Why invite Montenegro into NATO? It’s all about Russia

By Steve Saideman

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced this week that it is inviting Montenegro to join the alliance.  The essential meaning of this is that once it is a member, Montenegro will be committed to participate in the defense of NATO members if anyone is attacked AND the alliance will be committed to defend Montenegro if it is attacked (Article V of the NATO treaty).  To be clear, this commitment is not as ironclad as people believe, but still has much political weight.

To borrow from Bill Simmons, when considering membership in NATO, the question to ask is: How much does potential member X bring to the table versus take off of the table?  What kinds of contributions to NATO capabilities/geographic position/whatever does a country bring?  What kinds of problems, such as domestic conflicts, extending NATO credibility too far, risk of international adventures, does the potential member bring?

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The mosquito-transmitted virus that is causing alarm in Brazil

By Jean Daudelin

A little-known virus called Zika has led to the declaration on Sunday of a state of emergency in Pernambuco, Brazil’s sixth most populous state. An unusually large number of suspected cases of microcephalia, a neurodevelopmental disorder, has been detected among newborns here over the last few months. The babies affected have an abnormally small cranium, a condition that is often associated with intellectual and developmental handicaps. This past weekend, Brazil’s health ministry has formally established a link between the presence of the virus and that condition, which however may also have a variety of other causes, from syphilis to malnutrition.

Still, the number of suspected cases identified this year so far (more than 1,000 in the country as a whole as of November 30, and around 500 in Pernambuco alone) significantly exceed the normal incidence of cases in Brazil, which have ranged between 139 and 175 per year since 2010. In addition, a small number of infected people have died in recent days, including a few adults, though it is unclear if the virus itself was the cause of death, if it interacted with another disease, or if the person died of an unrelated condition.

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Is excluding Syria’s unaccompanied men evidence-based policy?

By Simon Palamar

Among the promises the federal Liberals made in the recent election campaign were to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year’s end, and a return to evidence-based policy making.

Now the government admits that they will not be able to settle 25,000 Syrians in Canada by the end of the year, and that it may take until February. This may be a good thing. After all, taking a few more weeks to ensure that services and support are in place is an acceptable delay, especially if it improves the chances that refugees coming to Canada will be able to successfully restart their lives here.

The more troubling issue is the decision on who from Syria will be allowed into Canada; that is, no unaccompanied males under the government-sponsored program (except for gay, bisexual, and transsexual males, who are remarkably vulnerable to predation in parts of Syria, and who should be welcomed to Canada). Is the new Canadian government  already violating its pledge to make policy on the basis of evidence, rather than ideology?

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Reframing the Global Health Debate

By Valerie Percival

Transition planners are laying the groundwork for Canada’s new government.  One issue that has received little mention as a key issue for the new government — global health — deserves more scrutiny.

Canada has the expertise to shine on the world stage.  Canadian scientists are often at the forefront of solutions to global health problems, undertaking cutting edge research and innovation.

But our government machinery is outdated.  We are unable to effectively engage with international initiatives and promote and showcase this expertise.  Sounds a bit boring and bureaucratic.  But it’s true.

The world of global health is a complex mess of institutions, private actors, donors and recipient countries, and countless international initiatives and commitments.  Hundreds of millions of dollars flow through the system.

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The trouble with Canada’s approach on maternal health

By Valerie Percival

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is proud of Canada’s engagement on maternal health. The Muskoka Initiative, launched during Canada’s G8 presidency in 2010, has committed US$7.3 billion (with $2.85 billion from Canada) to address maternal mortality and child health. During the current election campaign, the Prime Minister refers to it as an example of Canada’s leadership on the world stage. Supporters include Melinda Gates and Ban Ki-moon. The money has undoubtedly shone a light on a key global health issue and saved lives.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that we don’t want women and girls just to survive. We want them to thrive. Canada’s current approach to maternal health may keep girls and women alive, but it does not promote a context that improves their life chances. It’s simply not good enough. Not for a country like Canada.

A scroll through the list of projects funded by the Muskoka Initiative reveals a clear focus on the provision of health care services: Canada builds delivery rooms, provides equipment, and trains health care workers.

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Election 2015: Devising new defence platforms (Part 3)

By Steve Saideman

A couple of weeks ago, I was frustrated that the major parties had not articulated Defence platforms so I wrote one for the Liberals and then one for the NDP, and then the Liberals came out with their statement.

I left the Conservative platform for last.  Why?  Because it is the hardest to write.  Why?  Because it could simply be “more of the same” but the government has been beaten up many times over the past nine years for procurement problems and for never developing a significant defence review despite changing world circumstances.

The (imagined) Conservative defence platform:

Under the Conservatives, Canada has acted to defend itself and support its interests in a very dangerous world.  Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the spread of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Iran, and other threats to Canada’s security means that Canadians should continue to support the experienced team that we have put together.  Keeping the proven team in place will also help us build upon the Canada First Defence Strategy.

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The Syrian Crisis: A three-pronged strategy for Canada

By Valerie Percival

The Syrian crisis is no longer contained. Millions of refugees have fled into neighbouring countries. Tens of thousands are walking miles across Europe in search of safety and compassion.   Yet the world seems paralyzed – incapable of a coordinated response.

Canada shares in that paralysis. The recent announcement from the government recognizing Syrians as “prima facie” refugees, appointing a senior coordinator and scaling up immigration staff is welcome. Yet the government changed its policies begrudgingly, with a cap of just 10,000 refugees by the end of the year and 46,000 by 2019. Their talking points remain constant, reminding Canadians that an influx of tens of thousands of refugees from Syria could undermine Canada’s security and way of life.

Such a parochial approach is inconsistent with the facts. Canada is a rich country. We are also a nation of migrants. Refugees fleeing war and oppression have long contributed to Canada’s material wealth, social capital and promise. And Canada’s security has always been best served by extending a hand to those in need.

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Election 2015: Devising new defence platforms (Part 2)

By Steve Saideman

Last week I proposed a Liberal Defence Party Platform since the Liberal Defence Critic had posted one that was pretty thin.  I promised to write platforms for the other two major parties (even I would not want to inflict my French on the Bloc Quebecois and the Greens can just shut down DND and the CAF, I suppose), so today I am self-tasted to write an NDP defence platform.

The good news for me and the bad news for the electorate is that there is no defence section on the NDP website and Jack Harris, the NDP Defence Critic, posted a platform that is also quite vague on most matters, focusing mostly on the quality of life of those in the Canadian Forces and not so much what they are supposed to be doing and with what.  Which means I have something to write!

Again, my take on this is driven by my view of the party’s values and constraints as determined by past decisions.  In practice, that means not undoing the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy ESPECIALLY in the case of the NDP, given that it is likely to win seats in the areas where the ships are to be built.

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Leadership labels: No, Harper is not a neo-con

By Stephanie Carvin

A recent piece by Matthew Bondy in Foreign Policy argues that Stephen Harper is “the Last Neocon” and “Bush-era Hawk.” Bondy largely supports this view by pointing to Harper’s support for the 2003 Iraq War, Afghanistan and his support for “advancing freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Let’s get this straight — Stephen Harper is many things to many people, but he is not a neo-conservative.

In his 2002 essay, “What the heck is a neo-con?” Max Boot (taking inspiration from Irving Krisol) succinctly but usefully describes a neo-conservative as a “liberal mugged by reality.” Essentially, both liberals and neo-conservatives believe that democratic (specifically American values) can and should be spread abroad — a belief that is often described as “Wilsonianism.” However what differentiates the neo-conservative “hard Wilsonians” from the liberal “soft Wilsonians” is the former’s willingness to use force in order to achieve these aims. However, crucially, what underpins both is a shared internationalism.

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Election 2015: Devising new defence platforms (Part 1)

By Steve Saideman

I read what passes for a Liberal defence platform with a great deal of frustration because it mostly criticized the Conservatives (which have earned such criticism) with few suggestions of what the Liberals would actually do if they had the chance to run the government. 

Journalists David Pugliese, Lee Berthiaume, and Ian MacLeod have a nice piece in the Ottawa Citizen that takes the Liberal Defence critic’s platform and other promises to come up with a list of what the Liberals would do on defence:

  • Amend C-51.
  • “Create an all-party national security oversight committee to oversee the 17 government departments and agencies with national security responsibilities.”
  • Reopen the regional Vet Affairs offices that the Conservatives closed.

Except for the middle one, of which I am most curious (since it relates to an on-going project I am doing with Phil Lagassé and Dave Auerswald), there is nothing here that in fact relates to the Department of National Defence or the Canadian Armed Forces.

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