Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is the sale of 'jeeps' to the Saudis wise?

      Canada's new Prime Minister responded to the early waves of criticism over his and the Liberal's support for the sale of fifteen billion dollars' worth of London, Ontario-built LAV III armoured personnel carriers by stating that the vehicles were mere 'jeeps', and not true weapons of war. While Canada certainly has vehicles in its inventory that would meet this description - Mercedes-Benz G-wagons, militarised SUVs - the LAV IIIs are not them.

      Don't let the 'light' in Light Armoured Vehicle fool you: LAVs are scarcely less powerful than tanks. Unlike 'jeeps', it has eight wheels, is armed with a French-built 25mm rapid-fire cannon, two machine guns, and anti-tank rockets, has a crew of three and is also capable of carrying six or seven soldiers. Such vehicles proved their great utility in Canadian combat operations in Afghanistan, and while their armour is not invulnerable, it will shrug off small arms fire and more with ease. To put such a vehicle in the same class as a Ford Explorer is laughable.

      The main issue with this arms purchase, both legally and in the public eye, is the Canadian government's stated policy of not selling arms to regimes with poor human rights records. While it was obvious that such niceties meant little to Stephen Harper and his now-exiled Conservatives, many Canadians expected a more nuanced approach to foreign policy from the newly-elected Liberals. Unfortunately, it seems that the same disregard applies with Justin Trudeau's policies towards our good friends in the kingdom of Saud: national interest will take priority over such liberal concerns as human rights.

      The sale has morphed into a public trial on human rights policies in Saudi Arabia, and whether it qualifies as a state that does not respect them. If so, under stated Canadian foreign arms sale policies, we should not be approving this deal. Let us be quite clear: Saudi Arabia is a state that heavily represses its female population, commonly beheads criminals for a variety of crimes from drug possession to apostasy, gives few rights to migrants, and is currently engaged in the quashing of an insurgency in neighbouring Yemen with significant logistical support from the United States. Is it permissible to ignore such blatant human rights concerns simply because they are friends of our friends, exporters of oil, and customers for our defence industry?

      This author is not unsympathetic to those who claim the necessity for such sales in a collapsing global economy and with a sinking currency, that it is necessary to support our domestic defence industry in order to maintain production capability for ourselves. However, if this were simply the case, Canada could cancel the deal and sell them to another bidder, in a similar manner to how France cancelled the sale of Mistral-class helicopter carriers to Russia. The main difference is that Russia is a geopolitical rival of the United States, and Saudi Arabia is, at least nominally, not.

      Despite current economic difficulties, many might prefer Canada purchase these vehicles themselves, and use them to equip and expand our armed forces, suffering the financial penalty in the process. Such concerns may be preferable to having blood on our hands from selling weapons of war - which, in this case, we assuredly would. If the Saudi campaign in Yemen continues, Canadian-built weapon systems could end up in combat. Far more than simple 4x4s, in aggressive hands LAVs would be capable of causing great destruction.

      While  the Rt. Hon. Mr. Trudeau seemingly made such remarks out of a simple lack of knowledge on the subject rather than an attempt to dismiss criticism, this is the reason why our leaders have advisors, and their failure to properly inform him on this sale and perhaps other issues is simply shocking. Fortunately however, this controversy may have ensured that the Prime Minister will take greater care in the future when making remarks on military subjects; I expect he will not be using the word 'jeep' again anytime soon.

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