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About Turn! Time to Revise Canada’s Foreign Policy



For most of the past 40 years Canada has, metaphorically, “looked North.” In so doing it has turned its back on its friend and neighbour, America and offered its right hand to Europe.

Our disinclination to embrace the Americans is older than Canada itself. It is rooted in our French colonial past when 'les habitants' looked South, at the British colonies, with fear and distrust. Our institutionalized anti-Americanism was reinforced when the 'loyalists' fled revolutionary America seeking the safety of the familiar British crown. French and English Canadians were united in opposing American efforts, in the war of 1812, to incorporate Canada into the vigorous new republic.

Equally, our ties to Europe are quite natural. Most Canadians (but a steadily shrinking majority) regard themselves as being of European stock. Europe is familiar. For many it is the soil in which family roots are sunk. Twice in the 20th century Canadians answered Europe's call for help; 100,000 of the Greatest Canadians lie in European graves – they died protecting Europe from itself.


Canadians were instrumental in imagining and then creating the North Atlantic Alliance. For decades Canadians sent their young men and women to stand on guard for Western Europe against a very real threat from the former USSR. Today a much expanded North Atlantic Alliance seeks new relevance – having been completely successful in its avowed aim of safeguarding “the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law” by seeking “to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area” and resolving “to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security.” The expanded, post Cold War NATO stretched its wings by playing a lead role in dealing with the crisis in the Balkans but many observers saw that as NATO's final act in 'securing' Europe rather than a new beginning.

For some European members the North Atlantic component of NATO is a problem. The Americans and Canadians are problematical. Some Europeans believe that North American influence in NATO is impeding the development of a distinctly European foreign policy and a concomitant European military force.

But for Canada, for a half century and more, NATO was the cornerstone of our foreign and defence policies.


Afghanistan represents NATO's first real attempt at significant 'out of area' operations. NATO rushed to aid the USA in the wake of the dastardly 9/11 sneak attack; Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty was invoked for the first time ever. Some NATO nations, including Canada, sent troops to Afghanistan, early in 2002 in Canada's case, to fight alongside the USA in its efforts to help the Afghan people defeat the al Qaeda supporting Taliban and install a more representative and acceptable Afghan government. In so doing NATO nations, including Canada, were acting in their own national self interests: the Taliban were, and remain, a threat to Central Asia – the ancient and historic 'cockpit' which joins Asia, the Middle East and Europe. If the Taliban succeeded then their 'guests' would continue to have a form base from which to attack NATO members – as Osama bin laden promised to do.

But, for many NATO members, not including Canada, self interest required only 'all aid short of war.' It was only after the situation in much of Afghanistan was stabilized that many European NATO members decided it was safe enough to deploy troops to Kabul – and ISAF was born. Canada's initial, principled response, combat troops for Kandahar, was, for practical military reasons, a 'one off' commitment. In 2003 Canada and most European nations were searching for ways to resist American pressure to join in the Iraq war. ISAF offered a perfect 'way out' – military operations in Afghanistan, sanctioned by the UN and envisioned when Article 5 was invoked, which were unlikely to involve much fighting or major casualties, and which allowed Canada, and others to tell the Americans that they were fully committed in Afghanistan. Who can forget then Defence Minister John McCallum scurrying off to Brussels begging for a 'lead' role for Canada in Kabul – all to prevent Canada having to debate, and ultimately reject, a role in Iraq?

Today, thanks to decisions taken by a previous, Liberal government, Canadian Forces are engaged in intense combat operations in Afghanistan, against a skilled, determined, shadowy enemy.

Today the shoe is on the other foot: Canada is now on the outside, looking in at the safe, comfortable Eurocentric Kabul Multinational Brigade and Joint Commands North and West which tie down thousands of combat troops – sheltered behind national caveats (each offering far more protection than body armour or LAV IIIs) which preclude combat operations.

Today we see that French President Jacques Chirac wants to form a 'contact group' to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Ruxted believes Chirac is making this suggestion on behalf of the very large majority of Europeans (people and governments) who want nothing to do with fighting the Taliban because they, the Europeans, are both: casualty averse and unconvinced of the utility of operations in Afghanistan, or anywhere outside Europe, for that matter. Recent press reports on German resistance, and jubilation at a successful resistance to Canadian pressure to leave their fortified holiday camps in the North of Afghanistan and help with the fighting in the South indicate the depth of the split in NATO over a fundamental issue: unity of purpose.

Ruxted does not begrudge the Europeans their view – heaven knows it is shared by a substantial minority of Canadians. The Europeans live in free and democratic societies – thanks, in very large measure to Canadian sacrifices of lives on the fields of battle and treasure during the cold war. They are free to make their own choices – thanks again to those same Canadian sacrifices.

Canada has chosen a different path. The Parliament of Canada, more than once, has affirmed Canada's three part role in Afghanistan which is to:

• help Afghanistan rebuild;
• defend our national interests; and
• ensure Canadian leadership in world affairs.

(See: The Afghanistan Debate, other Ruxted articles and Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs.)

It appears to Ruxted that, increasingly, NATO is less and less a useful 'cornerstone' for Canada and, more and more, a stumbling block.

Ruxted believes that all ISAF has accomplished, as a NATO mission, is to provide 'cover' for the Europeans and, for a time, Canada, allowing them to avoid the hugely unpopular Iraq war. The 'real work' of ISAF, helping Afghanistan to rebuild, is, for all military intents and purposes, done in the North and West and in Kabul. In the South and East it cannot begin in earnest until American, British, Canadian and Dutch forces bring security to the regions by defeating the Taliban. Since most of the other NATO nations refuse to help in this endeavour Ruxted contends that NATO has failed – it was, largely, unnecessary in the North, West and Kabul and it is invisible in the South and East, where it is needed.

NATO is not just a stumbling block, it may be aiding and abetting the Taliban. NATO may be part of the problem.

What problem?

The problem Ruxted sees is that we have not taken a clear, hard, sustained look at our foreign policy for too long a time.

Over 18 months ago the former, Liberal government issued a revised foreign policy statement, not a full blown White Paper.

The prime minister of the day said: “… a government needs to take a hard and comprehensive look at what is working and what is not in its foreign policy; at how the world is evolving and whether Canada is prepared; at how best to project Canadian values and interests into the world and make a real difference in the lives of its embattled peoples, now and in the future. This is the right time to review our foreign policy. Why? Because the world is changing, quickly and radically, and these changes matter to Canada—not in abstract terms, and not only to students of international relations, but tangibly and to everyone. Our security, our prosperity and our quality of life all stand to be influenced and affected by these global transformations …”

Nothing has changed, except that the pace of global change has, probably accelerated, making the need to answer the questions: are we prepared; how best to protect and project Canada’s values and interests; how to make a difference in the world?



The Ruxted Group on : Preparing for NATO’s Failure

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Preparing for NATO’s FailureSeveral recent reports1 indicate that efforts by Canada and others, including the NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, himself to convince NATO members to beef up their military contributions to Afghanistan or, at lea


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