RM Archive - onsite copies of linked stories

RM Issue #030524

A departure from neutrality
Stephen Harper
National Post
Friday, May 23, 2003

In Paul Martin's recent speech on Canadian foreign policy, he made the following statement: "Let's be clear. Once the war in Iraq began, Canada was far from neutral." If only it were true.

Of course, it was true of Canadians as a people. Support for the cause of the coalition led by America and Britain did surge in the polls. Unprecedented street rallies were held in support of our traditional allies. Average Canadians expressed absolutely no sympathy for the plight of Saddam Hussein.

But the government of Canada was officially (and abrasively) neutral in the conflict. Throughout the war, the Liberal government did not break diplomatic relations with the government of Saddam. Some Liberals, including some in very senior positions, made now infamous statements about our American friends. And not a single Liberal -- Paul Martin included -- opposed the government's position on the war.

Thus, only a few weeks later, when the incoming leader of the governing party feels it necessary to rewrite history, there is indeed a need to rethink the fundamentals of Canada's foreign policy. A series of events since 9/11 has laid bare the failure of the Liberals to uphold Canada's values and interests in the world.

For this failure, Canadians have suffered not necessarily an immediate economic loss, but a reminder of our growing irrelevance on the world stage. We are losing, as a consequence, our ability to exert influence on the events and the allies that will shape our future.

In the Liberal view, for Canada to be influential on the world stage, it must distance itself from the United States. We should, for example, increase trade with Europe and Asia in order to defy the United States at less cost. Further North American economic integration must be slowed so as not to undermine the government's scope for industrial planning.

These views are dangerously outmoded. The government has not based its foreign and defence policies on a balanced assessment of our values, interests and strengths. Instead, it has based them in reaction to our weaknesses in capacity -- weaknesses that Liberal governments themselves created.

Canada now relies on what is essentially a "weak nation strategy" -- multilateral participation to conceal and deny dependency on its key ally.

Mr. Martin recently touted something he called the "new multilateralism." It is nothing more than the old multilateralism with a smaller cast of characters. Instead of the United Nations, itself, he proposes to use the G-20 to rein in the United States. The G-20 is a group of finance ministers set up to discuss international finance. Martin is now proposing a G-20 of leaders.

By the way, this is not a new scheme of Martin's. He was talking about using the G-20 to counter the United States in September, 2002. Back then he said: "It is a perfectly natural thing for the United States, which is one-third of the world's economy and which has a military budget greater than the next nine countries combined, to basically say we will establish the rules ... But, fundamentally, that cannot be the way the world is going to work for Canada ... It is very clear to us that the rule of law must prevail and the rule of law must prevail internationally."

Notice how Martin defines international law as the curtailment of American action.

The fundamental flaw for Canadians in Martin's new G-20 multilateralism is the same flaw in Jean Chrétien's old multilateralism -- it's all about thwarting the United States, not about advancing the interests and values of Canada.

While I seriously doubt that, over time and given its responsibilities, the United States will be able to rely only on temporary arrangements and shifting players, we can expect that the "coalition of the willing" concept will become more common.

Canada will simply become irrelevant should it persist in standing on the sidelines demanding formal processes executed by third-party actors -- as it did in the Iraq war and appears to be doing again with the Iraq peace.

Canada needs to develop, instead, consistent criteria for joining coalitions of purpose in order to respond in a timely way to fast-paced and evolving threats to international security and human rights.

We need more flexible and aggressive methods to promote our underlying interests and values in the world.

Generally speaking, those values should be clear -- democracy and the rule of law; free markets, enterprise and trade; the alleviation of poverty, pollution and disease; and individual freedom and human rights, with a particular understanding of the importance of the rights of women in healthy development of all aspects of society.

The time has come to recognize that the United States will continue to exercise unprecedented power in a world where international rules are unreliable and where the security and advancing of the free, democratic order still depend significantly on the possession and use of military might.

The basis for entering into an ad hoc coalition is not our relationship with the United States per se. The reason to consider the United States is that, fundamentally, we share the same fundamental values in a dangerous world. But more deeply, we share common interests on multiple levels to an extent experienced by no two other countries.

If we publicly support the same action as the United States on this basis, how could anyone rationally argue that doing so would compromise our independence? In fact, the most noticeable error of the Liberals' neutrality in the Iraq war was their inability to articulate any clear national interest for the policy.

In fact, Canada's greatest asset on the international stage is our unique relationship with the United States -- the fact that we just happen to share values and interests with the world's sole superpower.

Not only can we advance our own interests in concert with the United States, the opportunity exists to strengthen Canadian influence on the Americans, and thus enhance our sovereignty in ways that no encirclement strategy could plausibly do.

To successfully exploit these possibilities, there are a number of steps we need to take to re-establish Canada as a serious partner for United States. Bluntly, some of these involve the ability to deploy hard power.

First, we must take seriously our own and continental security, rather than just push the entire burden on to the United States.

We need to engage actively in the continental missile defence program to ensure Canada has a voice in its own air security.

Second, we need to rebuild our military capacity to diverse and effective levels.

Third, we need to ensure that Canada is never again perceived as a potential source of threats through a long-overdue reform of our border controls and refugee programs.

Paul Martin, in his recent speech, called for committees in the Cabinet and in the Commons to examine the relationship. He called for all manner of exchanges between Canadian and U.S. legislative bodies.

What he neglected to comment on is the single most important influence upon the state of the relationship. That is the relationship at the executive level, but especially between the Prime Minister and the President.

Exchanges between Parliament and Congress are fine. But make no mistake, the majority of protectionist actions against Canada originate in the Congress, regardless of partisanship, and the vanguard against them is usually and similarly in the executive branch.

It is both understandable and predictable that the President will engage the Congress less actively on behalf of Canada when, for instance, the Canadian government campaigns openly for the President's opponents in American elections, or when its members call the President, his Administration or his constituents vile and insulting names.

Canada is not a weak nation. We are a strong nation.

If we engage the world again as a significant nation, we will face new international responsibilities. We should embrace the opportunity to support civilized values and advance our interests.

We should make the realistic appraisals, the resource commitments and the strategic arrangements necessary for us to achieve our international potential.

This was adapted from a speech by Stephen Harper, leader of the Canadian Alliance, to the Institute for Research on Public Policy in Toronto on Wednesday night.

© Copyright 2003 National Post

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