Taylor and I have another op-ed in today’s Toronto Star. It isn’t often that we get to see a foreign policy dilemma development in front of us. When we do, we have a rare opportunity, and responsibility, to debate and plan our response. I accept that people may not agree with the prescription… but I would encourage them to at least voice their own proposal.
Iraq suddenly appears on Canada’s radar screen
Aug 29, 2007 04:30 AM
David Eaves and Taylor Owen
For the past five years, Canadian leaders have had little to say about the Iraq war. Content not to be in but careful not to be too critical, most have adopted a laissez-faire position on the conflict. This position is unsustainable.
In just over a year’s time, Americans will elect a new president. Regardless of whether the victor is a Democrat or a Republican, the last ardent defender of the Iraq war will have left the international stage and the world will look at Iraq through a new lens. The Iraq war, “Bush’s War,” will be over. Iraq the humanitarian crisis will be in the ascendant.
In anticipation of this emerging shift, the Security Council last week voted unanimously to increase the UN’s role in Iraq. The international body will endeavour to do what it – and notably not what the U.S. military – does best: engage in essential diplomatic, negotiation and humanitarian activities.
And this is only the beginning. While the departure of U.S. and British troops will undoubtedly remove one aggravating factor, sectarian strife, a humanitarian crisis and a failing state will remain.
Within a year, Iraq will have shifted from a precipitous and ill-executed American invasion and occupation, into an internationalized humanitarian crisis.
And a crisis it is.
According to a recent UN report, there are 1.8 million internally displaced persons and 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries, with an additional 40,000 to 50,000 leaving per month; 54 per cent of the population lives below the extreme poverty line of $1 a day; 43 per cent of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition; inflation is 70 per cent, and in 2006 there were 34,452 recorded civilian deaths and 36,685 recorded civilian injuries.
Compare these numbers to Kosovo and East Timor, and add the regional consequences of a prolonged Iraqi civil war, and surely there is a case for active international engagement.
As the recent Security Council resolution indicates, a global strategy is starting to take shape. There will be calls for still greater UN intervention, possibly even a peacekeeping force. Over the next 12 to18 months, an international plan for dealing with Iraq will likely emerge.
Will Canada help shape it?
We could opt not to. That would be politically expedient, although it would confirm our declining status on the international stage.
Or we could see this as a diplomatic opportunity where we are uniquely positioned to lead. Canada is an ally of the United States and Britain but had the integrity and self-confidence to not participate in the flawed invasion. Canada is not burdened with a colonial or imperialist past in the region. Unlike Germany and France, Canada has had limited financial interests in Iraq. And, in contrast to Russia and China, Canada possesses a relatively well-respected record on human rights.
By helping to develop a solution that could bring stability to Iraq, the region and the international community, Canada could shine. Indeed, the parallels to the event that launched Canada’s much vaunted but greatly diminished status as an international peace broker are noteworthy.
During the 1956 Suez crisis, the world’s powers were equally hamstrung. What made us so useful then is what could make us so useful today.
This potential is, of course, complicated by our role in Afghanistan. It could reasonably be argued that Afghanistan is our primary international commitment and that we simply do not have the resources to contribute to two major peace-building efforts. But military constraints need not curtail our diplomatic role in a new UN-led effort in Iraq.
Any future mission in Iraq will require a legitimacy that the U.S. invasion lacked. Our position within the UN, coupled with our unique standing in the international community, could make sure this is achieved.
As a country, we need to remember that, regardless of the causes, Iraq today is a humanitarian crisis and a geopolitical time bomb, a country whose collapse or breakup could destabilize the immediate region, and potentially much more.
Here’s hoping Canadian humanitarianism helps shape the way forward.
Taylor Owen is a doctoral student and Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford. David Eaves is a frequent speaker, consultant and writer on public policy and negotiation.