New NAFTA Settlement, Same Old Dispute

Jaquelin Coulson is a second year International Relations student at the University of Western Ontario, and has served as a Columnist of The General Assembly since its inception in October 2017. Her areas on interest are nuclear proliferation, global security, and international development. She can be reached at

Why Canada is willing to risk everything to preserve NAFTA’s dispute-settlement system, and why, perhaps, it shouldn’t be.

During the 1987 negotiations of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney identified one particular provision as the “essential condition” for Canada’s acceptance of the deal. Later, in 1994, it was scrupulously carried over into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Today, in the midst of tense renegotiations and the US administration’s stated aim to “eliminate” the dispute-settlement clause, NAFTA’s Chapter 19 may once again become the hill that the Canadian government is willing to die on.

Formally titled the “Review and Dispute-settlement in Antidumping/Countervailing Duty Matters,” Chapter 19 provides a mechanism by which NAFTA parties can appeal the decisions of trade partners to levy either countervailing duties on exports which they consider to be subsidized by the exporting government, or antidumping duties on goods which are sold below market price. Under the dispute-settlement provisions, countries can have these duties reviewed by a binational panel of five mutually agreed-upon trade experts, rather than by domestic courts. The panel’s decision is binding; however, the panel determines only whether the importing government is following its own trade laws, not whether the laws themselves are ‘reasonable’ or ‘just.’ This mechanism entails a compromise that enables a bypassing of domestic courts without eliminating state sovereignty over the matter.

For Canada, the dispute-settlement mechanism is a safeguard against its larger and sometimes “heavy-handed” trade partner. In 2016, trade with the US accounted for 76.3% of Canada’s exports, and 52.2% of imports, while only 12.6% of American imports and 18.8% of exports were exchanged with Canada. Canada’s generally higher dependence on American trade partially explains its insistence on having a neutral arbiter to prevent the US from taking advantage of its lesser bargaining power by levying unfair duties. Mulroney’s former chief of staff Derek Burney has illuminated this concern quite simply in saying, “we don’t trust [American] trade-remedy tribunals, we never have.” Proponents of the dispute-settlement mechanism continue to doubt that the US International Trade Administration and court system could deliver truly unbiased judgements on antidumping and countervailing duties, and the fact that NAFTA panels have historically tended to favour Canada lends weight to these concerns.

This mistrust toward the American system applies also to its lack of expeditiousness. Chapter 19 dictates that final panel decisions must be issued within 315 days of the request for review, and although these deadlines are not always met in practice, an early assessment of the dispute-settlement mechanism found that cases filed and appealed with a NAFTA board took only 42% as long as those filed with the US Court of International Trade and appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. For companies with high volumes of cross-border trade, timeliness can mean the difference between bankruptcy-inducing deficits and recoverable short-term losses.

A prominent example of the dispute-settlement process is seen in cases concerning Canadian exports of softwood lumber, an issue which flared up every few years between 1982 and 2006, until the signing of the Softwood Lumber Agreement cooled tensions somewhat until its expiry in 2015. America’s grievance is essentially that Canadian lumber producers benefit from using public rather than private land, and pay ‘stumpage’ fees that are so low as to constitute a government subsidy. Canadian producers have also been accused of ‘dumping’ their products into the US at less than their Canadian market cost, imparting an artificial advantage. In response, the US levies countervailing duties to insulate American lumber producers from unfair competition. As of November 2017, the Canadian government has requested that a NAFTA panel review what is now the fifth softwood lumber dispute since 1982. Former trade diplomat Colin Robertson says that the perpetuation of these disputes “underlines why Chapter 19 is essential.” Indeed, it’s estimated that Canadian softwood producers will pay $3.4 billion in duties over the next two years before reaching a settlement on the matter, but if the US succeeds in eliminating Chapter 19, the costs could ultimately be far greater.

Beyond merely redressing unlawful levies, there is evidence to suggest that Chapter 19 has had a “chilling effect,” in which the mere threat of filing with a NAFTA panel induces countries to police themselves and act lawfully. A study by Washington’s Peterson Institute for International Economics found that NAFTA partners have imposed far fewer antidumping and countervailing duties on each other than on other trade partners. In the US, for instance, only 1.3% of NAFTA imports were subject to such duties, as opposed to 9.2% of imports from China, and 2.7% of those from the rest of the world.

While these factors seemingly give Canada ample reason to uphold the Chapter 19 provision, some have doubts as to how necessary NAFTA’s dispute-settlement system really is. Queen’s University Professor Robert Wolfe posits that after 23 years of North American free trade, trilateral supply chains have become so integrated that imposing duties on Canadian imports would do more harm than good to American businesses and consumers, particularly in sectors like the automotive industry which require frequent cross-border trade. In the case of softwood lumber, home construction firms for instance strongly oppose duties on Canadian lumber, as they only raise production costs and translate to lower profits. Skepticism about Chapter 19’s necessity is further entrenched by the fact that Canada has utilized the dispute-settlement process only three times in the past decade, as opposed to dozens of times in the early years of NAFTA. Moreover, even if North American economic integration is not as complete as to do away with dispute-settlement provisions entirely, the development of a similar mechanism by the World Trade Organization has made NAFTA’s system less crucial, and arguably even “redundant.” Similar to Chapter 19, the WTO’s mechanism assesses whether duties contravene WTO rules, and a ruling in Canada’s favour would compel the US to reimburse unlawfully levied duties.

The effectiveness of NAFTA panels has also faced doubt. According to former Canadian ambassador Derek Burney, the Americans “tend to ignore rulings they do not like,” and there is nothing in Chapter 19 which prevents countries from simply modifying their laws to align with trade practices which were previously ruled unlawful by NAFTA panels. Consequently, Canada may be better off conceding the Chapter 19 issue in exchange for a victory on another important matter, such as ending discriminatory government procurement policies.

For the time being though, Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland are framing the dispute-settlement provision as a prerequisite for Canada’s compliance with a renegotiated NAFTA. Whether this is their sincerely-held position or merely a strategic bluff, it will undoubtedly create tension with US negotiators. The question is whether disagreement over Chapter 19 will be enough to sink NAFTA altogether, and on that matter, only time will tell.

Sunshine or Sunburn? A Second Attempt at Liberalism in Inter-Korean Relations

Jihwan (Steven) Kim is a third year International Relations Student at the University of Western Ontario, and is excited to write as a Contributor of The General Assembly. His areas of interest include Inter-Korean relations including reunification and re-integration, sustainable community development, and the failure of states. If you have any questions, concerns or just want to send photos of your dog, he can be reached at

While the world applauds the two Koreas as they march together at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics as a part of a new "Sunshine Policy," the reality is that this is really just a PR move and a repetition of past mistakes

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang are underway, initiated by an opening ceremony with a discernible emphasis on peace and prosperity between the two Koreas. The two delegations walked side by side under a unified flag and uniform to the ecstatic approval of the rest of the world. Such a tangible demonstration of peace is surely a source of optimism- or is it? This article will look back on the last two decades of South Korea’s policy towards its estranged brothers to the North to contextualize the significance of President Moon Jae-In’s re-introduction of Liberalism.

The inauguration of Kim Dae-Jung in 1998 officially signified the Blue House’s departure from conservative policy towards North Korea with Kim’s introduction of the ‘Sunshine Policy’. Inspired by Willy Brandt’s rapprochement with East Germany, known as Ostpolitik, Kim Dae-Jung endeavored to depart from his predecessors’ obsession with national security and strove for reconciliation with North Korea through means of peaceful co-existence and cooperation. He simplified legal procedures for inter-Korean economic partnerships, sent frequent humanitarian aid and strictly opposed sanctions. These demonstrations of goodwill were met poorly in Pyongyang as Kim Jong-Il was weary of South Korea’s ‘subservient’ position to the United States. These conflicting views reached its apex in the summer of 1999 with the first battle of Yeonpyeong resulting in 30 total casualties. Even with this blatant act of aggression, Kim Dae-Jung remained firm on his policy. On June 12, 2000, Kim Dae-Jung’s continued efforts seemed to have paid off as it resulted in the first official meeting of the North and South governments since the Korean War. The world responded accordingly; rewarding Kim with the Nobel Peace Prize, and many holding their breath for the imminent official announcement. However, such an announcement never came- the two governments, in fact, did not discuss security issues or any tangible process toward reunification. It was soon discovered that the Kim administration secretly sent $500 Million for the proceedings to take place. For a country just escaping from an economic recession, this was not met kindly by the South Korean populace. Carrying on the Liberal tradition, Kim’s successor Roh Moo-Hyun, continued to extend the olive branch towards Pyeongyang with his ‘Peace and prosperity policy’ which, similarly to his predecessor, strove for reunification in terms of peace and cooperation. Roh also continued his predecessor’s tradition of alienating the United States, further aggravating public approval.

Overall, President Kim and Roh’s Sunshine Policy were viewed as catastrophic failures; their soft-line stance towards North Korea resulted in the North’s newly acquired nuclear weapons capability, and furthermore, their passive attitude spurred Pyeongyang to act even more aggressively. Human rights were not at all improved in North Korea, and Seoul’s relationship with the US was at an all time low. The new conservative administration under Lee Myung-Bak can therefore be viewed as a reaction to the two previous governments. Shortly after his inauguration in 2008 Lee introduced his policy of ‘Mutual Benefits and Common Prosperity’ which included the ‘De-nuke, open 3,000’ and the ‘Grand Bargain’ initiatives. His policies were underlined with the fundamental belief that peace would not be achieved if Pyeongyang continued to possess nuclear weapons. The ‘De-nuke, open 3,000’ initiative was an offer to increase North Korean per capita income by $3,000 for denuclearization, but was quickly shot-down by Kim Jong-Il. The ‘Grand Bargain’ initiative was meant to multilaterally coordinate North Korean de-nuclearization among Japan, China, South Korea, the United States and Russia, but like his ‘De-nuke’ initiative, led to no tangible conclusions. As tensions began to re-emerge, after years of relative peace under Kim and Roh, on March 26, 2010, the Cheonan Warship was torpedoed by the North Korean navy, resulting in over 30 South Korean deaths. Following this attack, the Lee administration shifted to a hardline stance with three counter measures. The May 24 Measure, or ‘proactive deterrence’, meaning any ill intention from the North would be met with attack, suspension of all economic exchanges, and heavy international sanctions. By the end of Lee’s administration, inter-Korean relations were effectively paralyzed and tensions were at their highest since the Korean War.

Lee Myung-Bak’s hardline stance towards North Korea was reactive and retaliatory. Re-unification through absorption is an outdated and incoherent policy decision; waging war to simply punish the North places innocent lives at risk and eliminates the opportunity for future dialogue. Furthermore, such emphasis on security only heightens South Korea’s vulnerability to attack, rendering inter-Korean relations into essentially a game of chicken. It is important to note however; the Inter-Korean security dilemma is unlike the classical rendition that deals with the balance of power between two states. Though the South views the North as its main hindrance to peace, the North regards the United States as its ultimate threat. Furthermore, although North Korea develops weapons to deter American attack, it has demonstrated in the past that it is willing to exchange its military capabilities for economic support. North Korea benefits from asymmetrical negotiations, where its relative weakness is a vital asset.

Thus, president Moon Jae-In has quite the maze to navigate in the remaining four years of his presidency. Considering the constitutional power of the president in South Korea (the President is granted such powers that it is often referred to as an ‘imperial presidency’), Moon has the potential to make palpable improvements to South Korea’s relationship with the North. However, his recent decision to feature the unified Koreas at the Olympics is completely insignificant. Following this demonstration of goodwill, the Koreas are not any closer to reunification than they were in 1953. Resources spent on these superficial and inconsequential presentations may be met with approval by the global community, but results in no discernible advancements. His first concern regarding reunification should be to mend the deeply rooted social, economic and generational cleavages in South Korean society to hopefully consolidate universal approval of a coherent strategy in the future. Considering the rising unemployment rates, elderly suicides, and business conglomerates that continue to command South Korean economics, South Korea is not in any position to single-handedly head the reunification of the two Koreas. He has witnessed the failures of both extremes of soft and hard-line policy, it is up to his administration to find a logical middle ground.

The Middle East is Unstable, but Saudi Women Can Drive Now!

Lena Gahwi is a Third Year International Relations and Women’s Studies Student at the University of Western Ontario, and has served as a Columnist of The General Assembly since its inception in October 2017. Her areas on interest are Feminist International Relations, human rights, and the democratization of developing nations. She can be reached at

Saudi Arabia is setting out to further destabilize the Middle East through the interventionist foreign policy, but all the rest of the world can focus on is their "progressive" reforms which pale in comparison to the rest of the world

Women in Saudi Arabia have finally gained the right to drive by royal decree, and in fact, they are now even allowed to enter some sports stadiums! However, despite how entertaining live soccer matches are, these developments are nothing more than an attempt at improving the optics of a nation with a less than flattering reality.  

Mohammed bin Salman (often referred to as MBS), Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, is at the heart of this recent reimagining of the Kingdom’s appearance on the world stage. He has been praised for bringing forward “moderate Islam” within the Kingdom, by the likes of French President, Emmanuel Macron, and American President, Donald Trump. MBS was selected by his father King Salman as the deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister in 2015 and has been working to solidify his control over the Kingdom throughout the past two years.

At first glance, MBS is the neoliberal world order’s dream man and is taking some of the necessary steps for Western nations to comfortably support him. Aside from granting women the right to drive, the 30-year-old Prince is pushing to decrease the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, modernize its economy, and is in many cases working to combat the religious establishment. MBS has recently made the news for taking the surprising step of arresting eleven Princes, various bureaucrats, and businessmen on corruption charges, hours after he was appointed to head the new Saudi anti-corruption committee. This in part is an attempt at further mending the Saudi image, but in actuality acts as a veneer aiming to hide the clear misalignment of Saudi Arabia with the rest of the international world order.

Experts have pegged this move as an attempt by MBS to curtail his adversaries within his family and close associates. It is also a step towards centralizing governmental control into the hands of the monarch, rather than attempting to include the entire royal family and religious leadership in the decision-making process. Many have asserted that the Prince’s actions as irresponsible and impulsive. This includes the German intelligence agency, Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which in 2015 distributed a memo entitled “Saudi Arabia — Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation.” In this memo, they specifically referenced MBS and emphasized the danger of so much power and control to be concentrated in the hands of such a new and inexperienced leader.

Furthermore, the BND also warned in their memo that Saudi Arabia is functioning as a ‘destabilizing force’ within the Arab world. In his role as Defence Minister, MBS has orchestrated some of the most destructive war efforts in the Arabian Peninsula. With regards to MBS, the BND memo states that the power given to him, “harbours a latent risk that in seeking to establish himself in the line of succession in his father’s lifetime, he may overreach.” This comment is proving to be prophetic, as the Prince has spearheaded a failing and long-winded intervention in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Until recently, the country was blockaded by the Saudi-led military coalition, which has been keeping lifesaving resources out of the nation. This war effort is claimed to have been an attempt by the Saudi government at defeating the Houthi rebels, and a way to curb the Iranian support for the rebels and other terrorist groups within the nation.  However, this exertion has been described by UN officials as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”  UN aid has not been able to enter the nation and reach millions of Yemeni citizens in months, which has culminated in the reappearance of cholera in the twenty-first century and a famine within the nation.

To make the Saudi involvement in Yemen even more interesting, the Saudi government has refused to allow the Yemeni president and his sons back into the nation for months, speaking to the strong interventionist approach the Kingdom is taking to their involvement in the civil war in Yemen, as well as to their foreign policy in general.

The convoluted and multifaceted reality of Saudi politics is difficult to properly synthesize, as it is currently experiencing massive changes. However, what is perhaps more interesting is how this shift in the nation may impact its relationship with Western powers.  Aside from their access to oil, and despite grave ideological differences, Saudi Arabia has been a powerful ally to the West due to its seemingly unbreakable national stability within a volatile region. It is unclear how the current attempts at furthering Saudi control within the region will impact its national stability.

MSB’s impulsiveness is leading to a more interventionist foreign policy and is yielding more control over to other nations and leaders in the Arab world. The Prince is showing no signs of altering this behaviour as he moves to maximize his power within Saudi Arabia and to further strengthen Saudi control regionally. Is it worth noting his attempts at progressive domestic policy? Probably not. Women may be able to drive a car, but nothing of substance has changed. Separating national policy from foreign policy may make the actions of MSB easier to digest, but it fails to paint a full picture.

Syria’s Status Quo Ante Bellum

Jack Stebbing is a second year International Relations Student at the University of Western Ontario. He has served as a columnist for The General Assembly since its start in October 2017. His interests include military history, irredentism, and their impacts on modern international relations and conflicts. He can be reached at

After hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, what will Syria have to show for its long and costly civil war?

The Syrian Civil War began in March of 2011, and has raged continually since. Since its outbreak during the Arab Spring, it has served as a consistent setting for the stage of international affairs. The conflict was initially prominent in the public mind, as the Syrian opposition seemed capable of overthrowing the government with the same success as forces in countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Instead, the conflict raged on with no clear end in sight. New developments within the conflict like the rise of ISIS or Russia’s military intervention in Syria meant that it never truly left both the news cycle and the public mind. Now that the Syrian Civil War is finally coming to an end, it is crucial to explore how a post-war Syria will fit into the world around it, and the impact it will have.

            Syria’s civil war has taken a heavy toll on the country, with hundreds of thousands killed over the course of the conflict. With 6.1 million refugees within Syria, and another 5.4 million having fled it, a massive portion of the Syrian population has been displaced from their homes and livelihoods. Despite these losses, the Assad regime remains in place and appears on the cusp of re-establishing its control over the entirety of Syria. ISIS has been declared defeated. The Syrian opposition fractured in the first few years of the war and are no longer capable of achieving victory. A post-war Syria will look radically different from its pre-war state, but will nonetheless be governed by the same party and ruled through the same system of repression as before. In all likelihood, the defeat of his regime’s enemies on the battlefield will only serve to further secure the position of Bashar Al-Assad. Furthermore, the experiences of the Syrian Civil War may well cause his regime to become even more repressive, with any prior paranoia and suspicion regarding subversion and dissent having been proven wholly justified and thoroughly vindicated. Its position is not unlike the Falangist Spain that arose from the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. Syria has been devastated by war and will be recovering for decades to come, much like Spain was. The events of the Spanish Civil War built the foundation for a regime that lasted until Francisco Franco died in 1975. The length and sheer scale of destruction of the Syrian Civil War has created conditions that will ultimately serve to solidify Bashar Al-Assad’s hold on power.

            Syria’s role on the international stage has changed radically since the onset of its civil war. It has, in the eyes of many, become the location of a proxy war between competing powers. The West, especially America, began supporting and arming the Syrian Opposition early on, and nations like Turkey have issued repeated calls for Assad to step down. Russia has repeatedly supported Syria in the United Nations, and more recently gotten directly involved with troops in Syria, aiding their ally in re-establishing control and resuming the status quo. Regional players like Saudi Arabia and Iran back differing sides along religious lines, further fueling the conflict. Now that the war is coming to an end, Syria will finally no longer suffer extensive foreign interference. Instead, Syria will be capable of asserting itself once again internationally.

            As a nation of limited economic, political, and military resources, Syria is largely constrained to act as a regional power within the Middle East. Even at the height of its power, its ability to project power and influence was limited. With the damage done to Syria by its civil war, its value on the international stage is not on what it can do on its own. Rather, Syria’s position is more valuable with regards to who it can align with internationally. With many Western and Arab countries throwing their lot in with the Syrian opposition, Syria’s choices became clear. Syria has long had an ally in Russia, and their shared opposition to the American-led West made joint cooperation between them a sensible choice. Iran likewise shares Syria’s opposition to the West, but is also opposed to the expansion of Saudi Arabia’s influence in the Middle East. The involvement of Sunni and Arab countries on the side of Syria’s opposition gave both Syria and Iran common enemies on the conflict, and thus provided a reason for the two to align. When the West backed the opposition to Assad’s regime, they made a gamble and pushed the Syrian government towards their enemies. Years later, that gamble has clearly failed, and its consequences will be felt for years to come.

            The fallout from the West’s opposition to Assad’s regime means that Syria will likely become even more estranged from the West than it was during the Cold War. With the rise of the Ba’ath party as Syria’s sole governing force in 1963, Syria fell into the Soviet sphere of influence. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia and Syria continue to maintain close ties and cooperation, with Russia’s naval base in Tartus an example of this. As the host of its sole naval base in the Mediterranean, Syria is an important ally to Russia. Russia’s crucial support for Syria during its civil war has only served to render Syria all the more reliant on Russia, and Vladimir Putin has not wasted this opportunity to further extend his power into the Middle East. With the announcements of the planned expansion of the Tartus naval base and Hmeimim air base as part of its permanent military presence in Syria, Russia’s influence and position have likely never been stronger within the Arab state.

            Beyond the East vs West view of global politics, the stability of the Assad regime has implications for the future of the Middle East within the context of the ongoing Middle Eastern Cold War. With the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Islamic Republic of Iran competing against one another for regional hegemony along sectarian lines, Syria’s Civil War became another theater in a wider struggle. With Iran backing Assad’s regime, and Saudi Arabia supporting opposition forces, Assad’s victory further threatens the existing status quo that has benefitted Saudi Arabia since Iran’s revolution in 1979. By expanding Iran’s influence and ensuring that Syria will oppose Saudi Arabia for their support of opposition forces, the Syrian Civil War may only serve to embolden Iran and further the conflict. 

            The Syrian Civil War is coming to a close. For nearly 7 years, it served as the battleground for various proxy conflicts between the likes of the United States and Russia, and Saudi Arabia and Iran. Now that the conflict is almost over, with the future of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria apparently secure, it appears as though the Syrian people are the clear losers of the conflict. A conflict waged to overthrow a government has ultimately failed to accomplish its goals, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced. The real winners appear to be Russia and Iran, who have gained from the conflict a reliant and secure ally in an otherwise American. and to a lesser extent, Saudi dominated region. With the victory of the status quo in Syria, it appears that the greater status quo in the Middle East is now vulnerable to be challenged.

Cryptocurrency: A New Era of Finance and a New Era of Potential Terrorist Threats for Canada

James Balasch is a Fourth Year International Relations student at Western University and is a guest contributor with The General Assembly. His areas of interest include International Security, Foreign Policy and Political Risk. He can be reached at or

With the advent of cryptocurrencies, Canada faces new security threats as international terrorist groups look to take advantage of this new financing opportunity

The popularization of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin over the last few months has primarily been accompanied by a discussion on its market activity, as investors watch its dramatic rise and fall in value daily. What is usually left out of the news cycle on this topic is how cryptocurrencies, by driving this period of intense change in the international financial industry, have created new opportunities for terrorist financing – thereby posing new threats to Canadian security that requires addressing.

Some of these threats come from the very nature of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Bitcoin was created in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto and was meant to be a “peer-to-peer” version of electronic cash that would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution. Nakamoto created Bitcoin as a currency free of state regulation, requiring no maintenance, with no additional costs and taxes, and most significantly, one that users could exchange anonymously through software that records the IP address but not the identity of the user. This last characteristic has made Bitcoin particularly appealing to criminals on the dark web, as exemplified by the website “Silk Road” that was started in 2011 for the exchange of cryptocurrency. Initially unnoticed by international authorities, American law enforcement terminated the site in October of 2013 due to its role in facilitating criminal activity. Despite instances of online cryptocurrency exchanges getting shut down, at a November 2017 panel held in Toronto, Chief Superintendent John Sullivan of the Ontario Provincial Police highlighted that organized crime increasingly relies on cryptocurrencies for activities such as money laundering. With research recognizing that terrorists utilize the financial strategies of organized crime to finance their activities, it would come as no surprise that cryptocurrency will likely be used to finance acts of terrorism in Canada in the near future. Highlighting the increasing difficulties of terrorist financing through traditional financial systems, the two main characteristics that make cryptocurrencies appealing to terrorist are their convertibility to fiat money and the anonymity of transactions. These allow terrorist groups that threaten Canada to transfer money internationally without any chance of being identified.

Besides facilitating widespread and relatively unnoticed terrorist financing, virtual currencies such as Bitcoin have created another liability as they could potentially make hundreds of millions of dollars available to terrorist organizations with advanced technological know-how as hacking a private currency exchange site can be performed with very little trace. An example of this is the online Bitcoin exchange Mount Gox. Repurposed in 2010 by Jed McCaleb as one of the first exchanges for the purchase and sale of Bitcoin, it eventually became the world’s most popular Bitcoin exchange, at one point handling 70 percent of the international Bitcoin trade. In February of 2014, Mount Gox announced 850,000 Bitcoin, at that time totalling 480 million USD was missing and likely stolen. Although 200,000 Bitcoin were eventually recovered, none of the identities of those responsible have been confirmed. Heists like these demonstrate that we are potentially entering a new era wherein a terrorist group in a remote part of the world could exploit the weaknesses of these currency exchange sites to fund terrorist activities that could threaten Canada.

Although this is a new type of terrorist financing for the Canadian government, Canada is not new to the field of preventing terrorist financing. Created in 2000 as a unit under the Ministry of Finance, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) is one of the country’s primary tools to prevent financial crime and terrorist financing. It detects and deters money laundering by analyzing reports on suspicious financial activities and passing relevant information from these reports to the applicable Canadian security agency. Through working closely as a regulator and intelligence agency with Canadian financial institutions including banks, loan companies, casinos, and securities dealers, FINTRAC works to make sure that these institutions properly monitor their customers’ account indicators that can trigger reports of suspicious financial activity. Although FINTRAC is well positioned to monitor government regulated financial institutions in the Canadian financial industry, it has very little ability to monitor an unregulated cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, further exposing Canada to terrorist financing as its primary financial regulator and financial intelligence provider is undermined.

There are two main mitigation strategies the Canadian government can utilize to decrease the threat posed by terrorist groups using cryptocurrencies. First, due to pressure from law enforcement agencies worldwide, Bitcoin has agreed to cooperate in tracking currency suspected of being used for illegal activities, often to the regions and countries that this virtual currency originated from and was destined for. Canadian policymakers should take note of this. They should use whatever leverage they have to get Bitcoin to work with Canadian agencies that are stakeholders in anti-terrorist financing such as FINTRAC in utilizing Bitcoin financial intelligence. Canada should also be proactive and begin developing legislation as well as regulation technologies that prevent current and future facilitators of cryptocurrencies – such as exchange sites – from budgeting for fines for not fully complying with government money anti-money laundering and terrorist financing legislation, as many Canadian banks do today. The benefit of being proactive with these mitigation strategies is that as new cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Litecoin are built off the Bitcoin model, these strategies will likely become best practices, and help mitigate the threat posed to Canada by the utilization of cryptocurrencies by terrorist groups for years to come.

From Beijing to Paris: China’s Environmental Leadership

Jaquelin Coulson is a second year International Relations student at the University of Western Ontario, and has served as a Columnist of The General Assembly since its inception in October 2017. Her areas on interest are nuclear proliferation, global security, and international development. She can be reached at

How China has transformed into a leader in climate change action, and what that may suggest about present and future global power dynamics

In the months leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, pollution levels in the city five times the World Health Organization safety standards had athletes concerned for their performance and their health. In an effort to reduce the smog, China invested $17.3 billion into improving Beijing’s air quality, implemented broad restrictions on industry and traffic, and even still, the Beijing Olympics went down as the most polluted games ever. Although its reputation does not make China a likely candidate for global environmental leadership, extensive changes in recent years have made it seem that this is the role it is taking on.

Despite being the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, China is also the world’s biggest investor in renewable energies, with $88 billion invested in 2016, and a forecasted $360 billion by 2020. In 2015, it installed more than one wind turbine every hour and boosted research and development into low-emission, next-generation nuclear reactors. These shifts were complemented by a decline in coal consumption; this year alone Beijing has cancelled 103 coal power plant projects which were planned or under construction, and there is increasing evidence to suggest that China’s coal consumption actually peaked in 2014. To replace coal as a back-up for renewable energy, Beijing is turning to liquefied natural gas, which produces 40% fewer emissions than coal. Energy efficiency is another area where China has surged ahead, boasting the fastest investment growth in this sector in 2016. By refining industrial and electrical technology to improve relative efficiency, China has reduced emissions, and is consequently on track to meet its Paris Climate Change Conference commitments ahead of schedule, thus exerting pressure on other states to follow suit. Clearly, China presents multiple strategies that could be adopted by other states seeking emissions reductions.

In 2013, China initiated carbon cap-and-trade pilot projects in seven regions with a total cap at 1.2 billion tons of CO2. After the “better than expected performance” of these pilots, China is now preparing to launch a nation-wide cap-and-trade system which will be the largest in the world. This system will foster ideal growth conditions for renewable energy companies and hasten China’s transition to a low-carbon economy. Researcher Jeremy Schreifels believes that there’s “a lot riding on the success of the program;” the eyes of the world are on China, anxious to see whether this is a model which could be replicated in other states, or even on an international scale. China also actively finances clean energy initiatives abroad, with $32 billion invested in renewable projects abroad in 2016 alone. Moreover, in 2017, China hosted the Mission Innovation Ministerial, a conference for countries wishing to support research and development in green energy, demonstrating the truly international scope of China’s interest in leading the charge against climate change.

All of these changes mark a significant shift away from China’s historical environmental reputation. Before the 2014 Paris Conference, for instance, China had often asserted that developing countries such as itself should not bear the same emissions restrictions and financial responsibilities as do developed states, and described a perceived “conspiracy by developed nations to divide the camp of developing nations.” Its aforementioned support for international initiatives suggests a softening of this stance. Back in 2009, China faced accusations of sabotaging the Copenhagen Accord with its persistent opposition to binding commitments made by other states. The resulting accord has been regarded as lacking ambition and substantive measures to ensure its implementation, and as solidifying China’s position as an obstacle rather than a contributor to climate action.

What has changed then, for China, since Copenhagen?

For one, Beijing has faced mounting pressure from organizations concerned with the health consequences of severe air pollution. Particularly in 2012 and 2013, citizens’ increasing awareness that domestic air quality was far worse than reported by the Chinese government created greater scrutiny and expedited the push towards greener alternatives. Moreover, with an anticipated $8 trillion in renewable energy investment globally by 2040, the market for clean energy technology has presented an opportunity for China to diversify its industries and regain momentum in economic growth. China has the potential to gain a major competitive advantage as an exporter of clean energy technology in this emerging market, and it appears to be seizing that potential. An additional change comes from the increasing importance of climate change action to the international community. With 197 signatories, the Paris Agreement enjoys truly global support, and Chinese President Xi Jinping himself recognizes that the political consequences of failing to “conform with global trends” demanding climate action could be severe. Rather, leading the charge on the environmental front may give Beijing the political capital it needs to divert scrutiny away from issues like tensions in the South China Sea, its “tacit support for North Korea,” and domestic matters relating to political freedoms.

Given American President Donald Trump’s controversial stance on climate change, environmental leadership may also give China an upper hand over the United States. While China has cultivated an economy amenable to clean energy innovation, Trump has repealed anti-coal legislation and pledged to restore coal jobs. Although private sector renewable energy will persist regardless of government support in green industries which are subsidized by the Chinese government but neglected by the US. Having recently matched, and in some countries, surpassed the cost efficiency of coal and natural gas energy, solar and wind power have been heralded by the World Economic Forum as “compelling investment opportunit[ies]” with high economic potential, making China’s dominance all the more significant.

Additionally, if China’s carbon cap-and-trade system succeeds in laying the groundwork for an international framework, China will significantly influence its implementation, and “is likely to set the de facto benchmark price” which the US and other states will have to consider. . Trump’s environmental stance has already distanced him from European partners, a development which will only be exacerbated as concerted climate action becomes more urgently necessary. That said, the extent to which countries will actually penalize the US for its environmental policies remains to be seen.

At this point, the push for climate action has gained too much momentum to be halted by one outlier state. US opposition will only see it left behind, leaving China leading the charge, and with no intention of stopping anytime soon.

Canadian National Security: The Nuclear Option

Jack Stebbing is a second year International Relations Student at the University of Western Ontario. He has served as a columnist for The General Assembly since its start in October 2017. His interests include military history, irredentism, and their impacts on modern international relations and conflicts. He can be reached at

Donald Trump’s comments have threatened Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Collective Security, and should serve as a wake-up call to Canadians.

Since his election in 2016, Donald Trump has overturned tradition and embarked on a radically independent and frighteningly original course as President of the United States of America. On his tour of several Asian countries, the American President engaged in a Twitter feud with Kim Jong-Un after being called “old”, retaliating by calling the North Korean dictator “short and fat”. The situation with North Korea has escalated since Trump took office. Tensions reached new heights in the wake of North Korea’s successful tests of long-range delivery systems that could threaten North America, and with Trump’s subsequent response promising “fire and fury”. Both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un have generally been regarded by the international community as unnecessarily inflammatory in their exchanges, but Trump’s unilateral aggression comes as an extremely concerning deviation from the careful approach of past U.S. Presidents in their interaction with North Korea because of its impact on America’s allies. As the two Western-aligned nations in North Korea’s immediate vicinity, the countries most threatened by North Korea have traditionally been South Korea and Japan. Trump further departed from tradition when he suggested that Japan and South Korea may be better off if they defended themselves “including with nukes”. By opening the discussion on increased nuclear proliferation, Trump has opened Pandora’s Box for nuclear proliferation, whether it is sanctioned by the United States or not. The push for more countries to develop nuclear weapons is a callous one that runs contrary to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and threatens the interests of all the signatories of the treaty, Canada included.

If more countries begin to develop nuclear weapons following the mixed messages and volatility from the White House, the entire framework of the non-proliferation treaty begins to fall apart and states are incentivized to develop their own nuclear weapons. The only definitive defense against a state with nuclear weapons has proven to be an equal and opposite balance of nuclear weapons against it. This promotes deterrence since any nuclear strike would invoke a nuclear response, resulting in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender. This is the basis of the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). As more states acquire nuclear weapons, others may feel that the only option to increase their security is the acquisition of their own nuclear weapons. This can be seen in the Middle East in lieu of the development of nuclear weapons by Israel. With their archrival having acquired nuclear weapons, several Arab states such as Iraq, Libya, and Syria began their own nuclear programs to level the playing field. Alternatively, the proliferation of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan amid their rivalry also demonstrates this. History shows that nuclear proliferation begets more nuclear proliferation. If Trump gets his way and more states start developing nuclear weapons, he may end up with more than he has bargained for.

Donald Trump has explicitly stated that American military assistance to fellow NATO members is not guaranteed. Even though he has since flip-flopped his position on the matter, the very fact that such a matter was brought up is bad news for Canada. Without the United States, Canada would be virtually defenseless. With a population of over 35 million and the 10th largest economy in the world, Canada should be able to wield a well-funded and trained military to defend itself. Despite this, the Canadian Armed Forces in its entirety fields under 70 000 active personnel, in many cases relies on outdated hardware and has had its capabilities degraded by successive governments neglect. With no domestic capabilities of defending against a potential nuclear strike, Canada is entirely reliant on being within the United States’ nuclear umbrella for its protection. If Donald Trump and the United States decided tomorrow that they were not obligated to defend Canada – unlikely as it may be – any sense of Canada’s national security would collapse without America propping it up. If such a situation were to occur concurrently with a rise in nuclear proliferation, Canada would have neither the abilities to defend against a nuclear strike nor the means to develop them. In short, Canada is presently helpless without the United States, and Trump’s polemic against collective security may pose a very large threat to Canada’s national security.

Overdependence on the United States for defense has made the position of Canada precarious. Canada has long relied on the United States to keep it safe, allowing Canada to slack in its commitments to its own armed forces, with the consequences being felt today. As a member of NATO, Canada is obliged to spend 2% of its GDP on its military, but currently spends 1.2%. Additionally, $8.4 billion in defence spending has been postponed by the government of Canada until after 2030, further reducing the effective state of Canada’s military for decades to come. The current state of the Canadian military is weak, with low military spending and delayed acquisitions rendering it “fragile”. The dual threats of the spread of nuclear weapons and America withdrawing in its defense of Canada have brought the inadequacies of the Canadian military to light. Relying on American protection has caused Canada to let its military power wane to the point of near-nonexistence. At present, Canada’s self-defence is simply not self-sufficient.

Therefore, the issue posed by increased nuclear proliferation today concerns Canada greatly. The prospect of more states possessing nuclear weapon clearly threatens Canada’s already precarious defense situation, however, nuclear proliferation might also provide a solution. As discussed earlier, MAD doctrine has proven an effective defense against nuclear strikes thus far. Canada is among several countries considered to be nuclear threshold states, also referred to as possessing nuclear latency. This threshold refers to a states’ capability to rapidly produce nuclear weapons even though it has refrained from doing so thus far. If Donald Trump’s initial wishes for more nuclear powers come true, Canada would do well to shore up its own position by capitalizing on its extensive nuclear infrastructure and natural resources that mark it as possessing nuclear latency. Even if outright possession of nuclear weapons isn’t easy to stomach, the threat of being able to produce and use them could serve as a palatable substitute to counterbalance the threat of other states’ nuclear weapons.

The issue of nuclear proliferation is a worrisome one. The sheer destruction wrought by nuclear weapons should be enough to convince the entire world to dispose of them and work to ensure such weapons of mass destruction are never recreated. Evidently, this is not the case in today’s world. It should be in Canadian and indeed global interest that nuclear weapons be minimized and marginalized. However, if it becomes clear that this cannot or will not be achieved, then the possibility of developing nuclear weapons should not be ruled out. The deterrent effect of possessing nuclear weapons simply cannot be denied.

Climate Realism: A New Framework

Lucas Tersigni is a third year International Relations Student at the University of Western Ontario and has served as a Senior Editor of The General Assembly Publication since its inception in October 2017. He specializes in history of diplomacy, theories of realism, US foreign policy, Cold War history, and foreign policy analysis. He can be reached at

The second in a two part series on climate change, realism is examined and adapted to fit twenty-first century challenges.

This article sets out to do two things. First, explain the general themes of classical realism and provide an update on its current framework. This will include an examination of a key realist theorist, Hans J. Morgenthau. The second part of this article will apply this updated theory to the issues of climate change, as discussed in my previous article, and show how following a modified realist doctrine can improve our chances of solving climate change in a quick and efficient way.

Hans Morgenthau is largely credited as being the first theorist to fully explain realism as a theory rather than a set of loosely related assumptions on human nature. In his book, Politics Among Nations, written in 1948, Morgenthau outlined the underlying themes that previous realists such as Thucydides, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes had touched upon in their works. These themes are as follows:

  1. Humans are inherently violent to one another;
  2. States, at the federal level, are the only important actors in the international realm;
  3. State sovereignty is supreme;
  4. Morality and politics are to be separate from each other, but exist in a balance: A man who is only a moral man is a fool, and a man who is only political is a beast;
  5. Power is always defined by tangible factors such as military and economic power;
  6. The international system is anarchic, and all nations act only to maximize their power and security;
  7. The pursuit of power is a zero-sum game, and this will inevitably lead to a security dilemma wherein one nation’s pursuit of absolute power and security threatens all other nations;
  8. Alliances are only temporary at best and pursuit of power and security should only be done unilaterally. In this, Morgenthau includes a critique of the United Nations and gives reasons why it must fail;
  9. Finally, realism is an empirical and pragmatic philosophy.

As is evident in the themes listed above, realism operates on the assumption that humans are intrinsically violent towards one another. Realists argue that these are the tacit rules by which actors abide by regardless of inter-governmental organizations or international law since there are no mechanisms to force compliance. However, it is important to note that this theory was concocted as tensions began rising between two previous allies, the US and the Soviet Union, in the early Cold War period.

While I mostly agree with realist assertions of human nature and the general notions of how states act in the international system, there are facets of realism that need to be updated to fit the twenty-first century context. In particular, I will examine themes 5, 8, 7, and 2 with respect to climate change.

Theme 5 is interesting because recent international developments have drastically changed this notion. As events such as the Vietnam and Iraq wars have demonstrated, simply having more money and military might than the opponent does not guarantee victory. Instead, soft power considerations are becoming increasingly important. This is an area where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is excelling because he projects a positive image of Canada abroad, giving Canada a more advantageous position in the world. Conversely, President Trump’s general rhetoric has alienated America’s allies and has weakened America’s position and public image. Reneging on the Paris Climate Accords has made America particularly unpopular with European leaders, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel denouncing Trump after his decision to drop out of the Paris Accords.

Theme 8 is clearly a product Morgenthau’s observations. Morgenthau had no doubt observed that the grand alliance of the Second World War had been shattered with the Americans and the Soviets now confronting one another as enemies. However, since 1948, a collective security framework has become commonplace and is extremely popular. I am talking, of course, about NATO, history’s most powerful military alliance. Since the effects of climate change are expected to displace 150-200 million people by 2050, and these refugees have the potential to cause instability and increase international terrorism (I discuss this more here), the Paris Accords are like a collective security agreement. Only here, states don’t work together to protect themselves from enemies, but from nature. Because America is one of the world’s largest polluters, the Paris Accords cannot function properly without it.

Theme 7 is closely related to theme 8. If the Paris Accords are a collective security apparatus against climate change, then America’s refusal to participate in this is a unilateral pursuit of power. Trump has dropped out of the Paris Accords because he believed that they put America at an economic disadvantage to its developing competitors like China and India. By doing this, President Trump is attempting to play on the notion that power is a zero-sum game. The issue here is that collective action on climate change is more beneficial to America in the long run rather than continuing to use fossil fuels for energy as a short-term advantage over its rivals.

Finally, theme 2, and especially in the climate change context, is untrue in the twenty-first century. In the US and Canada, climate action is mostly implemented at the state or provincial level, and not the federal level. This means that, despite federal support for the Paris Accords, state governments can actually choose to follow their own climate action plans, regardless of what the federal policy is. In the US, 20 states, 110 cities, and over 1000 businesses and universities have pledged their support of the Paris Accords. This is a clear demonstration that the old realist notion of federal governments being consequential is dead.

In all, a new climate realism framework would look something like this:

  1. Humans are inherently violent to one another;
  2. All levels of government and businesses are important international actors;
  3. State sovereignty is supreme;
  4. Morality and politics are to be separate from each other, but exist in a balance: A man who is only a moral man is a fool, and a man who is only political is a beast;
  5. While tangible sources of power are certainly helpful, the nature of today’s mass media and diplomatic focus to world affairs means that soft power and public opinion are very valuable considerations of power;
  6. The international system is anarchic, and all nations act only to maximize their power and security;
  7. Power sharing is important to the overall security of the international system. While the system may still be anarchic, states will ensure each other’s survival to prevent increased incidences of terrorism;
  8. Alliances can be permanent and popular when countries share the same intrinsic goals and when problems beyond state-versus-state affairs arise;
  9. Finally, realism is an empirical and pragmatic philosophy.

Pay particularly close attention to theme 9. This is a holdover from the beginnings of realist theory, and this focus on empiricism and pragmatism is what allows realism to evolve over time. Without it, realism would still be a draconian theory with no connections to the modern international system and its challenges. With it, however, it provides a good framework by which policymakers can formulate long-term foreign policies.

Containing the Cold War

Emily Tayler is a second year International Relations and English Literature student at the University of Western Ontario. She has been a columnist for The General Assembly since 2017. Her areas of historical and political focus include the Cold War, civil rights movements, gender politics and Soviet Russia. She can be reached at

How the American policy of Containment influenced everything from foreign aid to family life

The end of the Second World War brought forth a new set of challenges once the wartime alliance of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union collapsed. The period between 1945 and 1991 came to be known as the Cold War and was primarily fought by the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. The resulting American foreign policy during the Cold War revolved around the overarching pillar of containment. This policy, which was outlined in George Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram”, centred on the idea that communism was only allowed to exist where it was currently present but could not spread. Containment addressed the fragile balance of power between the two ideologies of liberal capitalism and communism in the global order. By following this idea, the American administration believed that they could effectively limit the spread of the Soviet Union’s communist ideology and the country’s sphere of influence. Kennan, who was the American minister in Moscow at the time, suggested that the United States had to strengthen the American capitalist system internally in order to stop emerging countries from turning to communism.

Many of the new countries that emerged after the Second World War were able to draw new boundaries in Europe and elsewhere, which pushed the decolonization movement to the forefront of world politics. New states came to represent more than half of the population through their membership in the United Nations, therefore allowing them to put pressure on the larger states. These new countries became the tipping point in a finely balanced divide between ideologies. To convince these newly emerged countries of the woes of communism, the capitalist states had to create a viable alternative option. The decolonized countries were already skeptical of capitalist tendencies towards imperialism. Kennan noted that the only way to ensure the survival of the American way of life would be to strengthen it internally. The result was that the domestic policy of the United States came to mimic the pillar of containment due to the repressive nature of the American foreign policy during the early Cold War period. Therefore, the policy of containment effectively became a culture of containment.

Literary scholar Alan Nadel articulated this containment culture in his book of the same name. In the preface, he reconciled the country’s “cult of domesticity and fetishizing of domestic security” with his childhood in Cold War America:

“Setting up a mythic nuclear family as the universal container of democratic values, the cultural narratives of my childhood made personal behaviour part of a global strategy at the same time as they personalized the international struggle with communism.” (xi)

Nadel goes on to compare American foreign policy to the repression of postmodernist tropes in literature. This model style of living became extremely constraining for minority groups, women, and creative people, which were represented in their works of literature, such as the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. These works demonstrate how the trauma of a nation can affect personal narratives. Each work, published in the 1950s and 1960s, dealt with the issue of their repression within their minority group. Anything outside the norm was considered alien or subversive. Instead of focusing on becoming a global leader that presented a viable option to decolonized countries, the American policy became primarily about creating the optimal nuclear family and perfect suburban household.

Likewise, the nuclear monopoly in the United States allowed the country to shape the narrative of the world, especially within the western powers. This highlights the importance of conformity as a form of public knowledge. The 1950s American narrative became one of the ‘same’ and the ‘other’ – this language was used in everything from policy to television broadcasts, which created a good and evil dichotomy. Policies such as the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, created in 1947 and 1948 respectively, offered economic and military assistance to any country seeking aid after the devastation of the World Wars. These documents appeared to be generous in nature but they created a greater divide in the spheres of influence. Although these policies were intended to rebuild Europe after the devastation of the Second World War, they became a way for the United States to intrusively create nations in their liberal capitalist image. After the bombing of Japan, the United States provided funds to the country to try and create a capitalist ally in the East. It also allowed the United States to paint the Soviet Union in a negative light and dichotomize the other further, as the Soviet satellite states were unable to accept any funds. Likewise, both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were passed through Congress using the language of democracy, as Truman aligned democracy and free people with a capitalist way of life. It became the American duty to protect the people of the world against communism. This rhetoric was subsequently reinstated to a population that had become unsettled after the devastation of the Second World War.

This climate of fear also brought the Red Scare to the forefront of the American consciousness. The Red Scare, which was the public fear of communism created by the dramatic language of ‘free people,’ was used to characterize the American fight against the ideology. This was especially prevalent during the American Civil Rights protests of the 1960s, which occurred while the Cold War was at its height. The American government was particularly fearful of these protests because they implied that young people were becoming disillusioned with the current political order, both globally and domestically. The Red Scare also informed domestic policy, as any social-based policy was labelled as a communist threat and not passed. This paranoia is a major reason why a universal healthcare bill has not been passed in the United States. Despite President Truman campaigning for comprehensive universal healthcare insurance in at the beginning of his presidency in 1945, he was met with a disapproving Republican Congress. The proposal was deemed socialist and received incredible backlash. Subsequent American presidents and officials have attempted to instate a universal healthcare model for decades but the paranoia brought forth by the fear of communist societies has prevented them from providing this beneficial policy for citizens. The struggle to implement social-based policies is still prevalent in current American domestic policy debates.

The foreign and domestic policies of Cold War America were directly dependent on one another. This connection creates a direct parallel between the Cold War and modern-day America. The sporadic, and sometimes irrational, nature of today’s foreign policy directly mirrors the underlying tensions of domestic affairs. Although current media discourse creates less of a dichotomy between America and its enemies, such as North Korea or Iran, it also deepens the divide between the pendulous political spectrums of the American population. These tensions are not bringing America together in order to unite it against a common enemy that threatens the American way of life. Instead, it is heightening individuals’ radical views and giving them an enemy to fight within their own population.

The Dark Legacy of Canadian Foreign Aid

Jaquelin Coulson is a second year International Relations student at the University of Western Ontario, and has served as a Columnist of The General Assembly since its inception in October 2017. Her areas on interest are nuclear proliferation, global security, and international development. She can be reached at

As Canada continues to conflate development aid with extractive sector corporate subsidies, dangerous consequences emerge.

As the world’s largest gold mining company, Barrick Gold Corporation has been named among the top 10 most controversial mining companies for having been the subject of international protests and criticism. Its mines have long faced allegations of human rights abuses and environmental degradation. It is also one of many Canadian mining companies which benefit from millions of dollars in foreign aid from the Canadian federal government.

According to the Global Affairs Canada database, Canada has spent approximately $445 million in Official Development Assistance (ODA) on initiatives related to mining and mineral policy and training since 2008, a pragmatic investment considering that 75% of the world’s mining companies in 2008 were Canadian. Indeed, former Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino has asserted that ODA support is intended to give Canadian mining companies a competitive advantage internationally and to ensure that Canadians benefit. Although ODA seldom goes directly to corporations, there are many ways in which it indirectly subsidizes them.

In 2011, the Canadian government announced a series of ‘pilot projects’ which would partner mining companies with development NGOs. These three projects had a budget of $9.5 million, 70% of which was funded by ODA. The programs involved training residents to work in the mines and developing the company’s “Corporate Social Responsibility” strategy, but were void of opportunities for partner NGOs to make substantive changes to the companies’ practices or to advocate for affected residents. Because the NGOs’ funding was made contingent on cooperation with corporate public relations campaigns, their development mandates were compromised. PLAN Canada, for instance, pledged not only to refrain from commenting on allegations against its partner IAMGOLD, but moreover to help manage public outcry in such an event. Mining companies thus garner positive publicity from superficial development projects funded primarily by ODA.

Aid funds have additionally been used to enact pro-corporate legislation at the expense of host countries. In Colombia, a $10 million ODA grant enabled Canadian agents to revise the mining code, reducing the royalty tax levied on foreign mining corporations from 15% to a mere 0.4%, and instituting an “unheard of” 30-year tax exemption on timber cut down in quarry preparation. Such policies reduce to “almost nothing” the government royalty revenues which are meant to finance public services and do little to compensate by benefiting workers. Indeed, despite increased investment, extractive sector employment as a proportion of total jobs fell by 19% after the implementation of this policy,[1] a trend stemming from the capital- rather than labour-intensive nature of mining.

By indirectly subsidizing mining companies with the aim of promoting Canadian business interests, the federal government has compromised the official intent of ODA. The 2008 Official Development Assistance Accountability Act puts forth three key principles to which Canadian foreign aid should adhere, those being human rights, environmental stewardship, and poverty reduction. Subsidizing the extractive sector has proved an ineffective means of advancing these principles, and may actually violate them.

A 2009 publication found that in regions where Canadian ODA has encouraged investment by mining corporations, over 80% of human rights violations and murders of union leaders were concentrated in mineral-rich communities. Similarly, a 2016 report documented 30 “targeted” deaths and 709 cases of criminalization of anti-mining activists. High rates of violence are compounded by intentionally inadequate human rights and labour codes which inhibit victims from getting justice through legal avenues. In 2011, Human Rights Watch reported acts of gang rape committed by Barrick Gold security officers and identified “systemic failures” which prevented the company from responding adequately. Barrick’s subsequent monetary compensation of the victims and pledge to improve oversight was unfortunately undermined by their CEO’s comment that policing employee behaviour would be “impossible” where “gang rape is a cultural habit.” Whether these human rights issues are rectified depends on the capacity of governments to investigate and the willingness of corporations to cooperate, since Canada has no mechanism for holding Canadian companies accountable for overseas operations.

The environmental record of ODA-funded mining corporations is no better. In Guatemala, Goldcorp Marlin’s open pit mining site uses and expels 250,000 litres of water every hour, necessarily contaminating it with toxic industrial by-products which then leach into the soil. Already, arsenic has been found in unsafe concentrations in nearby groundwater wells and the urine of nearby residents, elevating their risk of cancer and nervous system damage. There is also an economic risk for agricultural producers, as contaminated water degrades the soil and reduces crop yields. What is more, even after they are closed, these mines will require ongoing maintenance for over a hundred years, burdening developing governments and communities with either the exorbitant costs of maintenance or the catastrophic consequences of dilapidation. It is for these reasons that a report by Tufts University described the economic benefits of mining projects as “meagre and short-lived” compared to the long-term environmental risks.

Yet, there remains a question of whether, despite the negative effects, supporting the extractive sector with foreign aid supports poverty reduction and economic development. Canada’s shift towards mining has been accompanied by a re-definition in 2009 of ‘target countries,’ shifting focus away from poorer African countries and towards wealthier Latin American ones.[2] The rationale for this shift was explicated in a 2013 internal department assessment, which highlighted commercial mining interests as a key factor in most of the Latin American regions, suggesting a lesser concern for poverty reduction. The rationale for bolstering the extractive sector as a means of development is itself dubious, since a negative relationship in developing countries, non-fuel mineral dependence often has a negative relationship with GDP per capita and other forms of development. Moreover, even if mining operations do create a temporary economic boom, this does not necessarily imply development. For ‘factory towns’ that depend entirely on corporate mining revenues, the inevitable exhaustion of mineral reserves typically spells economic collapse.

Although extractive sector funding represents a small proportion of Canada’s foreign aid flows, the irresponsibility of Canadian mining companies and the magnitude of their harm should not be tolerated, let alone subsidized by the government. This is not an unconditional condemnation of all mining operations; there are certainly ways in which Canada could support responsible mining practices and equitable economic partnerships with mineral-rich developing nations, but as of yet, corporate interests have taken precedence over this. By tacitly sanctioning the human rights abuses and environmental devastation exacted by the extractive industry, Canada also risks tarnishing its own international reputation. While swift and substantial policy reforms would be a step towards saving this reputation, the damage will remain at Canadian mining sites abroad, in the communities of victims for whom any retroactive policy changes will be too little, too late.


[1] Elizabeth Blackwood and Veronika Stewart, “CIDA and the Mining Sector: Extractive Industries as an Overseas Development Strategy,” in Struggling for Effectiveness: CIDA and Canadian Foreign Aid, ed. Stephen Brown (Montreal; Kingston; London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012), 233.

[2] Ibid., 222.