Don’t Ask, But I’ll Tell Anyway
PM-designate Stephen Harper continues to gain coverage for something unusual. It’s been a week, and media continue to report the fallout from the most analyzed query, possibly in Canadian history, that nobody actually uttered, or seemingly even thought of asking at the time.
It all started back on 25 January 2006 when US Ambassador David Wilkins, while visiting an Ontario university, observed he had profound issues with Harper’s plan to militarize the Arctic. These areas, Wilkins noted, are international waterways, and as such have nothing to do with Canadian sovereignty. Ottawa has no business planning to deploy icebreakers. Washington is not the only capitol to make this argument, and legal scholars claim the position, at the very least, may have some merit.
And so the scene shifts to Harper’s first post-victory press conference, held 26 January 2006. Wilkins had already made his remarks, and no one actually asked Harper, but the new leader must have thought he heard someone wanting to know the answer to: “And so, as PM, how would you respond to Ambassador Wilkins’ position on Arctic sovereignty?” That must have been the case, as Harper simply volunteered: “The United States defends its sovereignty. The Canadian government will defend our sovereignty.” He also noted, “It is the Canadian people that we get our mandate from, not the ambassador of the United States.” [For complete analysis of the question that went unasked, see Thomas Walkom’s “Harper’s Arctic Stand Makes for Grand Politics,” Toronto Star
, 28 January 2006. Story posted at http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1138404334055&call_pageid=968332188774&col=968350116467
Is it really necessary to explore why Harper made the remarks?
In any case, Harper’s rebuke made headlines around the world. Well, in the US media at any rate. The Washington Post
observed in its coverage “Stephen Harper, elected Monday as prime minister, warned the United States on Thursday to back off from its challenge of Canadian sovereignty in Arctic waters that are fast thawing from global warming.” The daily continued, noting “Harper upbraided the U.S. ambassador for asserting that the icy polar regions, including the legendary Northwest Passage, are international waters” [material quoted from Doug Struck’s “Harper Tells U.S. to Drop Arctic Claim, The Washington Post
, 27 January 2006. Story posted at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/26/AR2006012602011.html
Some sources, reporting the Arctic question has resulted in a “clash” between the North American neighbours, almost might make one suspect the Cold War has been reborn, featuring two former close, long-time allies [See “Canada, United States Clash Over Arctic,” UPI, 29 January 2006. Story posted at http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/?feed=TopNews&article=UPI-1-20060129-21590400-bc-canada-us-arctic.xml
]. Russia’s press covered the Wilkins-Harper exchange, opting to stress those accounts making the point that “the surprising salvo was likely intended as a message to those in the Bush administration who might be cheering the election of a Conservative government with a view that Harper might be a pushover when it comes to prickly U.S.-Canadian relations” [Pravda
, citing AP, 27 January 2006. Story posted at http://newsfromrussia.com/world/2006/01/27/71896.html].
If sparring over the status of the Arctic remains in its current state, with Canadian politicians and US Ambassadors arguing over jurisdiction, the relevancy of some issues may have to be revisited. Perhaps Harper and Wilkins will need to spend time on ExoForeign policy. Alternatively, there may be serious attention that could be paid to the Arctic. Asking some unexplored questions makes sense. These may include: Is there real opposition in Washington to Canadian sovereignty? What would accepting international jurisdiction mean for Washington’s North American role? Is it more advantageous, and for whom, to settle for Canada’s claims or would it be more prudent to allow other nations to make use of international Arctic waterways? Answers here may make clearer just what the boundaries of Canadian independence may be.
Posted by Stan Markotich
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