Canada Foreign Policy
Where’s Canada, and other Chinese Curses?
May you get everything you wish for, and may you live in interesting times. The world is changing, and now there’s no doubt the emerging global system threatens to leave Canada well behind.
The public goes to the polls on 28 June 2004 to elect a new federal parliament, and for the first time in well over a decade there is some suspense. Apathy, scandals, and cynicism about politicians may conspire to produce surprisingly low voter participation that could, in turn, skew the results. No one doubts the Liberals will resurface as the largest party in a 308-seat legislature, but how far from a majority remains a wide open question. Some polling data suggest the new Conservative Party, with perhaps only a hundred seats or so, could be poised to form the slimmest of minority governments in coalition with the Bloc Quebecois, should Liberal fortunes in Quebec continue to falter. Jack Layton’s New Democratic Party (NDP), meanwhile, is all but entertaining open dialogue about what it intends to do in Cabinet once it allies with the subdued Liberals.
Foreign policy and international relations have made cameo appearances on the agenda, but not in ways that might give any candidate advantages. Instead where international affairs have found a forum, the result has been to highlight politicians’ naivete or the degree to which Canada has lost influence.
Tory Leader Stephen Harper, a supporter of Coalition efforts in Iraq, now goes on record suggesting that had Canada backed the invasion, no Canadians would have numbered among the casualties. Washington, he says, understands this country’s lack of military preparedness and would have accepted only our moral support. Yet Liberals are taking pleasure in reminding that Harper once advocated sending soldiers. A visit to the Liberal-sponsored www.stephenharpersaid.ca reveals statements made by the Tory chief where he says “we support the war effort and believe we should be supporting our troops and our allies and be there with them doing everything necessary to win” (originally published in Montreal Gazette
, 2 April 2003). Harper even claimed to be speaking for Canada’s “silent majority” (CP, 3 April 2003). Hindsight suggests Harper may have no students of geopolitics in his coterie, and his implied beliefs in Canadians’ convictions on Iraq, the ease of consolidating victory in that conflict, and a faith in being able to avoid casualties were ill-informed at best. Yet his judgements on the Middle East crises do not appear to be an issue with the public, with polls showing his fortunes continuing to rise.
Liberals’ ability to perhaps be more in tune with geopolitical realities is far from suggesting this can help them in any way. In fact, if voters were to dissect Liberal pronouncements with any degree of care, they might just conclude Prime Minister Martin is either living in denial about Canada’s capacities, or consciously distorting our ability to keep pace with global change. For instance, Martin has mentioned Canada’s membership in the G8, and has said he will attend a gathering next month prepared to defend Canadians’ interests by lobbying for lower world energy prices. While he just may give an eloquent speech, will anyone really notice? Already thinkers who purport an ability to look past ongoing crises, terrorism, and the Middle East are noticing that centers of financial and political power are migrating, and China, India and several other emerging economies are about to surface as new suzerains. In a world where Beijing will exercise much more control, there is a question about Canada, and whether or not this country even deserves membership in the G8. In his 19 May 2004 Toronto Star
column, David Crane cites several reports, including one prepared by investment bank Goldman Sachs called Growth and Development: The Path to 2050
, and stresses: “ ‘If the G-7[G8] were to become a forum where true worldwide economic policy co-ordination was discussed, the U.S., Japan, Germany, France and the U.K. would be joined by China and India rather than Italy and Canada,’ the Goldman Sachs report argues, on the grounds that these emerging economies will increasingly be more important than Canada or Italy” [Toronto Star
, 19 May 2004, cited in http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1084918210432&call_pageid=968350072197&col=969048863851].
Is Stephen Harper thankful his wishes about Iraq have yet to be granted, and will Paul Martin ever explain how interesting this country’s future just might be?
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Terror Canada, and They Say They’ll Leave
Some very quiet events over the past few days may, many, many years from now, come to be regarded as a point that marked a departure from how foreign policy is conducted. Right now, undoubtedly the worst thing that could happen to Prime Minister Paul Martin and Tory leader Stephen Harper is a public demand to treat international politics as a top priority. That just won’t happen this year, but if it were to take place, the upcoming late June election could get very interesting.
Harper has already said that he supports the idea of a much more active Canadian role in Iraq, a position he might not want to have brought up just yet. Martin has embraced former Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s decision to keep the Canadian military formally out of Iraq, even noting the idea of an intervention has always been unpopular with Canadians. Both leaders may just come to the understanding that avoiding foreign affairs as much as possible may be the best way to secure their respective electoral interests. And they will both have so much going for them.
First of all, most Canadians simply don’t think about the outside world. Undoubtedly what they will want to hear from the politicians after the election is called in a week or so is how any new government will fix the health care crisis, manage pensions, take down gas prices at the pumps, and handle the economy. Second, since the end of World War Two, Canada has been on a track that has led it away from traditional geopolitical discourse. While pre-WWII leaders like Bennett and King may have been preoccupied with Empire, world affairs, Canada’s options for exercising independence, the generations growing up since that conflict have thrived in a culture where that type of debate became obsolete. The post-WWII world order has made fashionable peacekeeping, the legacy of Prime Minister Lester Pearson, and an acknowledgement that External Affairs does its best work when it considers the rights of the individual over issues that dwell on state interests. As one observer notes, “During the last few years Canada had successfully attracted attention on the international arena, i.e. due to its ‘human security’ concept, which puts the security of the individual above the security of the state. It was in many respects assisted by the Canadian non-governmental organizations active in the international field whose support was sought as part of the country's ‘public diplomacy’ approach.” [cited in http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/www/en/laenderinfos/laender/laender_ausgabe_html?type_id=11&land_id=75]. Finally, Canada has nurtured an academic tradition that affirms a commitment to geopolitics, but which in fact evades the subject almost entirely, replacing analysis of the wider world with discussion of how Canada may limit its global affairs and obligations. Analysts who fall into this camp typically say things like Canada should adopt a psychology of ‘cost cutting,’ deciding, for instance, that making a commitment to the Balkans is too far removed from the national interest, while troubles in, say, Haiti, warrant Ottawa’s close attention.
But the pendulum may be swinging back to a position where the old variables of geopolitics may be making a comeback, perhaps in the decades if not weeks to come. Being able to stand away from talk of traditional world politics may not be an effective strategy for much longer, and the first unambiguous sign comes from what’s taking place around Iraq. In a series of statements made these past days, members of the Coalition have come as close as they are likely to admitting the limitations of their power, and to floating an exit strategy trial balloon. While far from any ‘cut and run’ plan, remarks from high ranking US and UK officials hint at a desire to pull back from the Middle East and to cope with the constraints of their own power by internationalizing managing the war. US Secretary of State Colin Powell went on record stating that any new interim governing authority in Iraq ought to be given as much power as possible. “The United States is anxious to give as much power and authority to this government as it can handle,” he said, also adding that “were this interim government to say to us: ‘We really think we can handle this on our own; it would be better for you to leave,’ we would leave.” [quoted from a piece by Beth Gorham, US Military Abuse Scandal Won’t Affect Co-operation in Iraq, says Graham, 15 May 2004, Canadian Press, posted at http://www.canada.com/national/story.html?id=2fdc3f93-7e93-43a8-b4da-61fd00039b06]. UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw echoed Powell, but stressed “I know of nobody . . . who cares about Iraq's future stability who believes that that stability would be best served by an abrupt withdrawal of the multinational forces which are there.” [quoted in Gorham, http://www.canada.com/national/story.html?id=2fdc3f93-7e93-43a8-b4da-61fd00039b06]. US top Administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, read from the same song sheet, observing: “If the provisional government [due to take office 30 June 2004] asks us to leave we will leave…I don’t think that will happen, but obviously we don’t stay in countries where we’re not welcome.” [AP report, 14 May 2004]. It was in this context that troop requests from allied countries were made. For its part, France reaffirmed commitments to reconstruction, but Foreign Minister Michel Barnier also said “There will be no French troops, not here, not now, not tomorrow.” [cited in Gorham]. For his part, Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said that Canada’s forces were too active and that resources were already stretched to the maximum with efforts in Afghanistan and Haiti.
Graham’s very diplomatic response did not slam shut the door to the possibility of participation at some point. But how will the world look when Canada may have to face this question again? If parties in and around Iraq take at face value claims that coalition forces would consider leaving, a whole series of intriguing and dangerous scenarios may be played out. Best cases rarely materialize, so I assume for the sake of argument here that Iraq will not be transformed into a shining beacon of democracy by early or mid-2005. I shall not entertain optimism. While worst case scenarios are also unlikely, they do help plan for some bleak eventualities that may come up. So the farther away from the best of all possible worlds we go, we might see Iraqis coming to regard troop reductions as a signal that internal ethnic conflicts may come to be played out. Kurds in the north may make a run at outright independence, triggering a Turkish military intervention, which in turn may involve the interests of other Balkan actors, who might traipse through the region, looking for work as ‘consultants’ or ‘contractors.’ Any Iranian Shiite mercenaries already in Iraq may have their numbers swell. Geopolitical instability could rock the wider region, and solutions for containing what could be a growing conflict may have to take account of a number of territories. Rather than perhaps having to cope with a handful of dysfunctional countries that exist as little more than glorified terrorist training camps, the world may have to deal with a dozen or so failed states. How long Canada may remain aloof has already been questioned. Ward Elcock, retiring Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), recently explained at a House of Commons committee meeting that “As Al Qaeda directly threatened Canadians twice in as many years, the last time only a month ago, it is therefore safe to assume that it is no longer a question of if, but rather of when or where, we will be specifically targeted.” [cited in Canadian Press, 6 May 2004].
Paul Martin and Stephen Harper may be grateful that most, if not all, candidates seeking to become Members of Parliament don’t, won’t or simply can’t talk about foreign affairs, and that the Canadian public will not be calling for such a debate in election year 2004.
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Just a quick update with some of my favourite pages on the net. This list will be growing.
If you're a fellow Canadian but say your interest, because of the state of the world right now, is what's going on in Washington, make sure to visit:
I also check in with:
For anyone interested in Canadian military, strategic issues I urge you take a look at:
Essays of Interest:
(Ignatieff and a new Canadian foreign policy blueprint?)
(Think you really understand Michael Moore and his version of 9/11?)
(A thoughful essay by Dr. Daniel Nelson)
(Mihalka and Cohen on cooperative security)
(Adair's fine essay looks at geopolitics and energy)
And if you're tired of big picture politics, or maybe just want some local news from my hometown, try:
Finally, here's some most excellent analysis and reporting from around the regions (and by regions, I mean Manitoba--west):
PM in America, or, Why Does Paul Martin Go to Washington?
There are days when Ottawa’s relations with Washington make it necessary for some Canadian official to travel to the United States to remind anyone who’ll listen that our two countries indeed have special ties. At times, those bonds are very extraordinary, arguably disturbingly so.
In the early-mid 1980s Tory Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made certain that dealings with our southern neighbours would be understood as cordial. He invited then President Ronald Reagan to the Canadian capital and left the world with an image of the two facing-off on stage, serenading one another with choruses of Irish Eyes Are Smiling. After years of tensions, some type of reconciliation was warranted. Back in 1971 President Richard Nixon made known his disdain for the Canadian government by calling Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau “a pompous egghead,” and while official relations throughout that decade might have been proper, they were rarely warm.
And with this we arrive at the mystery that is the recent DC visit by sitting Prime Minister Paul Martin. Shortly after ousting Chretien in December 2003, Martin made it know he would restore, revitalize, reinvigorate the relationship with our continental cousins. Why he needed to do this might have had something to do with the personal disdain that Bush and Chretien held for one another. While it was an open secret the two couldn’t stand to be in the same room together, the acrimony didn’t really make a public appearance until late 2002. It was at the NATO summit in Prague, held back then, that the PM’s top aide, Francoise Ducros, called Bush “a moron.” At first, Chretien did nothing, allowing the remark made on 20 November 2002 to slide. Evidently the thinking was that while the slur was mouthed to a member of the press, it was uttered off the record, in confidence. About a week later Ducros tendered a letter of resignation, admitting her position had grown “untenable.” Damage done. But didn’t Chretien fix everything by rising to the President’s defense, allowing Ducros to leave her post and by calling Bush “a friend” who was “not a moron at all”? (quotes here appear in reports by the BBC, 26 November 2002. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2516939.stm)
Martin arrived in the US capital for his first public event on 29 April 2004. In his Woodrow Wilson Center speech he said that his predecessor’s decision to stand away from the military conflict in Iraq was not only defensible, it was the “right” thing to do, “and Canadians supported it.” He went on, stressing Canada would be active around the world, assisting in rebuilding “failing and failed states,” emphasizing the crucial role Ottawa could play in supporting “democratic governance”. Nowhere were Canada’s talents in greater need than in Iraq itself (for the full text of the Prime Minister’s speech see http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news.asp?id=192). The next day, when Martin met Bush, the affair went off without any friction. Bush, a gracious host, thanked Martin for Canada’s military support in several geo-political hotspots, mentioning Haiti and Afghanistan. He went on, observing that Canada was an independent nation with particular and distinct foreign policy interests and objectives. Various issues, from mad cow and the cattle trade to softwood lumber tariffs, were discussed with both leaders sounding optimistic solutions could be reached, but with no firm deadlines fixed. Martin reciprocated with generous rhetoric of his own, reiterating that Canada would not leave Iraq unattended, promising about $300 million for civilian reconstruction and pledging to forgive some $750 million in Iraqi loans. He also insisted Canada was dedicated to beefing up North American security with some $690 million in funding.
Other topics, from environmental policies to missile defense were discussed, but nothing seemed to get resolved. Perhaps the intention of the face-to-face was never to actually smooth out any outstanding issues. The objective, from Martin’s perspective, may have been to pay a courtesy call, but surely one that would raise the PM’s standing both at home and abroad. Yet if that had been the intent, how is one to explain why the event provided Martin with little, if any, public relations windfall? Why is it that within days of Martin returning to Ottawa any memory of the meeting appears to have been wiped off the collective Canadian consciousness? If any image endures, it is likely to be that of a relaxed Martin telling reporters he had conversations about baseball with the President, and was surprised to learn US national security advisor Condoleezza Rice knew so much about football and hockey. If at the very least the trip was supposed to be a way of gaining a better understanding of Washington politics, how is one to account for at least several electronic media images of Martin looking so distracted? Why did Bush seem diverted?
In fairness, Martin had and has an election to worry about, and polling day may come as early as 28 June 2004. If he wins a majority government, it is likely to be by the slimmest of margins. In addition to his own re-election worries, Bush needed to concentrate on testimonies, inquiries, terrorism, and the growing crises in and stemming from Iraq. There are more than a few factors that might explain why the leaders merely appeared to be going through motions, pro forma, meeting because both had penciled the date in their day planners. Just how Canada-US relations were served by this tete-a-tete remains the wide-open question.
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