Thursday, August 06, 2009

Calling All Internationalists

NATO chief wants Canada to stay in Afghanistan

With the 2011 date for withdrawal of Canada's forces in Afghanistan approaching, the newly-elected Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has called on Canada to continue its mission in the war-torn country.

"Of course I'm not going to interfere with domestic politics in individual allied nations, but seen from an alliance point of view, I would strongly regret if that became the final outcome of the Canadian considerations," said Rasmussen. "At the end of the day it is a question of our own security -- we cannot allow Afghanistan once again to become a safe haven for terrorists -- and I also think it is in Canada's interest to ensure a peaceful and stable Afghanistan."

As has become the general policy when Canadian forces are called upon to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has already rebuked Rasmussen's appeal.

"However, our government is abiding by the motion passed in Parliament in 2008. That is: our combat forces will leave by 2011. We're staying the course," Cannon announced.

Defense Minister Peter MacKay has previously responded to suggestions that US President Barack Obama would like Canadian forces to remain in Afghanistan past 2011 as his own country prepares to commit additional troops to the crucial mission.

While it is true that Parliament decided in 2008 to end the Afghanistan mission in 2011, the persistent call from international leaders for Canada to stay committed to the combat mission very much does present a dilemma for Canadian foreign policy -- particularly in the minds of those who favour multi-lateralism.

The Afghanistan mission has long posed a challenge to NATO in regards to its ability to function effectively as an internationalist institution -- wherein various countries pool their political, economic, strategic and military capabilities in order to act constructively in regards to global challenges.

While Canada has long carried a disproportionate burden in Afghanistan. While other NATO countries have loafed by refusing to commit their troops to the combat mission against the Taliban, Canada has paid in blood and treasure for its commitment to international security.

But by the same token, Canada retreating from the field of battle at a time at which its troops may be needed most doesn't solve this particular problem. If anything, it likely makes it worse.

If the rest of NATO is prepared to match Canada's commitment to Afghanistan moving forward, the right thing to do may be to stay.

Parliament should, at the very least, reexamine its commitment to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2011 based on the international appeals for our forces to stay. Not even taking the time to reexamine our commitment to the mission could represent a fatal blow to internationalism as a central tenet of Canadian foreign policy.

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