In no other department have the Liberals veered farther from their expectations than in foreign policy. Trudeau went to great lengths to distance himself from his predecessor during the campaign. Among other things, he promised he would end the combat mission in Iraq. Upon being elected, he said he would restore Canada’s “compassionate and constructive voice in the world.” Many were led to believe that Harper’s divisive foreign policy had come to an end. But it is unlikely that this was ever Trudeau’s intention.
Moreover, Trudeau’s tone elicited concern from Canada’s senior allies, who were reluctant to have their junior partner withdraw from Iraq. As a result, pressure was brought to bear on the Liberal government from day one. This was demonstrated by the exclusion of Canada from a high-level meeting of contributors to the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, held in Paris in January. At the time, this was likely meant to convey displeasure with Trudeau’s decision to withdraw Canada’s six CF-18 fighter jets from Iraq. Their point was further reinforced during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Parliament Hill in June. During his speech to Parliament, he said:
“As your NATO ally and your friend, let me say, we’ll be more secure when every NATO member, including Canada, contributes its full share to our common security. Because the Canadian Armed Forces are really good. And if I can borrow a phrase, the world needs more Canada. NATO needs more Canada. We need you.”
At this point the message was clear: either fall in line or risk the consequences. But by that time, Trudeau had already long since agreed to comply.
On February 8, shortly after the coalition meeting in Paris, the Liberal government unveiled its revamped “non-combat” mission to combat ISIS in Iraq. Despite going forward with the withdrawal of the CF-18s, the plan was welcomed by the U.S. and other members of the coalition. The reason for this is that although the fighter jets were removed, the ground mission itself had dramatically expanded. The number of special forces on the ground were almost tripled from 69 to just over 200, to say nothing of the increased support staff. In addition, Canada would provide an aerial refueling tanker and surveillance aircraft, helping to facilitate the ongoing bombing campaign of its senior allies. Of the campaign promise to end the combat mission, there was now nothing left.
“But,” Trudeau might say, “This is a non-combat mission!” When the Iraq mission was being overseen by the Harper Conservatives, it was also deceptively labeled as “non-combat,” despite the fact that special forces in Iraq are known to engage in combat on the front lines. At the time, Harper was denounced by Trudeau himself for knowingly misleading the Canadian public. But now that Trudeau is overseeing that same mission, it has mysteriously become a “non-combat” mission once more. George Orwell himself couldn’t have written it better!
The day following Obama’s appeal to Parliament in June, Trudeau was already primed to unveil his next major troop deployment – this one much larger than the last. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that about 450 troops would be sent to Latvia as part of an “enduring” NATO presence in Eastern Europe. Ironically, exactly six CF-18s were also pledged for the mission. It was as if Canada were apologizing to NATO for having withdrawn that same number of fighter jets from Iraq.
Canada’s deployment would serve as part of a “high-readiness” NATO battalion across the Baltic states and Poland, directed against Russia. The force of 4,000, directed also by the U.S., Germany and Britain, could be in place within the span of 48 hours, and would serve to bolster NATO’s already existing rapid reaction force of 40,000. These troops, however, can only respond within a week to 10 days. Studies conducted by the Pentagon and the RAND corporation have revealed that Russia could overrun the Baltic states in less than three days, and that a force of 30,000 – 40,000 troops would be required to stave off such an invasion. In other words, a “high-readiness” force of 4,000 could be seen as a little threat in and of itself. NATO hopes its new force can act as a “tripwire,” which it believes will trigger a large-scale NATO intervention against a Russian invasion. The 4,000 troops thus occupy the role of cannon fodder, who can be used to prompt countries to mobilize larger forces. Trudeau has no problem playing this cynical game along with his allies in NATO.
Sometime in 2015, the French government requested Canada adopt a major role in France’s “peacekeeping” mission in the former French colony of Mali. The Conservatives managed to side step the request, knowing the mission was dangerous and would likely lead to Canadian deaths. Now with a new prime minister in office, French imperialism may yet have its day.
At the end of August, Sajjan finally confirmed that up to 600 troops would be committed to UN missions in the near future. The government is reportedly considering Mali, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, for deployment, meaning it will be somewhere on the continent of Africa. As of April, Canada had only 79 personnel involved in UN operations, making this a dramatic increase in troops.
While officially a “peacekeeping” mission, even the Liberals are reluctant to use that term. The UN mission in Mali, for example, has already seen 19 peacekeepers killed this year, to say nothing of civilians and militants. Sajjan has acknowledged that “The missions in Africa are risky,” and has even gone so far as to admit that the “terminology of ‘peacekeeping’ is not valid at this time.” Rather, Canada will be engaged in “peace support operations.” A Globe and Mail editorial explained:
“Indeed, one of the ‘peace supports’ in this evolving doctrine will be ‘more forceful military action required to establish peaceful conditions,’ as some of its advocates put it. Call it peace imposition. Call it war.”
The Liberals could just as well go forward with the slogan “War is Peace,” and have it mean the same thing. Ironically, it was this same doublespeak language used by Canada during the war in Afghanistan. In Kandahar, “peace operations” resulted in the deadliest war involving Canada since the Korean War. The Globe editorial also noted:
“The ironic upshot may well turn out to be that the Trudeau government, having campaigned in 2015 on what sounded like traditional Pearsonian peacekeeping, will end up having a more muscular foreign policy than anything the ostensibly hardline Harper government ever aspired to.”
A “more muscular foreign policy than Harper,” but still “peacekeepers” according to Trudeau! The deception could not be more glaring.
What is “Peacekeeping”?
In his speeches, Trudeau often hearkens to a “golden age” of Canadian diplomacy, where “Pearsonian peacekeeping” inside the UN prevailed. He is referring to Lester B. Pearson, who was prime minister from 1963 to 1968 and often considered the “father of peacekeeping” for his role in the Suez Crisis of 1956. For Trudeau, this fits cozily into his narrative of Canada as a “compassionate and constructive voice in the world.”
But who was Lester B. Pearson, the “father of peacekeeping”? Even a cursory glance at Pearson’s “peacekeeping” shows it was marred by the same cynical interests as all bourgeois politicians before and after him. It is worth quoting at length a National Post article from January on this same topic:
“Canada’s affection for peacekeeping dates to 1957, when then-diplomat and later Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to facilitate the departure of Britain and France from Egypt during the Suez Crisis with the aid of a UN peacekeeping force. Though largely a face-saving measure to cover for French and British withdrawal, it drew accolades from which Canadians have never quite recovered.”
“Throughout the Cold War period, most peacekeeping efforts were failures. Further, far from acting as a neutral “honest broker,” Canada often took the side of Western interests, both political and economic. Even in this era, only 10 per cent of Canada’s defence budget was funnelled into peacekeeping. The rest was diverted to NATO, NORAD and other more conventional military expenditures.”
This is correct. The UN in reality is a diplomatic den of thieves. It can only act in so far as the powers that be will it to act, and even then, it remains subordinated to the cynical interests of the imperialist countries. This was the case during the Suez Crisis (saving face for French and British imperialism), as well as during the UN’s criminal interventions in the Republic of Congo and Haiti. Peacekeeping, by extension, also remains subordinated to the interests of the big players. It may be imperialism with a humanitarian varnish, but it remains imperialism just the same.
Under capitalism, foreign policy is not directed by abstract principles or virtues, but by naked self- interest. For the ruling capitalist elite, principles are subordinated to the expansion of their profits. Canada, which has never reached the heights of imperialist supremacy, must settle with occupying the position of junior partner to the major imperialist countries. Herein lies the motivation behind Canadian foreign policy, of which Trudeau is continuing.
In this article we have made repeated reference to George Orwell’s 1984. But that is only because Trudeau’s particular brand of foreign policy could have been copied directly from that novel. Trudeau has ramped up troop deployment to a level that would have made Stephen Harper jealous, all the while heralding the end of the divisive Harper years and proclaiming an era of “compassion” and “sunny ways”. This doublespeak can only be sustained for so long. It is only a matter of time before people start to recognize this.