NATO London Declaration, gun control in Canada and next steps for Bolivia

Forward-looking “reflection” process agreed in London Declaration

After downgrading the Summit to a Leaders’ Meeting, failing to agree on a communiqué and delegating the final press conference to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the hapless NATO heads of government managed to paper over their manifold differences and release a 9-paragraph London Declaration.

Paragraph 7 relates to the expert group we highlighted in our 2 December blog post: UK summit expected to launch expert group on future of “brain-dead” NATO. While the concept was agreed, elaboration of a possible mandate was left to the NATO Secretary General:

“7. Taking into account the evolving strategic environment, we invite the Secretary General to present to Foreign Ministers a Council-agreed proposal for a forward-looking reflection process under his auspices, drawing on relevant expertise, to further strengthen NATO’s political dimension including consultation.

This gives Canada a huge opportunity to work with other like-minded NATO members to ensure that the mandate includes a strong arms control component, with a view to giving concrete meaning to the re-affirmation in paragraph 4 of the Declaration that:

Allies are strongly committed to full implementation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in all its aspects, including nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Canada will have its work cut out for it, however, given the final sentence of paragraph 4, which largely contradicts the rest of the paragraph quoted above:

 We remain open for dialogue, and to a constructive relationship with Russia when Russia’s actions make that possible. [emphasis added]

Do we really need to remind NATO member states that the NPT obligation to pursue negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament is an unconditional one, entirely independent of the good or bad behaviour of any member of the Treaty?

We return again to a fundamental point made by the European Leadership Network in their 12 September group statement:

It is possible to negotiate with adversaries without condoning unacceptable behaviour. Leaders must relearn the skills of past decades in finding ways to reduce shared nuclear risks in the absence of wider trust.

To put this another way, should bad behaviour by any state prevent NATO members from doing what is manifestly in their best interests?

For an excellent summary of the various tensions within the Alliance, particularly over the stance of its members in relation to Russia, see: NATO to launch fundamental review of its future direction (Peter Wintour, theguardian.com, 4 December 2019).

Lack of transparency on new NATO Military Strategy

For a detailed review of the issues addressed (or not) at the London Summit, see the excellent briefing by the NGO NATO Watch entitled: Amidst political disunity, military spending set to grow by $400 billion and NATO reaches out to space (6 December 2019).

One issue that they highlight beginning on page 7 of their analysis is NATO’s new Military Strategy, a classified document about which very little is publicly known. Most alarmingly, given the destabilizing new elements of American nuclear policy under Trump (about which we have blogged in the past), NATO Watch states:

NATO’s new strategy document is probably just a consolidation of US military doctrine plus some window dressing.

Those American documents are almost all publicly available. But since the NATO strategy is not, we cannot assess how closely it mirrors recent US changes in military doctrine which expand the potential roles for nuclear weapons and lower the threshold for possible use.

NATO Watch underscores the urgent need for greater transparency and parliamentary oversight of this new NATO doctrine, before it is formally approved by NATO member states:

Given the importance of NATO’s new Military Strategy—and its likely shaping by US military interests—it ought to be subjected to close scrutiny…. Parliaments in member states should have a role…. This should not be the exclusive reserve of defence ministries and their ministers.

In this regard, we recall the specific concerns that the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence enumerated as the reason for their extraordinary unanimous recommendation for Canadian nuclear arms control leadership within NATO:

the increasing threat of nuclear conflict flowing from the renewed risk of nuclear proliferation, the deployment of so-called tactical nuclear weapons, and changes in nuclear doctrines regarding lowering the threshold for first use of nuclear weapons by Russia and the US. [emphasis added]

And we also recall the written response of the government of Canada to this recommendation which began:

The Government of Canada agrees with this recommendation. Advancing nuclear disarmament in a concrete and meaningful way remains a priority for the Government of Canada. [emphasis added]

This post would not be complete without a comment about the focus of most of the Canadian media on the open mic that captured a few mild anti-Trump digs by NATO leaders including our Prime Minister:

Did CBC or other major Canadian outlets discuss the new “reflection process” agreed at the London Meeting?  Did they lament the secrecy surrounding the new NATO Military Strategy that may well incorporate the absolute worst aspects of Trumpian nuclear policy? Did they explore why there are such stark differences among NATO members on how to approach Russia? ” – asked RI President Peggy Mason

No, they spent their time hyping silly gossip, to the delight of Trump-friendly Fox news. Canadians deserve better, much better.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to ensure that:

  • the mandate for the new expert group or “reflection process” includes a strong nuclear arms control component; and that
  • the new NATO Military Strategy is fully reviewed by a joint sub-committee of members from the Foreign Affairs and National Defence Committees respectively before Canada gives its final agreement.

Action on assault weapons and handguns previewed in Throne Speech

In the throne speech delivered by Governor General Julie Payette on 5 December 2019, the Liberal government followed through on their campaign promises to ban military-style assault rifles, take steps to introduce a buy-back program and give municipalities the power to ban handguns.

These pledges coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Montreal massacre, where 13 female students and one female employee were killed by Marc Lépine at  École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989.

Opponents of gun control immediately began tweeting that military assault weapons were already banned and the real target was hunting rifles.

For an excellent discussion of the facts regarding these highly dangerous weapons, see: Truth Tracker: What does the Liberals’ gun ban really involve? (CTVNews.ca, 25 September 2019). On the specific issue of which semi-automatic weapons will be banned, the article quotes Liberal spokesperson Carlene Variyan to the effect that:

a re-elected Liberal government would allow the “expert, non-partisan Canadian Firearms Program under the RCMP to determine classifications.”

Two further points of note can be found in this excellent “truth tracker” article:

  • It was shooters using semi-automatic rifles who killed 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 and 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand in March….
  • Canada’s chiefs of police began arguing for all semi-automatics to be classified as restricted weapons since 1977, calling them “instruments of war” that have “no sporting use.” Several times since, the CACP have warned about their proliferation and urged a ban.

For a critique by mayors of the proposal to allow municipalities to ban handguns, see: Mayors say Liberal gun control plan fails to fix problem, call for handgun ban (Christopher Reynolds, Canadian Press, nationalpost.com, 2 October 2019). Mayor Bonnie Crombie of Mississauga gave voice to the general view:

It’s ineffective unless it’s more widespread. So all of us here would have preferred to see it nationally….

See also this excellent recent CBC opinion piece: Gun control: It’s been 30 years since the École Polytechnique massacre, so if not now, then when? (Heidi Rathjen, cbc.ca, 06 Dec 2019):

Tragically, military-style semi-automatic weapons have become more, not less, accessible over the years, as successive governments blatantly ignored gun manufacturers’ tactics of redesigning existing models in order to circumvent the minimal controls they’re subject to.

Whither Canada?

We applaud the Liberal decision to ban military style assault weapons and urge them to act equally decisively in legislating a total ban on handguns.

Update on Bolivia

In our 26 November blog post, we raised concerns about Canadian support for an alarmingly right wing, anti-indigenous interim President of Bolivia.  The Guardian editorial board added their voice to the call for interim President Anez to live up to her party’s stated commitment to “defend democracy”:

Bolivia’s prospects depend upon the rightwing interim government’s swift delivery of free and fair elections and its willingness to reach out to all communities.

For the full editorial, see: The Guardian view on Bolivia: respect the people  (theguardian.com, 5 December 2019).

The viewpoint of the European Union can be gleaned from a speech at the European Parliament plenary session on the situation in Bolivia where High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini stated in part:

In the last 14 years, Bolivia has certainly changed for the better. Poverty has dropped, access to basic services has improved, and indigenous people have increasingly been included in the country’s public life.

All these successes must be preserved, and this can only happen through a peaceful political solution that respects the Constitution and the rule of law, and that can bring the country to new, timely and credible elections, which faithfully reflect the will of the Bolivian people.

For the full text: click here.

Photo credit: NATO (New headquarters)

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