Ottawa situation report: Harper does the chicken hawk

Embassies around the world routinely prepare situation reports or sitreps: assessments of host governments and their leaders. Foreign offices request these reports be updated prior to bilateral consultations or international meetings.

In advance of the emergency G7 meeting held in Holland on Monday March 24, an Ottawa embassy sitrep was circulated among European Union foreign ministries. This portrait of PM Harper and Canadian foreign policy under his direction is reproduced below.

Background

It will be recalled that Canada was admitted to what became the G7 at the behest of U.S. president Gerald Ford. The U.S. was concerned about being isolated within the G5 group first brought together in 1975 by French president Giscard d'Estaing to address persistent economic differences among Japan, France, the U.K., West Germany (as it was then) and the U.S.

In 1976 Canada was added along with Italy, and the EU Commission joined as an observer. Since then Canada has on occasion provided a useful counterpoint to the U.S., without necessarily supporting the EU. For example, by his insistence on talking about North-South issues, Pierre Trudeau made the G7 broaden its economic perspective.

It will further be recalled that the G7 has become a place where security issues have taken precedence over economic matters, which have been delegated to the G7 finance ministers, and now to the G20 as well.

By adding Russia in 1998, the G7 became the G8. It is expected Russian G8 participation will be suspended as a result of its violation of Ukraine sovereignty by the illegal absorption of Crimea. 

Issues

In advance of the emergency G7 meeting March 24, 2014, Prime Minister Harper visited Ukraine. He has been making a number of extra-ordinary statements which if taken seriously would imply putting Europe and the U.S. on a war footing against Russia. Harper wants to reverse the Russian takeover of Crimea, see national (sic) security issues take precedence over commercial relations, expel Russia from the G8, and "stand with the people of Ukraine" (apparently this does not include Canada offering major financial aid to Ukraine).

Canada has talked about the need to beef up Ukrainian defence capacity and argued that the takeover of the Crimea peninsula is an act of military aggression that must be answered by the West, which Harper has taken to calling "the free world."

In informal conversations with EU embassies, the subject of dropping or downgrading the G7 comes up more and more frequently. At the world level, a new G4 format would allow the U.S. the EU, China and Japan to address important global economic issues, and forestall looming security issues between Japan and China. Such a gathering would also help restrain the U.S. after its announced "pivot" towards Asia.

Canada would be left in the G20 where it would have a status more appropriate to its current diplomatic weight, i.e. downgraded to reflect how its foreign policy is now subservient to domestic electoral considerations.

Strategic considerations

The already annoying tendency for Canada to simply echo U.S. concerns has become more pronounced since Harper took office in 2006. His recent attitude mirrors closely the position taken by the notorious U.S. neoconservatives (or chicken hawks) who provoked the second Iraq war and the invasion of Afghanistan, major foreign policy reversals for the U.S.

Amazingly, Harper has not managed to establish a solid working relationship with the U.S. president, preferring to support Republican Party initiatives on a host of issues tied to energy and climate change denial. While it is rare for a Canadian PM not to establish a good relationship with a U.S. president, it is unprecedented for a Canadian government to line up with the U.S. opponents of the president.

In the case of the Ukrainian crisis, Harper has been sounding like an advance man for U.S. Republicans who already control the U.S. House of Representatives and are predicted to take control of the U.S. Senate following mid-term elections this coming November.

A case can be made for allowing the U.S. and Canada to address their domestic constituencies through the G7 meeting, and seeing if both countries can be persuaded to provide major aid as part of a package for Ukraine. The EU has no intention of matching the amount of money ($15 billion) that Russia put on the table before the crisis, but something must be done to keep Ukraine afloat and encourage its democratic development.

Major street demonstrations in Madrid this past weekend are an indication of trouble to come from the austerity program being applied in EU countries. Ukrainians are proud people with strong democratic impulses; leaving them dependent on U.S." leadership" in this difficult time should be unthinkable for the EU. 

Russia-EU relations are best addressed directly rather than in the presence of the U.S. and/or Canada. European interests dictate that there can be no return to a Europe divided between East and West. Russia must be seen as a European partner of the EU, one that may eventually have associate status and even full membership in a long-term perspective.

On no account can a regional conflict, however significant, be allowed to generate great power hostility. The EU was founded to prevent the escalation of regional conflicts into all-out war.

Action recommended

1. Ignore Harper in public statements. A recent poll indicates his national standing is slipping. His personal approval rating is negative 27 points (difference between those favourable and those unfavourable). His government has just been embarrassed by a Supreme Court ruling that not only rejected his nominee to the Court, but signalled that the Court was not prepared to allow his government to dictate how the Constitution was to be interpreted.

2. Rebuke Harper quietly. Make it clear that European security does not involve escalating rhetoric or cutting off diplomatic avenues because Russia has acted illegally and in contravention of international agreements.

3. Leave Canada out of any meaningful discussions on the future of Ukraine unless it agrees to make a major commitment of cash to help restore its public finances.

4. Contradict Harper if necessary on the relationship of military action and successful foreign policy. War is not an acceptable option for Europeans. Russian aggression needs to be countered by diplomatic and economic means.

5. Harper like Putin will not be around forever. The most important thing is to ensure that so long as they hold power, they do as little damage to European interests and to world peace as possible.

Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: pmwebphotos/flickr

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