Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Monday, March 07, 2005


Missile defence and mad cow have to be linked

Defenders of Paul Martin's stance on missile defence are quick to deny any link to the recent shutting down of the border to Canadian cattle. They say the one has nothing to do with the other. The idea of 'linkage' is considered uncouth in diplomatic circles. Trade issues are to be separate from defence issues, they say. Any suggestion otherwise is dismissed as fear-mongering or even American boot licking.

But ask yourself the following question: what if Paul Martin had said yes to missile defence? Would events south of the border have proceeded the same as they have now that Paul Martin has actually said no? I wonder.

Let's set aside for a moment the notion that an American judge could be influenced by political forces as high up as the White House or the President's inner circle. We don't even need to go that far to predict a change of attitude on behalf of the Americans. All we need to do is to imagine what the reaction would be by American officials to a judicial ruling closing down the borders just moments after Canada had signed on to George Bush's plans for missile defence. Chances are that they would not be amused.

You can also bet that they would be working overtime to assure Canadians that everything humanly possible was being done to open up those borders again. The last thing the Bush administration would want is the appearance that Canadian cooperation on issues of defence would have no effect on cooperation on issues such as the cattle ban. On the contrary, you would most likely see friends acting like friends to one another: Martin helping Bush on missile defence; Bush assuring Martin on the cattle ban - the way continental partners are supposed to behave towards one another.

Instead, as a result of Martin's snub on missile defence, we saw the exact opposite. Well, almost. We saw a token defence of the Canadian position on the border dispute. The Americans went through the motions in insisting the matter would be resolved to the benefit of all concerned. There was no panic. There was no urgency. There was no shedding of tears for the Canadians. There was even a symbolic vote on the floor of the US Senate affirming the ban on cattle. Would such a vote have taken place if we had embraced the Americans on missile defence? As some would say, "not bloody likely." Even if it did, Bush's people would bend over backwards to assure Canadians their efforts to be friends were not in vein. Somehow, help would be on the way. Thanks to Paul Martin, however, that's not how it looks right now.

So people can talk all they want about how missile defence has nothing to do with anything else when it comes to cross-border issues. They can talk about the absurdity of linking missile defence with cows. They can talk about how the complexities override the simplicities when it comes to American-Canadian diplomacy. They can talk about the sun rising tomorrow without a substantial change to the way the two countries interact together on a whole range of common problems and challenges. They can talk. Real events suggest that's all it is: talk.

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