This gives a slightly better idea of the scale of the change. But it is still clear from this that sales of arms under the Conservatives have shifted significantly to certain nations, with human rights records that should concern us because of how those arms may be used and terrorism risks that should concern us because of the dynamic nature of global arms movement.
To get a sense of just how dynamic the flow of arms is around the globe, check out this map.
As mentioned above, there has been little confirmation from the Canadian government that they are taking the proper precautions and ensuring the arms we sell Saudi Arabia will not be used in the process of them violating human rights. Even if there were assurances, how do we confirm that they hold to that?
Canada Sits on the Sidelines
We could have been part of an international effort to do just that, but we decided to sit on the sidelines. The international Arms Trade Treaty was developed to establish criteria used to ensure that any exported arms are not used for human rights violations or war crimes. The Conservative government decided not to sign on to it, defending the decision on the grounds that it may impact lawful gun owners in Canada. But the United States, which has a gun lobby orders of magnitude larger and more powerful than Canada's, signed onto the treaty.
75 nations have ratified and signed the treaty. Another 50 have signed it and are awaiting ratification. 63 nations have done neither, and Canada is one of them.
In what kind of company is Canada by refusing to sign this treaty? Here are a few.
Afghanistan, Algeria, China, North Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
Only SIX of the 63 nations are ranked as free nations by Freedom House. The vast majority are ranked as NOT free, with the remainder being classified as partly free.
Is this a group of which Canada wants to be a part?
Arming the Enemy?
Finally, the other reason we should be critical of this increase in arms sales to problematic areas of the world is because of the unpredictable and dynamic nature of arms movement in the world. Some may argue the Conservatives are justified in moving more arms to areas of the world with high terrorism risks (although that still wouldn't excuse our business with human rights violators). But that argument is predicated on the assumption that we can predict with 100% certainty where those arms end up and how they'll be used.
A few news stories demonstrate how tenous that assumption is.
1. Years ago, Qatar and Saudi Arabia sent funding and arms to Syrian rebel groups, with the ultimate goal of eliminating Bashar al-Assad. One of the groups receiving support in the past is now known as ISIS. A similar issue occurred when Saudi Arabia funded the Taliban to fight the Soviets in the 80s.
2. Problems continue even after they realized their mistakes. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been providing support to a group that includes Jabhat al-Nusra, "an extremist rival to ISIS which shares many of its aspirations for a fundamentalist caliphate".
3. A large survey of ammunition fired by ISIS found that it came from multiple countries around the world, including roughly 20% of the shells originating in the US.
4. Another issue is the unpredictability of events in the region. The United States was backing the Yemeni president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. But then chaos broke out when a rebel group toppled the government. In the process the Pentagon stated they "lost track" of $500 million in military equipment, including over a million rounds of ammunition.
5. ISIS has been found in the possession of sophisticated military equipment originating from both Saudi Arabia and the US. In some cases it is unclear how they obtained it, but in other cases it was likely taken when they overtook a region held by Iraqi forces, who are supplied by the US.
6. Then there is the omnipresence of corruption. The Atlantic reported that American arms were finding their way onto the black market and into the hands of ISIS via corrupt individuals in the Iraqi army.
If Canada is engaged in a fight with ISIS, in which our military is involved, why is OUR military not using the weapons manufactured by Canadian companies? If we are truly committed to this fight, why are we not equipping our forces to engage? Forces that we know and trust as some of the highest trained and most professional in the world?
Instead we are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and other nations with deplorable human rights records for the sake of business. For the ability to campaign around Canada as a defender of Canadian jobs and the Canadian economy.
Stephen Harper boasts about his credentials on protecting Canadians security. But what if, through these massive arms deals and shipment of sophisticated military equipment to nations we can't trust, to a region with future events we can't predict, and into a conflict where today's Western supported rebels become tomorrow's ISIS, he is actually diminishing Canadian security?
There is a place for Canada in the fight against ISIS and what it represents. But that place should be alongside our allies with respectable human rights records, allies we can trust. As David Axe eloquently stated in an article on this matter, arming nations like Saudi Arabia in an effort to defeat a common foe "can be like sending weapons straight to the enemy".
(Update: This morning, there was a story in the National Post about Unifor, one of Canada's largest unions, telling the NDP to keep the Saudi Arabian arms deal "under wraps". Hopefully the NDP doesn't heed their advice. Where do we draw the line?)