Last week, while everyone was busy looking at that nice picture of Obama and Trudeau amiably chatting it up in Little Burgundy, the government dropped Canada’s new “deliberately ambitious” National Defense Strategy. This includes a 73% increase of the military defense budget over the next ten years and replacement of the CF-18 fleet with 88 advanced fighter aircraft (instead of the 65 planes promised by the Conservatives).

Among all the usual reasons presented by the government for this rather dramatic hike, two stood out: the need to respond to NATO pressure and the need to assume more of a leading role on the international stage in response to the Trump administration’s isolationism.

Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau dining at Liverpool House in Little Burgundy last Tuesday

NATO requests that member states devote 2% of their GDP to national defense and Canada spends little more than half of that. By 2027, Canada’s defense spending will have jumped from $18.9 Billion to $32.7 Billion, which will be 1.4% of the GDP – still too little for NATO, but enough to significantly improve its status.

To be fair, in 2016, only five of the 28 members (The UK, the US, Greece, Poland and Estonia) actually reached NATO’s target. To be quite clear, the pressure to increase spending is coming from the US in particular. Donald Trump scolded NATO leaders last month for not committing more funds.

On the other hand, Trump’s unpredictable behaviour on diplomatic matters is a factor in and of itself.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” said the minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.

On Tuesday, while Obama was speaking in Montreal, Freeland presented the new policy to the House of Commons. And just like Obama spoke for an hour and a half about everything wrong with Trump without mentioning him, the Minister clearly depicted Canada’s new defense strategy as a countermeasure to Trump’s unreliability without saying so. This brilliantly written part of her discourse is a perfect example:

“Imagine a Canadian view that says we are safe on our continent, and we have things to do at home, so let’s turn inward. Let’s say Canada first. Here’s why that would be wrong…”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland

She then went on to argue that Canada is facing many threats on the international front, mentioning climate change, but also, the dictatorship in North Korea, “crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh, and Russian military adventurism.”

Freeland also warned that relying on the umbrella of protection provided by the US would turn us into a client state.

Foreign and security policy analyst Srdjan Vucetic believes Canada increasing its defense spending is inevitable.

“While the demand for spending precedes Trump-induced uncertainties,” he argued, “the latter amplifies, especially in light of Freeland’s speech on Tuesday.”

Vucetic rather liked hearing Freeland admit “that the world is different now that there are no adults in the White House.”

Selling military spending to the Left

The Liberals aren’t forgetting the votes they got on the left of the spectrum in this rightward shift towards militarism. That’s why they’re packaging it as a soft criticism of the Trump Administration, something that is hard for progressives not to support.

Freeland also talked a fair amount about another popular topic on the left: fighting climate change, taking the opportunity to say that “Canada is deeply disappointed by the decision by the US Federal Government to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate.”

It’s logical that increased military spending will improve Canada’s pull on the diplomatic world which is necessary to influence the fight against climate change. However, the Liberal government has given us no reason to believe that they would ever use it to that effect. Despite talking a big game about the environment, they have done just as much for it as the Conservatives.

It wasn’t the only part of the Minister’s discourse that seemed like a diversion tactic meant to appease the Left.

“Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world. No one appointed us the world’s policeman,” Freeland assured the House of Commons, preemptively echoing potential critics. The statement is a little bit at odds with the very first paragraph of the official policy document praising Canadian military for “working tirelessly to (…) promote Canadian values and interests abroad” and the fact that her own discourse cares to point out how good and honorable Canadian values are.

While “impose” and “promote” are two distinct concepts, they have a way of blending in this particular context, considering no one actually fears Canada “imposing” its values through some sort of coercive force. All this to say that, as nicely as this statement plays to popular criticism, it is again devoid of actual significance.

The Liberals won the elections by playing up the contrast between them and the Conservatives. Instead of acting on that contrast, it looks like they’ve decided to play up their differences with Trump instead.

* Featured image: Canadian CF-18 via WikiMedia Commons

Remember Canada’s mission in Afghanistan? It wasn’t long ago that Canada mothballed its forward operating base (complete with Tim Horton’s) outside the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar City in order to enable the Karzai government to assume responsibility for the security of the one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Afghanistan.

How’s that transition going, you ask? Rather badly, it turns out. The other day a suicide attack outside a bank killed six and wounded at least 20 people, in Kandahar.

If this were an isolated incident, you might be willing to give the Afghan government, supposedly ready to take control of the country in 2014 (the date given by ISAF for the departure of NATO troops), the benefit of the doubt. But it’s just the latest in a series of bloody terrorists attacks carried out by the increasingly emboldened Taliban. According to UN statistics, in the month of July of this year alone, the body count rose to over a 1000 civilians, staggeringly!

Even more worrying is the way that the violence seems to be trending. Much of it is aimed at women and even little girls, more active in Afghan society since the fall of the ultra-medieval rule of the Taliban in 2001, one of the few positives to emerge from one of the longest and costliest wars in Canadian history.

But now even this progress is under threat of being reversed by a wave of attacks deliberately designed to intimidate Afghan women. Arguably, the most notorious example of this is the case of Farabi Ahmadi Kakar, a female member of Aghanistan’s national parliament that was kidnapped along with her three children.

Ms. Kakar’s whereabouts remain unknown, though her children have since been rescued. But her Taliban kidnappers are demanding the release of four Taliban prisoners in exchange for her life.

This would be a troubling enough case, even if it were the only one. However, it is the symptom of a much wider epidemic that has seen many prominent female leaders in the country subjected to daily attempts on their lives. The growing list of victims include a police chief from Helmand province and the daughter of a female Senator who had the misfortune of being blown up by a car bomb intended for her mother.

I can recall many a neo-con in this country boasting about the success of their humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan to bring justice and equality for women in that country (though you would have to be born yesterday to believe that that was ever part of the original motivation for the invasion). And, to be fair, they have managed to enshrine gender equality in the 2004 Constitution, no small feat in a country as deeply chauvinist as Afghanistan (see the case of Mohamed Shafia for just one example of this.

Yet the onus is now on the Canadian government and its allies who invaded Afghanistan and helped put in place the current state structure, to see that the country doesn’t backslide into the brutal oppression of women which was the hallmark of the Taliban era. Otherwise, all of the rhetoric from NATO countries about turning Afghanistan into a respectable member of the international community, even as they prepare to abandon the country by the end of next year, will ring hollow.

Canada’s  government should lobby its NATO allies to hold a full investigation into allegations of civilian deaths during its yearlong bombing campaign in support of Libyan rebel’s successful toppling of the  Gaddafi clan and the corrupt regime that kept them in power for over 40 years.

This may be a tad hypocritical of me.  You see, I supported the humanitarian intervention in that country, back when it seemed evident that Gaddafi would stop at nothing in order to quell the legitimate protests of his people (including preparing to carry out a civilian blood bath in the city of Benghazi!). Most Libyans still agree that the military strikes, as damaging  as they may have been, were justified on the grounds that they saved more innocent lives than they killed. Even a spokesman for Human Rights Watch (one of the non-governmental organizations calling for an investigation into the alleged war crimes) admits that the number of casualties (72 people) is relatively small, for a military operation of this size.

Presumably, this is why the Libyan government (such as it is) has yet to appeal to NATO for an inquiry into the deaths.
But the international human rights lawyer in me says that we have an obligation, moral and legal, to get to the bottom of this matter, and to do it now, so the victims of these errant bombs, if they can be established, may receive compensation and some measure of justice in this tragic affair.

First the legal case: international humanitarian law ( which used to known as the laws of war, during a less politically correct by gone era) clearly hold States responsible for their actions during wartime. Among other things, civilian deaths, even if accidental, are strictly forbidden (see Geneva Conventions, for more info). Especially if, as is claimed by the NGOs, they were caused by air strikes on targets with no military or strategic value.

It’s clear that, despite pressure from the international human rights community (Amnesty International, HRW, etc.), NATO is determined to drag its feet on this question. As a result, NATO flack Oana Lungescu made a slightly contradictory statement the other day, which attempted to nip the case against NATO in the bud, by claiming that, on the one hand, no civilians had been killed by NATO.

On the other hand, she then implied that even if they had, it was impossible to avoid such tragedies entirely in a complex military campaign and that , in any case, all “targets struck by NATO were legitimate targets.” This sounds an awful lot like hedging one’s bets, to my mind. Incidentally, as the author of the HRW report, Fred Abrahams, pointed out, NATO’s has no such qualms about investigating and compensating alleged civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Above all, there is a powerful moral argument for a NATO investigation into this. If NATO wants to maintain the moral high ground and continue to claim that they only use military force with the utmost regard for minimizing collateral damage (for lack of a better term), then they should show more accountability to the people of Libya, in this case. There is no better way, that I can think of, for the new government and its allies to demonstrate a commitment to the principle of the rule of law and, in so doing, help heal the national wounds that continue to divide Libya and distance themselves from the criminality of the ancien régime.