Tag Archives: Walter Dorn

Foreign policy nationalism must be named and challenged


It is easy to love your country. The messages encouraging patriotism are everywhere. And it fulfills a need to belong. But nationalism in our foreign policy is a major obstacle to a more just world.

Reaction to the recent United Nations Security Council vote and opposition campaign highlights “Team Canada” thinking among progressives. Some on the left seemed to fear being viewed as unpatriotic, others simply ignore their country’s imperialism and still others actually believe the “world needs more Canada”.

Canada’s leading proponent of UN peacekeeping offers a stark example of how nationalism stunts common sense. For more than a decade Walter Dorn has fervently promoted military engagement through the UN. As the Rideau Institute adviser and stalwart in the peace movement recognized, far more Irish soldiers were part of UN missions than Canadians while there were slightly more Norwegians. Still, Dorn bemoaned Canada’s Security Council defeat to Norway and Ireland. But, if your central political objective is promoting peacekeeping and the other candidates vying for the two Western Europe Security Council positions are more engaged in UN missions, what’s to lament? In fact, Dorn ought to celebrate Ethiopia, Rwanda and Bangladesh’s foreign policy since they are the top contributors to UN peacekeeping. But, he’s too Canadian/Euro centric to countenance such a thing.

A similar dynamic was at play with most nuclear disarmament groups. Ireland’s position on nuclear disarmament is far better than Canada’s and Norway is a bit better. Still, few among the nuclear disarmament milieu supported Ireland or opposed Canada’s Security Council bid (most backed it).

Even some prominent pro-Palestinian activists refused to sign an open letter calling on countries to vote for Norway and Ireland instead of Canada due to its anti-Palestinian positions. According to research compiled by Karen Rodman of Just Peace Advocates, since 2000 Canada has voted against 166 General Assembly resolutions critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Ireland and Norway haven’t voted against any of these resolutions. Additionally, Ireland and Norway have voted yes 251 and 249 times respectively on resolutions related to Palestinian rights during this period. Canada has managed 87 yes votes, but only two since 2010.

Representatives of the primary victims of the Canadian state also engage in crass foreign policy nationalism. On the day of the UN Security Council vote Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde tweeted, “First Nations consider the work of the United Nations vital for global peace and security. Canada is an important voice to be heard at the United Nations Security Council. Good luck to minister Champagne and ambassador Blanchard on today’s vote!”

Bellegarde is an accommodating indigenous leader and the AFN is highly dependent on the federal government. But, as I detail in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada, it’s not uncommon for First Nations leaders to make similar statements. In a January Georgia Straight commentary titled “Canada must stop violating Indigenous human rights for megaprojects” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip (co)wrote, “for generations, Canada has proudly supported human rights on the international stage at the United Nations forums while consistently failing to apply the same moral compass here at home.” According to this formulation, the state that bulldozes First Nations suddenly becomes a social justice seeking force when it operates in a sphere where it faces even fewer democratic constraints. It’s an absurd proposition, but not uncommon in Canadian political culture.

Another slightly less direct, though equally bizarre, form of nationalism can be found among strains of anarchism. Many who say they oppose borders and KKKanada were indifferent to the anti-Security Council campaign/defeat and Canadian imperialism more generally. No Borders Media provides a stark example. One would presume a group with such a name would take internationalism seriously. But a look through months of No Borders Media’s Twitter demonstrates complete Canada/US centrism. At what point, to paraphrase a slogan making the rounds, does ‘silence regarding Canadian imperialism become violence’ towards its largely black and brown victims?

One success of the No Canada on Security Council campaign was that it challenged foreign policy nationalism without pretense. It focused on Canada’s dubious record and suggested its Security Council competitors were more deserving of a seat on the international organization’s most powerful decision-making body. If you care about climate disturbances support Ireland and Norway because their per capita greenhouse gas emissions are far lower; if you care about Palestinian rights back those two countries since they don’t vote against UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights; if you oppose rich countries dumping their trash in poor nations support Ireland and Norway because they signed the Basel Ban Amendment, etc.

Canadian foreign policy nationalism needs to be named and challenged. It is an obstacle to building a more just world.

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First principle of international relations should be ‘do no harm’

Many progressives call for Canada to “do more” around the world. The assumption is that this country is a force for good, a healer of humankind. But if we claim to be the “doctors without borders” of international relations, shouldn’t Canada swear to “first do no harm” like MDs before beginning practice? At a minimum shouldn’t the Left judge foreign policy decisions through the lens of the Hippocratic oath?

Libya illustrates the point. That North African nation looks set to miss a United Nations deadline to unify the country. An upsurge of militia violence in Tripoli and political wrangling makes it highly unlikely elections  planned for December will take place.

Seven years after the foreign backed war Libya remains divided between two main political factionsand hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. Thousands have died in fighting since 2011.

The instability is not a surprise to Canadian military and political leaders who orchestrated Canada’s war on that country. Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011 military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision makers the country would likely descend into a lengthy civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.”

A year and a half before the war a Canadian intelligence report described eastern Libya as an “epicentre of Islamist extremism” and said “extremist cells” operated in the anti-Gadhafi stronghold. In fact, during the bombing, notes Ottawa Citizenmilitary reporter David Pugliese,Canadian air force members privately joked they were part of “al-Qaida’s  air force”. Lo and behold hardline Jihadists were the major beneficiaries of the war, taking control of significant portions of the country.

A Canadian general oversaw NATO’s 2011 war, seven CF-18s participated in bombing runs and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels patrolled Libya’s coast. Ottawa defied the UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians by dispatching ground forces, delivering weaponry to the opposition and bombing in service of regime change. Additionally, Montréal-based private security firmGardaWorld aided the rebels in contravention of UN resolutions 1970 and 1973.

The NATO bombing campaign was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations. Western media and politicians repeated the rebels’ outlandish (and racist) claims that sub-Saharan African mercenaries fuelled by Viagra given by Gaddafi, engaged in mass rape. Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising and Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, were unable to find any basis for these claims.

But, seduced by the need to “do something”, the NDP, Stephen Lewis, Walter Dorn and others associated with the Left supported the war on Libya. In my new book Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I question the “do more” mantra and borrow from healthcare to offer a simple foreign policy principle: First Do No Harm. As in the medical industry, responsible practitioners of foreign policy should be mindful that the “treatments” offered often include “side effects” that can cause serious harm or even kill.

Leftists should err on the side of caution when aligning with official/dominant media policy, particularly when NATO’s war drums are beating. Just because the politicians and dominant media say we have to “do something” doesn’t make it so. Libya and the Sahel region of Africa would almost certainly be better off had a “first do no harm” policy won over the interventionists in 2011.

While a “do more” ethos spans the political divide, a “first do no harm” foreign policy is rooted in international law. The concept of self-determination is a core principle of the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.Peoples’ inalienable right to shape their own destiny is based on the truism that they are best situated to run their own affairs.

Alongside the right to self-determination, the UN and Organization of American States prohibit interfering in the internal affairs of another state without consent. Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter states that “nothing should authorize intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

A military intervention without UN approval is the “supreme international crime”. Created by the UN’s International Law Commission after World War II, the Nuremberg Principles describe aggression as the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”In other words, by committing an act of aggression against Libya in 2011 — notably bombing in service of regime change — Ottawa is responsible not only for rights violations it caused directly, but also those that flowed from its role in destabilizing that country and large swaths of Africa’s Sahel region.

If Canada is to truly be the “good doctor” of international relations it will be up to Left foreign policy practitioners to ensure that this country lives up to thatpart of the Hippocratic oath stating, “First do no harm”.

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