Blog Article

Canada: The retirement of a global peacekeeper?

by Joana Cook

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“We cannot close the door on diplomacy. We cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems. We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of violence, and tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.” At least our American neighbours to the south think so, as Obama said this week while discussing the recent breakthrough nuclear deal with Iran.

Following tense, and earlier secret negotiations, the P5+1 consisting of the US, Russia, UK, China, Germany and France struck a deal with Iran. This deal, in exchange for the lifting of a number of strict sanctions imposed by the UN, EU, and US (valued at $7 billion USD), will see Iran take a number of clear actions to curb its nuclear program. These include Iran ceasing enrichment above 5%, neutralizing its stockpile which currently exceeds this, and granting greater, regular access to inspectors to its two key nuclear sites, Natanz and Fordo, amongst other clauses.

While this deal has received some criticism in the US, and the expected opposition of Israel, even Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, offered cautious optimism. So why has Canada opted for a position that can be viewed as cynical at best?

Canada, once viewed as an international peacekeeper, and often still thought as such by its population, has now assumed a stance that can be viewed, in frank terms, as negative and uninspired. Canada justifiably shuttered her embassy in Tehran in 2012 and has ceased any type of relationship with the Iranian government since due to its nuclear ambitions and human rights abuses. While certain P5 members, such as the US and UK, had previously done the same, seeking broader security goals took precedence and high-level contact was carried out between these parties over an extended period of six months to reach this breakthrough deal. This is not the case in Canada, whose Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, stated he was “deeply sceptical of the deal and Iran’s intentions” and had no intention of engaging in the foreseeable future. While stating that Canada wants to be part of a diplomatic solution, and will continue to work through organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), little was offered in the way of innovative or inspired approaches that Canada could take to support the constructive actions of the past weekend. It also appeared that higher goals of lasting security, or what positive implications improving relations could play in other areas (such as its influence in Syria), were simply sidelined.

What is now appearing to be an aged, though historic, highpoint for Canada in international diplomacy was its 1957 Nobel Peace Prize won by Canadian Liberal politician Lester B. Pearson for negotiating a peaceful end to the Suez Crisis. As introduced in the presentation speech, Pearson was applauded for his qualities, demonstrated during the crisis – “the powerful initiative, strength, and perseverance he has displayed in attempting to prevent or limit war operations and to restore peace in situations where quick, tactful, and wise action has been necessary to prevent unrest from spreading and developing into a worldwide conflagration”. It is a sentiment which could be easily applicable to modern day Iran, but what is lacking is this same will and spirit.

Canada’s current narrow, even, arguably, non-existent, vision for what is achievable through diplomatic channels risks side-lining itself not only from future negotiations with Iran, but also from other potential opportunities that may rise for it to again utilize its past strengths as negotiator, mediator, and peacekeeper. It will take a strong stance from Canada to do this, but there is no reason it can not engage with Iran while continuing to hold her position and stress the importance of human rights, particularly at this pivotal stage in Iran’s new leadership. With peace talks for Syria now planned in Geneva in January 2014, and instability currently threatening the Central African Republic, there is certainly no lack of opportunity to re-establish a positive global role for Canada in the world.

Simply put, Canada must reflect inwards. It must reassess not only how it views its current position, but also, more broadly, what role it wants to perform on the world stage or whether sitting in the audience will be enough.

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