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CANADA: Peace Scholars See Shrinking Space for Dissent

Paul Weinberg

TORONTO, Mar 2 2007 (IPS) - Can Canadians have a fair debate on their military mission in southern Afghanistan when so many of the sources quoted in the domestic press are bankrolled by the Department of National Defence (DND)?

That’s the worry of peace studies experts who point out that a disproportionate number of those quoted by the media or penning op-eds on foreign affairs hail from the 14 defence, international studies and military history programmes across the country receiving DND dole-outs.

Peter Langille, a University of Western Ontario professor specialising in conflict resolution, has a word for the scholarly recipients of such funds – “embedded”. He’s critical of the federal department’s 2.13-million-dollar annual Security and Defence Forum (SDF) programme, which shells out funds for research.

“It has a near monopoly over discussion and programmes not only of defence issues, but also IR [international relations studies] within Canadian academe,” he said, referring to the prevalence of a paradigm inclined toward a “long war” policy and expansion of the military sector.

It’s a worry shared by Mark Vorobej, acting director at the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton. The problem for conflict resolution programmes everywhere, Vorobej says, is that they don’t have powerful allies but instead have to shuffle along on ad hoc funding and indifference from university administrations.

“We have a solid track record of delivering a substantial bang for the miserly buck the university gives us, but after 17 years, we still do have not a single faculty position,” Vorobej said.

Things are certainly flush at the SDF-supported Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, headed by the oft-quoted David Bercuson, who champions a stronger defence sector and a sustained war against the Taliban. The last 18 months, he admits, have been good ones for advocates of military preparedness. “I’d like to think that we have had some impact on government thinking, both the previous government’s and the current one’s,” he said.

It’s the same sense of satisfaction expressed by Queen’s University’s Doug Bland, chair of the DND-financed defence management studies programme. He helped edit the book “Canada Without Armed Forces?”, which was instrumental in a 10.9-billion-dollar bump in military expenditures over the next five years in the 2005 federal budget.

Have proponents of a stronger military been able to set the tone? IPS asked. “Oh, absolutely,” said Bland. “In fact, I just got off the phone for an hour with somebody from CanWest News. The media come to us almost all the time looking for background.” Kim Richard Nossal, head of political science at Queen’s and a member of a committee that decides which centres get SDF funding, believes Langille has got it terribly wrong. But he does admit that defence academics tend not to stray too far from politics as they are now arranged. “At one level Peter is correct,” Nossal said. “There are very few people who do defence studies from a radical perspective, that is, non-mainstream and critical of the government’s perspective.”

One such “non-mainstream” scholar is University of British Columbia’s Michael Byers, an international law expert who’s been critical of Canada’s current Afghan mission. He talks about the potentially “chilling” impact DND munificence can have on academic research. That’s why he says he maintains a distance from the SDF funds flowing into the campus’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, where he is academic director.

“Out of respect for my colleagues’ freedom of decision making, the only steps I’ve taken are (a) not to use or benefit from the SDF money, and (b) to request that my name not be listed as part of the UBC stable of experts on applications for renewal of the funding.”

Not all of the SDF centres, however, are exactly alike. York University’s Centre for International and Security Studies, for one, promotes itself as more critical theory-oriented in areas like international relations than others. Last year, it had to go through considerable negotiation to fit the new scholarly priorities of DND, which include failed states, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and Canada-U.S. defence.

“There were very, very few references in York’s proposal to the word ‘defence’,” said Aaron Hywarren, director of public policy at DND, who says SDF gets a thousand inquiries a year from reporters seeking quotes from its subsidised academics.

David Dewitt, former director of the York centre, defends DND cash as a way of fostering new scholarship, but he is concerned nonetheless about a “narrowing” of the SDF criteria.

“The situation right now between the Department of National Defence and the pressure of the SDF group on academics is problematic and troubling, but is, perhaps, one of those things that will change when there is a change in government,” he said.

This is not to say that all defence scholars are wont to bolster the military quotient of Canada’s foreign policy. It’s just that those who don’t have a difficult time, as Walter Dorn, a professor at the Canadian Forces College (affiliated with the DND’s Royal Military College) has discovered.

Last March, Dorn found himself in the middle of a controversy when the minister of defence received complaints about his articles lamenting the demise of peacekeeping. The college’s principal stood up for Dorn’s academic freedom. The armed forces, Dorn says, resents “the public’s view that our soldiers are peacekeepers.”

But if not all military studies folk are hawkish, not all hawks get SDF funds for their research. Take the case of Jack Granatstein, York U professor emeritus and board member of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. He is near the top of the list of military experts quoted by the media, according a study by independent defence analyst Steven Staples.

Staples’s survey, which doesn’t include the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s national newspapers, concludes that from February to September 2006, Gen. Lewis Mackenzie was quoted 224 times in the press, Granatstein 133, the Conference of Defence Associations 96, the Mackenzie Institute 63 and Bercuson 56. Staples himself was the only conflict resolution expert to rate, with 126.

Granatstein, along with Bercuson, pushes an agenda that includes closer Canada/U.S. military cooperation and an abandonment of peacekeeping. But despite his high profile, he is demure. “I wish I had more influence,” Granatstein said, chuckling on the phone. He is working on a new lobby organisation, Canadians for Defence and Security, aimed specifically at countering peace advocates like Staples.

Staples, however, is doing some retrenching of his own, setting up a new think tank, the Rideau Institute. “My concern is that this intolerance for any discussion of policy that deviates from the priorities of the brass is spreading into the general public,” he said.

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