Tag Archives: Foreign Affairs

By: Clement Nocos

2012 was a haphazard year for Canadian foreign relations. Last year saw the sudden shuttering of the Canadian embassy in Tehran, despite its importance in the region and the complexity of Iranian-Canadian relations. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird citied Iran’s human rights violations, its nuclear program, and the government’s support for Syria’s Assad regime as some of many reasons why the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has closed the embassy and effectively cut relations with the government of Iran. Meanwhile, Baird announced the opening of an embassy in Myanmar while 800 000 Rohingya people remain persecuted by the military government, Canada took a back seat to settling for peace in Syria, and faced an internationally embarrassing vote on recognizing  Palestine in the UN. The prolonged debate on foreign ownership of Canadian business (by China) was accompanied by the swift implementation of freer trade agreements (with China). Lastly, a trip to the Asia-Pacific region by the Prime Minister couldn’t exactly be called much of a success. 2012 was a muddled year for Canadian foreign policy.


Continuing into 2013 is the mixed up foreign policy of yester-year. In the news lately is the Canadian contribution to the military intervention in Mali where a Canadian Forces plane has, for the past week, been ferrying French and ECOWAS troops and military equipment for deployment. Disregarding France’s “colonial responsibility” for Mali, Canada’s involvement in the region is spurred on by a mining operations run by largely Canadian companies whom DFAIT would like to see secure. There isn’t much of an R2P pretence regarding Canada’s latest “peacekeeping” mission.

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By: Clement Nocos

With Canada’s largest trading partners, the European Union and the United States, headed off the proverbial fiscal cliff, the federal government has sought out high growth Asian markets as our economic back up plan. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent jaunt through India and the Philippines aimed to secure these economic Plan B’s, but as the tour comes to a close and while aside from the whole scandal over the cost of flying armoured security vehicles, the results of the foreign trade mission have shown to be rather lackluster.

While Harper tried to warm economic relations and pushed hard for a bilateral trade deal to even Canada’s current trade deficit, the Indian government instead pressed to resolve security matters with claims that our government has left Khalistani extremism unchecked in Canada. While outstanding investment and trade deals ultimately send jobs and investment to India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not think Canada and India had the ‘Bollywood’ relationship that Harper asserts. In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino talked about immigration while Prime Minister Harper again pressed for trade.

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The announcement on 23 July 2012 by the European Union (EU) and Australia to end sanctions on Zimbabwe with the exception of those against President Robert Mugabe has come as a late achievement for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The latter figure began his toughly attained leadership in 2008 with hopes that renewed cooperation between his party and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF (Patriotic Front) could foster fresh economic recovery and international investment in his country. Unfortunately for the Zimbabwean people and his party, the international community has remained rightly mistrusting of Mugabe’s continuing presidency.

Numerous individual accounts from within Zimbabwe and the region portray the President, his party, and vast domestic intelligence apparatus as one with absolutely no tolerance for dissent and an easy willingness to use armed force to crush such opposition.[1] Indeed, this characteristic of his leadership was evident at the very start of his term in the early 1980s when he fought off his original rival, Joshua Nkomo.[2] However, Western governments, in particular the UK, have not always taken the heavy-handed attitude towards the Zimbabwean government as they have over the past decade. Some have attributed this to their sympathy with Mugabe as the leader having helped end Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government, which had frustrated London in 1976 with its unilateral declaration of independence. However, a more robust analysis reveals a certain ambivalence on the part of the Commonwealth to the effects of their policies on Zimbabwe’s economy, politics and people.

The purpose of this article is to determine the degree of involvement that can and should be applied by Commonwealth governments towards bringing about political change and economic recovery in Zimbabwe. It does so by examining the stance taken by US administrations to Mugabe’s regime over the past decade, the shifting rhetoric and policies pursued by Commonwealth governments over the past thirty years and the role played by South African leaders in bolstering the Zanu-PF regime. Ultimately, it becomes clear that a more consistent and thoughtful destabilisation of Zanu-PF by the Commonwealth combined with the EU has been and remains the most viable means to help Mugabe’s rivals revitalise Zimbabwean prosperity.

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By: Clement Nocos

With recently sluggish economic growth, unstable political situations, and rising nationalist riots and sentiments in China and Japan, both countries have become involved in an escalating territorial dispute over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands. Where does Canada end up in this potential stand off between the two Asia-Pacific powers? Canada, having increasingly closer economic ties with both countries, should have a vested interest in this dispute. However, our current position on the conflict is so far non-existent, with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird preferring bilateral talks between Tokyo and Beijing in order to sort this issue out much like Canada does with its own territorial disputes between the US and Denmark (Power and Politics clip at 6:58). What Baird forgets here is that, unlike Chinese-Japanese relations that have had to deal with such historic atrocities as the “Pacific War”, Canada does not have a long-running blood feud with the US (okay, save for those War of 1812 commercials and hockey) and Denmark over territory. It’s hard for Tokyo and Beijing to have a conversation that goes past WWII apologies.

Furthermore, Canadian-American-Danish foreign affairs remain stable while the expected departure of China’s General Secretary Hu Jintao in November, the unexplained public absences by his presumptive successor Xi Jinping, and nationalist right-wing challenges to Japanese PM Yoshihiko Noda’s government are helping to destabilize Chinese-Japanese relations. Nationalist protests in both China and Japan have seen the boycott and destruction of affiliated businesses, attacks on nationals of both countries, as well as effigy and flag burnings.

Japanese and Chinese ships patrol the waters surrounding the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. Any misstep by both parties could intensify the conflict. (KYODO/REUTERS)

China has been flexing its military and economic muscle in recent months, provoking territorial disputes with Japan and neighbouring ASEAN member-states over islands and their surrounding potential undersea resources. Chinese ships are on constant patrol around the Senkakus and other disputed islands. Japanese businesses in China have had to shut down operations due to Chinese public resentment. The Japanese government is being pushed by the far-right to abandon Constitution Article 9 that prevents the JSDF from becoming an aggressive offensive force. America’s recent WTO complaint against Chinese trade violations and the US military’s obligation to defend Japan under the 1960 Mutual Cooperation and Security Treaty add more volatility to the situation. Conflict is brewing in the East China Sea that could very well disrupt Canadian interests in the region, yet the Canadian Government seems much more concerned with Iran, though it is less interconnected to that region.

China and Japan are Canada’s 3rd and 4th largest export markets respectively, behind the US and the EU. The Canadian government has an obviously vested interest in China, with PM Harper’s recent trade missions to China and the looming CNOOC deal. Canada’s economic relationship with China is only expected to deepen and accelerate. The current Canadian Government is trying desperately to ram through approval of the CNOOC deal and to ensure that pipeline infrastructure to the Pacific gateway is complete which would strengthen trade links with the Chinese, whilst ignoring the Chinese Governments spate of human rights abuses. Japan, an important trading partner, is a diplomatic ally, regional power, and a liberal democracy to boot. With such huge investment in China and with such important ties to Japan, it is almost surprising that this dispute has been so far under-the-radar.

Any sort of further escalation in this conflict threatens Canada’s stakes in the Asia-Pacific region, yet there is hardly any anxiety or action by DFAIT and the rest of the Canadian Government. A naval conflict between China and Japan, however small, would cause a tremendous disruption to a combined approximate total of 10% for all of Canada’s international trade. For a government whose talking points consist of economic growth and prosperity, this is too high a price to ignore. Despite the decades-long decline of its diplomatic corps and its internationally recognized status as a peacekeeping nation, Canada cannot remain passive and should take more of an active role in the Senkaku Islands dispute. With a few of our own maritime disputes, Canada is well experienced in this type of situation and would perform well as a mediator in the conflict. It is not only a dire situation in which Canada needs to secure its economic interests in the region, but also an opportunity to return to its internationally recognized role as peacemaker (as if it had one in the first place). Apologies for the cynicism, but leave Iran for the Americans.

By: Chris Burke

The recent decision by the Harper government to close down its embassy in Iran has left many political commentators baffled as to the motive for the decision.  The government maintains its position that Iran is the most significant threat to world peace, apparently a justification to stop making any effort at diplomatic outreach.  I will touch on the claim that Iran is such at the end of this post, first I want to assume that the statement is true in order to ask, “Is closing the embassy the solution to the problem?”

Assume, for a moment, that Iran really does represent the threat that Canada (and most of the West) claims it does.  What benefit comes from cutting off diplomatic ties and isolating the country?  There have been whispers that Israel is gearing up to bomb Iran over fears of Iran’s nuclear development, and that closing the embassy is a way to get Canada’s diplomats out of there, but this reasoning is suspect.  Israel has been speaking about bombing Iran for the past year.  Why close the embassy now when Israel has made no significant changes to its plans? Unless our government knows something about Israel the rest of the world doesn’t.  While Canada is unarguably a staunch, and dogmatic, supporter of Israel, the strength of our influence doesn’t seem great enough for Israel to be telling Canada something that it wouldn’t also let the U.S. know of.  The idea also borders on conspiracy, a sinister plot, and I’m not interested in going down that road.

Relations between Canada and Iran are no doubt strained, but it appears that the Harper government needs to go right back to conflict resolution 101.  The countries where relations are strained warrant the most need for an embassy.  It is the role of diplomats, through carefully thought out wording, to negotiate and set out a course of action for two nations to reconcile their differences.  Canada is doing the exact opposite of that.  Instead, they hold press conferences stating that Iran is the greatest threat to world peace.  Our Prime Minister has made references to Iran’s leadership as being made up of religious fanatics.  Of course, that may describe certain Iranian officials, but what about the Ayatollah who said nuclear weapons are against Islam? This brings me to the final point I want to make on this issue: is Iran the threat Canada has made it out to be?

One criticism that was levelled against Iran by Canada is its support for the Assad government in Syria.  From our perspective this appears to be evil supporting evil, but from their end it’s a friend supporting a friend.  With the fall of the Assad government looking more and more likely as the West backs the rebels (who are hardly the freedom fighters they are portrayed as), Iran is quickly running out of friends in the Middle East.  It has been debated as to whether Iran is building a nuclear weapon or not.  I will, for the sake of the argument, assume that this is their intent regardless of what is publicly stated.  It’s a nefarious goal, at first glance.  Now consider Iran’s situation.  They are quickly becoming the last power in the Middle East that opposes the goals of the West in that region.  Israel, a country that does have nuclear weapons, has been threatening to attack Iran.  Reasonable thought dictates that Iran would behave aggressively as it becomes increasingly cornered.  Of course, I would prefer Iran not to go nuclear.  I would prefer the world to abandon nuclear weapons.  That’s not how the world currently works, however.  Iran’s actions must be considered in the context of their situation.  It is not a case of isolated fanatics who wish to bring about the end of the world, but a nation acting rationally given its current situation.

Canada’s strong reliance on international trade relative to other developed countries has often placed us at the intersection of globalization and national sovereignty. This observation is neither new nor novel, with early Canadian theorists such as Harold Innis’ Staples Thesis stressing the political and cultural linkages that arose from colonial  Canada’s reliance on commodity exports …

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The notion that a free trade agreement with a powerful economy can erode sovereignty was comprehensively rejected after the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) effects showed no correlating diminution in the Canadian Parliament’s capacity to act independently over twenty years. Liberals who campaigned in 1988 on the argument that continental free trade would eventually …

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