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Glen Pearson


How Was Canada Knocked Off the International Stage?

Posted: 12/03/2012 5:13 pm

General Romeo Dallaire was in London, Ontario a couple of weeks ago speaking to a varied audience about Canada's dwindling international presence. He spoke, as always, from a place of deep conviction and disappointment that this country appears to have lost its international path on the way to ideology. He summed up our present time as the "Age of Inaction" and went on to show the numerous places where Canada had earned international recognition only to see it abandoned.

Perhaps nowhere was that decline so clearly obvious as in Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's speech to the UN General Assembly and its vote on Palestinian recognition. The vote itself was a lopsided victory for Palestinian hopes -- 138 for, 41 abstentions, and nine opposed, including Canada. Applause for the various dignitaries speaking to the motion was overall positive, but when Baird mounted the podium there was an eerie silence -- and his argument garnered only polite applause.

For the federal government to make a strong stand with Israel is something that is within its right. But to accomplish such support to the detriment of Middle Eastern hope and a struggling Palestinian people was hardly necessary. In reality, the taking of such a stand actually took Canada out of any chance of being an influence for peace in the region. To stand so completely with one side clearly meant that this country had abandoned its historic opportunity to be a player in the region through a balanced foreign policy and instead had just become another strident nation in support of one side over another.

This was an odd development at the time when polls show most Canadians prefer UN peacekeeping operations as their preferred choice for Canadian international influence. For Canadians to watch their own minister climb the UN podium to stony silence only revealed that a vast expanse exists between their international hopes and their current political reality.

Just at the time that nations such as France are ramping up their commitments to UN peacekeeping initiatives, Canada has opted to largely take itself out of the mix. While Brazil, India and China -- the next great economic powerhouses -- have also increased their capacity for peacekeeping at the UN, Canada, through actions both confounding and concerning, has decided to play the ideological card in a region of the world far too complex for such simplistic actions. The embarrassing silence greeting Baird, and this country's loss of support for what would have been its natural place on the Security Council, reveals that such one-sidedness carries an international price.

With 17 UN peace missions around the world, staffed by some 120,000 military, police and civilian personnel, the current round of UN activities represents the greatest commitment made in its history. Yet precisely at the moment when this country's heritage and past reputation qualify it as a possible key player in such an increase, Canada now occupies the 57th place in combined military and police deployments in UN operations. By choosing to build their Middle East policy on the ashes of a once-vaunted reputation, Canada removed itself from the role of a middle-power influence and into the penalty box of international diplomacy.

Louis Delvoie, a former Canadian ambassador, was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying, "I don't see what this accomplishes in that the vote has taken place, it was adopted by an overwhelming majority and there's nothing that Canada can now do to change that fact. It seems to me to be a bit of a piece of theatre."

"Theatre" it might have been for Baird and his government, but to the rest of the world it was history moving slightly in one direction and Canada wasn't in it. George Orwell used to that, "the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history." In that sense, the ultimate casualty in this entire drama has been the Canadian sense of an honoured past cast aside for some theatre.

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  • China: In Favor

    China's foreign minister reaffirmed support for Palestinian aspirations at the U.N. during a meeting last Friday with a Palestinian envoy. <em>Caption: Bassam al-Salhi (L), the general secretary of the Palestinian People's Party, shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (R) during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry building in Beijing on November 23, 2012. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • France: In Favor

    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius made the announcement before parliament. "In any case, it's only through negotiations – that we ask for without conditions and immediately between the two sides – that we will be able to reach the realization of a Palestinian state," Fabius said Tuesday. <em>Caption: French president Francois Hollande (L) welcomes Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for a meeting at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris on July 6, 2012. (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Austria: In Favor

    Martin Weiss, Austria's foreign ministry spokesman, said the country decided to vote for the resolution after it became clear there would be no common EU position. <em>Caption: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (L) shakes hands with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann on November 28, 2011 in Vienna. (DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • India: In Favor

    <em>Caption: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) shakes hands with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (L) after a joint press statement in New Delhi on September 11, 2012. (RAVEENDRAN/AFP/GettyImages)</em>

  • Russia: Probably In Favor

    Russia supported Palestinian membership in the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the country "believes that the Palestinians have the right for such a move" but it added "we hope that the Palestinian leadership has well calculated possible consequences of such action." <em>In this handout image supplied by the Palestinian Press Office (PPO) Mahmoud Abbas (R), the President of Palestinian authority and Vladimir Putin, the President of Russian Federation, speak at the Presidential Palace, on June 26, 2012 in Bethlehem, West Bank. (PPO via Getty Images)</em>

  • Norway: In Favor

    <em>Caption: RAMALLAH, WEST BANK - JANUARY 12: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere during a meeting on January 12, 2012 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Mohamad Torokman - Pool/Getty Images)</em>

  • Denmark: In Favor

    <em>Caption: In this handout image supplied by the Palestinian President's Office (PPO), Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt on September 26, 2012 in New York City. (Thaer Ghanaim-PPO/Getty Images)</em>

  • Switzerland: In Favor

    The Swiss government called a change in status "both constructive and pragmatic." <em>Caption: Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf (R) speaks with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas during an official visit to Switzerland on November 15, 2012 in Bern. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Spain: In Favor

    <em>Caption: Madrid, SPAIN: Leader of opposition Popular Party (Partido Popular) Mariano Rajoy (R) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas during his overnight trip to Madrid, 27 January 2007. (PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • United States: Opposed

    <em>Caption: In this handout provided by U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) on November 21, 2012 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Getty Images)</em>

  • Canada: Opposed

    Canada is a staunch ally of Israel. Rick Roth, a spokesman for Canada's foreign minister, said any two-state solution must be negotiated and mutually agreed upon by both states. Roth said any unilateral action is ultimately unhelpful. <em>Caption: In this handout photo from the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper March 2, 2012 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images)</em>

  • Germany: Probably Opposed

    It's "very certain that Germany will not vote for such a resolution," said Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert. Officials aren't saying whether that will translate into a no vote or an abstention. <em>Caption: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the Chancellery in Berlin April 7, 2011. (FABRIZIO BENSCH/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Netherlands: Probably Opposed

    "Lasting peace in the region can only be reached if Israel and the Palestinians return to the negotiating table to reach a final agreement over a two-state solution," according to a letter the foreign minister sent to parliament this week <em>Caption: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to Dutch Queen Beatrix during a meeting at Huis ten Bosch Royal Palace in The Hague, The Netherlands, on January 19, 2012. (ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Britain: Possibly Abstain

    The foreign secretary said Britain could support the measure only if there were a clear commitment by the Palestinians to return immediately and unconditionally to negotiations with Israel. "While there is no question of the United Kingdom voting against the resolution, in order to vote for it we would need certain assurances or amendments," said William Hague. <em>Caption: Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague arrives at a Range Rover dealership in Berlin October 23, 2012 to unveil a new Range Rover model. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Australia: Abstain

    According to Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Her government is divided on the issue, but Gillard told Parliament "bipartisan policy across the major parties in this parliament to support Israel, to support peace in the Middle East, to support two states in the Middle East." <em>Caption: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard attends the naming of Queen Elizabeth Terrace at Parkes Place on November 10, 2012 in Canberra, Australia. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)</em>


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