NDP’s foreign policy is a disappointment

The NDP’s foreign and defence policy election statements are poor.

Let’s begin by looking at the good part of the NDP’s platform. The highlight of “A better role in the world” is a call to “suspend arms sales to Israel until the end of the illegal occupation.” The call for a patent waiver on COVID 19 vaccines and for “nuclear disarmament” are also commendable. So is ensuring that “Canadian-made weapons are not fuelling conflict and human rights abuses abroad.”

But the statement is silent about the embarrassing collapse of the Canadian-sponsored anti-Venezuela Lima Group, reversal of the Canadian-backed coup in Bolivia or the defeat of Trudeau’s bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Nor does it mention the Liberals’ failed promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran or to set up a proper ombudsperson to rein in Canadian mining companies’ abuses.

The NDP statement promotes Washington’s cold war with China. “A New Democrat government will stand up to China with a strong and coherent strategy to defend Canadian interests at home and abroad”, it notes. “We will work with our allies to lead a robust and coordinated international response to China’s disregard of the rule of law.” China is the only country mentioned in the statement except for Palestine/Israel and it receives one of 12 paragraphs towards the top of the statement (Palestine is near the bottom).

The NDP’s “Defence at home and abroad” statement supports purchasing “new military equipment, including ships and fighter jets”. The new warplanes are expected to cost $19 billion upfront and $77 billion over their life cycle. In July numerous prominent Canadian and international figures, including NDP stalwarts like Stephen Lewis, Svend Robinson and Libby Davies, criticized the government’s plan to “spend tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets.”

The planned purchase of 15 surface combatants is expected to cost $82 billion upfront and $286 billion over their lifecycle. The surface combatants look set to be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of striking land targets up to 1,700 kilometres away and with radar systems that will allow US officials to launch the weapons. Both the naval vessels and fighter jets are designed to fight in US and NATO led wars.

Besides endorsing a massive upgrade in the Canadian military’s capacity to wage war, the statement criticizes supposed “cuts” to military spending and celebrates soldiers “dedication, service, and sacrifice”. According to the NDP: “Unfortunately, after decades of Liberal and Conservative cuts and mismanagement, our military has been left with outdated equipment, inadequate support and an unclear strategic mandate. We need to do better for Canadians in uniform and for the defence of our country. A New Democrat government will make sure that our troops have the equipment, training, and support they need to do the difficult and dangerous work we ask them to undertake.”

Despite the social democratic party’s claim, Canadian troops are not “defending our country”. They are engaged in belligerent missions in Latvia, Ukraine, Iraq and elsewhere. The Canadian forces have set up or are planning to establish small bases in a half dozen countries and Canadian warships are deployed from the Caribbean to the North Sea, Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.

The NDP statement fails to mention that the Department of National Defence — responsible for 59% of government greenhouse gas emissions — is exempt from the government’s emissions reduction targets. Nor does it say anything about the plan to spend billions of dollars on armed drones, expand NORAD or the growth of the secretive Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM).

The NDP’s foreign policy and military statements suggest little would change if the party formed government. That’s unfortunate since there’s much that needs to change in Canada’s relationship to the world.

Canadians of conscience shouldn’t be satisfied with being a junior partner in the neoliberal world order and bullying others to follow the rules of the US empire.

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