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Does the UN know what it’s doing?

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), July 22-28, 1993

The United Nations’ bloody hunt for elusive Mogadishu warlord general Mohamed Farah Aideed has many observers wondering whether the world body is making up the rules as it goes along.

Some critics, such as George Cram of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, an influential umbrella group for Canadian non-governmental organizations of NGOs, question if the obsession with Aideed isn’t just burying the UN in a deeper image problem with the Third World.

Critics point to the fallout of growing resentment from the July 12 attack on Aideed’s compound – killing more than 70 civilians – boding ill for a peaceful reconstruction of Somali society.

The fact that among those killed within the compound were clan elders who were negotiating a peace has upset Somalis even more, says Cram, a Horn of Africa researcher.

“The UN has lost its credibility, its moral authority, lost its blue-beret neutrality,” says Cram bluntly.

The degree to which Aideed should be the main focus of current UN actions has some relief agencies scratching their heads. Aideed has become Somalian bogey man number one with UNOSOM’s (United Nations Operations in Somalia) head, US Admiral Johnathon Howe. He has placed a $25,000 price on Aideed for an arrest.

“I don’t recall the UN ever going out and actually attempting to arrest individuals – they certainly haven’t done it in other conflict zones,” says reverend David Hardy of Saskatoon-based Lutheran Relief, who has organized relief flights into Somalia.

Cambodian example

He cites the example of Cambodia, where the UN brokered a controversial peace with those purveyors of the genocidal killing fields, the Khmer Rouge, in order to secure free elections.

David Isenverg of the Center for Defense Information, a liberal Washington-based think tank, worries that doggedly going after Aideed while ignoring the other factions will paint the UN as siding with one faction over another.

“The protracted effect is to turn the US and UN into partisans to the conflict.”

Hardy believes Aideed, who is adept at seeing which way the wind blows, has inflated his stature as an opponent of the UN as foreign invader.

Then there are other criticisms. Some observers wonder whether the UN is too proud or too blind, or simply oblivious when it comes to seeking advice from the locals it went in to protect.

Even Canada, while supporting the UN’s military effort since Aideed “is obstructing relief supplies,” believes that national reconciliation should be a main focus, says external affairs spokesperson Rodney Moore.

He says Canada continues to urge the UN to move quickly on national reconciliation, bringing together women’s groups, clan elders and other non-warlord groups.

“One of the areas where the UN operation went wrong is the tendency to deal with the ‘superpowers’ of Somalia while ignoring groups like women’s collectives,” says World Visions’ Philip Maher, who has just returned from Somalia.

“Part of the problem is misunderstanding,” Maher says. “The UN hasn’t done a great job of telling Somalis what they are doing.”

Many point to the peaceful north, where the as yet internationally unrecognized Somaliland offers a successful model, combining women’s groups and elders to wrest control.

“Does the UN know what it’s doing?”: Now Magazine, July 1993. This incident was the basis of the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. 

More on this story here: Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side Of Elite Regiment

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U.S. Elections Update: Clinton is using Canada to keep control of Haiti

By David South

Id Magazine (Canada), October 31 to November 13, 1996

Canadian troops are not only on the frontline of peacekeeping in Haiti but also the frontline of U.S. foreign policy – a policy that is unravelling during the run-up to the November 5 presidential election. While the living standards of Haitians in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere continue to decline despite free elections, Canadian troops are charged with keeping the island nation peaceful. It’s a task that is proving more and more difficult as Haiti suffers a crime wave and violent political unrest. 

While American president Bill Clinton tries to snatch another victory from a grumpy U.S. electorate, his advisors are desperately trying to keep the lid on his foreign policy “victories” in Bosnia and Haiti. 

Things are so bad, Clinton sent his secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, and his national security advisor, Anthony Lake, to Haiti on August 30 in response to high-profile assassinations of right-wing leaders. 

“The administration are hoping, with fingers crossed, nothing will happen before November 5,” says Larry Birn of the Washington-based Centre for Hemispheric Affairs. “What the United States would like to do is cryogenically freeze all its foreign policy engagements so they don’t produce any problems. But we are losing very valuable time in Haiti because of Washington’s paralysis over negative developments occurring there. 

“Washington didn’t realize an economic success story had to be bred there in a couple of years. The USAID programme is a scandal waiting for an investigation.”

There is also another election-year factor: Republicans are not fond of anything that whiffs of a humanitarian approach to Haiti. Since they dominate Congress, this is also Clinton’s problem. 

Given the history of American support for dictatorships in Haiti, the Clinton administration has chosen a low-key approach. After the 1994 invasion, the Americans pulled out the vast majority of their troops within a year, handing over responsibility for internal security to a UN peacekeeping force. But the U.S. never fully cut itself off from interfering in Haiti, keeping a military base operating in the country’s only industrial park in Port-au-Prince. 

And Canada is key to U.S. plans because of that sour legacy. Canadians are seen as free from the burden of colonialism, and as a plus, our 700 mostly French-speaking troops can communicate better with the local population. 

This policy has gone as far as hiring a Canadian public relations company to promote structural adjustment programmes that are conditional upon Haiti receiving any foreign aid from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both based in Washington. 

Gilles Morin is co-ordinating manager for Montreal firm Gervais-Gagnon-Covington Associates, who won the contract. Morin says, while his company did win the contract, like many other things to do with Haiti, they have heard nothing since Fall 1995 because of disorganization.  

“On a personal basis there was a strong anti-American feeling among the population because of the past,” says Morin. “A lot of the financial institutions are based in Washington and they needed international support because banks in Washington are seen as American.”

But there is a risk that a switch in U.S. priorities during the heat of an election will endanger Canadian troops.

“If the president feels he has political risk in Haiti, he’s not going to take Canadian concerns into consideration,” warns Birns. “The UN mission gets caught up in the wake of U.S. efforts and it’s not able to define an independent course. Right now, the problem really is the USAID mission in Haiti is a total failure. The international donor function, you couldn’t exaggerate how disappointing it’s been in terms of almost no relief. The unemployment rate of 80 per cent is exactly what the unemployment rate was when the UN arrived.”

On August 28, American troops from the 82nd Airborne plopped down on the streets of Port-au-Prince to spend a week patrolling. Many observers questioned the motives for this intervention. Was it to say to Haitians the UN isn’t the real deal, and if they get out of line, the Americans will kick their butts? Why doesn’t Canada protest the U.S. undermining the credibility of our peacekeeping mission?

To Birn, sending in the 82nd was the foreign-policy equivalent of fast-food. “Sending in the 82nd Airborne merely aimed at getting a one-day headline,” he says. “The administration’s position has been staked on the fact there has been a number of foreign policy wins. But each of these victories is held together by corn starch and could unravel at any moment.”

Birn sees an escalation in political violence just around the corner. He fears the current economic crisis will help the formation of a violent left-wing guerrilla movement to rival existing right-wing paramilitaries. 

“Without former president Jean Bertrand Aristide,” he explains, “there is growing apprehension that president Rene Preval will not be able to project a sufficient leadership to keep the average Haitian, who is sacrificing with no expectation of an improved standard of living, happy.”

While it has been almost two years since Haiti was the media’s darling, observers point out the cycle of violence has returned to the country’s streets despite the presence of UN peacekeepers and American troops. 

When id reported from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince in July (id July 11 to 24, Number 18), it was obvious no progress had been made to improve the standard of living or rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure. 

In an ironic twist, attempts to step up deportations of Haitian-Americans convicted of crimes in the U.S. has led to an increase in killings in Haiti according to the October 22 issue of New York weekly, The Village Voice

More and more, the UN troops are propping up an increasingly unpopular government. A government that is seen by many Haitians to be getting its orders from Washington, not Port-au-Prince. Canadian troops lead the UN mission in Haiti and make up 700 of the 1500 soldiers stationed there (the rest are from Pakistan and Bangladesh).

There is a serious danger Canadian troops will be caught in the crossfire of any uprising or coup attempt, since Canadian troops shadow president Rene Preval 24 hours a day and also guard the National Palace, which was attacked August 20, killing two Haitians.

“U.S. Elections Update: Clinton is using Canada to control Haiti”.

Read a 1996 report on the UN mission in Haiti here: State Of Decay: Haiti Turns To Free-Market Economics And The UN To Save Itself 

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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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. 

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Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side Of Elite Regiment

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), May 6-12, 1993

Canada is touted around the world for its commitment to the ideals of peacekeeping. But something went seriously wrong with the Canadian Airborne Regiment at Belet Huen in Somalia.

Since the revelation of the March 16 shooting death of Somali civilian Shidane Omar Aroni at the hands of members of the regiment, three more killings of civilians by Canadian troops have come to light. Two of the deaths, including Aroni’s, are being investigated internally by the military, while others are subject to a government-ordered inquiry.

Military watchers say the problem permeating the Canadian Armed Forces’ approach to peacekeeping goes beyond the inappropriate behaviour of a few gung-ho members of the airborne.

Warning ignored

They say the department of national defence has ignored the warnings of the United Nations and its own internal papers regarding the ever more complex duties of international peacemaking and peacekeeping. The Canadian forces and other coaltion partners, they say, are playing with fire in Somalia by neglecting to prepare troops with the skills they need in negotiation, conflict resolution and cultural sensitivity.

And they point out that the assigning of peacekeeping duties to the Canadian airborne – an elite force with a fearsome reputation – illuminates everything that is wrong with the current approach.

“The opposition is calling for the airborne to be dismantled, but they are prepared for high-intensity combat,” says defence consultant Peter Langille. “It’s just a dumb decision – somebody used them for the wrong thing.”

If Canadian personnel were properly trained, the incidents at Belet Huen would not have happened, says Gideon Forman of the Canadian Peace Alliance.

“Peacekeeping is a special skill that requires courses in non-violent conflict resolution and negotiation. A peacekeeping training centre – which the Canadian Forces pooh-pooh – would be very useful.”

Indeed, the unfolding of the horrifying drama in Belet Huen posed acutely difficult problems for army personnel. It took a small-town journalist on a press junket intended to show off the work of the airborne to force the army to go public with the death of Aroni.

Jim Day of the Pembroke Observer, located near the airborne’s home base at CFB Petawawa, spotted a commotion over the attempted suicide of master corporal Clayton Matchee, one of the soldiers arrested in the death.

It wasn’t until March 31, two weeks after an internal military investigation had begun, that the military admitted to the investigation.

Day says watching the troops in Somalia made it clear there was a mismatch between the personnel and the mission.

“They are trained for a combative role. They’re considered the cream of the crop, very tough physically. They want to use their training, as opposed to being trained for combat in rugged exercises and then ending up handing out water.

“What hit me quite strongly down in the camp was how they spent their leisure time. I watched them set up a spider fight. They had such intensity – they were watching these two spiders devour each other for 20 or 25 minutes, coaching them along, pumping their arms in the air and rooting and screaming.”

Creates aggression

Observers who know the regiment say the training is meant to create extremely aggressive behaviour while reinforcing elite status. Through “jump school” – three weeks of punishing training where subjects drop from planes – soldiers experience exhilarating highs and terrifying lows.

Anecdotes abound about the secretive and violent behaviour of the regiment.

“There’s a good deal of resentment,” says Dave Henderson, who puts together a weekly news infomercial called Base Petawawa Journal for Ottawa’s CHRO TV. “A lot of the other soldiers on the base shun them. Their nickname in some quarters is ‘stillborne.’

“I know from people in other military outfits that when you go up against the airborne, there is a fear factor,” says Langille, whose company Common Security Consultants, has lobbied the government to change peacekeeping training.

“In exercises where the airborne take over a base or something, if they catch you, they bet the shit out of you. It’s not surprising they got carried away in an ugly environment.”

Frustrating pace

Nor is it strange that the regiment chafed at the pace of the Somalian daily round. “The soldiers believe the Somalis are very slow in their ways,” says Day. “They’re used to ‘boom, boom.’ Whatever it is they do, even if it’s building a trench or putting up a fence, they are very quick about it.”

But the military argues that the best preparation for peacemaking and peacekeeping duties is the general combat training every soldier receives.

“The best peacekeeper is a well-trained soldier,” says veteran peacekeeper colonel Sean Henry of the Conference of Defence Associations.

“When you look at the make-up of the coalition force in Somalia, you find that just about every other nation has contributed either airborne troops or special troops, simply because they wanted a well-trained unit at short notice.”

Henry thinks those who argue for peacekeeping training are missing the essence of the armed forces mandate. “It’s counter-productive. You might as well forget about the armed forces and sign up a bunch of social workers.”

Does the UN know what it’s doing?

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), July 22-28, 1993. This incident was the basis of the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. 

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), July 22-28, 1993

The United Nations’ bloody hunt for elusive Mogadishu warlord general Mohamed Farah Aideed has many observers wondering whether the world body is making up the rules as it goes along.

Some critics, such as George Cram of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, an influential umbrella group for Canadian non-governmental organizations of NGOs, question if the obsession with Aideed isn’t just burying the UN in a deeper image problem with the Third World.

Critics point to the fallout of growing resentment from the July 12 attack on Aideed’s compound – killing more than 70 civilians – boding ill for a peaceful reconstruction of Somali society.

The fact that among those killed within the compound were clan elders who were negotiating a peace has upset Somalis even more, says Cram, a Horn of Africa researcher.

“The UN has lost its credibility, its moral authority, lost its blue-beret neutrality,” says Cram bluntly.

The degree to which Aideed should be the main focus of current UN actions has some relief agencies scratching their heads. Aideed has become Somalian bogey man number one with UNOSOM’s (United Nations Operations in Somalia) head, US Admiral Johnathon Howe. He has placed a $25,000 price on Aideed for an arrest.

“I don’t recall the UN ever going out and actually attempting to arrest individuals – they certainly haven’t  done it in other conflict zones,” says reverend David Hardy of Saskatoon-based Lutheran Relief, who has organized relief flights into Somalia.

Cambodian example

He cites the example of Cambodia, where the UN brokered a controversial peace with those purveyors of the genocidal killing fields, the Khmer Rouge, in order to secure free elections.

David Isenverg of the Center for Defense Information, a liberal Washington-based think tank, worries that doggedly going after Aideed while ignoring the other factions will paint the UN as siding with one faction over another.

“The protracted effect is to turn the US and UN into partisans to the conflict.”

Hardy believes Aideed, who is adept at seeing which way the wind blows, has inflated his stature as an opponent of the UN as foreign invader.

Then there are other criticisms. Some observers wonder whether the UN is too proud or too blind, or simple oblivious when it comes to seeking advice from the locals it went in to protect.

Even Canada, while supporting the UN’s military effort since Aideed “is obstructing relief supplies,” believes that national reconciliation should be a main focus, says external affairs spokesperson Rodney Moore.

He says Canada continues to urge the UN to move quickly on national reconciliation, bringing together women’s groups, clan elders and other non-warlord groups.

“One of the areas where the UN operation went wrong is the tendency to deal with the ‘superpowers’ of Somalia while ignoring groups like women’s collectives,” says World Visions’ Philip Maher, who has just returned from Somalia.

“Part of the problem is misunderstanding,” Maher says. “The UN hasn’t done a great job of telling Somalis what they are doing.”

Many point to the peaceful north, where the as yet internationally unrecognized Somaliland offers a successful model, combining women’s groups and elders to wrest control.

Update: War crimes: former minister reveals why Canada disbanded its special airborne force after scandal: The drastic step was judged the best way to fix systemic problems after an affair similar to allegations against Australian forces in Afghanistan (Wed 2 Dec 2020)