadian government likely played no role in the authorization of the proposed military aircraft sale to Iraq. Indeed, it may not have been aware of the sale or Canadian company involvement before DSCA notification of the U.S. Congress. Under the Defence Production Sharing Agreement between the United States and Canada, companies in Canada supplying the Pentagon or U.S. defence contractors are exempt from Canada’s export permit authorization process.

Without export permits—which Canada requires for shipments of military goods to all countries apart from the United States—the government is unable to track or document arms exports. Consequently, the U.S. Congress may approve or deny foreign military sales by Canadian companies without prior notification of, or authorization by, the Canadian government.

Moreover, even if Canada were part of the authorization process, the proposed sale would not be open to parliamentary scrutiny. In contrast to the U.S. system, Canada has no mechanism to notify parliamentarians—and, by extension, the Canadian public—of planned arms export deals involving Canadian companies.

The Arms Trade Treaty, which is rapidly (by UN standards) moving toward entry-into-force, will soon establish global norms for international arms transfers. Under Article 5 of the treaty, states parties are obligated to authorize exports of all military equipment listed in Article 2, which defines the scope of the treaty, as well as related ammunition and parts and components, which are discussed in Articles 3 and 4 respectively. The “combat aircraft” mentioned in Article 2 would include the AT-6C.

It is also important to note that Article 7 of the ATT obligates states to undertake assessments of the risks that each weapons transfer would, inter alia, “contribute to or undermine peace and security,” or “commit or facilitate a serious violation of international human rights law.”

The failure of Canada to authorize exports of AT-6C components to the United States for the Iraqi Air Force is most directly a breach of ATT Article 4, which requires states parties to maintain a national control system to regulate the export of parts and components of conventional weapons. Given the significant risk that AT-6C aircraft will be used in combat and in serious violations of human rights, the exports may also be a breach of Article 7 of the treaty. More broadly, by exempting shipments to the United States from the export permit process, Canada fails to meet basic provisions found in several articles of the treaty.

Canada is not a signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty nor—if signals from Foreign Minister Baird are being interpreted correctly—is it likely to be before the treaty enters into force late this year or early in 2015. Yet, the Iraqi arms deal illustrates why Canada needs to join the treaty. The deal exposes a longstanding loophole in Canada’s export control system that allows military equipment to be shipped to the United States without government authorization. The ATT would obligate Canada to ensure that military trade with all states, including the United States, is formally regulated. More importantly, it would obligate Canada to undertake risk assessments of military equipment leaving the country—in this instance, assessments of the risk that Canadian equipment would contribute to the erosion of security or human rights conditions in Iraq.

The ATT is not a constraint on Canadian domestic gun policy, as some would claim. Rather, it is an opportunity to bring needed reform to Canadian arms export practice. Reform should begin with the federal government’s exercising full responsibility for the export of all military goods from Canada.



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