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Continental Drift And Military Complexities

By David South

The Canadian Peace Report, Summer 1993

A cornerstone of the Conservative government since 1984 has been the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Canada, soon to be followed by a North American version (NAFTA), which adds Mexico. 

Peace researchers differ over how much the deals could further militarize Canada’s economy. 

Under the Canada-US deal, articles 907, 1308 and 2003 immunize trade that fosters “national security” from charges of unfair subsidies. A free trade tribunal could deem subsidies to farmers or toilet-seat manufacturers as unfair competition – but not subsidies to weapons manufacturers. Articles 1018 and 2102 of NAFTA maintain the exemptions. 

CPA membership coordinator Gary Kaye argues that FTA, and NAFTA even more so, bind Canadian governments at all levels to military regional development. The United States has relied on investment in military industries as a regional development tool more than any other Western country, he says. 

“The Canadian government can invest in any military-related pursuit without fearing the U.S. or Mexico will say it is an unfair subsidy,” Kaye says. 

Ken Epps, a researcher with Project Ploughshares in Waterloo, Ont., agrees one reason the government insists on buying $5.8 billion helicopters in the face of overwhelming public opposition is that it’s a regional development program protected under the FTA. 

“Any other [subsidy] program of that size could well be protested by the Americans. The whole thing has been set up with new plants being built in different parts of Canada to build parts for the helicopters.”

But Epps disagrees that the trade agreements will integrate Canada much further into the U.S. war machine. De facto free trade in arms has existed since Canada and the U.S. signed the Defence Production Sharing Agreement in 1959, he points out, following the scrapping of Canada’s Avro Arrow jet plane. There-after Canada specialized in making military components rather than complete systems.

Epps and others say Ottawa’s high-tech hardware binge – including the 50 high-ticket EH-101 helicopters – and the Canadian military industries’ desire to sell to booming Pacific Rim and Middle East markets would exist even without the trade agreements. Epps sees the U.S. favouring its own defence industry at the expense of Canadian suppliers, which will increase Canadian businesses’ desire for foreign sales. 

Retired U.S. admiral Eugene Carroll, director of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, says every nation is interested in boosting its own national prestige throught the military, and Western industrialized countries are looking to sustain exports by selling weapons to the Third World. 

“That’s just plain old profit-driven commercial activity,” says Carroll. “I don’t think trade agreements extend control onto military-related activities.”

Kaye, however, stresses that NAFTA will ensure the bilaterial agreements between Canada and the United States on military trade will continue untouched. “Under those agreements, we are committed to balance military imports and exports with the United States. 1992 figures show a $4-billion deficit; therefore we will be buying much more in the way of arms than anyone could imagine would be needed for Canada’s direct security.”

Many peace groups are worried about the implications. 

“NAFTA reveals an agenda for the military and the transnational corporations that binds the Canadian economy more to the U.S. military machine,” Marion Frank wrote for the Peace Alliance in Action Canada Network’s Action Dossier (Dec. 1992), drawing on a position reached by the CPA Steering Committee last fall.

“Under NAFTA, as under FTA, the only areas where government subsidies are allowed are in the military and energy sectors … Wide-ranging expansion of ‘intellectual property rights’ in NAFTA increases monopoly product protection for the transnationals here in Canada, and aids in the privatization of high-tech capacity, all of which ties us more closely to the U.S. military-industrial complex …

“In the U.S., trade strategy is linked to security strategy,” Frank adds, “The military tells U.S. industry what equipment to plan for and buy in order to meet U.S. strategic objectives. As we become more integrated into the North American [trading] bloc, our ability to develop our own strategies will disappear.”

Recommendations from the Peace Alliance-facilitated Citizens’ Inquiry into Peace and Security would be difficult to implement under NAFTA, contends Darrell Rankin of the Ottawa Disarmament Coalition. “Canada could no longer help developing countries by giving them better access to the Canadian market through preferrential tariffs.” Assisting military factories to produce civilian goods would be prohibited – but grants to develop weapons would not.

Last February, Science for Peace brought together labour, peace and other activist groups to make the connection between free trade and defence production and the weapons trade. “Both agreements are bound to cause in Canada what exists in the U.S.: a poweful military-industrial complex,” says S4P’s Terry Gardner. “It represents the loss of control of the institutions of government.”

Then prime minister Mulroney’s “unquestioning support” of the U.S. in the Gulf War “removed political roadblocks to Canada’s involvement” in U.S.-Mexico talks, recalls John Dillon of the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice. Despite widespread Mexican opposition to the war, he adds, President Salinas increased oil production and exports to the U.S. during the build-up to it. 

The Ottawa Disarmament Coalition calls NAFTA “a vehicle for militarism without brakes.” It would create legal inducements for companies seeking government contracts to couch their bids in national security terms, a coalition brief to an Ontario cabinet committee on NAFTA argues. 

NAFTA would also hinder conversion of military to civilian industries and environmental protection above “generally agreed” standards, the coalition said.

The Ontario committee on NAFTA, which held public hearings in the spring, received briefs from: Northwatch (Brennain Lloyd, Sudbury), Voice of Women for Peace (Ann Emmett and Elizabeth Davies, Oshawa), Oshawa Peace Council (Doug Wilson), Ottawa Disarmament Coalition (Rankin), the CPA (Kaye), Science for Peace (David Parnas), Michael Polanyi, Allan MacIssac (Toronto Disarmament Network) and Veterans Against Nuclear Arms (Toronto). 

While recommending that Ontario oppose NAFTA, the committee’s report did not directly mention peace concerns. 

Abuse of resources

“The U.S. needs our resources and us to put together components for their military,” says J.J. Verigin of the Doukhobour peace and disarmament committee in B.C. He criticizes “any agreement that locks us more into a country wired to massive consumption and abuse of resources at the expense of Canadians and other countries.”

In the United States, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom opposes NAFTA as a stage in “the neoliberal economics of intervention” that particularly victimize women (Peace and Freedom, July/August 1992). 

At CUSO’s national office, Marc Allain wants to end the notion that NAFTA is about improving the living standards of people in developing countries. “What we’re seeing is quite the contrary,” says Allain. “Low wages, no health and safety – we’re already seeing in Mexico job losses as they move to the maquiladoras (Mexico’s free trade industrial zones).”

(In a trade advisory, Ottawa tells Canadian companies that the defence market in Mexico, a notorious human rights violator, “is not readily identified … Commercial/industrial security, however, is an expanding market.”)

Allain says CUSO is working with the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice to produce education kits on NAFTA and distribute them to unions and community groups. 

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: 

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