Canada Invades Norway
On 14 April 2004 Paul Martin said that Canada had invaded Norway, and in doing so contributed to safeguarding freedom and democracy. The Prime Minister made the claim not once, but at least twice. Of course what he meant to say, but didn’t, was that Canada had invaded NORMANDY, his comments honouring all those who participated in the D-Day landing on 6 June 1944.
Any conspiracy theorist, including the novice, must subscribe to at least two basic, immutable beliefs. First, there is the assumption that no political leader says or does anything by accident, no matter how seemingly absurd the actions or speeches may appear on the surface. Second, one must be of the opinion that ranking politicians come in one of three broad types: they may be geniuses, skilled at manipulation; buffoons, operating at all times as the objects of behind-the-scenes puppet masters; or, they may be survivalists, simply clinging to their tenures and luxuries afforded by public office because they are more than willing to take orders issued by more powerful individuals or shadowy secret societies.
Martin’s supporters explain that the leader of the Liberal Party and PM is more than merely one of the most knowledgeable public figures the country has ever had. They say his politics, including if not especially his foreign policy, will mark a departure from the way business as usual has been conducted. So far, what little fanfare there has been, points to nothing earthshaking. Yet if one were to sift through the shards, one might be left with the impression that indeed significant developments are in the offing.
It is through an examination of the historical record that a big picture starts to emerge. Go back to the early days of the post-Second World War era. To be more precise, it was on 9 September 1945 that a clerk, Igor Gouzenko, walked out of the Soviet embassy in Ottawa with over a hundred sensitive documents stuffed in his clothing and defected. This event, which came to be known as the Gouzenko Affair, not only provided proof that communist agents succeeded in infiltrating the Canadian armed forces and government, but stands as the moment to which one may pinpoint the start of the Cold War. It happened on Canadian soil.
Some years later, in 1973, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau became the first Western leader to penetrate the Bamboo Curtain. Trudeau, his admirers say, was a visionary. He had long contended that China ought to be recognized as a major international player. And while a famous 1952 remark at a Moscow economic summit about being a communist may have just been a joke taken out of context, it proved the man who would be PM a decade and a half later was not paranoid and didn’t have Bolsheviks on the brain. While US President Richard Nixon may be the one most remembered for opening the West to relations with Beijing, it took a Canadian to prove to Washington the path to the Chinese capitol could be traveled without apprehension, or so goes the argument.
Fast forward to the present, and we just may be witnessing events unfolding that will become as profound as the Gouzenko Affair or Trudeau’s China trek. On 17 April 2004 the Dalai Lama arrived in Vancouver for a 19-day Canada-wide visit. Already Prime Minister Martin has gone on record saying he is looking forward to speaking with the spiritual leader. When they do meet, the encounter will mark a quiet but momentous departure from past practices. Previous PMs, notably Tory leader Brian Mulroney and Martin’s Liberal predecessor, Jean Chretien, have refused to even consider meetings while holding office, noting that to do so would run the risk of straining relations with Beijing, which regards the Dalai Lama as the leading representative of the Tibetan separatist movement.
Is Canada, through Prime Minister Martin’s leadership, once more setting itself up as the barometer of international public opinion? And so what was that about Norway?
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I expect to have the next essay by 20 April. I'm also working on links, and hope to have those identified and posted in about a month or so.
Thanks Uncle Joe
Sociology has its limitations. This certainly isn’t unique to that field, not at all. Yet its pioneers and practitioners contend they understand social facts like no one else. Overlooked or not appreciated is the simple reality that methodologies remain straight jacketed by extant intellectual trends. As the founders of the pursuit dealt with political issues, they seemingly could not envision any collective beyond the scope of the state, or nation-state, for the modern world. While empires lingered and were acknowledged, they were dealt with as relics of less advanced periods in human history. Transnational organizations, such as religions, were seen as almost by definition lacking the power of the state. Real societies, in other words, did not extend past state borders. Such prejudices are perhaps most pronounced in the biases and assumptions made by Karl Marx, philosopher and godfather of many who practice some form of applied sociology.
Marx’s most famous, or infamous, adherent was Bolshevik leader and father of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin. He led a revolution in 1917 that destroyed the Russian autocracy and promised to recognize and support radicals abroad. Yet his intellectual baggage compelled him to see the world system in terms of state entities, where revolutions would take place, but well within the confines of national borders. First Germany, Hungary, France and so on, would fall to internal social pressures and a Marxist-Leninist world recognizing proletarian regimes would arise, respectful of separate states defined by their borders. Perhaps Lenin’s lieutenant, Leon Trotsky, had some vision of a world without states, arguing that given Russia had collapsed even the notion of something like a foreign ministry could be consigned to the dustbin of history. His rhetoric and influence proved short lived, and among the greatest human assets the nascent Soviet government could claim were to be found in a reconstituted foreign ministry. It is fashionable to regard Lenin’s successor, Joseph Stalin, as an intellectual luddite and even poorer theoretician. Yet he took Leninism and redefined it in terms of where believed real strength was to be found in international relations—in the form of empire. Over time, Stalin’s notions of Soviet Empire succumbed to Russian interests, and some have argued that the USSR became little more than an extension of a Russian state.
My first point here is quite simple. Though the builders of the Soviet Union promised they would introduce a system so radically different, so fundamentally hostile to how the international community worked, they were bound by notions of the state that consigned all their efforts, almost from the beginning, to failure. Could creative thinking have saved the Soviet experiment? While that’s highly doubtful, it is certain that the ultimately conventional constraints of a Marxist view of nation-state world order made novel thinking impossible and helped cement the Bolsheviks’ demise. In addition, archaic internal practices that included torture, brutality, and central planning with seemingly little awareness of how economics worked, guaranteed that the leaders of the USSR were architects and visionaries only in the field of building up what we’ve come to know as failed states.
So why do I bring up any of this? Stalin, or Uncle Joe to some in the Anglo world who came to know of him through propaganda during the Second World War, may have appeared to be a threat to global democracy and international order. As long as Moscow could depend on its military and intelligence networks, there may have been a case to be made. However, as long as Lenin’s successors looked at their domain as something contained within borders, to be defended by armies, a key to their defeat rested in answers just as conventional. Prepared militaries, inter-state alliances, diplomacy and political bargaining all hastened the USSR’s passing.
How important these conventional enterprises remain can be seen when we begin to weigh the substance of foreign policy debates taking shape within our own borders. Some Canadian analysts today say that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s tenure represents the period in our history which saw not only the weakening, but dismantling of this country’s military and defense infrastructures. Critics of Chretien’s ten years in office stress the armed forces were cash starved to death, with some $20 billion being taken out of defense coffers during that time. However, some backers of the former Prime Minister hail him as a visionary, as someone who understood that not only Canada’s national interests but very livelihood rested not in building up arms, but in freeing up resources that could be used to support cutting-edge approaches in international affairs. Yet even the most vocal advocates of NGO work in foreign policy, and of aid to failed states, either do not or cannot envision an international order in which countries fail to play a fundamental, defining role.
Armies, defense budgets, aid to countries, and the fine work of the NGO community are in no way about to become obsolete. Yet the question remains: can we ever find ourselves in situations where the old ways of thinking and the tried and true methods of statecraft no longer help us? Could we be there now? Have we simply been fortunate that our main adversaries in the past century could be constrained by traditional methods, and that their own threats of creating a new world order were stillborn, lacking even the intellectual capital to get off the ground? Is Al Qaeda, for instance, an adversary that can be contained or constrained by the traditional tools that have served states so well for so long, or is this organization a true political and intellectual challenge? Can such a body ever be the main danger to Western democracy, or will it ultimately show itself a transnational, trans-state entity headed for oblivion? Furthermore, will settling what appear at first glance as conventional demands for statehood and territory hold the key in all cases to a safer world? Can, for example, a resolution to the question of Kosovo’s status really be the simple key that will end disputes in Southeast Europe, or can discord in that and other multi-ethnic hotspots take on a transnational, and potentially even more volatile, dimension?
In retrospect, the Soviets might turn out to have been easy opposition. So maybe it’s not too late to say Thanks Uncle Joe, thanks for being such a pushover.
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A new essay will be posted no later than 5 April.