Dron’t Panic! What to know about Canada’s use of drones

By Stephanie Carvin

Last week there was a lot of attention in the media that Canada is considering purchasing drones that would have the capability to be armed.

This should not be a surprise – Canada has used drones in Afghanistan for surveillance and has considered procuring them under the Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) program for over a decade. Further, there are clear financial reasons. Where a Reaper drone costs approximately US$17 million, the cheapest model of the F-35 starts at about US$98 million. (Although some armed drones, such as the Global Hawk can cost up to US$222 million each.)

Armed drones immediately conjure up worrisome ideas about the CIA program that has operated overseas. This is seemingly at odds with the new global vision that the Trudeau government has been touting.  But Canada purchasing drones would not make it a global exception. A recent global survey of the technology reveals that over 90 countries have military drones of some kind. Of these countries, 27 have “advanced drones” that can spend at least 20 hours in the air, fly 16,000 feet and weigh at least 1,320 pounds. Ten countries had armed drones as of 2015, but it is expected that many more are acquiring them going forward. Last year Nigeria and Pakistan used drones against armed insurgents in their borders.

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Dilma’s soft auto-coup

By Jean Daudlin

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is handing over effective control of the government to her mentor and former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. While on Thursday she formally named him head of the government’s non-military affairs (chefe da Casa Civil) — though a judge attempted to prevent the appointment, even temporarily —  it is clear to all that he is now in charge and has become de facto president of the country. Rousseff, who was re-elected barely 18 months ago, thus becomes a figurehead devoid of real power. Institutionally, this development makes short shrift of the Brazilian Constitution, putting supreme executive power in the hands of a man who holds no elected office whatsoever.

Four developments have produced this astonishing turn of events.

The first is the utter dereliction of Rousseff’s popularity and power. Since her election, and in fact since the large demonstrations of June 2013, she has been unable to effectively govern the country, her utter political weakness in the face of a divided and ever-restive Congress paralyzing the government.

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Five reasons Canada faces an uphill battle in its anti-ISIS efforts

By Stephanie Carvin

Whether you agree or disagree with its reasoning, the Liberal government has taken Canada’s Iraq/Syria strategy in a new direction. Despite the criticism (much of which I share), the new policies are far from a disaster. Canada is making a clear commitment to provide aid in one of the most complex emergencies the world has seen. And we are keeping key military capabilities in theatre to assist our allies, such as refuelling and reconnaissance planes. Significantly, Canada will be putting more troops in theatre, including our Special Operations Forces, who have an international reputation for their effectiveness.

But announcing a policy is one thing; implementing it and achieving the goals the Liberals have set out is another. Indeed, there remain several challenges that the government faces in implementing its new policies that could threaten the success of its new strategy.

1. Incongruent interests between Canada and the Kurdish Peshmerga will likely trump training efforts.

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Breaking down Canada’s military training mission in Iraq

By Steve Saideman

The past week has been pretty interesting in Canadian defence and foreign policy as the Prime Minister announced Monday that Canada would focus on training in Iraq while taking out some (not all)* of the planes dedicated to the bombing effort.

There have been many questions raised about the training effort and many opinions offered. So, I’d like to offer a few answers. To be clear, I am not an expert on the specific skills to be transmitted or the nature of the training exercises, except in terms of the broadest categories.

* I had been advocating that the government keep at least the recon (Aurora) and refuelling (Polaris) planes as they are, in the military jargon, low-density/high demand enablers.  In other words, there are few of them and they have much valued added. Glad to see the government keep them there, even if it adds a soupçon of incoherence since they are integral to the bombing effort.

Q: Does this mean this is a combat mission?

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Can Brazil’s Olympics survive the Zika emergency?

By Jean Daudelin

Three recent developments are changing the Zika crisis: global media awareness, new possible vectors, and doubts — at the epicentre of the crisis — about Brazil’s capacity and honesty. Together, they threaten the upcoming Rio Olympics.

At the end of November 2015, I peddled a piece about the Zika/microcephaly crisis that was already severe in Recife, the large Northeastern Brazilian city where I am currently working. No one but this site, OpenCanada.org, would have it: not The Globe and Mail, not The Huffington Post, not Foreign Policy, no one else. Worse still, it took a few more weeks for the global media to catch up: The New York Times, measure of “all things fit to print,” published its first piece on Dec. 29.

Today, Zika is front-page news every day the world over. This is mostly good as it keeps prodding governments and the increasingly nimble global infectious disease community. As usual, the danger is that, were the epidemic to be less serious than currently speculated, the overblown coverage could lead to public cynicism and, subsequently, less urgency from politicians, less money for research, and public nonchalance when a truly severe one hits: call this the “swine flu” scenario. Fortunately, public health organizations and experts have become very adept at balancing warnings with caveats. In the face of global infectious diseases, panic is not the default mode any more.

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Canada’s development finance plan: How to go beyond low-hanging fruit

By Aniket Bhushan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his coterie of eloquent ministers went to considerable lengths last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos to rebrand Canada and double down on the “Canada is back” message. While it was good to see that innovation in development financing was one of the many areas the government targeted, its focus on one relatively small initiative is problematic.

In a joint release, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of International Trade, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development, welcomed the launch of a “new Canadian initiative [that] will support investment in emerging markets.” The initiative is a platform called Convergence and it will be run out of Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. Canada is investing $23.5 million to get Convergence started, and the expectation is that this relatively small investment will lead to projects worth $10 billion over the next five years.

This is great and very welcome. Except it is not new.

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Should Canada’s exclusion from anti-ISIS meeting be worrisome?

By Steve Saideman

Monday, we learned of a meeting in Paris this week about the future of the anti-ISIS effort by the significant contributors to the current effort, and that Canada is apparently not invited. The natural questions to ask are: why and so what? It is easier to answer the second than the first, but I will try my hand at both.

Before starting out, one thing needs to be clear: this is not the first time Canada has been left out of a major meeting aimed at figuring out the future of an allied effort. In 2002, there was a meeting of the “Quint” to set NATO’s agenda about the future of the various Balkan missions (Bosnia/Kosovo/Macedonia). The Quint included the five largest providers of troops — U.S., UK, France, Italy and Germany. During the military mission in Afghanistan, things had changed quite a bit as it was no longer about the size of the force but where the countries’ troops were and what they were doing. As a result of Canada’s key commitment, Canada was at the table and some of the bigger contributors were either not invited or simply not that relevant (Italy, Germany).

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