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Crawford, Texas – Bush, Fox and Martin

Crawford, Texas – Bush, Fox and Martin

Canada’s Paul Martin Says No to Antimissile Shield – a Diplomatic Faux Pas or an Act of Principle?

Today’s Summit Gives Bush and Martin a Slender Chance to Reverse Deteriorating U.S.-Canadian Relations

• Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox are meeting with President Bush to discuss border security, cross-border traffic, trade and other quality of life issues.

• The Summit comes at a time of rising tension between Ottawa and Washington following Martin’s decision not to participate in Washington’s deeply desired missile defense system (MDS) project and the U.S. Senate’s vote to keep the borders closed to Canadian cattle.

• While Martin’s plan to discuss flaws in the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade issues - specifically disputes over soft lumber and cattle - are not on the summit’s agenda, Martin was able to schedule a twenty minute meeting with Bush to squeeze in talks about bilateral issues.

• This is the first meeting between Martin and Bush since Canada’s February 24 announcement that it will not take part in the MDS project made Washington very unhappy.

Today, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox are meeting with President Bush at Baylor University and later at his Crawford, Texas ranch. In the first of what some hope to be regular scheduled meetings, Martin’s visit comes nearly one month after he made his bombshell announcement that Canada would not take part in the development and deployment of a ballistic missile defense system (MDS). The summit comes at a time of rising tension between Ottawa and Washington following Martin’s MDS decision. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s subsequent canceling of an April visit to Canada and the U.S. Senate’s vote to keep the borders closed to Canadian cattle were generally perceived as a direct riposte to Ottawa’s actions. Although not on the summit’s agenda, Martin was able to schedule a brief twenty minute meeting with Bush to discuss burning bilateral issues such as soft wood lumber, the embargo on Canadian beef and border security.

Martin’s Mixed Messages
While campaigning to replace Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as head of the Liberal Party in April 2003, Martin said, “If a missile is going over Canadian airspace, I want to know, I want to be at the table.” However, on February 24, after a year of teetering, Martin’s government announced that it would not take part in the development of the MDS with Washington. The United States’ ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, was quick to reply: “We simply cannot understand why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty – its seat at the table – to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming towards Canada. We will deploy. We will defend North America.” With Rice’s cancelled visit to Canada — allegedly due to scheduling issues — coming shortly after Martin’s official announcement regarding the MDS, could this mean that U.S.-Canadian relations will further deteriorate? Going back to the Clinton administration and continuing through the first inauguration of Bush in 2000, U.S.-Canadian relations reflected a degree of U.S. hostility and hectoring over trade issues that made Ottawa a frequent adversary in face-to-face confrontations before NAFTA dispute panels and in deliberations before the World Trade Organization (WTO). If the past is any guide, the answer has to be “yes.”

U.S. Gives Canada the Cold Shoulder
Much of the major media has picked up on recent events and has been quick to suggest that tensions are rising between the neighboring countries. The Canadian Press (CP) reported that, according to a State Department official, President Bush was offended that Martin did not personally inform him of Ottawa’s decision to opt out of the MDS when the two met in Brussels last February at the NATO summit. On February 25, The Washington Post’s Doug Struck declared that Canada’s decision on the MDS was an “acknowledgment of the deep dislike Canadians feel for President Bush and his administration’s project to shoot down missiles headed toward the United States.” A February 28 Wall Street Journal article called Canada opportunistic for opting not to participate in the MDS, from which it would still benefit. Canada’s new ambassador to the U.S., Frank McKenna, stirred things up by casting the blame on Washington’s snail-like pace to resolve trade disputes over softwood lumber and Canadian cattle, stating that those trade barriers played a role in Canada’s decision not to take part in the MDS project. To make matters worse, on March 3, the U.S. Senate voted a temporary injunction against imports of Canadian cattle despite promises by the Bush administration that the U.S. would resume beef imports, which were cut back two years ago due to mad cow disease concerns. In spite of this setback, Ralph Klein, Alberta’s premier, is confident that Bush will save the day. As reported in the March 4 Edmonton Sun, Klein declared: “It’s my understanding that notwithstanding what happens in the Senate and the House …, the president will veto the bill.” The same article also reported that U.S. Ambassador Cellucci confirmed that “Bush was prepared to use his political capital to get the border open to Canadian cattle.”

Nothing Personal, it’s only Politics
Prime Minister Martin was able to avoid taking a stance on the MDS issue during and immediately after Canada’s spring 2004 campaign season. The new PM was able to get away with this after the media focused on the Conservative Party’s somewhat obscure position on the issue, as opposition leader Stephen Harper said that his party’s viewpoint on the matter would be discussed in Parliament.

Although Martin avoided taking an official stance on the MDS issue, he had given mixed clues regarding which direction he was leaning. On January 15, 2004, then Canadian Defense Minister David Pratt sent a letter to his American counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, confirming Ottawa’s intention to participate in the project. On March 23, 2004, an explicit note sent to Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega stated that Canada was committing itself to reaching an agreement with the U.S. in the following months in order to take part in the MDS. As a result, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) agreement was modified on August 5, 2004, to place the antimissile shield under the organization’s responsibility. This modification now allows NORAD personnel to transmit missile detection information to the American commander in charge of the MDS’s operations.

If the Canadian government had set the ball rolling in one direction, what caused this sudden change of mind? Martin’s refusal to join the U.S. in the project was less a matter of declaring Ottawa’s “independence” from U.S. policies than a sagacious political move intended to win over his Canadian constituency and avoid a debilitating debate at the Liberal Party’s March 3-6 convention. At the head of a minority government, Martin found himself in a sticky situation. Still in a campaigning state of mind, he had to satisfy a population predominantly opposed to the MDS project without alienating Washington. As reported in today’s Globe and Mail, a new poll by Decima Inc. shows that 57 percent of respondents support Martin’s decision, versus 26 percent who do not. By refusing to join in on the MDS, Martin also sought to gain political capital in Quebec, the province most adamantly opposed to the missile shield and where the Liberal Party lost nearly half of its seats in the June 2004 federal elections. This became all too clear when Defense Minister Bill Graham, who was in favor of Canada’s participation in the MDS, admitted during the Liberal Party’s convention that the party’s militants had won the battle.

To justify its decision to Washington, the Canadian government stated that it was based on Canadian “values”. However, unless Canadian values have changed in just one year, Martin could have emphatically said “no” at that time instead of waiting to be cornered into making a decision that could be applauded by delegates at the Liberal Party convention, but certainly not in Washington. At that point, Martin was doomed to be damned either way he moved.

Additional Investment for Security and Defense
Despite Canada’s refusal to join the U.S. in the MDS, it bountifully has responded to U.S. pressure to increase its security and defense spending, announcing an additional investment of $CAD 12 billion over five years for defense-related matters in its latest budget. This will be spent on recruiting new soldiers, purchasing new military material and increasing border protection. According to Martin, it is in Canada’s own interest to increase security along its border, astride the coastlines and in the Arctic, as well as increase intelligence capabilities and provide more modern equipment to the Canadian armed forces. Rice told Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew that she was disappointed with Ottawa’s decision not to join the MDS project but that she was satisfied with the new spending on security and defense-related endeavors.

The Need for a Missile Defense System – a “Utopic Project?”
In an interview with Radio-Canada’s René Homier-Roy on the MDS, a well-regarded astrophysicist and historian of science Hubert Reeves said, “all American specialists on the issue agree that this project is utopic.” Despite that, the White House is going ahead with the project. Reeves believes that this project is perpetuating the climate of paranoia which was set in after 9\11. The MDS project also serves an economic purpose: it gives a boost to the U.S. military industry, even though the system is far from fully reliable. The Department of Defense justifies the need for missile defense due to the spread of ballistic missile technology that has accelerated in various Third World countries in recent years. The Pentagon also maintains that proliferation of missile technology is difficult to control as more countries develop increasingly sophisticated designs, including missiles capable of reaching the U.S. In the Defense Department’s view, great danger lies in the existence of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons that can be mated with long-range ballistic missiles to target the U.S., its military forces abroad as well as its allies. But according to Reeves, the future of war no longer necessarily lies with launching bombs and missile threats, but from an even darker enemy: terrorism. Reeves also has observed that “it is impossible to protect yourself against a missile attack as there always will be a way to get around an antimissile missile.” Such an observation, which has been repeated by many other specialists, raises doubts over the need for a missile defense system which might be both obsolete and delusional. “The danger lies in the creation of mistrust,” Reeves said. He added, “creating a defensive weapon only invites others to do the same and that the margin between attack and defense will become dangerously thin.”

Sharing the Button
At the Liberal Party’s convention, Martin spoke little about his government’s decision not to join the MDS project, stating only that Canada was reluctant to be associated with it because the country would have had no control over the initiative. In a February 24 interview with Radio-Canada’s Jean Dussault, Foreign Affairs Minister Pettigrew declared that the Americans were not going to “share the button.” He went on to observe that Washington would have liked Canadian participation in developing the system, but one should not think that there would necessarily have been elaborate consultations before deciding to use the weapon. In this sense, choosing not to take part in a project where Canada would have had no real control, and in which the Canadian population did not really believe, made perfect sense.

Canada waited so long to take a final position on the MDS that the delay cost the country some credibility. If Ottawa would have spoken its mind sooner, its voice would have been heard loud, clear and principled. Martin’s indecision may now invite some serious repercussions in his relations with the United States, but this possibility is hedged by several hundred billion dollars a year in trade. According to Harper, “Canada will be invisible in Washington. Washington has a lot of allies, it does not need a prime minister that cannot keep its engagements.” But if one could dissent from Harper’s somewhat bumptious formulations, it is the indecision of the government more than its ultimate position that is likely to tarnish Canada’s image. Even if recent events show a more receptive President Bush, it is still too soon to predict the repercussions that this so-called diplomatic faux pas ultimately could have on already troubled U.S.-Canadian relations.

Paul Martin Wants to Resolve Trade Disputes
As reported by Brian Laghi and Jeff Sallot in a March 4 article in the Globe and Mail, “In late January, Mr. Martin told reporters he wanted to work on a better way to solve trade disputes – like the battle over Canadian exports of softwood lumber.” The authors also report that Martin raised the topic of a meeting to discuss NAFTA changes with President Bush when the two met in late November 2004. Martin’s plan to discuss flaws in NAFTA at today’s summit fell off the agenda earlier this March, but the Canadian PM was able to schedule a twenty minute meeting with the U.S. president to discuss bilateral issues. Still, the fact that Martin was only able to obtain a mere twenty minutes with Bush has been heavily criticized by the Conservative Party in Ottawa. It seems the brief time allotted for bilateral talks is only a symbolic gesture that will achieve no real progress in addressing the serious trade disputes that continue to bedevil ties between the U.S. and Canada. In an effort to improve what have been brittle relations between Canada and the U.S., it would be in Bush’s best interest to meet Martin halfway and give him more than twenty token minutes to resolve U.S.-Canadian relations. Rather than look upon Canada as its lap dog, Washington should see Ottawa as its stalwart friend and ally that has always given more than it has taken yet continues to be slapped in the face - be it over salmon, shingles, soft wood or intellectual property rights.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Isabelle Roux.

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