Hope for Yemen, vaccine equity, the ICC and Palestine, cyber operations and more
USA stops weapons sales, boosts diplomacy to end Yemen conflict
Let us start with some really good news.
In his first major foreign policy address since his inauguration as the 46th American president, Joe Biden announced an end to US support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen:
We’re … stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen — a war which has created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe….
And to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.
William Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Program at the Centre for International Policy, while welcoming Biden’s move, added that, to be effective the new policy should:
- Stop all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both “proposed and in the pipeline” and including “maintenance and logistical support”;
- Increase humanitarian aid to Yemen;
- Reverse the last-minute Pompeo-led designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, which severely limits the ability of aid groups to do their job; and
- Press Saudi Arabia and the UAE to commence a ceasefire and negotiate in good faith for an inclusive peace agreement.
Further to the promise to ramp up American diplomacy to end the war in Yemen, Biden stated:
This morning, Secretary [of State] Blinken appointed Tim Lenderking, a career foreign policy officer, as our special envoy to the Yemen conflict…. Tim … has lifelong experience in the region, and he’ll work with the U.N. envoy and all parties of the conflict to push for a diplomatic resolution.
As it happens, the UK is currently President of the UN Security Council for the month of February and is “penholder” for the Yemen conflict. RI President Peggy Mason comments:
Let us hope that renewed USA engagement will lead to an updated resolution that will allow UN negotiators to fully engage with all parties to this complicated and utterly devastating conflict.
Yemen only the beginning
The new approach on the Yemen conflict announced by President Biden was part of a broad reshaping of American foreign policy with “diplomacy at its centre”:
By leading with diplomacy, we must also mean engaging our adversaries and our competitors diplomatically, where it’s in our interest, and advance the security of the American people.
Other highlights (in addition to actions already taken in returning the USA to the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization and appointing a Special Envoy for Iran) include:
- A five-year extension of the New START treaty with Russia, thus ensuring verifiable limits on ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers;
- An eightfold increase in the number of refugees to be accepted into the US in 2021; and
- Tough talk on confronting Russia and China balanced with diplomatic engagement where it is in the American interest to do so.
For the full text of the President’s statement see: Remarks by President Biden on America’s Place in the World (whitehouse.gov, 4 February 2021). Further information can also be found in the Press Briefing section of the US Department of State website here. See also some sage advice to the Biden administration from the International Crisis Group, whose former chief, Robert Malley, has just become the US envoy to Iran.
Canada is still exporting arms to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and we are providing ongoing maintenance and logistical support for that equipment, particularly the LAVs – heavily armoured personnel carriers. Now that President Biden has halted American military support for the war on Yemen, there are no excuses left for Canada failing to do the same.
We call on the Government of Canada to emulate US action and finally heed the UN call for all countries to cease arming the parties to the Yemen conflict.
At long last some good news on developing country coronavirus vaccine access
At a 3 February 2021 news briefing UNICEF announced a new deal with the Serum Institute of India to access 1.1 billion doses of Astra Zeneca/Oxford and Novavax vaccines at approximately $3.00 per dose for the poorest countries. (By comparison the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines cost between $15 and $25 per dose.)
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, stated:
This is a great value for COVAX donors…. And a strong demonstration of one of the fundamental principles of COVAX.
COVAX is a partnership including the Global Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
To date Canada has pledged $865 million in coronavirus aid for equitable global access to COVID-19 tests, treatment and vaccines
Recently, however, controversy has arisen over the news that Canada itself will also draw on a supply of coronavirus vaccines from COVAX, the only G7 member to do so, although other wealthy nations like New Zealand and Singapore have made similar requests.
In its defence Canada has emphasized that the COVAX mechanism pools funds from wealthier countries to help buy vaccines for themselves and low-income nations. In the words of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland:
We’ve been clear from the start: No one will be safe until everyone is…. We’re focused on getting Canadians vaccinated while making sure the rest of the world is vaccinated too.
More good news with ICC ruling it has jurisdiction over Palestinian Territories
The International Criminal Court ruled on Friday that it has jurisdiction over war crimes or atrocities committed in the Palestinian Territories, opening the door for possible investigations despite the objections of Israel, which is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the Court and governs its work.
In December 2019 the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, stated:
There is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
However, she wished to be assured of the Court’s jurisdiction before proceeding to open a formal investigation.
Balkees Jarrah, Associate International Justice Director of Human Rights Watch, called the ruling “pivotal” and stated:
It’s high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses – whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements – face justice.
The Foreign Minister issued a short statement, which can be accessed here. We urge folks to read it in its entirety. It appears to say that Palestinians should not have redress for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel until Israel agrees to give them their land back.
Canadian government designates Proud Boys a terrorist entity
Readers will recall a major focus in our previous blog was the misguided action by Canadian parliamentarians to unanimously call for the Government of Canada to add the notorious far-right group Proud Boys to the Terrorist Entities List. We stated:
…parliamentarians, in the absence of intelligence or evidence, and in an inherently political process, voted to label a group as “terrorists” so as to bring them within the ambit of draconian national security legislation, long decried by human rights advocates as a gross overreach of government power in conflict with fundamental legal principles of due process.
That blog also noted that the Public Security Minister was quick to emphasize intelligence, not politics, would guide any such designation. Miraculously, the Government of Canada found the necessary evidence a mere seven days following Parliament’s call.
After making the announcement, Minister Bill Blair was at pains to emphasize that groups are only added to the list if:
[b]ased on their actions, each group meets the legal threshold for listing as set out in the Criminal Code, which requires reasonable grounds to believe that an entity has knowingly participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity, or has knowingly acted on behalf of, at the direction of, or in association with such an entity.
The terrorist designation in Canada means the group may have assets seized and face harsher terrorism-related criminal penalties if they engage in violent acts.
It should be noted that the FBI in 2018 designated the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism but not a terrorist entity.
It is frankly absurd to argue that the only way we can effectively combat white supremacist and hate-based violence is to put the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Canadians at risk. We deeply regret this triumph of populist pandering over sober consideration of effective measures to address violent extremism of any kind.
We reiterate our call for the Government of Canada to abolish the draconian Terrorist Entity Lists and focus instead on strengthening rule of law and broader measures to effectively counter violent extremism.
Cyber operations and norms of responsible state behaviour
Former Disarmament Ambassador Paul Meyer begins a recent article on “offensive cyber operations” with the following statement:
Recent cyberattacks underscore the need for international norms of responsible behaviour, and an institutionalized process to support them.
He was talking in particular about revelations in early January that sophisticated hackers had penetrated US government systems in a “wide-ranging cyberoffensive.”
His article then goes on to distinguish three broad types of very different “cyberattacks”:
- Computer network exploitation;
- Cyber-enhanced information operations; and
- Computer network attacks.
Computer network exploitation is a contemporary form of espionage that involves penetrating a foreign computer network and extracting information from it.
He describes the second category of attacks as follows:
Information operations are cyber-enhanced missions of “propaganda” or “psychological operations” that aim to influence public opinion in a foreign state in a manner to advance the interests of the state behind the operation.
Finally, the third category:
Computer network attack can be viewed as a military-type operation that seeks to disrupt, damage or destroy a foreign computer system or the data stored on it.
Meyer sees little prospect of cyber espionage and cyber disinformation becoming the subject of internationally agreed controls. However, with respect to computer network attacks, he believes they are not only arguably the most dangerous type of offensive cyber operation, but also the category most amenable to international regulation.
That being said, while the UN has been successful in elaborating useful “norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace”, broad agreement on applying them has proved elusive.
This year could prove decisive as to whether damaging state-run cyber operations continue to escalate or if a modicum of restraint can be applied via international agreement.
For the full article, see: An international response to offensive cyber operations is long overdue (policyoptions.irpp.org, 29 January 2021).
Cyber operations and the laws of war
To delve further into ongoing efforts to ensure effective regulation in the cyber sphere, see: JIB/JAB – The Laws of War Podcast · Episode 15: Michael Schmitt on Cyber Operations and the Laws of War (2 February 2021). The host of this podcast series is Craig Martin, a Canadian teaching law at Washburn University School of Law.
A particular focus of this episode is the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations, a copy of which can be found here. It should be noted that while the initiator of this manual was the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, it was developed by an independent, international group of experts. The first version was published in 2013, the second in 2017 and a third edition is due out shortly.
Photo credit: DND
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