The Saudi arms deal – the sale of Light Armoured Vehicles to the autocratic and rigidly puritanical Saudi Arabia regime – may not be ideal, writes Brian Lee Crowley. But as the lesser of two evils it is still the right decision.
By Brian Lee Crowley, April 22, 2016
Rarely has the right decision been so ineptly defended.
Critics have been ripping into the decision of the Trudeau government not merely to allow the export of Canadian-made Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, but to have actually signed the export permits that made it possible (as opposed to those conveniently dastardly Tories). The ground for the attacks has been that Saudi Arabia might use those vehicles against their own population.
That is not an unreasonable fear. The rigidly autocratic and puritanical Saudi kingdom is not a model of Trudeauesque hugs-and-singalongs-around-the national-campfire. But in the face of this powerful moral critique of its policy, the best the Liberals can come up with is a limp business rationale: no one will want to do business with us if we don’t honour our contractual commitments.
Where were these guys when the Chretien government spent billions to cancel a helicopter contract negotiated by their Tory predecessors? China arbitrarily broke many contractual commitments when it imposed its rare earths export ban, a policy intended to damage the economies of Japan and other Western countries, yet the abject slavering of the business class to do deals in China has now passed absurdity and reached the level of low farce.
The rigidly autocratic and puritanical Saudi kingdom is not a model of Trudeauesque hugs-and-singalongs-around-the national-campfire.
The only way to respond to an attack on the morality of the LAV transaction is with a morally-based answer. The almighty dollar doesn’t yet trump everything else.
The starting point for that answer must be that Canada and its allies are at war in the Middle East. The Liberals, far from their promise to extricate us from the battle against ISIS, have now embarked on a combat mission which will likely put more Canadians in harm’s way than its predecessor.
Having made this commitment – not least on human-rights grounds, given the appalling abuses that take place under ISIS’s auspices – we are not merely entitled, but we have an obligation to do all that reason, duty and honour permit to protect our forces and achieve victory in the field.
That requires knowing who our friends and enemies are. Arrayed against us are ISIS and the al-Nusra Front together with thousands of Islamic radicals and their sympathisers from around the world.
On our side are NATO allies such as the US, Britain and France, as well as local regimes with an interest in regional stability, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
We have an obligation to do all that reason, duty and honour permit to protect our forces and achieve victory in the field.
In time of war many of the ethical niceties of peacetime must be shelved. That includes giving comfort and support to allies about whom you have moral reservations but who may be essential to victory.
Readers of the National Post may have seen there a recent piece celebrating one of Canada’s greatest contributions to WW II, namely our vast production of well-designed trucks and tanks. Who was one of our biggest customers? The mass-murdering regime of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The world is an ethically messy place that sometimes requires us not to choose between absolute good and bad, but between the lesser of two evils. Is it less than ideal to sell LAVs to Saudi Arabia? Yes. Would it be worse for ISIS to establish unchallenged its murderous regime guilty of some of the most heinous human rights violations in recent memory, including mass executions of innocent civilians and the sexual enslavement of thousands of women? Undoubtedly yes.
The world is an ethically messy place that sometimes requires us not to choose between absolute good and bad, but between the lesser of two evils.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia is the chief regional bulwark against an Iran seeking regional hegemony and the export of its Islamic Revolution. Containing and managing Iran is very much in Canada’s interests because the chances are great we would be drawn into any major international conflict the Islamic Republic’s dangerous behaviour provoked.
Seeking and relying on the support of Saudi Arabia in our justified struggle and then refusing to supply them with the means to be an effective ally would be self-defeating and hypocritical in the extreme. Wishing our choices could be different does not make it so.
Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.