National Security Network

Getting Diplomacy out of the Penalty Box

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Report 19 February 2009

Diplomacy Diplomacy Afghanistan Canada global warming Obama Administration trade


President Obama’s trip to Canada – his first trip abroad since taking office – promises to strike a new tone and to begin to reverse the decay that has occurred in our key relationships over the last eight years. Renewing the North American partnership is vital to addressing key global and domestic challenges. Today’s meetings will showcase tremendous improvement on tone and the hurdles ahead on substance. On economic issues, Canada is our largest trading partner and the U.S. and Canadian economies are highly integrated. Yet Canada is increasingly concerned with protectionist sentiment in the U.S. On security issues, Canadian forces have been fighting and dying as a part of the NATO effort in Afghanistan. Yet forging a new approach toward Afghanistan will be challenging, as the Canadian public has soured on the mission. Additionally, the U.S. and Canada share the world’s longest border, requiring cooperation that meets the needs of counter-terrorism, intelligence, and trade promotion. On energy policy, Canada is our largest energy supplier and faces similar economic and cultural obstacles to reducing carbon-emissions just as the United States does. For an effective global effort to combat the climate crisis, a common North American approach is vital.

In times of economic turmoil, it is important that the U.S. – Canadian economic relationship remains strong. Canada is America’s largest trading partner with total trade amounting to about $500 billion. But there is increasing unease north of the boarder as both economies stumble. The Financial Times writes, “Both the Buy American provisions in the US stimulus bill and his campaign pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have caused concern in the US's biggest trading partner.”  A Canadian columnist expresses the concern among Canadians over trade saying, “We used to be confused over trade. We were terrified that free trade would destroy our economy. Now we're terrified that protectionist American politicians will destroy free trade.”  But the Washington Post reports, “A top Obama aide said this week that the president's main message to [Prime Minister] Harper will be to reassure Canadians that the United States intends to maintain a robust trading relationship with its neighbor. ‘This is no time to -- for anybody to give the impression that somehow we are interested in less rather than more trade,’ said Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser... McDonough said the discussion will include some reassurances from Obama that ‘Buy American’ trade provisions inserted into the economic stimulus legislation the president signed this week will not adversely affect trade... ‘The provision is obviously going to be implemented consistent with our international trade obligations, with our WTO obligations and with our NAFTA obligations,’ McDonough told reporters. ‘So I think my sense is... there will be no need to take umbrage or to be uneasy.’” [Hoover Institution, 1/2/07. Financial Times, 2/19/09. Margaret Wente, 2/19/09. Washington Post, 2/19/09]

National security interests demand greater U.S. – Canada cooperation.  The U.S. and Canada share core national security interests, but under the Bush administration, cooperation suffered, notably on Afghanistan.  Canada is one of the largest contributors to the allied effort in Afghanistan and suffered the highest casualty rate of any participant, including the U.S. But in the face of increased casualties, and cynicism about the Bush administration’s approach, the Canadian parliament voted in 2008 to end its Afghanistan mission by 2011. According to a February public opinion poll, 65% percent of Canadians would reject any request to keeping troops in Afghanistan.  In an interview in advance of the trip, President Obama praised Canada’s contributions in Afghanistan, calling them “extraordinary,” and expressing gratitude to “all the families who have borne the burden in Canada.”  Obama indicated that he would make every effort to develop a strategy that the “people of Canada can support,” so that “the Canadian legislature and the people of Canada” get a “sense that what they're doing is productive.”  The US-Canada border also demands enhanced cooperation on counter-terrorism. In a sign of this issues’ importance, “[j]ust days after being sworn in Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a comprehensive review of security efforts along the border between the U.S. and Canada.”  Attorney General Eric Holder’s comprehensive review of detainee treatment will also have a bearing on U.S. – Canadian relations, with the status of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr still unresolved. “Canadian church groups and other organizations have offered to sponsor and provide financial support,” if Khadr is repatriated, according to a statement by Human Rights Watch, but thus far, the Canadian government has been reluctant to make such an offer. [CNN, 3/13/08. Angus Reid Strategies, 2/13/09. President Obama, 2/17/09. The News Tribune, 1/28/09. Human Rights Watch, 2/17/09]

Addressing climate change and energy security begins with our closest neighbors. Canada remains the “single largest exporter of oil and natural gas to the United States at a time when other important suppliers are gripped by political uncertainty.” And Canada’s large carbon footprint is partly a result of extracting these resources from the Alberta oil sands, labeled ‘dirty energy’ by environmentalists. President Obama recognized this predicament in his recent interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and remarked that “Canada, the United States, China, India, the European Union, all of us are going to have to work together in an effective way to figure out how do we balance the imperatives of economic growth with very real concerns about the effect we're having on our planet.” Reuters notes that “the current Conservative government took power in early 2006 and then followed the lead of former U.S. President George W. Bush by walking away from the Kyoto protocol on climate change on the grounds it would unfairly hurt Canadian industry.” However, Canada is making positive steps according to Canwest News Service, who reported that “Canada's Conservatives are keen to find common ground by crafting a cap-and-trade system” to regulate carbon emissions—an approach the government shunned until just before the recent U.S. elections. [Reuters, 2/17/09. Canwest News Service, 2/14/09. President Obama, 2/17/09]

What We’re Reading

As Obama Administration officials get to work on an Afghanistan strategy, NSN leads efforts to build progressive cohesion around the many challenges.

USB, the largest Swiss bank, will divulge names of Americans whom US authorities suspect of using the bank to evade taxes.  USB admitted to conspiring to defraud the IRS and will settle an ongoing investigation for $780 billion.

Avigdor Lieberman endorsed Benyamin Netanyahu for prime minister, emerging as kingmaker and all but ensuring that Netanyahu will be the next PM.

Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour, was unexpectedly released after more than three years in prison.

Pakistan’s truce with the Taliban in Swat valley appears to be stalled.  Gunmen killed a local reporter after he covered yesterday’s peace march.

China adds security forces to Tibet and locked down a town in Sichuan Province in response to planned boycotts mourning Tibetans killed in last year’s uprising.

The trial of the Iraqi shoe-thrower has been adjourned.  A jury acquitted three suspects in the Anna Politkovskaya murder trial.

European judges awarded radical preacher Abu Qatada and 10 other detainees monetary awards for unfair detention after they were held in Britain without trial following 9/11.

Secretary of State Clinton travels to Seoul and says that North Korean leadership is uncertain.

The Kyrgyz parliament approved the Manas base closure.  The U.S. has 180 days to leave the base.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, sees a “sustained” push in Afghanistan with 60,000 troops over the next few years.

An Army after-action review reveals lessons learned in Iraq.

Senator John Kerry leads a Congressional delegation to Gaza, the first such visit since 2007.

Mexico’s drug war worries U.S. towns just across the border.

Commentary of the Day

NSN’s own Ilan Goldenberg and Patrick Barry on Obama’s announcement of further troop deployments to Afghanistan.

Roger Cohen tries to get a better understanding of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Telegraph hopes that President Obama’s troop increase in Afghanistan will encourage other NATO countries to do the same.

Nicholas D. Kristof visits Darfur refugees in Chad with George Clooney and posits that the U.N. pulled Clooney’s security detail because he was too outspoken on genocide.