Undoing centuries of racism requires looking at major government purchases through the lens of whether or not they challenge, or reinforce, existing structural power imbalances.
For example, would spending billions of dollars on 88 new fighter jets reinforce white domination?
To answer that question, one must look at history and current affairs.
Historically, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s “colour line” was the strictest of the three branches of the military. During World War II it had a policy stating that “all candidates must be British subjects and of pure European descent.” While some non-whites were able to bypass the directive, the RCAF required Black and “Oriental” applicants to be “carefully scrutinized” at headquarters to see whether they could “mix” with whites” until the late 1950s. No person of colour has ever led the air force and it remains overwhelmingly white.
While it will strengthen the air force’s standing and capacities, the fighter jet purchase is largely driven by corporate interests. Two US based and one Swedish firm have made the final stage of the procurement competition. There’s no firm from a largely non-white country.
Much of that work on the fighter jet will take place in Canada and dozens of Canadian aerospace firms will fulfill contracts if the procurement goes ahead. Few aerospace or arms firms are owned by racialized people and the aerospace industry has recognized the lack of racial diversity in its workforce. Montreal’s Center for Research-Action on Race Relations has criticized the overtly discriminatory effect of Canadian companies complying with the U.S. State Department’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which “require Canadian aerospace and defense companies recognized as Premier U.S. Defense Contractors and receiving military contracts from the U.S., and recruitment agencies working with these companies, to adhere to regulations that restrict access to ITAR-controlled products, services and data to applicants and employees from these ‘prohibited countries.’” In effect, Canadians of dual nationality from two dozen (largely non-white) countries considered hostile by Washington have had difficulty working in the sector.
The fighter jet procurement, which includes a slew of stipulations, doesn’t appear to include any criteria for racial equity in hiring or contracting.
A boon to aerospace and arms firms, the fighter jets are expected to cost $19 billion. That sum will likely reach $77 billion over their full life cycle. These resources could redress many flagrant racial inequities. They could, for instance, ensure healthy drinking water on every First Nations reserve many times over. Or they could build tens of thousands of units of indigenous run cooperative housing. Or how about establishing Black studies programs at every Canadian university?
Alongside corporate profits, the fighter jet purchase is driven by Canada’s NATO, NORAD and Five Eyes alliances. All 30 NATO members are predominantly white countries. The same for NORAD. The Five Eyes consists of the four countries (Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand) that initially refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Mother England.
Over the past two decades, Canadian fighter jets have participated in three missions targeting predominantly Black or brown countries (Iraq, Libya and Iraq/Syria). A Canadian general led the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya, which was vigorously opposed by the African Union. AU officials argued the war would destabilize that country and the region. The war led to an upsurge in anti-Blackness, including slave markets in Libya, and violence spilled southward to Mali and across much of the Sahel region of Africa.
Spending huge sums on new fighter jets will expand the military/government’s capacity to defy the wishes of the African Union, Arab League, CARICOM, Non-aligned movement or another largely Black and brown nation alliance. Given history, the odds are that cutting-edge new fighter jets will be used to bomb Black and brown people.
Would spending tens of billions of dollars on 88 new fighter jets challenge or reinforce white domination of the world? The answer is clear.
Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard For Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military