Tag Archives: Libya

First principle of international relations should be ‘do no harm’

Many progressives call for Canada to “do more” around the world. The assumption is that this country is a force for good, a healer of humankind. But if we claim to be the “doctors without borders” of international relations, shouldn’t Canada swear to “first do no harm” like MDs before beginning practice? At a minimum shouldn’t the Left judge foreign policy decisions through the lens of the Hippocratic oath?

Libya illustrates the point. That North African nation looks set to miss a United Nations deadline to unify the country. An upsurge of militia violence in Tripoli and political wrangling makes it highly unlikely elections  planned for December will take place.

Seven years after the foreign backed war Libya remains divided between two main political factionsand hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. Thousands have died in fighting since 2011.

The instability is not a surprise to Canadian military and political leaders who orchestrated Canada’s war on that country. Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011 military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision makers the country would likely descend into a lengthy civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.”

A year and a half before the war a Canadian intelligence report described eastern Libya as an “epicentre of Islamist extremism” and said “extremist cells” operated in the anti-Gadhafi stronghold. In fact, during the bombing, notes Ottawa Citizenmilitary reporter David Pugliese,Canadian air force members privately joked they were part of “al-Qaida’s  air force”. Lo and behold hardline Jihadists were the major beneficiaries of the war, taking control of significant portions of the country.

A Canadian general oversaw NATO’s 2011 war, seven CF-18s participated in bombing runs and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels patrolled Libya’s coast. Ottawa defied the UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians by dispatching ground forces, delivering weaponry to the opposition and bombing in service of regime change. Additionally, Montréal-based private security firmGardaWorld aided the rebels in contravention of UN resolutions 1970 and 1973.

The NATO bombing campaign was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations. Western media and politicians repeated the rebels’ outlandish (and racist) claims that sub-Saharan African mercenaries fuelled by Viagra given by Gaddafi, engaged in mass rape. Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising and Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, were unable to find any basis for these claims.

But, seduced by the need to “do something”, the NDP, Stephen Lewis, Walter Dorn and others associated with the Left supported the war on Libya. In my new book Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I question the “do more” mantra and borrow from healthcare to offer a simple foreign policy principle: First Do No Harm. As in the medical industry, responsible practitioners of foreign policy should be mindful that the “treatments” offered often include “side effects” that can cause serious harm or even kill.

Leftists should err on the side of caution when aligning with official/dominant media policy, particularly when NATO’s war drums are beating. Just because the politicians and dominant media say we have to “do something” doesn’t make it so. Libya and the Sahel region of Africa would almost certainly be better off had a “first do no harm” policy won over the interventionists in 2011.

While a “do more” ethos spans the political divide, a “first do no harm” foreign policy is rooted in international law. The concept of self-determination is a core principle of the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.Peoples’ inalienable right to shape their own destiny is based on the truism that they are best situated to run their own affairs.

Alongside the right to self-determination, the UN and Organization of American States prohibit interfering in the internal affairs of another state without consent. Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter states that “nothing should authorize intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

A military intervention without UN approval is the “supreme international crime”. Created by the UN’s International Law Commission after World War II, the Nuremberg Principles describe aggression as the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”In other words, by committing an act of aggression against Libya in 2011 — notably bombing in service of regime change — Ottawa is responsible not only for rights violations it caused directly, but also those that flowed from its role in destabilizing that country and large swaths of Africa’s Sahel region.

If Canada is to truly be the “good doctor” of international relations it will be up to Left foreign policy practitioners to ensure that this country lives up to thatpart of the Hippocratic oath stating, “First do no harm”.

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GardaWorld private security firm a danger to democracy

Last week students at L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) disrupted a board meeting after learning administrators planned to sign a $50 million, seven-year, contract with security giant GardaWorld. Protesters are angry the administration has sought to expel student leaders and ramp up security at the politically active campus as they cut programs.

The world’s largest privately held security firm, Garda is open about its need for repressive university, business and political leaders. The Montréal firm’s chief executive, Stephan Cretier, called the 2012 Québec student strike “positive” for business. “Naturally, when there’s unrest somewhere – the Egyptian election or some disruption here in Quebec or a labour disruption somewhere – unfortunately it’s usually good for business.”

But, that’s not half of it. A 2014 Canadian Business profile described Garda’s business as “renting out bands of armed men to protect clients working in some of the Earth’s most dangerous outposts.” Garda operates in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Algeria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere.

Established in 1995, the early 2000s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan propelled Garda’s international growth. With financing from Québec’s Caisse de dépôt pension fund, by 2007 they had as many as 5,000 employees in the region.

While US militarism boosts its profits, the company has deflected criticism with a noble Canadian shield. When four Garda employees were kidnapped (and later killed) in 2007, the head of the company claimed its private soldiers in Iraq were “perceived differently because we’re Canadian.” Of course, he didn’t mention if Iraqis shot by unaccountable mercenaries feel that way on discovering the bullets were fired by an employee of a Canadian firm.

Garda has been engulfed in controversy in Afghanistan as well. In 2012 two of its British employees were caught with dozens of unlicensed AK-47 rifles and jailed for three months while two years later the head of Garda’s Afghan operations, Daniel Ménard, was jailed for three weeks on similar charges. Commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in 2009-10, Ménard left the military after he was court-martialed for recklessly discharging his weapon and having sexual relations with a subordinate.

In 2013 Garda established operations in Nigeria to provide “logistical support” for international oil firms, which have faced political and criminal attacks. That year Garda also rented a villa in Mogadishu, Somalia, to lodge energy contractors and international development workers as well as accompany them around the country. A 2014 report from the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries questioned the growing role of Western security companies in the country. As Somalia “rebuilds its security institutions, the Government should ensure that private security forces are properly regulated and do not become a substitute for competent and accountable police. All Somalis have the right to security, not just those who can afford to pay for it,” said Faiza Patel, chairperson of the UN Working Group.

But it’s not simply a matter of equal justice. In a country where control of armed men has long been the main source of power, private security companies can easily strengthen the hand of a political faction or prolong conflict.

Garda’s most successful foray abroad is in Libya where it appointed former Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Zdunich head of its operations. Sometime in the “summer of 2011”, according to its website, Garda began operating in the country. After Libya’s National Transition Council captured Tripoli (six weeks before Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Sirte on October 20, 2011) the rebels requested Garda’s assistance in bringing their forces “besieging the pro-Qaddafi stronghold of Sirte to hospitals in Misrata”, reported Bloomberg. Garda’s involvement in Libya may have contravened that country’s laws as well as UN resolutions 1970 and 1973, which the Security Council passed amidst the uprising against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule.

Resolution 1970 called for an arms embargo, mandating all UN member states “to prevent the provision of armed mercenary personnel” into Libya. Resolution 1973 reinforced the arms embargo, mentioning “armed mercenary personnel” in three different contexts. In an article titled “Mercenaries in Libya: Ramifications of the Treatment of ‘Armed Mercenary Personnel’ under the Arms Embargo for Private Military Company Contractors”, Hin-Yan Liu points out that the Security Council’s “explicit use of the broader term ‘armed mercenary personnel’ is likely to include a significant category of contractors working for Private Military Companies (PMCs).”

Contravening international law can be good for business. As the first Western security company officially operating in the country, Garda’s website described it as the “market leader in Libya” with “over 3,500 staff providing protection, training and crisis response.” Garda’s small army of former British special forces and other elite soldiers won a slew of lucrative contracts in Libya. The company’s Protective Security Detail provided “security for a number of international oil companies and their service providers” as well as NATO soldiers training the Libyan Army (the first time NATO contracted out the protection of a training program).

The Montréal company also protected a hundred European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) personnel who trained and equipped Libyan border and coast guards in a bid to curtail African migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. Garda’s four-year EUBAM contract garnered attention in early 2014 when 19 cases of arms and ammunition destined for the company disappeared at the Tripoli airport. But the company didn’t let this loss of weapons deter it from performing its duties. According to Intelligence Online,company officials asked “to borrow British weapons to ensure the safety of EU personnel.”

The request found favour since Garda already protected British interests in Libya, including Ambassador Dominic Asquith. In Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz describe the ambassador’s protection detail: “Some members of Sir Dominic Asquith’s security detail were undoubtedly veterans of 22 Special Air Service, or SAS, Great Britain’s legendary commandos, whose motto is ‘Who Dares Wins.’ Others were members of the Royal Marines Special Boat Service, or SBS.”

In June 2012 a rebel group attacked Asquith’s convoy in Benghazi with a rocket-propelled grenade. “The RPG-7 warhead fell short of the ambassador’s vehicle”, notes Under Fire. Two Garda operatives “were seriously hurt by fragmentation when the blast and rocket punched out the windshield of the lead vehicle; their blood splattered throughout the vehicle’s interior and then onto the street.”

One wonders how many Libyans have fallen prey to “Canada’s Blackwater”?

A source of employment for retired Canadian, British and US forces, Garda has built up its connections in military–political circles. A former Canadian ambassador to the US and Stephen Harper advisor, Derek Burney, is chair of its International Advisory Board. Garda’s board also includes retired four-star US Admiral Eric T. Olson, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security Michael P. Jackson and UK Permanent Secretary, Intelligence, Security and Resilience in the Cabinet Office Sir Richard Mottram. In December Garda hired recently retired Conservative minister Christian Paradis, reported Le Soleil, to “convince different levels of government to increase their use of the private sector in public safety.”A

A creature of neoliberal capitalism and Western aggression, Garda is a danger to democracy.

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Canada reaps what it sows in Africa

Blowback. Karma. Unintended consequences. A corollary to the golden rule. We have many words to describe the concept: Doing harm to others often results in bad things happening to us or people we “care” about, sometimes many years later.

Since the November attacks in Paris Boko Haram has killed nearly twice as many people as Daesh/ISIL/ISIS did in the City of Lights. But the carnage in northern Nigeria has received much less attention and Canada’s connection to it none at all.

Five days after the Paris killings Boko Haram claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in Yola and Kano that killed 50. Ten days later the group killed 22 at a Shia Muslim procession near Kano, another 11 a few days later just over the border in Cameroon and 27 on an island on Nigeria’s border with Chad a week later. Last week they killed 52 in Maiduguri and Madagali. According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram killed more people in 2014 than Daesh.

Largely ignored in North America, the 2011 Canada/France/Britain/US war in Libya benefited Boko Haram. It destabilized that country and now Daesh is in control of Sirte and other parts of the country. In 2012 the Libyan conflict spilled south into Mali. Last March Boko Haram announced its affiliation with ISIL and the Nigerian group is thought to be receiving fighters and media support from ISIL camps in Libya. The Libyan war also increased the availability of weaponry in the Sahel region. A few months after Gaddafi was killed a Reuters headline explained: “Arms from Libya could reach Boko Haram, al Qaeda: U.N.”

During the Libyan war the African Union predicted as much. In opposing the NATO/Gulf monarchies invasion of Libya, AU Commission Chief Jean Ping said “Africa’s concern is that weapons that are delivered to one side or another … are already in the desert and will arm terrorists and fuel trafficking.” When the Libyan conflict spilled southward in 2012 then Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo voiced similar concerns. “Part of what is happening in Mali is part of the fallout from Libya, and we should not expect that Mali will be the last.”

Canada played a significant role in the 2011 NATO attack in Libya. A Canadian general led the bombing campaign, seven CF-18 fighter jets participated and two Canadian naval vessels patrolled the Libyan coast. Additionally, Canadian special forces were reported to be operating in the country while a Canadian drone maker armed the anti-Gaddafi forces and Montréal private security firm GardaWorld aided them.

Beyond Ottawa’s role in Libya, Canadians long ago contributed to the political and religious tensions that have given rise to a group named (loosely translated) “Western education is a sin”. While in no way justifying Boko Haram’s wonton slaughter of innocents, the violent colonization of northern Nigeria and aggressive evangelizing efforts partly explain Boko Haram’s existence.

A lieutenant in the West African Frontier Force (WAFF) Canadian Gore Munbee Barrow was one of 25 white officers who led a thousand-man expedition in 1903 to conquer the Sokoto Caliphate in northern Nigeria. With four rapid firing Maxim guns and four 75mm cannons, it took a 90-minute battle to capture the capital of Sokoto, which had been West Africa’s largest single state in the nineteenth century. According to Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830-1914, “as the WAFF column neared the city, hordes of horsemen and footmen armed with swords, spears, old guns and bows and arrows appeared, charging the square over and over again, only to be mown down by machine gun and carbine fire.” Boko Haram regularly references the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio.

A number of Canadians played a role in the colonial administration of Northern Nigeria. After taking part in British military campaigns in Sudan and South Africa, Montréal’s Percy Girouard was appointed high commissioner and governor of Northern Nigeria from 1906 – 09 (then a separate colony). The Royal Military College of Canada trained governor allowed compulsory labour to be used on some public and private projects.

Canadian missionaries also played a central role in Christianizing the now fervently religious country split between a mostly Christian south and Muslim north. In 1905, the Ontario Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ sent Toronto’s Alexander Woods Banfield to proselytize among the Nupe of north-western Nigeria. Banfield took it upon himself to learn the language and translated the Bible into Nupe. He also founded the Niger Press, which aimed to secure “in printed form the word of God in Nigerian languages.” Rising to become general secretary for West Africa of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Banfield supported the colonial authorities and his personal writings were not free from outbursts of racism, including an assertion that “people along the banks of the Niger are almost wild… almost entirely untouched by the white man.”

In 1893 Torontonians Walter Gowans and Rowland Victor Bingham established the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), which became the largest Protestant mission in Nigeria. (At the time “Sudan” generally referred to the area south of the Sahara and North of the equator from the east to west coast of Africa.) Writing about northern Nigerian missionaries, Brad Faught surmises that British Governor Frederick “Lugard and the colonial state were the guarantors of the SIM’s operations.”

On top of supporting colonialism, SIM openly and aggressively criticized Islam. In a 1943 book titled From Cannibalism to Christ: a story of the transforming power of the gospel in darkest Africa, SIM missionary John S. Hall claimed “the 10 or more millions of pagans” in southern Nigeria were “threatened from the north, by Moslem invasion and absorption.”

SIM was boldly fundamentalist. In a book about the organization titledEvangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel, Barbara M. Cooper notes that to be a SIM missionary one had to accept that “the Bible is the ‘inerrant’ word of God” and that “to be a Christian is to evangelize”. Interestingly, Boko Haram has listed a church SIM built in the 1930s in Kano as a target.

Northern Nigeria’s missionary and colonial history partly explains Boko Haram’s depravity. Canada contributed in a small way to the British colonial project in northern Nigeria and Ottawa played a significant role in the recent military intervention in Libya, which has strengthened Boko Haram’s hand.

Blowback. Karma. Unintended consequences. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you or they might do unto you what you did to them.

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