2019 Canadian federal election: Building peace in a conflicted world must be an issue

Cesar Jaramillo Ploughshares Monitor

By Cesar Jaramillo

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 40 Issue 3 Autumn 2019

Project Ploughshares works to create “a secure world without war, a just world at peace.” We focus on a few particular issues: the abolition of nuclear weapons, arms control, security in outer space, emerging military/security technologies, and the causes and effects of forced migration.

The policies and practices of various federal government ministries, including National Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship have direct bearing on all these issues. Following is a brief outline of current conditions and what we believe needs to be done to create positive change. Canada has a major role to play on the international stage, and we need to find out from those who will shape Canadian defence and foreign policy how they stand on these issues.

Work for the abolition of nuclear weapons

Almost every state that possesses nuclear weapons is currently spending huge amounts of money to modernize their nuclear arsenals. Such actions not only ensure that the ultimate threat persists for decades to come, but discourage both nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states from adhering to their nonproliferation obligations.

At the same time, some agreements that placed some controls over the use of nuclear weapons have been discarded. For example, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty expired earlier this year, after the United States withdrew.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to which Canada belongs, has an overt policy of nuclear deterrence; three member states—the United States, the United Kingdom, and France—possess nuclear weapons. Under the alliance, a nuclear-weapon state can make its weapons available to other members of the alliance and place weapons on the territory of non-nuclear-weapon states. This in direct contravention of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, to which all NATO members are states parties.

The continued existence of nuclear weapons constitutes a clear and present threat to global security. The only remedy is complete nuclear disarmament.

We believe that the Canadian government should:

  • join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons;
  • advocate within NATO for alternative security arrangements that do not rely on the possession of nuclear weapons, and for the removal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from European soil;
  • urge the United States and Russia to reengage diplomatically to develop bilateral nuclear-arms-control measures.
As a new state party, adhere to the highest standards of the ATT

The Arms Trade Treaty came into effect in 2014 to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. In mid-September, Canada finally acceded to the treaty.

The ATT acknowledges that many types of military exports—from armoured combat vehicles to attack helicopters—can be used to fuel armed conflict, support human-rights violations, and sustain autocratic regimes. States parties to the ATT are obliged to operate effective weapons export-control systems that assess proposed transfers of large and small weapons to ensure that they are not diverted and do not contribute to breaches of international human-rights and humanitarian law.

We believe that the Canadian government should:

  • engage government agencies and departments, including Global Affairs Canada, to ensure that Canada’s accession to the ATT is followed by the creation of a robust, credible, and transparent implementation regime;
  • ensure that military assistance programs involving Canadian-made military goods are guided by end-user standards that are at least as rigorous as those that inform military export authorizations;
  • halt arms exports to countries where there is a clear and present risk of misuse, such as Saudi Arabia.
Ensure the sustainable use of outer space for all people

People around the world now rely on outer-space technologies for a host of practical and wide-ranging benefits. But secure, sustainable use is threatened by space debris, the priorities of national space programs, the growth of the commercial space industry, the failure of efforts to develop a robust normative regime for outer-space activities, and the growing militarization and potential weaponization of space.

Canada is active in space in many ways. Only this year, Canadians followed with great interest the activities of astronaut David Saint-Jacques at the International Space Station. Canadian companies build satellites and other space technologies.

As a space actor and consumer, Canada is aware of the need to be an active participant in international forums that address the security of outer space.

We believe that the Canadian government should:

  • prioritize the prevention of an arms race in outer space;
  • develop resilient space systems that can withstand degradation;
  • assume a leading role in global efforts to enhance the existing governance of outer-space activities with norms, regulations, and/or confidence-building measures that recognize the current reality of outer-space activities.
Regulate emerging military/security technologies

New and emerging technologies are appearing on the world’s battlefields and in the world’s skies. Unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) or drones can surveil vast populations and fire missiles or drop bombs on unsuspecting targets. In conflicts in the last 15 years, thousands of combatants and innocent civilians have been killed as a result.

Lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) may soon fully remove human beings from life-and-death decision-making. We don’t know how LAWS will assess proportionality in battlefield settings, or distinguish between belligerents and civilians. We don’t know how or if these weapons or their makers can be held accountable.

Moreover, some of the systems developed for active armed conflict are finding their way into policing and national security operations in societies at peace.

Many analysts are already raising serious ethical, moral, and political concerns about these new weapon systems. Many want to ban autonomous systems before they are unstoppable. Project Ploughshares participates in the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

We believe that the Canadian government should:

  • ensure that any system used by the Canadian Armed Forces is compliant with Article 36 of Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions, which states that the development and adoption of new weapons must comply with existing international law applicable to a High Contracting Party, such as Canada;
  • support a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons systems and regulations, legislation, and safeguards to protect all the world’s citizens from the detrimental effects of new weapon systems;
  • regulate the use of surveillance and data-analytical technologies that could have a negative impact on human rights and freedoms;
  • collaborate with other governments, academic institutions, and private organizations to develop ethical and moral norms on the use of emerging security and military technologies.
Uphold justice and show compassion when responding to the crisis of forced migration

There are more displaced people in the world now than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Many have been displaced by armed violence, but there are other causes as well.

To solve the problem of displacement, we must first determine and address the multiple drivers of forced migration.

It is important to acknowledge the vulnerabilities of certain groups, including women and girls, when they live in conflict zones and when they flee to escape violence. Attention must also be given to the risks faced by the young men and boys who escape conflict at home. Evidence shows that men and boys who do not conform to expected gender roles—by becoming fighters during conflict, for example—risk persecution.

Canada has taken in some of the displaced, but many more are in need of refuge. Some are now in Canada, working their way through immigration processes. Some could face deportation or be returned to the United States because of the Safe Third Country Agreement that exists between Canada and the United States.

We believe that the Canadian government should:

  • reduce the risk of conflict-induced displacement by effectively implementing the Arms Trade Treaty, thus controlling and minimizing supplies of arms and heavy weaponry;
  • develop and apply gender- and age-sensitive policies that ensure the rights and address the particular needs of women, men, girls, and boys; and that prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence;
  • strengthen global governance and cooperation mechanisms by taking leadership in bilateral, multilateral, and regional agreements that ensure the safety and dignity of all displaced persons;
  • ensure that people seeking refuge in Canada are treated humanely and are accorded all the human rights to which they are entitled.

Canada’s national and international security policies and activities should be founded on key principles, including a recognition of the gender dimensions of violence, the importance of the rule of law, support for refugees and human rights, the inadequacy of military-only solutions to conflict, and multilateralism as a source of legitimacy for military interventions.

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