Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 37 Issue 1 Spring 2016
Imagine being a young Saudi national. A civilian. The regime you have lived under your whole life is one of the worst human rights offenders on the planet. You and many of your acquaintances quietly crave democratic reform. Democracy is a dangerous, subversive topic. Fear is ubiquitous; the government heavy-handed.
You have witnessed public executions, often by beheading. You personally know individuals who have been persecuted, flogged, and imprisoned for saying or posting the wrong thing. There is lots of chatter about the wave of democratic revolts that neighbouring countries have witnessed in recent years. Demanding free and fair elections in the autocratic kingdom feels both timely and terrifying.
Despite strict censorship of the internet, you construct—at great risk to yourself—a workaround that lets you access outside information, hoping to learn that the West supports regional democratic reform and the protection of human rights in your home of Saudi Arabia. Instead you learn that Canada is set to ship military equipment to your government for at least the next decade, in the largest Canadian arms deal ever. And, utterly disillusioned, you ask “why?” As does Project Ploughshares.
The highly questionable decision to provide one of the world’s most oppressive regimes with Canadian-made weapons is but one of the many issues that has concerned Project Ploughshares over the past 40 years. Since its founding by Ernie Regehr and Murray Thomson in 1976, Project Ploughshares has been on a journey to pursue a more just, peaceful, and secure world, becoming in the process one of the premier peace-and-security research organizations in Canada.
The vehicle: credible research. The foundation: a strong belief in the moral and humanitarian imperative to protect human life and reduce human suffering. The strategy: engage and work collaboratively with churches, governments, and civil society, in Canada and abroad, to advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence and build peace. The sustaining framework: our valued and generous supporters.
As we mark our 40th anniversary in 2016, Project Ploughshares remains committed to working diligently, and to the best of our ability, to advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence and build peace. The staff and Governing Committee of Project Ploughshares are gearing up to mark this important milestone in our history, in a determined effort to better engage the public on issues of sustainable peace and collective security.
While worthy of celebration, this moment in our history reminds us of all the work still to be done and pushes us to redouble our efforts as we launch another decade of work. The inescapable reality is that several key peace and security issues remain unresolved.
Tensions between nuclear superpowers Russia and the United States—which carry a high risk of dangerous escalation—are reminiscent of their Cold War rivalry. Sabre-rattling in the Korean peninsula continues to destabilize the region and the world. Millions of children, women, and men, forcibly displaced from their homes, are testing the international community’s capacity to provide them with shelter and sustenance. The volatile Middle East is engulfed in multiple overlapping conflicts, now augmented by the violence of the Islamic State. Lethal autonomous weapon systems, which target and destroy enemies at a distance, are being developed.
Over the years, we at Ploughshares have pointed to the troubling disparity between the attention and resources devoted to global militarism and the meager sums set aside to provide for the most basic needs of a significant portion of humanity. We have warned about the insufficiency of military-only solutions to conflicts rooted in deep-seated political and social grievances. Yet we continue to believe deeply that greater stability, international security, and a decreased reliance on the threat or use of military force are realistic aspirations entirely within the capacity of the international community.
The start of Project Ploughshares’ fifth decade of continuous work coincides with a new political reality in Ottawa. While we will continue to play close attention to Canada’s policies and responses to the many pressing global security challenges, we look forward to constructive engagement and collaboration with the new Liberal government.
A key focus for us going forward will be implementing our Strategic Plan 2015-2019: “Re-igniting Canada’s Passion for Peace.” Among the Strategic Plan’s key priorities are:
- To build the evidence-based research case for policy options that support and demonstrate that Canada can and should be an international leader in building sustainable peace globally;
- To translate research findings into timely and innovative communication vehicles that inspire key leaders among academics; youth; faith groups, including churches; civil society organizations; new Canadians; and government policymakers.
As we embark on the next leg of our journey in the pursuit of sustainable peace and security, Project Ploughshares looks forward to engaging with a wide variety of stakeholders to achieve public policies that, driven by principle and guided by evidence, best meet the interests of Canadians and the international community. We do this in grateful acknowledgement of the trust and support our work receives from many individuals at home and abroad.
We still have much work to do. Our various constituencies can expect ongoing fact-based, considered research and analysis on some of the thorniest topics related to Canadian foreign policy and international security. We are ready for the next 40 years. Join us.