Canada Foreign Policy
Sunday, October 29, 2006
  Where Were We?

About six months ago the price of a barrel of oil was reaching $75US and set to go higher. According to many analysts, the possible geopolitical problems posed by Iran and that country’s determination to join the nuclear club meant at least a $15 premium had to be included in the oil price. And so where are we today? A barrel of oil has slipped under $60, just might dip even further before rebounding later this autumn, but Iran is still Iran. Teheran does not have the bomb, nor is likely to acquire one in the very near future, but “Iran officially confirmed that it has stepped up uranium enrichment by injecting gas into a second network of centrifuges, a state-run newspaper reported Saturday” [cited in AP, 28 October 2006. Story posted at].

And there’s North Korea. Back on 9 October 2006 Pyongyang authorities announced they had successfully tested a nuclear device. At first there was speculation this event might trigger the collapse of the world system: there would be an Asian arms race; the international community might attempt to blockade; or, the international power dynamic had shifted with a new multi-polar global system poised to replace existing realities in no time. By 11 October it became clear world civilizations would not melt down, and the goings on of rather low-key public diplomacy came to dominate headlines. There was even suggestion that the rather muted blast detected by several nations and certainly emanating from North Korea might not have been nuclear at all. The explosion was far too small, a sign that either something had gone wrong or that the test had consisted of nothing more than a conventional device, with the North striving to con the international community into thinking otherwise. But now there is confirmation, and Pyongyang has the bomb. “South Korea said it verified that North Korea's bomb test on Oct. 9 was nuclear, backing up an earlier confirmation by the United States…South Korea reached that conclusion through analysis of tremor wave data, by detecting traces of radioactive matter, and by looking at data provided by the U.S. government…” [“South Korea Verifies North Korea’s Oct. 9 Bomb Test as Nuclear” by Heejin Koo, Bloomberg, 25 October 2006. Story posted at]. And North Korea is still North Korea.

But what’s really going on? Some reports suggest some parts of the West may be attempting to take a step back from war. The world may be just as unstable as it was six months ago, perhaps even more, but can or will diplomacy take over as the means for conflict resolution? Are some politicians sincere when they suggest changing plans or approaches in war zones and potential war zones is happening right now?

Canada’s work in Afghanistan has been directed by the PM and, one may argue, Defence. Foreign Affairs, while having some interests in Central Asia, is far from playing as important a role. Over the past several months Tory officials, including Minister O’Connor, have underscored the significance of the Canadian military effort, usually making the point by stressing other NATO countries may need to step up their involvement, especially in Afghanistan’s violent southern regions. But there are times when Ottawa seems to want to downplay war fighting. There is hope, rebuilding, and peace that can be offered Afghanistan’s downtrodden. For instance, on 22 October 2006 media reported that Josee Verner, “Canada's international co-operation minister paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan mere days after Canadian funding of reconstruction work in that country came under criticism” [cited in “Minister Visits Afghanistan for Aid Announcement,” CTV News, 22 October 2006]. While there to show support for troops and reconstruction workers, Verner also did meet with school children, had a photo-op, and announced projects in Afghanistan would receive an additional $10 million in funding.

But to actually take a step back from war? Is such a thing really possible? Some seem to think so. And those who advocate walking away are not just peace protesters. Only a few weeks ago, General Richard Dannatt, Britain’s new chief of the army, said UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Iraq policies were “naïve” and “called for a withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, warning that the military's presence there only exacerbates security problems…” [Cited in AP, 12 October 2006]. Could Dannatt’s remarks be sage advice for Canadians in Afghanistan?

In 2006 Canadian casualties in Afghanistan mount. Over at least the past two months there have been suggestions that time is running out on efforts to win over Afghani hearts and minds, and that any further delays in doing so may result in local populations embracing and welcoming back the Taliban. Any arguments for a Taliban resurgence seem to say that the violence to date may pale in comparison to what might yet come. And then there is Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who, on or around 22 October 2006 warned the coming months may be the bloodiest yet for foreign troops [CTV News, 22 October 2006]. Even Al-Qaeda is warning Canada to move its military out of Afghanistan “or face terrorist attacks similar to 9/11, Madrid and the London transit bombings…The text of the threat suggests that al-Qaeda is aware of divisions within Canada over the mission, pointing to public opinion polls and opposition within Parliament” [cited in Stewart Bell’s “Al-Qaeda Warns Canada,” National Post, 28 October 2006. Story posted at]…

…And so Afghanistan is still Afghanistan.

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.

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