Canada embargoes Turkey arms and locks itself out of future defence procurements

On April 12, 2021 Canadian, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau announced that the federal government was ending all arms sales to Turkey as a result of the last year’s conflict in the contested area of Nagorno-Karabakh. During the war, Turkish backed Azeri troops retook most of the contested region after a month and a half of bloody fighting that saw brutality and atrocities committed by both sides.

Prominently featured in online videos were the drone strikes on Armenian positions that Azeri forces conducted using Turkish made Baykar TB2 drones.

Baykar, the drone manufacturer, seems unphased by the effect of the Canadian arms embargo on Turkey. Canada’s aerospace industry has been supplying camera parts to Baykar but Selcuk Byraktar, chief technological officer (CTO) of the company and son in law of Turkish President Erdogan, stated that Turkey already produces 93 per cent of its drone parts domestically, and features from Canada are not needed.

The only thing Canada has achieved is to shut itself out of a competitive aerospace and arms industry that is manufacturing drones for far cheaper than other allied powers. According to a Guardian article, a Baykar drone costs between one- to two-million dollars to produce, while the British military paid nearly $20 million a piece for U.S.-made drones. As the global battlefield has shifted, the Canadian Armed Forces has shown interest in purchasing armed combat drones. Now, instead of having the prospect of securing a cheaper combat-proven weapon system like the TB2, we've now locked ourselves out, a guarantee that we will be paying more for the American-made systems.

This policy move is yet another misstep of the Liberal government on foreign relations matters. Canada's embargo of  Turkey, a NATO partner that can buy products from any NATO country with relative ease will do very little except hurt Canada-Turkey relations. Turkey is the second military power in the alliance with the most serving troops and has the largest army after the United States. If Turkey were to invoke article 5 of the NATO collective security agreement, Canada would still have to support Turkey in possible military operations, as we did with the United States in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Turkish security operations in the Kurdistan region of Syria and the support for Azerbaijan are happening outside of NATO approval; nobody denies that. However, the United States engaged in an unnecessary war in Iraq in 2003 that has destabilized the entire region and led Turkey into a more dire security situation, yet Canada did not embargo the United States or the United Kingdom for their role in the Iraq war. 

A more telling tale of Canada's warped foreign policy exploits of alienating friendly nations and allies and supporting rogue regimes is Canada's arms deal with the Saudi government. Valued at over $14 billion, over $2.9 billion of weapons were exported in 2019 alone. Saudi Arabia domestically acts like an ‘Islamic North Korea’ where decapitation is still a legal punishment, and civil liberties are non-existent. The Saudi army has committed war crimes in Yemen and uses starvation as a weapon. Yemen is a modern-day genocide with 233,000 people dead, primarily from hunger. Canada is complicit in it by selling arms to the regime that prolongs the country’s suffering.

Turkey does not have this stain on its human rights record by contrast. Although the Erdogan regime is conservative and more religious than previous Turkish governments, Turkey remains a secular state and partner in global security and military alliances.

When the Nagorno-Karabakh war started in September, Liberal MP for Vimy, Anne Koutrakis, came out against the Azeri and Turkish forces almost immediately. In doing so, Koutrakis tainted the Canadian government's ability to remain neutral in a conflict that did not affect our security interests. More troubling was the Liberal governments' laissez-faire approach to Ms. Koutrakis, a backbencher MP whose own plan to set the record straight seems to have paid off.

In effect, the Trudeau government has decided to alienate a NATO ally (Turkey) and shut ourselves out of cheaper arms procurement to appease a small minority of Canadians who promote the false premise that Turkey is Canada's adversary. Meanwhile the same Canadian government supports Canadian companies who sell arms to the brutal regime in Saudi Arabia.