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Peaceniks Questioning Air-Raid Strategy In Bosnia

Muslims say peaceful alternatives will aid cleansing

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), May 13-19, 1993

While Bosnian Muslims continue to demand either airstrikes against the Serbians or weapons to defend themselves, there is little consensus among Canadian peace groups and political parties that these measures are the key to a long-lasting peace.

The differences are as graphic as those between Washington and Ottawa. While president Bill Clinton is asking European nations to support air strikes, prime minister Brian Mulroney has publicly opposed such bombing raids as an answer to the brutal ethnic cleansing of Muslims being carried out by the Serbs.

“We are still developing our position in terms of support for military intervention,” says Roxanne Dube, assistant to Liberal foreign policy critic Lloyd Axworthy.

Dube says, “We need something more comprehensive than just airstrikes, which alone could jeopardize our troops.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson is more willing to consider military action under UN auspices. But first he wants “a vice-like embargo on Serbia and the establishment of safe havens and humanitarian corridors.

“If the slaughter continues, I personally would not exclude the posibility of further military action,” he says.

“The response of the United Nations, and NATO in particular, has been appallingly inadequate. It has allowed the Bosnian Serbs to consolidate their territorial position. And their latest sabotage of the Vance/Owen proposal has left the international community with no alternative but to isolate Serbia.

“The Bosnian Serbs are just continuing their widespread rape of Muslim women, ethnic cleansing, torture – the world has got to say, stop.”

Among peace groups there is a feeling that military intervention is not a longterm solution.

“We don’t have a position,” says Tamara Storic of Greenpeace Canada, a response echoed by the Toronto Disarmament Network. “We’re in much the same situation as the UN. Nobody knows what to do.”

No position

The Canadian Peace Alliance’s Gideon Forman understands the frustration that fuels calls for bombing, but doesn’t believe it is a longterm solution.

“Those who say go in there and bomb are not all crazy,” he says. “They hear about ethnic cleansing, they hear about rape camps – and they see bombing as a way to stop that. But our position is that a little more restraint has to be shown.”

He advocates a combination of sanctions and diplomacy for a longterm peaceful solution.

Maggie Helwig of ACT for Disarmament says she has little to offer in the short term, pointing out, “Maybe at this point there is little anyone can do.” She is also sympathetic to those who want to arm Bosnian Muslims, but feels it wouldn’t help the situation.

She says, “I believe they are the legitimate government. But providing weapons is not going to contribute to a lasting peace.”

Helwig favours targeted sanctions that would allow opposition organizations in Serbia to receive supplies while the government wouldn’t, combined with international support for peace and opposition groups.

“The only way we can end the Serbian aggression to to support the opposition in Serbia, the peace movement and the women’s movement. The reason they aren’t having much influence is that they aren’t getting any international support.”

Fatima Basic, spokesperson for the Canadian Bosnian refugee groups, says that while she supports Helwig’s plans for helping opposition and women’s groups, she is angry that it is being put out as an alternative to military intervention and air strikes. She says the West “should have done something before we lost half a million people.”

Imam Tajib Pasanbegovic, religious leader of Canadian Bosnian Muslims, says of Helwig’s thoughts, “It’s a ridiculous idea by itself. It will take several years, and by then there will be no Bosnian Muslims left. There is not time. Imagine if we gave this chance to Hitler in the second world war – another 5 million Jews would have disappeared.”

Both he and Basic are bitter that while Clinton seeks European support for bombing, “Prime minister Brian Mulroney is going behind his back telling the world not to interfere.”

Life embargo

Pasanbegovic says if the West will not intervene with at least half the bombing if did in the Gulf War, “They should life the arms embargo and return things to a starting point. If the West is not going to defend us, at least let us defend ourselves.”

However, Carolyn Langdon of Voice of Women, a peace group working with peace and women’s organizations in the former Yugoslav republics, says, “Our position is against intervention, including limited military strikes. We are supporting the civil society groups, the opposition against the nationalism and war policies of their governments.”

Her group sets up rape crisis centres and sponsors women to come to Canada to raise awareness.

David Isenverg, a senior research analyst at the left-leaning Washington-based Center for Defense Information, says sources tell him that the Clinton administration believes air strikes are only a means of levelling the playing field for the Muslims.

He says a Pentagon report released this Wednesday will discredit the claims of air strikes’ accuracy, citing failures during the Gulf War. Clinton will decide on air strikes after Saturday’s referendum in Bosnia, when Serbs will vote on whether to accept a Western peace plan.

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Elect Peace

By David South

The Canadian Peace Report, Summer 1993

More than 80,000 people swarmed Parliament Hill on May 15 at an Action Canada Network and Canadian Labour Congress rally against free trade and other federal policies. In a paper issued just before, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives criticizes Canadian military spending as “carried over from a cold war that no longer exists. At the same time, our assistance to poor nations is actually falling.” 

When a federal election is called, peace groups across Canada plan to be heard. They see the defence department’s $11.3-billion yearly budget – amidst cuts to social programs and calls for even more restraint – as ripe for a hot election battle over government priorities. 

A recent Gallup poll conducted for the Canadian Peace Alliance found broad support across all political allegiances for cutbacks to military spending. The CPA also wants daily life demilitarized, with duties like search and rescue turned over to civilian agencies. 

Local groups are mostly awaiting a date for the election, expected about late October, but national groups are already planning. Some groups will fight the Conservative Party’s backing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which they fear will lead to further military integration of Canada and the United States. 

The Peace Alliance is working on action and information kits targetting military spending versus social needs, and is developing an election logo. It’s also building up to a national action day. 

The idea is to stimulate local and regional activity, coordinator Gideon Forman says. “Kits will help member groups organize actions during the election campaign. They will have information on, among other things, the plan to buy deluxe helicopters, military spending in general and the cost of social needs. 

“We will give local groups suggestions for local events and assist with media work.”

Project Ploughshares has produced a short booklet of questions to ask candidates, “but not a repeat of the Election Priorities Project” of the 1988 election, says researcher Bill Robinson. The booklet suggests calling for cuts in military spending, cancelling the EH-101, limiting Canada’s participation in military operations, and abolishing nuclear weapons. 

Also nationally, the Action Canada Network (to which the Peace Alliance belongs) met with groups from across the country in Winnipeg in mid-June to finalize election plans, which may include a radio ad campaign. National chair Tony Clarke would like local activists to dog the party leaders across the country, as progressive groups did to Ontario’s Liberals during the province’s 1990 election. 

“We will definitely make the link between a range of issues and the (Canada-U.S.) Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, which we have to get rid of,” says Clarke. “We will be working very hard on jobs and arguing for a job strategy.”

Responding to the Gulf War two years ago (Action Canada Dossier #30), Clarke warned that Canada is “tied in closer than we have ever been before to the permanent war economy” of the U.S.. With a quarter of its output related to the military, the U.S. used militaristic diplomacy to justify maintaining defence budgets, he says. The trade agreements’ guarantees of U.S. access to Canadian energy resources confirm that “we are locking ourselves into what can only be described as Fortress North America.”

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, a network ally, denounced the helicopter purchase during the Peace Alliance’s March 8 lobby of Parliament. Soon after, then defence minister Kim Campbell appeared to waver on the number of helicopters to be bought, but succeeded in winning the Tory leadership without it becoming a major issue. However, Liberal leader Jean Chretien promises to cancel the contract.

At CUSO’s national office, Marc Allain says the development agency will work with the CPA around military spending and the ‘copter purchase. 

To Peter Davison of the Halifax Peace Action Network, the stakes are clear and the passion to fight the issues simply awaits a polling date. 

“Never has the guns-or-butter issue been more prominent in our society,” says Davison. “Conservative economic policies have been collapsing around the globe. We’re seeing desperate restraint and universal trusts being violated – health care, education, pensions.

“It’s bizarre that we can still conceptualize $6 billion for helicopters to fight submarines – an absurd twist away from meeting human needs.”

Terry Gardner says Science for Peace’s mandate bars entering the election fray, but says the group is planning a high-level panel in the fall on NAFTA and militarization of Canadian culture. 

“We’re going to be asking candidates in our area for conversion and reduction in military spending,” says J.J. Verigin of the Doukhobour peace and disarmament committe in British Columbia. He says his MP has been supportive of chopping the choppers. 

Verigin found fact sheets helpful and says the CPA does a good job of getting out beyond the urban areas. But he would like the Alliance “to propose something that engages the electorate’s intellect as the gut.”

“We have a general intent to intervene in the election, but we’re not quite clear exactly how,” says North Bay Peace Alliance organizer Brennain Lloyd. “We’re considering a regional information package, something like the Election Priorities Project, that our groups could use.”

Being armed with the facts helps reach the public and pins down candidates, Lloyd says. She applauds the CPA’s idea of producing action kits that her group could integrate into its own. 

Toronto’s ACT for Disarmament won’t be working specifically on the election, but may participate in actions, says organizer Maggie Helwig. “Groups have certain things they focus on, and certain ways of operating. Other people do better at elections.”

In Montreal, Judith Berlyn of Westmount Initiative for Peace says, “We will be doing locally what has been developed by the Canadian Peace Alliance as a whole – go to all-candidates meetings, get the mike and ask the questions. We will be raising issues. Last time our candidate had never heard of low-level flying.”

Berlyn feels many people, including activists, often think they don’t know enough to speak publicly. But with information kits, “we know more than the candidates do.”

While approving the CPA’s focus on military spending, Berlyn says it would be a mistake to over-emphasize the helicopters. “Everybody has [already] picked up on that; it’s a good concrete example of insane military spending.”

She also finds the public receptive to informative and succinct pamphlets advocating alternatives to a militarized economy. A Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade pamphlet is a good model, she says. 

“It has four concrete proposals of what the government can do to convert military industries – money that now goes to subsidizing the manufacturing of weapons can be turned into conversion subsidies.”

Archive Blogroll

Top Reporters Offer Military Media Handling Tips

Ryerson’s course on handling media has raised eyebrows

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), November 12-18, 1992

The whimsical Certificate of Military Achievement hanging in the offices of the Ryersonian newspaper at Ryerson journalism school is testament to the warm relationship between the armed forces and one of Canada’s top journalism schools.

But a two-month crash course in journalism for military public affairs officers hosted by Ryerson this summer has left a bad taste in the mouths of some participants and critics.

The course, which involved 18 soldiers, included two weeks of classes in each of print, radio and TV journalism, wrapping up with two weeks of “crisis management” training. The 60 instructures included such prominent journalists as Ann Medina and Pamela Wallin.

According to an administration newsletter, the course netted Ryerson more than $350,000. Organizers say the course was merely an exercise in familiarizing soldiers with the needs of working journalists. But given the often conflicting roles of the military and the media, some fear journalistic ethics may have taken some collateral damage.

“The course had nothing to do with national defence or the armed forces,” says course teacher and organizer Shelley Robertson. “They just wanted to understand the roles of journalists from the other side. The military didn’t ask us to teach what we teach our students.”

Robertson says the course also benefited the participating journalists by giving them contacts in the military.

But according to media critic Barrie Zwicker, the exercise blurs what should be the distinctly different interests of journalists and the military. “It’s similar to press and politicians. By getting close to the politician, journalists can get information they couldn’t normally obtain. The negative side is that the media can get sucked in and lose a larger perspective. The same tensions exist with covering the military.

Managing media

“It’s up to the media to break the rules and try and get the story. The military always wants to hide its victims. If a Ryerson journalist strikes up a friendship with a public affairs officer, will the reporter be true to their journalistic tradition?”

Colloquially known as spin doctors, hype-meisters and flak catchers, public affairs officers perform much the same tasks in the military as their civilian counterparts in industry and government – including managing information that gets to the public or media.

In the past, Canadian soldiers had to go to the US for special training at the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison. But, according to Robertson, the armed forces were looking for a Canadian spin.

With 4,600 Canadian peacekeepers now stationed around the world, including a contingent in the dangerous and volatile former Yugoslav republics, the chances for conflict – and casualties – have increased.

Lieutenant-commander Glen Chamberlain, who helped coordinate the course, says the military’s increased profile means that the forces have to become more adept at media relations. “There is a great desire among Canadians to know what troops on peacekeeping duties are up to. We have a wonderful story to tell.”

Chamberlain says he works on journalists’ behalf with stubborn military commanders. “The armed forces are finding there is a real benefit to having specialized PA officers. We want to help journalists to tell our story well.”

The crisis management section of the course offered participants a hands-on approach to managing journalists. The officers were presented with two scenarios – a murder at Moss Park armoury and a highway helicopter crash – and then practised handling a group of journalists investigating the events.

Course lecturer Kevin Donovan, who covered the Gulf war for the Toronto Star, remembers the effectiveness and sophistication of PA officers in the field.

“When I was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I walked into a hotel and on the wall were pool reports – news briefs written by US military public affairs officers – that journalists were encouraged to use for stories. There were some journalists going out into the field to cover stories, but a huge number just sat in this beautiful hotel.”

Stop information

Donovan feels uncomfortable about teaching on the course.

“I was asked by Ryerson to give a talk on my experiences in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq,” he says. “My initial reaction was no. I hate the existance of public affairs people with a passion. Their job is to stop information.

“I’m uncomfortable with Ryerson being hired by the department of national defence. One officer in the course got very upset when I told them to make contacts with the media and leak stories.”

Course organizer Clive Vanderburgh admits organizers had concerns about conflicts between the role of journalists and military officers. “There was a lot of discussion concerning the potential for conflict – especially that the people hired to teach might think they were there to help the department of national defence to avoid the media

“But we were trying to give a general understanding of the media’s needs. We didn’t sell the country down the drain.”

Another teacher was Robert Fulford, the well-known writer and lecturer on journalistic ethics. “I don’t have a problem with Ryerson teaching the military,”says Fulford. “It’s a way of spreading journalistic technique to people in the DND. It seems to be a natural extension of the work of Ryerson.

“Canadian journalists are ignorant of the military and could do with getting closer. You almost never find a full-time journalist in Canada who knows anything about them. The more you know about the military, the less you will be manipulated.”

But Gideon Forman, coordinator of the Canadian Peace Alliance, fears Ryerson may be helping the military mislead the public.

“Why do these guys practise handling the media so much of there’s nothing to hide? This is just better packaging for the military so they can get what they want from the public.

“I have problems with public money being spent teaching the military to be more effective with the media, while other organizations have their budgets cut or eliminated.

“Is there a similar program for food banks or women’s shelters?”

Note on story context: This story was researched and written after two key events involving Canada’s military: the first Gulf War from 1990-1991; and the Oka Crisis in 1990, where the Canadian Armed Forces confronted an armed group of Mohawk “Warriors” in Oka, Quebec.

More investigative journalism here: 

Peaceniks Questioning Air-Raid Strategy In Bosnia

Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side Of Elite Regiment

Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks: CUPE Takes On Airline Industry With Findings Of Survey