Saudi-Canada and the USA

Who would have imagined that a tweet could have sparked such a crisis in Saudi-Canada relations? In this still-developing saga, there is a lesson, questions and a challenge.

The lesson is obvious: Diplomacy by tweet is a bad idea.

The too-clever-by-half tweet on the Friday before the August long weekend was likely written to assuage constituent pressures – the Montreal family of the imprisoned Badawis. But was it given sufficient scrutiny by our professional diplomatic corps?

The tweet would have been fine had it been sent by Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. Diplomacy needs nuance and circumspection to effect actual change. While a useful social-media tool for priming an event or announcement, 280 characters are insufficient for launching a human-rights initiative to transform Saudi conduct.

The questions: Did Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince calling the shots in the desert kingdom, check with U.S. President Donald Trump before proceeding with his attack on Canada? Given their close personal relationship – Mr. Trump’s first foreign visit was to Riyadh – was there a conversation before the Saudis launched the diplomatic equivalent of DEFCON 3 on the United States’ closest ally? If so, what was said?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to call Mr. Trump to discuss the Saudi situation. If it turns out that Mr. Trump gave the Crown Prince a wink and a nod to proceed, then Mr. Trudeau needs to make it clear that this is not acceptable.

The challenge for Canada is what to do next.

The Saudis are ratcheting up their campaign. Their social media have called Canada an oppressor of women and the homeless. The tweeted picture of an Air Canada jet headed for the CN Tower – shades of the Twin Towers – was reprehensible. The Saudis are also calling in their chits. The Arab League, Organization of Islamic Co-operation and the Gulf Co-operation Council have all dutifully lined up behind Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arab News says Mr. Trudeau should send a delegation on “the first plane” to make amends or there is a “real risk of upsetting the entire Muslim and Arab worlds.”

The Washington Post editorialized (with an Arabic version) that the extreme nature of the Saudi punitive actions requires solidarity from like-minded countries who see human rights as a fundamental value.

The response to date from our Group of Seven partners is disappointing. The U.S. State Department suggested the two countries – “both close allies of the USA” – work it out, as though Canada and Saudi Arabia were on equal footing. Susan Rice, who served as president Barack Obama’s UN Ambassador and then National Security Adviser, got it right: ”the administration left Canada swinging in the wind.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland now has to manage the fallout and continue her efforts to persuade like-minded countries to take a principled stand.

Are there sanctions we and our allies should be taking against the Saudis for their human-rights abuses, including treatment of women, oppression of religious freedoms and their intervention in Yemen? And why not invite its Foreign Minister to Canada? Perhaps he could join Ms. Freeland for a walk through our splendid Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

Ms. Freeland has given some good, punchy speeches defending the rules-based order recently, in Washington and in Singapore. Words matter. On her next trip to Europe, she should speak about human rights and remind our allies that they are fundamental to civil society. Mr. Trudeau should make human rights a principal theme of his UN General Assembly speech in September.

It is doubtful the Trudeau government intended to launch a new initiative targeting Saudi human rights. It already has a charged foreign-policy agenda – tense NAFTA negotiations, NATO commitments, climate talks, G7 chair obligations, peace operations in Mali and now refugee claimants from the United States. But Saudi bully-boy tactics shouldn’t give the kingdom a free pass on human rights.

As we have learned through our initiatives to help the Rohingya in Myanmar and to constrain the Maduro regime in Venezuela, advancing human rights in countries that don’t care is a difficult proposition. But if a feminist foreign policy and advocacy for human rights is to mean anything, we have to stand up, even if we stand alone.

US refuses to back Canada in Saudi Arabia dispute

As the diplomatic feud between Canada and Saudi Arabia worsens, the United States has remained notably silent, leaving Ottawa both perplexed and frustrated.

It all began last week with a tweet from Canada’s foreign minister criticising Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

That unleashed a barrage of punitive measures from Saudi Arabia including expelling Canada’s Ambassador, recalling its own Ambassador from Ottawa, freezing business and trade ties and ordering home thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada.

The US State Department has urged the two sides to use diplomacy to resolve the dispute but President Donald Trump’s silence for its northern neighbour hasn’t gone unnoticed in Canada.

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Canada’s Defence Review

To be a world player, Trudeau must spend on defence

In developing Canada’s new defence strategy, the federal government faces the pressure of events and some fundamental constraints.

The first and most challenging constraint is budgetary. Budgets are to strategy what teeth are to lips.

The Speech from the Throne promised investment in a “leaner, more agile, better-equipped military.” It will certainly be leaner, given competing pressures around other government priorities, including infrastructure, indigenous peoples, climate-change mitigation and health care.

As it addresses its budgetary challenges, the government also needs to get a grip on military procurement.

Our F-35 purchase, originally estimated at $75 million apiece, was to be 65 planes, but as the costs ballooned to $45-billion from $9-billion, the previous Conservative government hit the reset button. Meanwhile, the Norwegians are buying 52, the Australians 72 and the British 138. For its part, the Liberal government has launched an “open and transparent competition letter ” to replace our aging CF-18s.

The cost of Canada’s new navy fleet is also rising. The cost for the originally proposed 15 new frigates, six to eight Arctic offshore patrol ships, two joint supply ships and Coast Guard vessels, including the icebreaker CCGS John Diefenbaker, is probably double the originally estimate of $38-billion. By comparison, Australia recently committed $90-billion to its shipbuilding program for eight new frigates and 20 new patrol ships.

The second constraint is the messy, confusing and constantly evolving international environment. (A useful Canadian perspective is the just released Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s annual Strategic Outlook: In Search of a New Compass.)

The third constraint is defining defence priorities. While the government shares some priorities with the Conservative government before it, it is also renewing commitments to traditional Liberal approaches such as a renewed focus on peacekeeping.

The Conservative government’s “Canada First” defence strategy prioritized homeland defence and specifically the Arctic. The second priority was defence of North America and participation in the North American Aerospace Defence Command, which for the Liberal government also means a reconsideration of ballistic missile defence in the wake of North Korean missile tests. Its third priority was our collective security obligations through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and supporting international peace and security.

These commitments are all reflected in Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s mandate letter, along with protecting vital infrastructure from cyber-threats; a workplace free from harassment and discrimination; a suicide-prevention strategy, and creating better synergies with the Veterans Affairs Department.

And last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that his government is also renewing Canada’s UN peace-operations commitments.

The government’s initial assessment of our defence priorities is correct. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of continuity with those of the previous Conservative government.

The Arctic, in particular, needs more attention. Claiming sovereignty in the Arctic is easy. Exercising it requires more than the government’s promise to increase the approximately 5,000 Canadian Rangers.

Russia and Canada have both staked claims to the North Pole. But the Russians are backing their claims with military might: Last year saw their largest ever northern war games, involving more than 35,000 troops, 50 ships and submarines and 110 aircraft. The Russians have 42 icebreakers and well-developed Arctic ports.

In defending our North, polling indicates that Canadians are prepared to take a firm line “regardless of the cost.” For now, Canada has two heavy icebreakers. We need more icebreakers and surveillance aircraft and we need to complete the as-yet-unfinished permanent northern base in Nanisivik, Nunavut, that the Conservative government promised.

The lack of real action in the Arctic is illustrative of a fourth constraint: leadership.

Fair or not, ceasing the combat role in Iraq raises new doubts about Mr. Trudeau’s resolve on defence. Having agonized through many months over an Afghan strategy, U.S. President Barack Obama will empathize with Mr. Trudeau’s decision. But others will be reminded of Jean Chrétien’s refusal to join the ill-fated Iraq invasion, Pierre Trudeau’s “peacenik” crusade, Lester Pearson’s criticism of the Vietnam War or John Diefenbaker’s lack of early and unequivocal support for the Americans during the Cuban missile crisis.

History has vindicated the Canadian approach (Mr. Diefenbaker excepted). And Canadians need no persuading about the value of security, but they do look for leadership and vision.

To that end, the government’s defence review must involve public outreach and parliamentary debate that inform and educate Canadians on why we have a navy, air force and army. Decisions on force levels should be made only after looking all three legs of the defence stool:

· Readiness: How quickly can we get the job done?

· Capability: How much of an edge do we have over potential adversaries?

· Capacity: Do we have the numbers to meet the challenges?

For now, we continue to do defence on the cheap, free-riding under the U.S. security umbrella and spending just 1 per cent of gross domestic product on defence, the least of any member of the Arctic Council, and significantly less than Australia (1.8 per cent), France (1.8 per cent), Britain (2.07 per cent) and the United States (3.07 per cent).

For the world to acknowledge that “Canada is back,” we need to put our money where our mouth is: It’s time to increase our defence insurance premiums.

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Central Asia

Central Asia ripe for some Canadian know-how

Set high on the northern steppes, Astana owes its inspiration and creation to Kazakhstan’s first (and only) President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Bayterek Tower, Astana’s crowning glory, looks like a champagne flute topped by a golden cherry. It was supposedly sketched by Mr. Nazarbayev on a cocktail napkin. The profits from energy resources underwrite Kazakhstan and the headquarters of KazMunaiGaz, the national oil and gas company, is big and bold. Mr. Nazarbayev’s personal library, designed by Norman Foster, resembles a half cantaloupe.

Mr. Nazarbayev, 75, successfully transited from apparatchik to Kazakhstan’s founding father after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In April, he resoundingly won another five-year term.

When Mr. Nazarbayev moved the Kazakh capital in 1997 from Almaty to Astana, formerly the site of a notorious Soviet gulag, it supplanted Ottawa as the second coldest capital in the world. (Mongolia’s Ulan Bator is even colder.)

The President’s multivector foreign policy balances between competing spheres of influence – Russia, China, the European Union, the United States – while pursuing an independent course. Kazakhstan was the first former Soviet state to chair the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and last month it joined the World Trade Organization.

Kazakhstan is linked to Russia through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (1992) and the Eurasian Economic Union (2015).

China’s Xi Jingping announced his One Road, One Belt strategy (2013) in Astana and Chinese goods travel by rail through Kazakhstan to Europe. Kazakh oil flows by pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Xinjiang.

The European Union accounts for half of Kazak trade and foreign investment, bolstered Monday with the signature of an enhanced trade and security partnership agreement.

Since 2003, annual Steppe Eagle military exercises are held with the U.S. and other NATO nations and last month, in describing the American New Silk Road Initiative, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told students at Nazarbayev University that America’s stake in Central Asia “extends far beyond security.”

Central Asian border issues hamper closer regional co-operation. The Kazakh-Russian border is longer than the Canada-U.S. 49th parallel. Kazakhstan, the biggest of the ‘stans,’ is roughly the size of Ontario and Quebec.

Canada could work with Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics – Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – focusing on trade, governance, water management and nuclear safety.

Kazakhstan is a priority market for Canada and, with major investments in mining and oil and gas, an investment agreement is under negotiation.

The Transparency International index and Amnesty International’s reporting consider that corruption is a problem in Central Asia. Canada could usefully share its experience and expertise on accountability, transparency and good governance.

Transboundary water problems, notably the rapidly diminishing Aral Sea, date back to Soviet times and diversions around construction of hydro dams and irrigation of cotton plantations. Lessons can be shared from the Canadian-American boundary waters’ experience and our century-old International Joint Commission.

Kazakhstan is the biggest supplier of uranium, with Canada’s Cameco actively engaged in Kazak operations. Together, Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia provide two-thirds of the world supply. Building on our recent nuclear co-operation agreement, could we not work together in the development of a nuclear fuel bank for peaceful uses and in the management of nuclear waste?

For forty years, northern Kazakhstan was the site of 456 Soviet nuclear weapons tests, polluting an area the size of Germany. An estimated 1.5 million Kazakhs suffer radiation-related illness.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan voluntarily rid itself of nuclear weapons and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban treaties. Mr. Nazarbeyev launched Project ATOM (Abolish Testing is our Mission) to promote nuclear disarmament and end nuclear testing. Kazakhstan led the effort that earlier this month led to the passing of the Declaration on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World at the UN General Assembly. These are goals shared by the Canadian-inspired Pugwash conferences.

As the gateway for invaders east and west since the time of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, the 61 million people who live in Central Asia are a remarkable mixture of ethnicities, tribes, religions and languages.

Once again, there is renewed great-power jockeying for influence within Central Asia. The history, climate and geography of the region are harsh and unforgiving. Their governments are authoritarian and characterized by eccentricity. Their peoples might want more freedom and liberty but peace, security and order are their first priorities.

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