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All Out to Resist the War Mongers

Halifax International Security Forum brings dogs of war to port city

by Brad Fougere

"The CEOs and Investors in Defense Companies never get blown up or shot." [Photo: B. Fougere]
"The CEOs and Investors in Defense Companies never get blown up or shot." [Photo: B. Fougere]

(K'JIPUKTUK) Halifax - John McCain is a multi-millionaire Republican senator with a record of voting for military interventions. He has received campaign funding from military contractors in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He describes the Halifax International Security Forum – taking place November 21st through 23rd at the Westin Nova Scotian – as, “One of the most important gatherings that is convened around the world.”

Allan Bezanson, a long-time anti-war and anti-imperialist activist and member of No Harbour for War, doesn’t disagree. But the importance he places on the event is of a different nature. He calls the forum a gathering of “war mongers and their sycophants”.

“[The Forum is] not just some nice little talk shop and get to see a bit of Halifax or something like that,” says Bezanson. “They actually coordinate, in the hallways, in their off-the-record sessions, in their meeting rooms. They reach political, ideological, or military unity of thinking on various schemes which they then to proceed to hatch against the people [. . .] It’s a very dangerous event, and a provocation to the peace-loving people of Halifax.”

The list of participants includes a significant number of individuals who could be described as war-mongering, or otherwise unsavory. They include:

Senator John Barasso, who, in addition to advocating war on Iran, “voted for prayer in schools, against gay marriage and sponsored legislation to protect the ‘sanctity of life’[i.e. anti-choice legislation].”

Baek Seung-Joo, Korea’s Vice Minister of Defense and a member of the conservative-corporatist Saenuri Party, led by Park Geun-hye, daughter of former military dictator Park Chung-hee.

Harper political strategist Ian Brodie.

David Kramer, President of Freedom House, an NGO which has been implicated in promoting American interests abroad. Freedom House was singled out by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their landmark Manufacturing Consent for its role as an American propaganda organ.

Don McClure, Vice President at Lockheed Martin, a manufacturer of combat aircraft, missiles, targeting systems, and other military products. Lockheed Martin spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in campaign contributions and lobbying in the United States and Canada.

The list goes on – there are three hundred attendees – and the vast majority represent similarly conservative and big-business interests.

The Forum began in 2009 as a project of The German Marshall Fund – a right-wing Washington-based think-tank. Funding for the forum came from, and comes from, the Canadian Department of National Defence, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin, and others. Though it describes itself as “a network for thoughtful and engaged decision-makers from governments, militaries, business, academia, and the media to work together to meet emerging threats in a changing world,” a look at the agenda might lead one to wonder who attendees see as “threats”.

Topics at the Forum include: 'Pipeline Corridors: The Geopolical Role of Energy Infrastructure'; 'Wanted: Food, Energy, Water – A Few good Resources'; 'Asian Advances: China’s Creeping Mission', and; 'Democratic Asia: The Call for Japanese-Korean Strategic Cooperation' (a troubling nod to America’s anti-Chinese “Asia Pivot” strategy).

Given that one of the opening plenary sessions is titled “O Say, Can’t You see? The Indispensible Role of the Exceptional Superpower”, one might be tempted to see the framing of these “threats” as threats not to the security of the world’s peoples, but to the global military hegemony of the United States.

Framing is a key issue at the forum, and the differences in the way the Security Forum is spoken about by John McCain and Allan Bezanson are a microcosm of a bigger picture: In the agenda for the 2014 Forum it’s called “The Battle for the Narrative”.

“It’s a narrative that’s been taken out of our hands. We have to create our own story,” says Su Donovaro, a staff member at The Loaded Ladle. In order to help create this story the Loaded Ladle is helping to organize a public rally to oppose the Security Forum.

“I think having the rally is good to give voice to what war really is, and what militarization is, and how it pours over into everyday life,” says Donavaro. “It’s not just this thing that happens ‘over there’. It happens all around us. [. . .] Canada and the [United States] are such racist countries. It’s about opening people’s eyes to what’s happening right in front of them.”

In the past decade, Canada has participated in military operations around the world against racialized “enemies”, including in Afghanistan, Haiti, Libya, and Iraq. This racialized military targetting is not only international. In 2006, the military released a draft of a counter-insurgency manual that included a section on operations against the Mohawk Warrior Society, an Indigenous organization committed to resisting colonialism. Canada has also been singled out for criticism by the UN and Amnesty International for its epidemic levels of violence against Indigenous women.

Holly Lobsinger, board member at the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (another Dalhousie-based social justice organization) agrees. According to her: “The Security Forum is a gathering of war manufacturers, and people who are primarily involved in deciding Canada’s direction and involvement in war. It’s important to show whose interests war serves, and question what our ideas of freedom in Canada are; what nationalism is.”

Looking at current and past lists of the Security Forum’s attendees, Holly’s assertion about war manufacturers rings true. In addition to Lockheed Martin, executives from arms companies including Safran, EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company), General Dynamics, and ATCO Group (among others) have all been Forum participants.

Yazan Kader of Students Against Israeli Apartheid highlights the relationship between war and big business.

“You have Israeli weapons producing companies benefiting a lot, obviously, from [the invasion of] Gaza [in July, 2014] and what happens in the West Bank, because whenever things erupt, they get to showcase their weapons,” says Kader. “There was a report by Haaretz newspaper in Israel that showed that the amount of money and amount of publicity they got from Gaza allowed them to boost their sales. And what’s interesting is that the only material that is allowed into Gaza for reconstruction is also Israeli. So it’s like, ‘We’re going to use our products to destroy you and to rebuild it, and we’re going to profit from all [of] this.’”

Canada has been a key international supporter of Israel; Harper and the Security Forum have helped shape narratives about that country’s ongoing conflict with indigenous Palestinians and Harper has gone as far as saying that “Support today for the Jewish state of Israel is [. . .] a moral imperative.” Israeli officials who have come to Halifax for the Forum include Amos Gilad of the Ministry of Defense, and Knesset member Moshe Ya’alon – who attracted controversy after calling Palestinians a “cancer”. This year, former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will be in attendance.

Barak has a storied history of complicity in war crimes, including having personally engaged in political assassinations of Palestine Liberation Organization members as an IDF commando. He served as Defense Minister during the IDF’s “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008/2009, referred to in the Arab world as “The Gaza Massacre”, during which over 1,000 Palestinians were killed. UN officials condemned Israel’s lack of “[I]nvestigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead,” saying further, “[T]he most serious allegations about the conduct of Israel's military operations [remain] completely unaddressed.”

Palestine may be an ocean away, but Kader points to Dalhousie University’s links to Israel in order to demonstrate “That something local, something that we’re part of, something that we play a role in, is complicit. [It] puts some responsibility on us to the extent where we need to do something, right?”

Bezanson reflects: “We’re fortunate or unfortunate enough to live in the most militarized city in all of Canada. Halifax is a NATO port and over the years there’s been way too many provocations by what you can call war mongers, our government, and NATO itself. International politics has a way of intervening in the lives of Haligonians and Nova Scotians.”

“International politics” might be an insufficient description of NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's origins are in the cold war, and in illegal dirty wars against communist and socialist parties in Western Europe. The story NATO tells about itself is that it “promotes democratic values”. Critics contend NATO serves primarily as a vehicle for US imperialism. Canada’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was carried out under NATO leadership, as were its military operations against Libya and its “training” missions in Iraq. It is one of the official partners of the Security Forum, and its various officials have been consistent participants.

For those Haligonians not invited to participate, the rally against the Security Forum organized by No Harbour for War, The Loaded Ladle, NSPIRG, and Anarchist Initiative will take place on Saturday, November 22nd at 1PM, across from Westin Nova Scotian at the corner of South St. and Hollis St.

For some of the organizers, it’s not just about the Forum or even NATO and American Imperialism. Su Donovaro says, “For the Ladle, we think a lot about capitalism [. . .] I think it’s a sense of value, and valuing people, and respect for people versus valuing money. War is all about capitalism . . .”

Brad Fougรจre is a minimum-wage portrait photographer, and a member of Anarchist Initiative.

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