Paul Martin takes his doctrine for test drive

by Barry Weisleder

Given the accelerating pace and reach of U.S. military intervention around the world, it is getting more and more difficult for junior imperialists to demonstrate their usefulness to the Empire. But credit Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin for trying harder.

Mr. Martin has a new global doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect”. He took this idea for a test drive at the United Nations last spring. In November he hit the road running with it, from Haiti, to the Asian-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) Conference in Chile, to central and eastern Africa.

Nominally, the doctrine asserts the duty of the ‘international community’ to come to the aid of civilians at risk when internal wars ravage ‘failing states’, and not to allow legal niceties to stand in the way of foreign military intervention. You see, if Paul Martin could get the world to agree to his doctrine, then the U.S. wouldn’t have to go it alone so often.

There could be a bigger coalition of ‘responsible protectors’, rather than an ever-shrinking ‘coalition of the willing’.

The problem is that not everyone sees the doctrine in the same light. Most of the APEC countries reject the idea. Martin concedes that a big obstacle is “the fear of some countries that the responsibility to protect will be used as a reason for intervention. That … is the most important hurdle that one has to overcome” (Toronto Star, Nov. 22, 2004).

Imagine the paranoia and ingratitude—just because Canadian troops are in Haiti to fortify a dictatorship following the ouster of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Why is suspicion aroused when Canadian forces are stationed in ex-Yugoslavia to stabilize the process of capitalist restoration, or when Canuck soldiers shoulder some of the U.S. load in opium-rich Afghanistan, or because Canadian naval destroyers help preserve the Persian Gulf as a safe U.S. waterway?

Isn’t that the price of progress? Perhaps it’s just a good neighbourly way to entice the U.S. rulers to allow Canadian cattle and soft wood lumber back into U.S. markets, and to side-step the issue of signing on to the U.S. Missile Defence Shield. Only Paul Martin knows for sure.

Item: Child poverty up again

The level of child poverty is up in Canada despite a humming economy and federal coffers bursting with extra cash, says an anti-poverty group. A yearly report card released by Campaign 2000 calls on Ottawa to pay down what it calls Canada’s ‘social deficit’. About a million children, more than 15 percent of all Canadian kids, are growing up poor in a country that consistently posts budget surpluses, says the group, a coalition of 90 anti-poverty organizations across Canada.

Campaign 2000 blames reduced access to employment insurance, lack of affordable housing, the high cost of child care, and tax policies that penalize welfare families. It has repeatedly called on Ottawa to spend an extra $18 billion a year on related programs. The federal Social Development Department, using Statistics Canada figures from 2002, says the child poverty rate is closer to 10 percent or 700,000 children.

Whatever numbers are used, the situation is “a disgrace”, says New Democrat MP Ed Broadbent. Kids are still waking up and going to bed hungry 15 years after MPs unanimously supported his motion to wipe out child poverty by 2000.

Broadbent blames Prime Minister Paul Martin for a lack of government action. Little has changed since the former finance minister erased large annual deficits by the late 1990s with the help of deep cuts to social programs, Broadbent said.

Item: Debt reduction—by invasion

The Paris Club of 19 mostly Western industrialized countries has agreed to write off vast amounts of debt incurred by Iraq. The decision, a diplomatic victory for U.S. President George Bush, involves Russia, France, Germany, and other ostensible opponents of the U.S. invasion of Iraq agreeing to forgive 80 percent of the $40 billion (U.S.) owed by Baghdad.

Poor, indebted countries around the world could consider this example. Radical debt relief may be just a U.S. invasion away.

Of course, there is the matter of hundreds of thousands of dead and injured civilians, a destroyed economy and infrastructure, an indefinite military occupation, and the loss of national sovereignty. It might also help to be sitting on huge reserves of oil. The Nov. 22 Toronto Globe and Mail points out that “most of ousted president Saddam Hussein’s borrowing was used to finance arms purchases.” Since Paris Club members, and especially the U.S., were the main arms suppliers to Iraq in the 1980s, there is some symmetry in the debt forgiveness gesture.

Canada’s share is a paltry $750 million, but it’s the thought that counts.

*This article first appeared in the December 2004 issue of Socialist Action newspaper.

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