06/24/2015 12:30 EDT | Updated 06/24/2016 05:59 EDT

Harper Has Made Canada Irrelevant in Global Governance


This week, the United States and China are engaging in high-level Strategic and Economic Dialogues, the P5+1 and Iran bargain the last outline of a nuclear deal that is reshaping the Middle East and, barring any major strategic surprises, Russia is seeking readmission to the G7 group of countries.

You would, therefore, think that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's heavy inclination towards international trade, and his firm stance on the global defense of democracy, would lead to a some counter-intuitive, post-UN type of deal making. The truth is that the Prime Minister's decisions on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and -- most important of all -- the United States have officially shut the last nails on the coffin of Canadian relevance in global governance. It is time for the opposition parties to fine-tune their foreign policy chops in the coming official campaign period in order for Canada to chart its way back to the world's bargaining table.

The Conservative government's decision to cease all diplomatic relations and engagement with Iran ahead of the nuclear impasse since 2012 has effectively made Canada irrelevant in the Middle East. Which is a tragedy, given Harper's willingness to deploy highly valued Canadian men and women to the region, along with a sustained financial and advisory commitment to the fight against ISIS. This was done at the time arguably because of an unswerving commitment to Israel, and out of a resolute refusal to countenance Iran's undemocratic ways. So far, full points for principle. The problem is that since then, Iran got a new Prime Minister who has skin in the game as far as nuclear negotiations are involved. Since then, the United States has made a complete U-turn on its initial stance on the country, to conservative foreign policy strategists' likely dismay. This to such an extent that President Obama's ultimatum to Iran has transformed into a fully formed willingness to engage, dissuade, and box-in Iran's nuclear options.

Proponents of the Prime Minister's current stance suggest that Canada's commitment to the defense of Israel, the United States, and their interests, is so vital that the country's foreign policy objectives are best served by playing stern, bad cop, to Iran's nuclear whims. The problem with this view is that under Stephen Harper, Canada has officially dropped out, diplomatically, from the region; and disengagement is no form of persuasion, not in a g-zero global political order that punishes attempts to continue free-riding on our favourite hegemon of yore. The argument here is not that Canada's consistent and escalated military commitment to the fight against ISIS and to governmental stability in Afghanistan, is non-existent. Rather, it points to the fact that the Conservative government's hard power strategy officially commits Canada to the role of a fireman in an incandescent region, at the taxpayer's expense, with zero influence on the regional levers at the core of the Middle East's most pressing fires today.

The fight against ISIS is a comprehensive endeavour. To no extent should Canadians forgo privacy unaccountably at home under the threat of terror, without certainty that the current administration is covering all policy options available to degrade and destroy ISIS. In order for this to be the case, a level of engagement, of effective regional strategy, should be seen in Canada's official diplomatic exchanges with Saudi Arabia if not Iran, and with Egypt if not Syria. Even Israel has, as of late, warmed up relations with Arab league states in a startlingly flexible rethink of its regional strategy. In the event that a Harper government survives past October, Canada will ironically be Israel's loudest friend on the one end, and it's least effective ally on the other.

On the Ukraine file, Harper has successfully obsolesced Canada's relevance in ongoing Eastern European talks between the U.S., the European Union, and Russia. Political commentators watched as praise went viral nationwide when Stephen Harper uttered his famous "You need to get out of Ukraine" quip, geared at Putin, last year at the 2014 G7 summit in Brisbane. Since then, a flurry of high-level joint-declarations, treaties, and military threats have had no effect whatsoever on Russia's stance. Even more evidence has since transpired since then that economic sanctions and non-lethal assistance, the crux of Conservative solution to the crisis in Ukraine, have been ineffective.

Today, Russia is publicly seeking to re-join the G7 group of countries at a time when it might either finance Greece's current populist bargaining as it considers departing from the Eurozone, or further ramp up retaliation to last week's announcement of a further allied round of sanctions in light of definite gridlock in Ukraine. To drive the point of Canadian irrelevance to today's pressing global issue, Putin explicitly noted that Canada's official stance will have to mimic that of the United States independently of the prime minister's wishes. Even then, Putin might be mistaken, as the official position will remain one of irrelevance with a side of histrionics.

Contrary to what many argue, Canada's word on the world's most pressing global governance issues has always mattered. Be it when Chretien decided against joining the initial coalition in Iraq, the country's early backing of Responsibility to Protect, to now Bank of England Governor Mark Carney's standard-setting Canadian oversight of today's international financial regulatory standards.

For the Prime Minister to squander Canada's established seat in global deliberations on the economic and strategic blueprint of the g-zero international order currently under construction is a blunder of historic proportions. It's a blunder that, at the end of the day, points to a failure of leadership. It is therefore crucial that the question of Canada's stance on the new Middle East and its sustained partnership with Israel be firmly put to both opposition parties. Ostensibly for the world to get a key signal on possible new directions in Canadian foreign policy.


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