Canada Foreign Policy
Monday, October 31, 2005
  Pandemic Foreign Policy

Trade might force realignments that stem from a process that could span a generation or two, at least. China is no global superpower quite yet, though all indications are it will be by the middle of the century, if not sooner. India may be lagging, but that country’s economy should also be larger than the US’ by mid-century, if only just. If these and related trends continue unabated, fundamental geopolitical change may result by stealth. Europe and North America may become cultural and political backwaters, with the citizenry almost oblivious to new realities. How long after China and India, not to mention Latin America, Africa, and possibly even Siberia emerge as powers will Canadians, Americans and Europeans still manage to couple concepts of “those of us” alongside references to “in the richest countries.”

But what of other possibilities?

There is at least one scenario that suggests a violent restructuring of the international community not only can but also possibly will occur in a flash. While such a process may require longer than it takes to pull a trigger, it will not take much longer. The culprit is avian or bird flu. So far, it is nearly impossible to contract the disease, and even an intimate relationship, for example from afflicted hen to handler, does not guarantee an illness that more often than not results in death. But when a person who has contracted the ailment manages to pass it readily to another fellow human being, we may be on the verge of a pandemic that will reorder the world. The virus will have mutated and humanity may be wiped out.

Lest you suspect I exaggerate, one source argues scarcely more than a few or three dozen cases are needed to launch a virus that imperils humanity. Specifically, “just 40 people would be enough to start a global avian flu epidemic” [CTV News, 7 August 2005. Story posted at]. But don’t despair just yet: “…experts say one [pandemic] could be nipped in the bud with an aggressive attack…‘It is possible to stop transmission if we detect it early enough,’ Prof. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College in London, England said…” [cited in].

And while insisting that humanity itself could be wiped out is far too extreme, some say at the very least millions may perish. One source states “a worldwide pandemic from a mutated bird flu virus could kill anything from seven to 100 million people, according to worst-case scenarios being studied by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and scientists” [story posted at]. And what if the virus strikes our doctors and nurses first? Who will care for those clinging to survival? Could the toll well exceed 100 million?

The impact that avian flu could have on political and economic structures may be profound and catastrophic. The world as we know it may change in mere months. The workplace as we know it may become a thing of the past as employees, perhaps in vain, lock themselves away at home, seeking to avoid the infection. Travel would grind to a halt. Shipping of consumer and industrial goods would end.

But which is the more realistic scenario for change—the gradual unwinding of relations, as perhaps defined by trade, or a rapid collapse of the global system, perhaps after a sudden dose of avian pandemic? At this point, who knows? Yet if the past is any indication, those unsettling grandiose events are relatively few and tend not to materialize so often. Stating that, of course, is not to argue that another revolution, world war, or Spanish (or avian) flu epidemic is entirely impossible. On the other hand, not every arrangement promises to expire, and unravel the way Gorbachev’s Soviet Union did.

What tends to come about with great frequency is human nature’s way of equating emerging developments to those of the past—and so if that’s done this time, what can we safely observe? Well, oil prices are high, and while heading down in the short and medium term, are likely to spiral upwards within a decade. Gold is appreciating. There’s a superpower involved in small war, and doesn’t seem to know how to get out. Relations between Europe and the US are strained. There’s discord in the Middle East. There’s an epidemic about to break out and result in possibly millions of deaths, but swine flu fails to live up to its hype. Scandal and allegations of criminality plague the White House. And so far as culture goes, horror films, including those about exorcism, are making a comeback. Paul Martin makes a pale substitute for Pierre Trudeau, but at least the movies are about to serve up a fable about a giant ape that falls in love with a beautiful woman.

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Friday, October 28, 2005
  Continental Divide, or Trade Matters

What drives fundamental change? On the one hand, there are catastrophic or epochal events that trigger geopolitical realignments, overnight. For a while, media coverage of terrorism suggested this would be the force that just might undermine Western civilization with great rapidity, if not confronted head-on. More recently, both terrorism and its potential impact have dropped off the front pages. Then there are quiet disputes that gradually but with determined certainty, and almost imperceptibly, rot existing alliances and global patterns. The threat to world order might just rest as much in unglamorous, unspectacular evolution over a generation or so as it may in the sudden, dynamic happenings that drive transitions with unabating speed.

On 24 October 2005 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Canada for a two-day stopover. It was a trip delayed for roughly a year, and that owing to Canada’s backing away from aggressive and visible support for Washington’s plans to launch a missiles in space program. And so, after visiting roughly forty other countries, it was time for a meeting with Prime Minister Paul Martin and a rapprochement, or at least time for the pretence.

Differences that concerned both sides were discussed. For Americans, there was aid to Iraq and border security. For Martin, there was cross-border fire-arms smuggling and what the US could do to help find a solution, natural resources, and most especially the trade in softwood. Lumber stands out as perhaps the most aggravating issue between the two partners. For Canada, it may be of paramount concern; for Washington, it may not even be on the radar. And so, finding a resolution remains a priority for only one party. Following mention that some $5 billion is still owed Canada as a result of Washington allegedly unlawfully collecting tariffs on Canadian exports over the years, Rice simply joked that returning it was not possible at the moment, given she doesn’t travel with that kind of cash in her pocketbook [Global TV News, 25 October 2005]. Then she repeated calls for negotiations. Martin, meanwhile, likes to point to North American Free Trade Agreement panel rulings favouring Ottawa’s position, and notes therefore Canada neither would nor should comply with Washington’s demands to renogotiate a sealed deal. However, legal victories have not proved bankable, and brokering behind very closed doors is likely already going on.

Will views about trade prove so irreconciable that old relations between the two countries will never again be the same? Back in late September Mexico’s President Vicente Fox arrived for a brief visit with Martin, and the two Amigoes seemed to share ideas concerning trade, views that clashed sharply with Washington’s ideas and perceptions. While speaking at the Vancouver Board of Trade, Fox became openly critical of US practices, observing: “The NAFTA region is today the world's most dynamic with regard to trade exchanges…This agreement has served to increase trade volumes and subject them to rules that provide guarantees of legal certainty…Mexico regrets any unilateral decisions that fail to abide by the decisions of the arbitration panels where trade differences are discussed and aired” [Fox cited by Canadian Press, 30 September 2005].

But does this bloc within the NAFTA bloc, comprised of Canada and Mexico, come across as having either the stomach or means to establish a firmer, perhaps more combative or proactive bilateral stance? Ottawa at least appears to want to give the impression that other options are being explored. Perhaps stronger ties with Mexico, in the end, may be only a small part of a broader solution. The commodities bull market in natural resources has meant worldwide demand and, thus, prices for products such as softwood, oil, natural gas, copper, and so on are skyrocketing. And so, Ottawa asks: why, therefore, be chained to the US market? Commodites are abundant across the western provinces, and demand from China and India shows little sign of abating. So does this mean, as some officials speculate aloud, that trade can be redirected? This realignment must represent a fundamental and permanent change for our markets, and not be just a ploy to find buyers in the interim, allowing for ties between Washington and Ottawa to be cemented anew.

Do Canadians really have either the means or inclination to ship vast amounts of oil and lumber to China or India? The logistics are so daunting that almost certainly the answer is no, for now. Yet China and India may yet come to play an important role in the Canadian economy, and political scene. For instance, Chinese interests are taking over oil explorers and producers. Just recently Calgary-based PetroKazakhstan “announced today [26 October] that the acquisition of the Company for US$55.00 cash per share by CNPC International Ltd. (“CNPC”) pursuant to a Court-approved Plan of Arrangement has closed” [cited in PR Newswire, 26 October 2005]. So is it really fair to assume that continental North American trade and economic relations will forever remain unimpacted?

Stan Markotich
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Thursday, October 27, 2005
  Canada has issues with Iran:

And problems with Syria:

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Wednesday, October 26, 2005
  China and Russia, together again? And PM Martin thought he only had the rising economic powerhouse "Chindia" to worry about:

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Friday, October 14, 2005
  Is this the kind of issue that just may prompt Canadians to start thinking about foreign policy?

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Saturday, October 01, 2005
  Vicente visits Vancouver...

...while US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins claims that when Canadians speak, they can be 'hurtful'...

Posted by Stan Markotich
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A discussion of geopolitics and Canada's role in the world. A series of essays to examine the components of Canadian foreign policy making. Psychological, sociological, historical, and cultural variables impacting Canada's perceptions of the world.

03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 / 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 / 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 / 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 / 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 / 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 / 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 / 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 / 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 / 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 /

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