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Description: Canada is in the throes of its own form of regime change. As the new Liberal leader and putative prime minister, Paul Martin will soon put his personal stamp on crucial policy areas.
Date: 16 November 2003
Author: Lloyd Axworthy and Michael Byers
Source: Globe and Mail
Canada is in the throes of its own form of regime change. As the new Liberal leader and putative prime minister, Paul Martin will soon put his personal stamp on crucial policy areas. One of the most far-reaching in its impact, and tricky in its execution, is his stated priority to improve relations with the Bush administration. Mr. Martin's advisers are hoping for an early invitation to the ranch in Crawford, Tex., to demonstrate the new tone in Ottawa's approach to the government in Washington.

Laudable as this goal might be, securing better relations will come at a price: in the hard-nosed world of Republican foreign policy, nothing is free. Mr. Martin must avoid offering up too many Canadian diplomatic assets to secure more cordial connections to an administration whose radical foreign policy runs counter to the internationalist values held by many Canadians. Recall how Brian Mulroney's early crooning on stage with Ronald Reagan haunted his administration; this should be a caution to the new Liberal inner circle.

Fortunately for Canada, it's a seller's market: The United States, sucked into a military, political and economic quagmire in Iraq, is desperate for help from its friends. Canada has an opportunity to show that while opposed to the invasion, it is ready to help construct the peace.

Mr. Martin is well positioned to tailor his assistance to President George W. Bush. He can draw on Canadian experience in several aspects of reconstruction, while minimizing negative impacts on our foreign-policy independence. An example: To grapple with the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, we could take the lead in forming an international police force -- a blue-helmeted constabulary protecting international organizations such as the UN and Red Cross, whose security is essential to reconstruction. This constabulary's role could broaden to protecting Iraqi civilians (in co-operation with the civil authority that is slowly asserting ownership over security matters). Who knows? Such a force might eventually form the basis for an international presence to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Similarly, Canada could seize on the concerns Mr. Bush expressed in his speech to the UN General Assembly last month about the scourges of slavery and child prostitution. Canada has been in the vanguard since the mid-1990s on children's rights, including legislation against international sex exploitation of children, and protection against abuses of child labour. We could offer to work closely with the Americans and multilaterally, to negotiate new treaties, create new institutions, enforce the rules -- and stop such exploitation forever.

Energy security is another issue. Canada is already a significant supplier of fossil fuels and hydro electric power to the United States; the ramping up of the oil sands development makes our position even more advantageous. But reliance on antiquated delivery systems and traditional energy sources poses many risks. Mr. Bush has announced initiatives on hydrogen; there is growing interest in co-operation on continental emissions trading; there's a joint need to upgrade the infrastructure of energy distribution. Meanwhile, the North is becoming an important energy shipping route. All these developments point to the need for a comprehensive North American strategy.

Canada can also demonstrate expertise and initiative when it comes to the need for strong global safety standards for pharmaceuticals; more effective multilateral co-operation on stamping out organized crime and drug smuggling; and more effective measures to deal with the biological and social consequences of climate change. Such issues play to our strength as an independent honest broker: one that has the ear of the White House but is not subject to its beck and call.

What Mr. Martin must resist is the temptation to skew our foreign policy into a one-dimensional focus on continental interests, to the disadvantage of our role as a global player. Already the bureaucracy is planning steps to hive off Canada-U.S. relations from the general purview of foreign affairs. That would be a mistake. Our foreign-policy watchword must be "balance," denoting an almost daily calculation on steering a course between friendship with our southern neighbour and the need to pursue our own independent objectives. A separate governmental architecture solely devoted to U.S. matters would undoubtedly become the dominant force in decision-making.

Then there is the pressure, advanced by a coalition of powerful interests on both sides of the border, for Canada to support U.S. plans for ballistic missile defence (BMD). A decision on Canada's role will be made within the next couple of weeks, after Mr. Martin becomes Liberal leader, but before he becomes formally accountable for Canadian foreign policy. This is the first test of his stewardship. Will he compromise Canada's independence at a moment when Canadian initiative, experience and leadership are needed more than at any time since the 1956 Suez crisis?

The terrorist attacks of Sept.11 demonstrated that today's most serious threats are asymmetrical attacks involving weapons as simple as box cutters, pathogens, and suitcase bombs, not intercontinental missiles from "rogue states." Support for BMD may well divert attention and resources away from the real threats.

And there's good reason to think that support for BMD would curtail Canada's foreign-policy options. In fact, it would entail an abrupt change in our policy on the non-proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction, moving from a model of multilateral regulation and co-operation to a confrontational approach based on the threat of force. This in turn would change the way Canadian foreign policy is regarded in other countries. We'd risk losing our still-considerable reputation as an independent supporter of multilateral institutions and the international rule of law -- with potentially serious consequences for our global security and economic interests. The very way we can be helpful to the U.S. on issues such as Iraq , the Middle East and Afghanistan would be put in jeopardy by a precipitous move on missile defence.

For these reasons, it would be irresponsible to rush into any move that would fundamentally alter the future of Canadian policy. Good alternatives exist for helping our American friends -- in ways more consistent with the broad tradition of Canadian internationalism.

Lloyd Axworthy, a former foreign affairs minister, is author of Navigating a New World: Canada's Global Future. He is director and CEO of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia. Michael Byers, a professor of law, is director of Canadian Studies at Duke University.


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