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  October 11, 2015

Opposition Party Leaders Avoid Canada's Role in Global Arms Trade and Wars

Richard Sanders and Justin Podur say Canada's leading role in the global arms trade and its participation in war coalitions are in contradiction with the prevailing myth of the nation as a peacemaker
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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Canada currently spends about $20 billion a year on the military. After almost 10 years of a Harper tenure in the Canadian government and this kind of military spending, voters are asking if this kind of spending makes sense when we are not really at war with anyone, and when we have, according to the Food Bank of Canada, 10 percent of the Canadian population facing food insecurity.

In the leadup to the Canadian elections on October 19, here's what the Liberals and the Conservatives had to say about military spending.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, LIBERAL PARTY LEADER: A Liberal government will also do what the Harper Conservatives ought to have said years ago: we will not buy the F-35 fighter jet. Instead we will launch an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18s, keeping in mind the primary mission of our fighter aircraft is the defense of North America.

STEPHEN HARPER, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: It isn't just that the Liberal leader said he would scrap that particular program. He's indicated we do not need that kind of capacity in our air force. I don't know where--I don't know where he's getting his information. You know, we--we along with our allies have been using this exact capacity with our current CF-18s in various parts of the world, including right now, in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

PERIES: Adding to all of these views, according to the Globe & Mail the NDP would also abandon the plan to purchase F-35 fighter jets for something more reasonably priced. However, despite Mulcair's relative silence on the issue, there is speculation that military spending will in fact increase to 1.2 percent of GDP, significantly higher than Harper's investment in the military.

So what exactly does all this mean for the future of Canada's foreign policy, military policy, including the slough of arms deals that are being made with some of Canada's closest allies? Joining us from Toronto is Justin Podur. Justin is an author and associate professor at York University's Faculty of Environmental Studies. And joining us from Ottawa is Richard Sanders. Richard is the founder of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade. He's also a researcher, writer, and producer of Press For Conversion! Thank you both for joining me.


PERIES: So let me actually begin with you, Richard, first. Can you talk about the various parties' positions on the issue of military spending, and if they really differ much at all?

SANDERS: I'm afraid that there would be really no difference between the Liberals and Conservatives, for sure. I think everybody would agree with that. Well, except the Liberals and Conservatives who make a big deal about their differences. But really they're not that much different.

But the NDP disappointingly is becoming more and more like the other mainstream parties. And I don't think that the NDP would reduce military spending very much, if at all. They certainly have been big supporters, over the last 20 years, of U.S. and NATO-led wars, starting in 1999 with the NATO war against Yugoslavia, and then playing a major role in the intervention, the invasion, the overthrow, the coup in Haiti, whatever you want to call it in 2004. Canada played a leading role in that. And then the 2001 war that, starting then in Afghanistan, and the 2011 war in Libya. So the NDP has supported all of those wars. Some of them were started, or were led, by Liberal governments and some of them were started or led by Conservative governments. But the NDP's always been a proud supporter of these sort of U.S.-NATO-led wars.

So they recognize the need, or they believe that there is a great need for advanced, up-to-date systems. They want to be more integrated into the United States, as far as I can tell. And they, this is demonstrated quite obviously by these various wars that the NDP has supported, voted for in the House of Commons.

PERIES: And let me go to you, Justin. This is a great departure in terms of Canada's international image, known as a peacekeeper rather than a warrior. And the consequences of this kind of heavy investment in the military is of course engaging in more wars abroad. Can you talk about Canada's current military operations and if any of the parties are adopting a non-intervention stance, or at least a stance that is not an extension of the U.S. foreign policy, or really now where they flex their muscles, which is within NATO?

JUSTIN PODUR: Yeah. I mean, I think that the debate on foreign policy, all three major parties are debating within a much more narrow framework than that. So nobody is talking about a non-interventionist foreign policy. That's absolutely not on the table and it's quite a taboo. What the debate has been in the past ten years, and I think it's, it's marked a cultural shift in the way Canadians think and talk about the military. And I think that came from the Canadian military. It was naturally, you know, it fit very naturally with Harper's approach. Which is--but prior to there was all--military missions abroad, even if they were kind of aggressive or supportive of the United States, or you know, militaristic or imperial, they were always phrased in terms of peacekeeping. So it was always this peacekeeping approach, which [inaud.] really about keeping the peace, except inasmuch as it was keeping the peace between the Western powers.

But now, over the past ten years, it's as you mentioned in your question, Sharmini, it's much more a war--Canada's a warrior nation. There's been a book, a great book that came out a few years ago with that title, Warrior Nation, about the idea that we should stop seeing ourselves as peacekeepers, and we should start seeing ourselves as warriors, people who go and fight and who are a country with a violent history, that--and we should embrace that. We're just as warlike as the Americans and we should be a part of all those coalitions.

So that's really Harper's approach, and my sense of what's been going on in this electoral campaign is that neither the Liberals nor the NDP have been, certainly not challenging that. They've talked a bit about Canada's peacekeeping tradition. But really their strategy in this election has been to avoid that question as much as possible and focus on domestic issues.

PERIES: And Richard, how much of this kind of stance is because Canada itself is very engaged in terms of producing military armor and gear, and they need allies across the world that will purchase it?

SANDERS: Yes, that's something that Canadians and other people around the world don't realize, is that Canada is a major player in the international arms trade, a producer and exporter of military goods around the world. This is not a new thing. This is not a new thing at all. Canada has been in the top ten or twelve military exporters for many decades, since I've been following this, since the 1980s anyway. We've been among the world's largest exporters. And of course the biggest recipient of Canadian military goods is the United States, which is undoubtedly, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, the world's greatest--the largest purveyor of violence in the world.

The United States is constantly at war, and Canada is constantly supplying them with military equipment. We supply about $5 billion a year worth of major military components that go into these major weapons systems, bombers and fighter planes, every conceivable thing that the United States needs, Canada supplies it. High-tech electronic components, radar systems, guidance systems. We also produce some complete weapons systems, missiles and rockets and things, and some small arms, as well as light armored vehicles that are equipped with weapons systems.

But Canada, despite this history, and that's only part of Canada's great tradition of being a warrior nation. Despite the myth and the narrative that Canada is a great peacekeeper, it's not true. It's as you called it, an image that we have. And all of the major parties have over the years at different times supported that image. Now, as Justin pointed out, there's more of an attempt to sort of show that Canada isn't just a peacekeeper, that we do engage in wars. But we've always engaged in wars. And military exports is one of the major ways that we're complicit, and that we collaborate with the United States and with other NATO countries, in supplying them with military equipment. But we've also been there with troops to help them and with sending our weapons into these wars as well, that the U.S. and NATO has led.

And one of the things that Canada--Canadians have this, increasingly, over the years--recently there is this UN doctrine, the responsibility to protect, that Canada played a major role in promoting. Basically what it is is just, it's a sort of institutionalized pretext for supporting imperialist wars. So you use humanitarian excuses or justifications to rationalize going in and overthrowing governments, regime change, invasions, interventions, bombings, whatever, which are usually almost entirely done for either geostrategic reasons or profitmaking reasons, to make money. You want the resources of the country, or whatever. That's why you want to create this regime change.

But we, in order to sell these wars to the public, you need a more, kind of, progressive, leftist kind of justification. So you come up with a--that's why Canada helped to lead this whole thing called the responsibility to protect, which is this UN doctrine that's increasingly used to justify interventions and wars around the world.

PERIES: And Justin, the whole issue of perpetual war that the U.S. is actually engaged in seems to be somewhat transpiring in Canada as well. Particularly because of the kinds of allies it has chosen to have, for example, Israel. And when you are extending your own borders, which in the past was what you had a military to do, which is to protect your own borders, suddenly these borders have now extended to the Middle East. What do you make of that, and does any of the political parties take a strong position on this kind of extended wars in other parts of the world that Canada is engaged in?

PODUR: So unfortunately, again, it's all bad news on the history front. And in some ways the most depressing part of the election, for me--the electoral campaign, because the election hasn't happened yet--the electoral campaign for me has been all of the parties falling over themselves to support Israel in what it's doing in spite of everything that Israel did last year in Gaza, you know, killing 2,000 people, 500 of them were children. And as a society Israel has gone farther, you know, you could look at the kinds of celebrations and the kinds of statements that are being made, and in social media and Facebook, the Twitter, the famous terrifying tweets that were documented by David Sheehan. And a whole range of--Max Blumenthal's book Goliath I think outlines this, you know, the direction that Israeli society is headed.

And Canada, and Harper, has been an unconditional supporter of all of that, of those wars. And so have the Liberals, and under Trudeau. And Mulcair famously stated before this electoral campaign that he's an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and circumstances. I mean, what more can you say to somebody who says that in a context where Israel is doing what it's doing in the region?

Now, there's an important new book coming out by an Israeli writer, Jeff Halper, an activist. He's been working against house demolitions. And the book, like a recent film called The Lab from 2013, it talks about how the military industry in Israel is driving a lot of the international support for Israel. So Israel is developing these systems, they claim they're battle-tested because they're tested against the essentially unarmed and helpless civilian population of the Palestinians. And the idea of a powerful military waging war against a civilian, an essentially civilian population, is the direction that a lot of this perpetual warfare that you mentioned in your question, that's the direction that a lot of this is headed.

And so Israel as a cutting-edge kind of power in that type of warfare is, is exporting that expertise around the world. And Canada is supporting that. And remember, Canada also had this doctrine, a famous three-block war. So the idea of three-block war, which is a doctrine that was developed by the Canadian military, and the idea was you would be doing a firefight on one block while you were distributing aid on another block, and doing negotiation on a third block. And the idea is this is irregular warfare. It's not warfare with one army against another, but it's warfare where an army is occupying, controlling, developing methods of controlling a population that might be hostile and therefore have an insurgency.

And that's the kind of warfare that is increasingly pursued. That's the kind of war that Canada is going to be pursuing more and more, and that's what they're talking about. And of course that's a big part of what motivates or what unites Canada and Israel, is this type of warfare and this type of doctrine. We should--it's also worth mentioning the alliance with Saudi Arabia, which is particularly telling in the sense that Harper on the one hand is demonizing women who wear the niqab, and on the other hand making a [inaud.] arms deal with the regime, with one of the very few regimes in the world that actually forces women to wear the niqab. So it exposes an incredible amount of hypocrisy.

PERIES: Richard, then, let me go to you. Give us a sense of the kind of arms deals that Canada currently has with Saudi Arabia, as your last point.

SANDERS: Right. Okay, well, Canada has been selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia for many decades. Actually, Saudi Arabia is the second-largest recipient after the United States of Canadian military goods. We've been selling them light armored vehicles, for example, since the 1980s. There's recently been a deal for $15 billion that Canada has signed with Saudi Arabia, that will go for the next 10 or 15 years. And it involves about 3,000 jobs in 500 companies, and the--it's led by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ontario. It's the largest export contract in Canadian history. And of course, like Justin was saying, Saudi Arabia has an appalling human rights record.

This came up in the leadership debate on September 24, in the French debate. And the Bloc Quebecois leader and the NDP leader criticized the Canadian government for this deal. However, the NDP would not cancel the deal. It just merely says that it would look into the regulations that govern how Canada decides about selling military equipment to countries that are human rights violators. And the NDP has been like many other people. Either just misunderstanding or deliberately misunderstanding the fact that there are no regulations or laws in Canada that stop us from selling military equipment to human rights violators. There are guidelines which say we need to control the export of military goods to countries that might use them to violate human rights, just as we have these guidelines that say we shouldn't sell to countries that are at war, or that are even preparing for war.

But we have been selling military equipment to these categories of countries for many decades. In fact, as I said earlier, the United States is our biggest recipient and Saudi Arabia is our second-biggest recipient. And these are the largest warmongers and human rights violators in the world. And we don't have any rules or regulations to stop that. The NDP wouldn't stop that deal. The Liberals would not cancel the deal. And we know, for instance, that Saudi Arabia has already about 1,400 of these light armored vehicles which are equipped with weapons, equipped with weapons. And they sent some of them to Bahrain in 2011 to quell an uprising there, a pro-democracy uprising.

So Canada is very complicit in the military arms exports. And the NDP is not really in a position to say that it's going to cancel this particular huge, $15 billion weapons system to Saudi Arabia.

PERIES: Richard, that's a very important point you make, given what's going on in Yemen and the levels of human rights violations that has been attributed to Saudi Arabia by the United Nations.

Justin and Richard, I thank you both for joining me today.

PODUR: Thank you.

SANDERS: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining me on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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