Canada’s international record under its current Conservative administration is rather disappointing, and the streak continued with the recent announcement by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird that Canada is severing diplomatic links with Iran and adding the country to its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
For the second-largest country in the world that also happens to be a member of the G-7, Canada is not living up to its potential to be a leader in the world on the Iran issue. Rather, it is abysmally failing to do so.
Canada did have relations with Iran, albeit strained, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Baird’s response is very limited and short-sighted; granted, Canada is the total opposite, because we aren’t state sponsors of terrorism and the legitimacy of our civilian nuclear assets is not under question. Besides, Canadians are far too nice for nuclear weapons.
That, however, does not excuse Canada for the diplomatic clout it can have in the world, but chooses to let its foreign policy flounder helplessly on truly global questions. What effect can retaining diplomatic relations with Teheran have on Canada’s global role?
First, Iran’s regime is here to stay and for all intents and purposes, it is the legitimate power in the country, both because of its ability to conduct elections, the fact it submits to a long list of international agreements, most notably, the NPT and the IAEA and finally, because its accredited diplomats around the world are representative of that regime, and not another. These conditions mean that, in general, if we want to talk to Iran, these are the people to approach whether we like it or not.
Second, Canada does not have the hard power capacities of the major superpowers to back up its diplomacy, but it does have multilateral relationships and one of the richest economies to allow it to get creative on the international stage. Maintaining relations with Teheran in spite of the general Western trend would be a principled stance that would allow Canada to apply pressure via peaceful means, as should be done. Incidentally, President Obama’s drone strikes in Pakistan can very well be construed as state-sponsored terrorism, but expectedly the USA is not on Canada’s list under “Iran.”
Third, embattling Iran is counter-productive. International relations are about building trust and having at least one Western partner with a foreign policy that is more enlightened than ignorant, would be a strong signal for trust for Iran, in spite of the larger trend against it. Instead of announcing the severing of ties at the APEC summit, Baird could have played this opportunity much more effectively to bolster Canada’s international position in a good way through a commitment to diplomacy and conversation. Moreover, this can also place Canada as a valuable partner to China and Russia, two other heavyweights with interests in Iran and who oppose the sanctions on principle. So, Baird has not only forsaken relations with Iran, but may have also hurt our relationships with China and Russia over it.
Overall, Canada has again missed its opportunity to be a leading country on an important issue and been relegated to a second-tier member of the international community by the choice of a few words. It would be wise for the Harper administration to re-evaluate its approach to the world and start working in Canada’s foreign policy interest rather than blindly risking its global position.