Harper is Bush's new 'poodle'

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Perhaps the most notable thing Stephen Harper did at the G-8 gathering last week was signal his intention to take over retiring British Prime Minister Tony Blair's role as George W. Bush's most helpful foreign ally.

The implications of this go far beyond whatever embarrassment Canadians may come to feel about our Prime Minister assuming the role of what has sometimes been referred to as Bush's “poodle.”

Members of our corporate and academic elite have long pushed for Canada's Prime Minister to adopt the “poodle” role (without, of course, calling it that), arguing that closer ties with the White House will bring us more influence in U.S. corridors of power.

But as Tony Blair's experience illustrated, the influence tends to go the other way — with the lesser power helping to advance Washington's agenda, rather than Washington advancing the agenda of its finely-furred friend.

Harper gave a good example of this last week when he spoke out in favour of Bush's controversial plan to install a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, and dismissed Russian concerns about it.

Harper's intervention — coming from a country with a peaceful reputation — was extremely helpful to Bush, who has trouble convincing the world that his missile shield won't just set off a new arms race.

So Harper helped Bush sell his missile shield to a skeptical world, even though Canada has refused to participate in the project.

While Harper has expressed support for the shield, he promised in the last federal election campaign that he wouldn't reverse Canada's opposition to it without a vote in the House of Commons, which he knows he could not win.

So, in prominently supporting Bush on the missile defence shield last week, Harper, in effect, did an end-run around Parliament and the Canadian public, and helped advance a position that is at odds with Canada's own official policy.

The significance of this goes beyond Harper's thumbing his nose at Canadian democracy, which is bad enough. Even more seriously, Harper lent Canadian credibility to a reckless scheme that threatens to increase the risk of nuclear war.

If this sounds far-fetched, it's only because of the confusion created by the word “defence” in “missile defence shield.” In reality, the scheme isn't about defence at all, but rather about making it possible for the U.S. to initiate a nuclear war without fear of retaliation.

This was set out clearly by two U.S. military analysts in a major article called “The rise of U.S. nuclear supremacy,” which appeared last year in the prestigious U.S. journal Foreign Affairs. The analysts, Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, explained: “[T]he sort of missile defences that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one — as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a stand-alone shield.”

The analysts noted that while a missile shield wouldn't be effective in an all-out war, it could prove useful if Washington were to initiate a nuclear attack against, for example, Russia or China, leaving the targeted country with only a tiny surviving arsenal: “At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defence scheme might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes.”

So, as Bush goes about creating the capacity to initiate nuclear war — just in case he decides to eliminate some of the “evil” in the world — it seems he can count on support from his new best friend to the north.

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