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UBC prof brings forth a new foreign policy
Description: Michael Byers says the Harper government could promote global stability and save many lives with an independent approach to international affairs.
Date: 14 June 2007
Author: Charlie Smith
Source: Georgia Straight
A UBC academic has written a new book that suggests Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made a mess of foreign policy. Michael Byers, a Canada Research Chair in global politics and international law, told the Georgia Straight that Canada is a powerful nation. But he said that Harper refuses to chart a course independent of the George W. Bush administration.

"Stephen Harper has been a disaster for Canadian foreign policy on almost every front," Byers said. "It's partly because he doesn't understand the issues, but it's also partly because he doesn't think–or he doesn't want to think–that Canada can play an independent role."

Byers's new book, Intent for a Nation: What Is Canada For? (Douglas & McIntyre, $32.95), is a passionate rebuttal of the notion that Canada lacks influence. He covers a long list of foreign-policy issues–the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, land mines, the creation of an International Criminal Court, and missile defence, to name just a few–on which Canada has acted independently of major powers in the past.

"It is possible, and indeed desirable, to be optimistic about Canada's potential influence in the world," Byers said. "That really is highlighted by the fact that we were able to say no to both the Iraq war and to missile defence. We do have the proven capacity to chart our own path. Once you know that you're independent, and once you know that you can make your own decisions, then I think you have a responsibility to act."

His book criticizes Canada's transition in recent years from a peacekeeping to a war-fighting nation. He predicts that hundreds more Canadians will die or be injured in Afghanistan, which he describes as a "broken-down country".

Byers noted that while in Opposition, Harper supported the Bush administration on missile defence and the Iraq war. He said if Harper achieves a majority government, he might commit Canada to the costly and destabilizing missile-defence system, which was rejected by the previous Liberal government.

"The Conservative government is taking its script out of the playbook of right-wing Republicanism," Byers claimed. He cited the examples of Harper's "strong" preference for supporting Israel over the Arab world, and for favouring Taiwan over China. "I don't think we should be silent when it comes to human rights in China," Byers said, "but you cannot influence a country of that size and that power by refusing to establish a relationship."

In his book, he chides Canada for not resuming diplomatic ties with Iran. He said that tens of thousands of Iranian Canadians who travel to Iran are at "considerable risk".

"Having an ambassador in the country would enable Canada to intervene more promptly and at a higher level when something goes wrong," Byers writes in his book.

He adds that a diplomatic presence in Iran is important because the U.S. has few diplomatic and commercial contacts there. He noted that Canada could play a role in defusing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Intent for a Nation is a response to Canadian philosopher George Grant's 1965 book Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, which posited that the country could not resist continental integration. Byers mentions Grant's view that foreign policy was the first area in which Canada would succumb to the U.S.

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