Last year was remarkably active for virtually all Project Ploughshares program areas—and 2018 is turning out to be at least as busy. From unscrupulous arms transfers that fuel human rights violations to troubling forced migration patterns that continue to test the international community’s ability to respond, from efforts to proactively regulate the development and deployment of autonomous weapons systems to the transformation of outer space from peaceful sanctuary to an arena for military confrontation, we have a lot of ground to cover.
On each of these issues, Project Ploughshares is continuing to conduct rigorous research, provide fact-based analysis and commentary, engage stakeholders in and out of government, propose policy alternatives, and communicate our findings to our constituencies and the general public. A key concern will be the direction of Canadian defence and foreign policy. We will be monitoring Canada’s involvement in multilateral arms control, disarmament, and peacebuilding efforts, as well as Ottawa’s role in key multilateral processes. Here’s some of what we—and you, our readers—are exploring this year.
Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 39 Issue 1 Spring 2018
The global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime was dramatically altered last year with the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty, which was supported by a large majority of the international community and strongly championed by civil society, fills a legal void in which nuclear weapons were the only category of weapons of mass destruction not explicitly prohibited under international law.
The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has increased the momentum of the nuclear ban treaty and has legitimized its contribution to the pursuit of nuclear abolition in a humanitarian framework. At the same time, nuclear security tensions have reached nearly unprecedented heights, with observers warning of the real likelihood that the high-stakes stalemate over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program could result in nuclear conflict.
Although all nuclear-armed states and many of their allies—including Canada—boycotted treaty negotiations, they are certain to face mounting pressure from treaty supporters at various 2018 forums. Key among them:
From April 23-May 4, states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will convene in Geneva for the second Preparatory Committee of the 2020 NPT Review Conference.
The UN will host a High-Level conference on nuclear disarmament from May 14-16, aiming to make progress on effective measures for nuclear risk reduction and disarmament.
In October, the UN General Assembly First Committee on disarmament and international security will hold sessions dealing with a host of disarmament and arms control matters, including nuclear disarmament.
Project Ploughshares will continue to liaise with partners in Canada and abroad on collaborative efforts to advance nuclear disarmament and reduce nuclear weapons threats. To this end, we will produce commentary and analysis on nuclear disarmament processes and developments throughout the year.
Conventional weapons controls
The international Arms Trade Treaty, adopted in December 2014, has created heightened expectations of rigour and transparency around the global trade in conventional weapons. Although it has been widely welcomed as a necessary and long-overdue multilateral instrument to better regulate arms transfers, questions of strong treaty implementation will feature prominently in 2018.
Today, there is no more egregious violation of its spirit, objectives, and specific provisions than arms transfers to Saudi Arabia—which involve several Western arms manufacturers, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Such transfers have served to exacerbate the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Yemen, enable the violation of human rights of Saudi and Yemeni civilians, and sustain the repressive Saudi regime.
Domestic and international pressure to stop such exports has already yielded concrete results. Early this year, the German government halted military exports to Saudi Arabia and other parties to the Yemen conflict.
The key multilateral forum to address conventional weapons controls this year will the fourth Conference of States Parties (CSP) to the Arms Trade Treaty in Japan from August 20-24. Project Ploughshares will be part of the international civil society delegation and will liaise with government and NGO representatives to push for effective compliance with the objectives and specific provisions of the ATT.
Although Canada has been conspicuously absent from ATT discussions, the Canadian government is currently working on the legislation required to allow Canada to join the treaty. Canada was absent from the first CSP, attended the second and third as an observer state, and might attend the Tokyo conference as a full-fledged ATT state party.
Project Ploughshares will continue to engage 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.
Forced migration and refugees
This year, UN member states are set to agree on the Global Compact on Refugees. The world will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Forced displacement seems to be a core security concern of the international community. And yet the number of displaced people continues to grow.
Canada is geographically isolated from refugee-producing countries and has historically been able to control the number and type of refugees it resettles. But since U.S. President Trump began targeting refugees, Muslims, and Central Americans living in the United States, many more refugee claimants have irregularly crossed the border into Canada.
hese claimants are forced to avoid border crossings because of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) between Canada and the United States. Under the STCA, persons who present themselves at a Canada-United States border point to make a refugee claim in Canada are, with limited exceptions, denied access to the Canadian refugee system and immediately returned to the United States, where they risk detention and deportation.
The STCA reflects a global trend in which countries seek to prevent civilians from claiming asylum and force refugees to go back to their country of origin, even when conditions there are unsafe. As an operating division of The Canadian Council of Churches, Project Ploughshares, along with Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees, is challenging the notion that the United States is a “safe third country” in federal court.
This year Ploughshares is continuing to work on the legal challenge on the STCA, while seeking to network with likeminded organizations and individuals on both sides of the Canada-United States border. And we continue to monitor the fate of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, as we work with international allies on the complex problems that occur when weapons and war force civilians from their homes.
Women, peace, and security
Armed violence affects women, men, boys, and girls in different ways. Small arms and light weapons are frequently used in acts of gender-based violence, which disproportionately affect women and girls. Armed drones more often target men. Social relations and protection systems are destabilized by armed conflicts and gender roles shift.
The Canadian government’s feminist approach seeks to address gender equality and empowers women and girls to bring about sustainable peace and development for everyone. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development has recommended that “the Government of Canada should make women, peace and security a priority of its foreign policy agenda.”
Last November, Canada launched its second National Action Plan (NAP) for the period 2017-2022. The government uses the NAP to implement United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). The plan recognizes the critical roles of women and girls in conflict prevention, peacemaking, and post-conflict situations in fragile and conflict-affected states.
Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada has advocated that peacebuilding efforts “should be based on an understanding of the inter-linkages between armed conflict and gender inequality and support efforts to tackle persistent and institutionalized gender inequalities.” Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy includes all genders and provides a framework for a whole-of-government approach to implement the WPS agenda. This approach cuts across foreign, defence, and development assistance policies. Implementing the new feminist vision requires a dedicated budget and additional resources.
Project Ploughshares will encourage the Canadian government to make all necessary resources available to effectively implement its vision and approach. We will continue to explore the breadth and effectiveness of this new policy lens. We will network in Canada and around the world with organizations that seek to better understand the role of gender in preventing armed conflict. And we will use that knowledge to pursue our overarching goal of a lasting and just peace for all.
Preserving outer space as a peaceful domain
As far as we know, outer space is a domain of human activity free of weapons. But it is not a sanctuary and has long been used as a critical support for terrestrial military operations. Now, outer space as a peaceful domain is under serious threat.
The United States recently released its 2018 National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Strategy (NDS), and Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which together emphasize military dominance and pre-eminence in the face of long-term strategic competition with Russia and China, and growing security challenges from North Korea and Iran. Space—envisioned as a high-ground and a warfighting domain—is central to this vision.
None of these strategies directly advocates the deployment of weapons in space. Indeed, the NPR calls for “deterring and if necessary overcoming attempts to extend conflict into space.” However, the NSS commits the United States to developing what is known as boost-phase missile defence. This will involve space. And in fact, the 2018 U.S. National Defense Authorization Act includes instructions to proceed with a plan for a space-based ballistic missile intercept layer for boost-phase missile defence, under certain conditions.
Such a move would be incredibly destabilizing. It would open the door for the deployment of weapons in outer space, in flagrant violation of a longstanding norm.
Although the NSS declares that “enhanced missile defense is not intended to undermine strategic stability or disrupt longstanding strategic relationships with Russia or China,” it will. More than this, it could spark an arms race in outer space.
The coming year will thus prove critical to efforts to prevent the weaponization of space. In the 2017 National Defence Strategy, Canada declared yet again our non-participation in the U.S. ballistic missile defence program. But some voices are urging the government to reconsider. Drawing on our work on the Space Security Index project, Project Ploughshares will provide a clear and consistent view of the limitations of such weapon systems, as well as their strategic implications and long-term damage to peace and security in outer space.
Increased focus on autonomous weapons, but UN process too slow
Discussions on lethal autonomous weapons systems, or killer robots, will be held this year at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) will meet at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons on April 9-13 and August 27-31.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, to which Project Ploughshares belongs, considers 2017 a “lost year” for diplomatic efforts on autonomous weapons, with talks scheduled for April postponed until August and then cancelled. The GGE did finally meet for a week in November, with 91 countries in attendance.
So far, the UN discussions have been welcomed, but the process has been criticized as too slow. With no ambitious new mandate for 2018, it appears that most countries prefer an incremental process.
Still, 22 states are now calling for a ban and leading scientists and robotics experts are demanding action. In August 2017, a letter by leading robotics experts from 26 countries, including Canada, called for action on autonomous weapons. Ahead of the November GGE meetings, 200 leading Canadian AI and robotics experts called for a ban in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The November release of the video Slaughterbots, a short fictional film by AI expert Stuart Russell, was widely covered by global media.
With media coverage on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics ramping up, the attention paid by analysts and ordinary citizens will surely increase. Project Ploughshares will attend the GGE meetings in April and will continue to participate in the UN process.
Armed conflict trends point to devastating impact on civilians
The number of civilian deaths from explosive weapons—15,000—was 42 per cent higher in 2017 than in the previous year. The use of these weapons continues to hinder reconstruction efforts in former combat zones and prevent the return of refugees. These trends are, unfortunately, likely to continue wherever combat has been urbanized and civilians live in close proximity to military targets.
The United States has increased the number and expanse of air and drone strikes in Iraq, Syria, and Somalia. In Yemen, airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have also increased, further exacerbating the catastrophe for civilians.
The conflict in Yemen will continue to be one of the most brutal in 2018. The Saudi-led bombing campaign has destroyed critical civilian infrastructure and the livelihoods of much of the population; the resulting malnutrition and disease have killed thousands. According to UNICEF, some 63,000 Yemeni children died in 2016 from preventable causes, most linked to malnutrition. The 2017 cholera outbreak affected more than a million people, while approximately seven million Yemenis are on the brink of starvation. Then, in late 2017, the Saudi-led coalition blocked access to Yemeni ports, preventing necessary supplies from reaching the interior.
While the international community has expressed outrage, the situation remains dire. Countries, including Germany, have banned arms exports to all countries involved in the conflict in Yemen. Arms deals with Saudi Arabia by countries such as the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and Canada are under increasing international scrutiny.
Millions of people in conflict-wracked Syria, South Sudan, and Somalia face famine and imminent starvation. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, noted that more people die from famine and diseases brought on by conditions of armed conflict than in direct combat. Elver stated that the promotion of famine can be a war crime and should be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court. As access to food, medicine, and humanitarian aid for civilians continues to be restricted, the international community must be motivated to prosecute those responsible.
Over the coming year, Project Ploughshares will continue to track trends in armed conflict and to update the annual Armed Conflicts Report. This report will be made available at UN meetings and shared with interested individuals. And Ploughshares will continue to advocate that all discussions on disarmament put people first.