Pacifying the Planet: What is Canada’s Role?



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Bright, S. “Pacifying the Planet: What is Canada’s Role?”
The New Federation 4.3 (1994): 7-9.
Pacifying the Planet: What Is Canada’s Role?

by Steven Bright
In the post-Cold War, mid-1990s, Canada is looking to redefine its international role. To that end the Liberal government has taken an active role in addressing the various issues of foreign and defence policy. Foreign policy has not often been a hot topic in Ottawa, but it recently has been getting a lot of attention. Debates have been held in the House of Commons on the cruise missile, peacekeeping and Canada’s involvement in Bosnia. The Special Joint Committee reviewing Canada’s Foreign Policy toured the country with public hearings in May, and a full report is due at the end of October of this year. The Special Joint Committee reviewing Canada’s Defence Policy has toured the world, and its report is due concurrently with that of the foreign policy committee.
In the final few years before the turn of the millennium, the world is no more peaceful than during the coldest days of the very expensive superpower struggle, and the problems facing Canadian foreign policy makers are numerous and grave. The threat of nuclear war is ever present, with arms potentially in the hands of many nations and not simply a tiny, elite group. The scale of the murderous civil war in Rwanda is unprecedented in modern history, and the number of international refugees has climbed from 2.4 million in 1974 to 50 million, counting the “internally displaced,” in 1994.

Third World poverty and the mounting pressures of overpopulation are increasingly threatening the sustainability of Earth, as are areas of massive environmental neglect as found in Eastern Europe. Another reason for concern is the stockpile of non-nuclear weapons, supplied by Western countries in the hands of military dictators. Positive develop­ments, such as the reunification of Germany and the peace process in the Middle East, tend, unfortunately, to pale in comparison to the problems facing everyone.

A major problem for Canada is the paradox in which the country finds itself. According to Evan Potter, edi­tor of Canadian Foreign Policy, the dynamism of the post-Cold War world offers Canada flexibility, but domestic matters temper our ability to exercise that flexibility. “Canada is no longer constrained by the bi-polar world, so we should have more opportunity to promote Canadian interests. But, at the same time, we are restrained by our domestic indebtedness. Therefore, some hard choices have to be made.”

Domestic indebtedness will be a significantly influential factor on Canadian foreign policy over the next several years. Finance Minister Paul Martin has reputedly told his cabinet colleagues to prepare their respective ministries for cuts of up to forty percent, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will likely be targeted for major cutbacks – the Canadian International Development Agency is bracing for reductions and a possible reorganiza­tion. Stories appear almost daily in newspapers across Canada about con­cerns international investors have with regard to Canada’s debt and deficit, and there is growing belief in Ottawa that the budget targets set out last February will not be met.

Reconciling the desire of Canadian policy makers to maintain a strong presence on the international stage with the pressing concerns of the national debt and deficit will be very difficult. What adds to the difficulty is the legacy of the Lester Pearson’s golden era of foreign policy. Following 1945, Pearson led a team of bureaucrats in shaping Canada’s foreign policy based on membership in, and in some cases creation of, international institutions. By actively fostering the growth of organizations such as the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization, Canada ensured for itself a position on the world’s stage incongruous with the size of the country’s population and economy. Sending peacekeeping forces to quell the Suez crisis earned Pearson a Noble Peace Prize, and since that time Canadians have come to expect their government to take an active part in international crises.

Foreign Affairs Minister Andre Ouellet outlined the direction he envisaged in a speech to the Canadian Institute of International Affairs on 31 May, 1994. He outlined the four principles which will guide foreign policy for the next mandate: democratizing the process of policy; promoting of the full range of Canadian interests, including human rights, the environment, economy and trade; setting a more independent course from the United States; and reaffirming Canada’s commitment to multilateralism, and to modernize it in the context of the approaching twenty-first century.

On the first and second points, the Liberals have so far performed fairly well. The Special Joint Committee on foreign policy held extensive public meetings, and there have been several high-level trade missions to China to woo potential clients from the most populous country in the world. Agriculture Minister Ralph Goodale took a delegation of fifteen farm groups and members of the media to China in late April, while Dennis Mills, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry went somewhat more quietly to solicit trade interest in May. Ontario’s Bob Rae has also gone to the Asia-Pacific region and in November Prime Minister Jean Chrétien will lead the so-called Team Canada of Trade to China for bilateral trade discussions.

Ouellet made a difficult decision in boosting trade with China in the face of loud opposition to increasing ties with the government that ordered tanks to crush students on bicycles in Tiananmen Square. Ouellet answered that criticism by saying, “We will not sacrifice one (pillar of policy) at the expense of another, and it is my belief that we have not done so in our approach to China.” There has, however, been little proactive movement on promoting human rights issues abroad, something which, to date, separates the Liberal government from the previous government of Brian Mulroney.

Setting an independent course in foreign policy is a different matter altogether. Professor Jeanne Loux of the University of Ottawa thinks that the ability of Canada to set an independent course of foreign policy is limited by membership in interna­tional financial groups such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Belonging to these groups, says Prof. Loux, is tantamount to two things: a seat at the table at which decisions affecting the entire world are made; a loss of ability to make decision contrary to the very decisions made at that table.

There is, however, latitude to set policy and act it out despite the fetters of international financial obligations. In his speech to the CIIA, Ouellet said, “[w]e will not hesitate to pursue distinct approaches when it is in Canada’s interest to do so, as exemplified by ideas we are promoting on Cuba and Haiti.” Shortly after these comments, Canada moved to improve its connections to communist Cuba by making Cuba eligible for Canadian humanitarian and development assistance. “It is time to turn the page on Cuba,” said Ouellet when announcing the change in policy. “The Cold War is long over. The people of Cuba are suffering from food shortages brought on by eco­nomic crisis, and Canadians want to help.” In light of the growing crisis Washington is having with Cuban refugees, Canada could take the opportunity to strengthen its role as mediator in North and Central American affairs. In fact, it could call for the end of the American economic embargo.

In the Haitian situation, Canada has so far decided not to support the use of military force in its attempts to quell the gruesome human rights abuses and flaunting of democracy by the military dictatorship in Port-au-Prince. There is, though, mounting pressure within Canada in support of invasion, led by Ed Broadbent, president of the Montreal-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Development. Broadbent’s stance illustrates the dilemma which faces Canadian foreign policy makers: should Canada strike a more aggressive stance in international affairs or should it settle for a more conventional role?

Nobel Prize winning Canadian chemist John Polanyi, in arguing for the deployment of more troops to the Balkans, said the situation offered Canada the chance to demonstrate international leadership. “[T]his is a moment for Canada to lead, as we have in the past,” he said. Our new federal government has yet to put into action its philosophy on peacekeeping and peace-enforcement.

Canada made its international reputation on the bravery of its soldiers in the two world wars, and the exper­tise and ubiquity of its peacekeepers after 1945. A new step in international relations was taken with the establishment of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre at CFB Cornwallis, which will be operated by the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies. This Centre was established by the federal government following the budget in February. Its current mandate is to provide research and education on peacekeeping and to maintain information on peacekeep­ing missions involving Canadian troops around the world. By training foreign peacekeepers on Canadian soil, the federal government could maintain strong international connections by putting to work one of Canada’s greatest comparative advan­tages, namely, peacekeeping.

To anticipate outbreaks of violence Canada could propose that the UN, in a new charter of collective security, seek a commitment from its members that they bring to the attention of the UN potential conflicts for mediation. Mediation crisis centres for domestic purposes have been established in most western countries and perhaps the time has come to try and exact such a measure internationally.

The Canadian Committee for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations and the Canada 21 Council have called for the establishment of a quick-response military force. Canada, the Committee argues, should offer troops to this force and ensure that the UN has the will to deploy it when needed. Such a force would be deployed to brewing hot-spots before or just after violence erupts with the intent of making peace. Putting a lid on a situation in its earliest stages would likely save thousands of lives, millions of dollars and free up some of the badly needed peacekeeping forces for missions around the world. A quick-response force would offer the international community another option in dealing with outbreaks of hostility besides an American-led force. Washington, under Bill Clinton, is having a very difficult time dealing with several hot international affairs at once, and may soon consider retreating from its role as the world’s police force.

In its development assistance, Canada should steer away from sup­porting mega-projects and opt instead for investing in the human resources of developing countries. Spreading education is of greater long-term value for the people of a developing nation than building something like the Three Gorges Dam. It is true that most donor countries, and especially Canada, have substantial domestic debt problems which lead many to argue that there is no room in national budgets to increase foreign aid. To this end, the Canadian Institute for International Affairs recommends a change of direction where 25% of Canada’s existing bilateral aid budget would go to the least-developed countries, and assistance be gradually phased out for others. Trade not aid would then become the main motif. However, there is a counter argument that says spending money on devel­oping the human resources in Third World countries will, in turn, open new economic markets for Canadian exporters and will bring stability to more parts of the globe.

Pushing to make all nuclear weapons contrary to international law is another step Canada should take. A declaration of this sort would, admittedly, be difficult to enforce, but the pressure within the United Nations that such a declaration would bring is of value in itself. It is an illusion to think that deterrence will be achieved when some nations continue to hold, and produce, nuclear arms. The same is true of declarations against all forms of chemical and biological weapons. Canada should lobby the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on violators of any declarations banning weapons of mass destruction. In this endeavour Canada should seek to enlist the support of like-minded or potentially neutral countries.

On another front, coming to terms with the Islamic world will be one of the great challenges. To date few western governments, including Canada, have chosen to support outright the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) which came to power during the first round of balloting in Algeria during the free parliamentary election in 1991. The military cancelled the second round, arrested FIS leaders and plunged the country into chaos and revolution.

If a “new spirit for a new world” is what the world needs, as Czech President Vaclav Havel recently suggested, and “if our world is now enveloped by what is essentially a single civilization,” then multi-party, multi-nationality dialogues will be essential. To that end, Canada should help convene a number of interna­tional peace conferences involving policy makers, social scientists, philosophers and political leaders, with the intention of working out answers to international problems. Too often in modern history peace conferences are held only at the end of prolonged and very bloody wars; acting before the outbreak of another terrible war would mark a better approach to multi-lateral agreements.

Is it unrealistic to think that the nations of the world can come to terms with the difficulties facing all of us? Certainly it is optimistic to think so, but it is not impossible. When one considers the threat of rogue gov­ernments stealing plutonium and holding the world hostage with nuclear arms, then pacifying the plan­et’s problems becomes just as important as dealing with domestic problems. That is why anything which Canada can do to precipitate further action should be encouraged by every Canadian and the international community.


Steven Bright is Assistant Editor of The New Federation.


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