Canada, dwarfed by neighbors, seeks global role, Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

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     Canada, dwarfed by neighbors, seeks global role, Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once stated that living next door to a giant neighbor like the U.S. is like sleeping with an elephant. You have to be careful to avoid being crushed. Still, Canada and the U.S. enjoy extremely friendly relations.

Historically, this has not been easy. Canada was invaded by its big neighbor in 1812 and at other times, but it repulsed the attacks. Canada was also berated by the U.S. for not supporting the U.S. in Vietnam — then president Lyndon Johnson even reportedly came close to roughing up visiting Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson for not backing the U. S. war militarily. However, Canada defied the pressure and continued to promote peace and cooperation in Vietnam.

The U.S. has grudglingly accepted that Canada, in its history, population and policies, is different from the U.S. and that it will pursue its own values and interests.

Canada has maintained good neighborly relations with its giant neighbor while dodging pressures and has pursued its own foreign policy, developing close ties with the British Commonwealth, Francophone countries and its Latin American neighbors. It has also maintained close relations with another big neighbor, Russia, and it recognized China long before the U.S. did.

On the Middle East, it has generally supported Israel, partly because of pressure from the Zionist lobby, but it has also opposed Israel at times, most prominently when Israel, Britain and France invaded Egypt in 1956. It has also been providing assistance to Palestinian refugees and has sometimes pleaded for justice to them.

Now Canada has joined 163 countries, including NATO allies U.K. and Germany, in calling Israeli settlements in the occupied territories an impediment to the “right of the Palestinian people to self-dtermination.” Just five countries, led by Israel’s patron the U.S., opposed the resolution while Australia abstained.

Canada’s latest decision differs markedly from the U.S. policy in the Middle East. President Donald Trump states that he does not see Israeli  settlements on occupied Palestinian land as illegal. He also recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. By contrast, Canada wants to promote peace and justice in the Middle East for all its people and does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The policy has been welcomed by those wishing Canada to be even-handed in the Middle East rather than toeing the Zionist and the U.S. line. It could also be because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had announced in August 2016 that Canada will seek one of the 10, two-year temporary seats on the U.S. Security Council in 2020. The council’s five permanent members are the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K. and France. Canada has served on the Security Council six times since 1940.

The last time it did so was in 2000 but its election by the193-member assembly is not certain. It has to compete with other countries, such as Norway, for such a seat. In the past it won support because it promoted peace, denounced apartheid, opposed landmines, contributed to peace-keeping and helped to establish the International Court of Justice.

But former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s policies, especially blind support to Israel’s land grab, defiance of the UN and iron rule over the Palestinians, alienated nations previously friendly to Canada.

Canada’s credibility also suffered because it has not reached its own declared target of foreign aid. Fifty years ago then Prime Minister Lester Pearson asked developed countries to commit 0.7 per cent of their annual income to help poorer countries. Canada itself did not reach that goal and today spends a mere 0.28 per cent of its gross national income on foreign aid. Prime Minister Trudeau did accept 25,000 Syrian refugees and other people facing persecution. But Canada still lags behind some European countries in foreign aid even though Trudeau says Canada “is back.”

Now other countries are doing what Canada used to do. Some European countries give more foreign aid per capita than Canada. Norway helped Sri Lankans negotiate a ceasefire in their civil war in the early 2000s. Ireland has eight times more peace-keepers overseas than Canada.

Canada’s desire to get a two-year Security Council seat shows its renewed interest in the UN. But it lost considerable ground during Harper’s time and has to work hard to recover the prestige and affection it used to enjoy throughout the world.

(Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge)

 

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