by Kim Petersen
February 23, 2003
Living next to the [United States] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
So spoke former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau when characterizing the relationship of sparsely populated Canada to its monolithic US neighbor.
Canada in its historical endeavor to reify the concept of a middle power has pinned its foreign policy on support for the UN and membership in a plethora of international bodies, including its security lynchpin of NATO. Historically, economically, and culturally Canada’s Weltanschauung is closely linked to the US, the world’s only superpower. Canada’s foreign policy, now under review, has been confined to limbo, as the US has questioned the relevancy of two cornerstones of Canadian foreign policy: the UN and NATO. Mr. Chretien in the twilight of his Prime Ministership now grapples with this dilemma.
The US push for a re-intensification of the Persian Gulf War under its openly declared policy of pre-emption has confronted the UN with a constitutional quandary. The UN Charter allows for war only under two circumstances: self-defence and restoration or maintenance of international peace and security. Surely self-defence against the war-ravaged Iraq is not applicable; and surely plagiarized dossiers, mendacious or refuted intelligence, and the lack of a smoking gun are no evidence of a danger to world peace. As such, a US attack would be clearly illegal under international law and therefore US law. If the UN Security Council were to authorize such an aggression upon a member state, it would undermine its own raison d’etre.
Initially Canadian participation in any invasion of Iraq depended on establishing an al-Qaeda-Iraq link. Mr. Chretien has since changed horses and hinged Canada’s response to a new UN Security Council Resolution authorizing war – a resolution that might very well send the UN the way of the Dodo and the League of Nations. US pressure is evident. US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s persuasion of Canada Defence Minister John McCallum induced him to send conflicting signals that Canada might take part in a US-led coalition without UN imprimatur. (1) The US, through its ambassador in Canada, has meddled in the domestic policies of Canada, by exhorting Canada to increase defence spending. Finance Minister John Manley obliged in his recent budget. Canada even went so far as to agree to send another contingent of soldiers to still festering Afghanistan - a US aggression committed without seeking UN approval.
Canadian acquiescence to US fiat is congruent with the supposition of Canadian historian, Jack Granatstein, who maintains that Canada “has no choice.” Canadian sovereignty is dependent on diplomatic brownnosing. Granatstein avers “Canadian policy must be devoted to keeping the elephant fed and happy.” (2) University of Toronto professor, Stephen Clarkson, stingingly pointed out the “stunning self-contradiction” in claiming that Canadian sovereignty was predicated upon submission to US economic and military aims. (3)
Granastein asserts a preponderant US economic leverage over Canada. It is true that Canada’s trade is overwhelmingly with the US. Canadian alliance with the US and NAFTA, however, has not prevented the US hitting Canadian lumber with tariffs and placing restrictions on wheat, dairy, and sugar products. Nor has unwavering British support for Washington vis-à-vis Iraq stopped steel tariffs being levied against it. It leads one to wonder what further negative trade actions would occur if not allied with the US.
Canada is fighting these trade-hampering moves through the WTO and NAFTA. The US likes to trumpet the virtues of free trade, especially through its WTO, IMF, and World Bank surrogates. Indeed the FTAA is a plank in President Bush’s economic policy, but declamation and practice are often at odds. Noam Chomsky compellingly delineates the illusion of the US as a bastion of free trade, it effectively runs its domestic economy contrary to the neoliberal principles that it espouses. (4) Protectionism and subsidies to home industries are the norm. Agricultural subsidies are a particular thorn in Canada-US trade relations.
An exacerbated trade spat would also harm US interests. Canada is also the major destination for US exports. Canada is the major source for US energy needs; oil, gas, and electricity are imported from Canada. Lumber tariffs on Canada have resulted in higher prices for the US consumer.
Canada’s pullback from Europe and refocusing on the Pacific has entwined Canada further in the American orbit. Canada is a home to US military; it was corralled into the Korean War, former Prime Minister Pearson was coerced into adding nuclear arms to the Canadian arsenal (later rescinded by Mr. Trudeau) but balked at involvement in the Vietnam War; Canada mirrors the US pro-Israeli stance and is extremely hypocritical in its pronouncements on the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; Canada joined the Persian Gulf coalition, Balkans coalition, and took part in the Afghanistan debacle. Canada can hardly be construed as non-cooperative with US geopolitical concerns.
In the aftermath of 9-11 Canada enacted its own anti-terrorist legislation undermining civil liberties a la the US Patriot Act, beefed up airport and border security, and is reportedly close to an agreement allowing US troops onto Canadian soil in case of terrorist attack (5); seen by many as a relinquishment of Canadian sovereignty.
Despite this record of staunch support for the US, Granatstein contends Canada reluctance to support US adventurism could even result in a US invasion of Canada. (6) This proposition is risible but real. However, to base the existence of Canada on unwavering acquiescence to US dictates and fear of retribution would be shameful and cowardly.
Canada seeks to bring about a consensus on world issues and thereby solidify its claim to middle power status. Mr. Chretien in fulfillment of his role as a moderate leader proffered a resolution imposing a deadline for Iraqi disarmament. It was pooh-poohed with nary a comment by the chickenhawks. If accepted it would have meant that if Iraq had complied fully with all conditions by the deadline that there would then be no war. This is simply something that the chicken hawks could not abide by. They want their war and they are going to have it. They are not interested in a resolution that stops war. Instead Britain and the US seek a second resolution amenable to their interests.
A second UN Security Council Resolution, nonetheless, does not make the war moral. Morality is the case that the Prime Minister Blair, the same man who presented plagiarized student papers pulled off the Internet as the latest intelligence, is trying to make now. The British churches have weighed in against any moral case. High moral standing is something that Canada prides itself on. But Mr. Granatstein derided the “supposedly superior Canadian morality.” He characterized Mr. Chretien’s decision-making as being done after determining which way the wind was blowing. (7) Canada’s moral authority is questionable based on its past obsequiousness to the US position.
Should a second resolution make its way through the Security Council, Canada’s morality will be put to the test again. Will the Canadian government satisfy the elite agenda of Washington or listen to the majority of the Canadian citizenry firmly opposed to war? Canadians need to keep the heat under the feet of politicians, especially a soon-to-be-departed prime minister maybe looking for a legacy. Mr. Granatstein stated that Canadian support for the US militarily in Iraq is a “requirement.” (8) The loss of Canada would be a tremendous blow to the coalition-building agenda of the chickenhawks in Washington. Canada is seen as a natural tagalong on the US war coalition; a coalition without Canada would send conspicuous signals.
Canada politicians will read the wind. Canada will plod through and attempt to define what it is to be a Canadian middle power. All too often this is done by identifying how Canada is different from the US. Mr. Trudeau pointed out that as Canadians: “We wish nothing more, but we will accept nothing less. Masters in our own house we must be, but our house is the whole of Canada.”
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) CBC News Online staff, “Canada may back U.S. attack on Iraq without UN” Friday, 10 Jan 2003, CBC News, http://cbc.ca/stories/2003/01/09/mccallum_030109
(2) J.L. Granatstein, “A friendly Agreement in Advance: Canada US Defense Relations Past, Present, and Future,” Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, June 2002, http://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/commentary_166.pdf
(3) Stephen Clarkson, “No Choice but Further Continental Integration,” 17 June 2002, http://www.ualberta.ca/GLOBALISM/pdf/clarkson%20article.pdf
(4) Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and the Global Order (Seven Stories Press, 1999)
(5) Daniel Leblanc, “Canada, U.S. near troop deal,” The Globe and Mail, A1, Wednesday, 28 August 2002,