From Reform to Lethal Force
Not much in the world is changing, or is it? The case may be made there is very little that’s fundamentally different for you, if you happen to be a ranking member of the Canadian foreign policy brain trust. For sure, there are those members of the international community you see slacking off, failing to live up to commitments and obligations, but that’s about all really.
On 16 September 2005 Prime Minister Paul Martin, attending the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, delivered a speech that has been variously described as a “scathing critique” [See for example CTV, 17 September 2005, “Martin Delivers Scathing Critique of UN Failures.” Story posted at http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1126878834611_122288034/?hub=TopStories
] and “terse” [See “Editorial: Martin’s UN Blast,” Toronto Star
, 19 September 2005. Story posted at http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&amp;cid=1126907412949&call_pageid=968256290204&col=968350116795
]. Martin attacked the organization, claiming that much of its work had devolved to the point of “empty rhetoric” while the world waited for “concrete results” [http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&amp;cid=1126907412949&call_pageid=968256290204&col=968350116795].
Martin’s is a “profound disappointment” with how the international body deals with human rights issues. He added that now the UN Commission on Human Rights finds itself saddled with a “serious credibility problem.” At the same time he said, “Canada cannot conceive of a world succeeding without the United Nations” [cited in http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1126878834611_122288034/?hub=TopStories
]. He noted that he had wanted other issues to find their way on the agenda, mentioning AIDS and nuclear disarmament, but understood that terrorism would occupy most attendees most of the time. Martin’s prescription for the UN was a hefty dose of reform, not radicalism. All the problems faced by the international body could be overcome if only it could rededicate itself to plans and strategies already agreed upon, and if efforts making those plans workable were redoubled. The rhetoric may have been scathing, but the message comes across as fairly benign.
The PM never questioned the importance of the UN; he only railed against its inability, as he saw it, to meet its commitments. But was advocating reform Martin’s only objective? Is there not a possibility that his rhetoric may have signalled something much more profound? Perhaps, say a serious shift in Canadian foreign policy? No doubt many analysts of Martin’s performance at the UN will continue to stress how far from radical his remarks were. That may have been the point. Perhaps the real aim was to use the UN performance to distract from another agenda, to deflect from real intent, and to register disappointment now as a means of later recalling that element in order to restructure policy approaches. Public diplomacy, especially that which comes from large multilateral or multinational settings, rarely suggests meaningful change to the status quo. Martin certainly did not deviate from this tradition, at least not very much. But could his harsh rhetoric have been intended only to register current disapproval as a way of sometime returning in the future to the theme of needing to restructure or redefine Canada’s foreign relations?
There is some evidence now beginning to surface that suggests official Ottawa just may be reconsidering its peacekeeping commitments. Now, that’s very far from saying Canada will ever be out of the peacekeeping business, or that any reconsideration of that role can or will lead to major policy reversals. Yet reports over the past several days show Canadian troops are now as involved in peace making, as they are in peacekeeping. On 20 September 2005, Stephen Thorne, writing in the National Post
, began his coverage with the observation: “Canadian special forces troops have killed and captured Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan, the head of defence operations acknowledged in an unprecedented look at his secretive commando unit”. What this means is that “Canadian troops, operating under U.S. command with approvals from the chief of defence staff, have the authority to use lethal force where necessary. And they have, indeed, used it…” [See Stephen Thorne’s piece, posted at http://www.canada.com/national/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=09796cf6-4d27-45c0-8aa8-000635348915].
Critics of Canadian policy, and those committed to seeing Ottawa’s activities as nothing short of representing the cutting edge of neo-imperialism, already claim this country is perpetrating “war crimes.” One British MP, anti-war activist George Galloway, recently remarked that Ottawa’s decision to stay out of Iraq did little to quell Canadian neo-colonialism. Instead, Canada opts to serve imperialist aggression by showing up in Afghanistan. “I'm amazed that so many people in Canada believe they’re not apart of this crime [war in Iraq]… Your ships in the Gulf and your soldiers in Afghanistan are doing the dirty work of (US President) George W. Bush and (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair. They are freeing American ships and soldiers to go to Fallujah and massacre the people of Iraq,” says Galloway [quoted in http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2005-09/18/content_3506056.htm].
I suppose my only question really is: Was Martin’s rhetoric at the UN only the first signal, a way of softening up the international community for the possibility that, should UN reform fall flat, Canada may be expected to seek out other ways of expressing its foreign policy interests? Indeed the UN remains of vital importance. But maybe, perhaps at some date far in the future, could it not become the case that the Coalition of the Willing could become as, if not more, important a tool for the Canadian PM and policymakers?
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