By Steve Saideman
One refrain I heard during Canada’s time in Afghanistan was that Canadians were confused about Afghanistan. Well, after more than 12 years in Canada, I can say that I am still quite confused about Canada. How so? Last night, there was an emergency debate about Canada’s deployment of 69 troops (Special Operations Forces) to Iraq to do training. I think the point of the debate was to provide some clarity about this effort, but if so, it failed miserably.
The Liberals called for this debate and only had a handful of members show up. If this is something that is vital, which is kind of implied by the term “emergency debate,” one would expect a better turn out.
The New Democrats sent a significant number of members to show up and, mostly, demonstrated that it takes the Defence file more seriously than the other parties. Of course, they still provide more confusion than clarity about whether votes are required for deployments (they are not and have rarely taken place).
The civil war in Syria has re-captured the international media spotlight. On the ground, the situation is complex and constantly evolving, with events ranging from bullets fired at United Nations inspectors to Russian naval ships on alert in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the West is bracing for a military intervention to “punish” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly deploying nerve gas against his own civilians. Disturbing photos of lifeless children have made observers painfully aware of the merciless brutality of war.
The push for Canada to intervene is emotionally and morally compelling. Accumulating body counts remind us of our indifference when hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were slaughtered in 1994. Our subsequent interventions is Kosovo and Libya, however, remind us that inaction is not the only option. Many people believe that we have the power and obligation to stop the suffering. Nonetheless, this is not a consensus view. Many experts agree that a Western intervention is likely to be unsuccessful and can only prolong the suffering.
Similarly dominating the media are two legal claims worthy of investigation. First, Western politicians allege that by using chemical weapons against his own civilians, President Assad has violated international law. Is this the case? The original intention of the Geneva Protocol was only to prohibit their use between states but not in purely domestic wars. The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits their use against civilians, but Syria is not a party to that treaty. Due to widespread state practice and sense of obligation, however, a reasonable case can be made that the unconditional prohibition on chemical weapons is customary international law. This would mean Syria has violated the prohibition, regardless of its non-party status.
Some people are gushing about Brazil’s challenge to the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine.
Brazilian diplomats have indeed come up with a twist, calling their own version of R2P “responsibility while protecting.” Those looking for new leadership and a more humane, empire-free and sexier version of the good old “humanitarian intervention” think that Brazil could “The One.”
The Canadian International Council has a new “In Depth” (!!!) piece on the issue. Its ends with a question that is beyond laughable: “With the economic and political decline of traditional Western powers, will Brazil lead the world’s police force in a new multipolar world?”
Let’s just mention two little problems that should give CIC’s deep thinkers a few clues to an answer.