Canada gives U.S. a chance to win war without firing a shot: Proposal to delay attack is Canada's smartest diplomatic move since '56

Edmonton Journal
Page A18
By Senator Douglas Roche

The high-wire act of diplomacy that Canada is performing to stop the war in Iraq and hold the United Nations together is stunning.

One would have to go back to the Suez crisis of 1956, when Lester B. Pearson proposed the idea of UN peacekeeping, to find a comparable example of such an important Canadian initiative. Even if the current effort does not work, Canada can emerge from this crisis knowing that it made an astute move to avoid war.

What Canada has done, through the proposal put to the UN Security Council on March 11 by Ambassador Paul Heinbecker, is to have the Security Council now authorize war on Iraq in three weeks -- if the council concludes that Iraq is not in compliance with disarmament demands.

This is high-stakes diplomacy that ought to wake up the whole international community.

It appears to satisfy the Bush administration's immediate demand for war. But it holds it off for three weeks to give the council time to conclude whether Iraq is demonstrating conclusively that it is co-operating actively on substantial disarmament. If Iraq is found within three weeks to be co-operating fully and actively with UN inspectors, further deadlines would then be set for verification and monitoring work. In other words, no war.

The Canadian government knows the current inspections are working. All the relevant figures -- except the U.S. and U.K. -- have said so. Hans Blix, chief UN inspector, says the now half-completed destruction of Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missiles is "a very significant piece of disarmament."

Mohamed elBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the council: "After three months of intensive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq." France, Russia and Germany have also cited important progress.

This evidence that Iraq is coming into compliance with Security Council resolution 1441, which calls for disarmament, is based on the work of 84 UN inspectors who have conducted more than 500 inspections of 350 sites. The elBaradei team has conducted 218 nuclear inspections at 141 sites. These professional inspectors cannot find anything that would even remotely give Iraq the power to launch an attack using weapons of mass destruction.

Canada is gambling that continued inspections will show that, however heinous a regime Saddam Hussein runs, he does not pose an imminent threat to peace in the region that would justify a war against Iraq. Therefore, if present inspections continue, the council will not find Iraq in violation and hence will not authorize war.

Some will say that Canada is trying to have it both ways: war if necessary, but not necessarily war. I think Canada's position is more subtle than that. One of the government's highest priorities is to preserve the unity of the UN. Also, the government is sensitive to the rising clamour from the public not to go to war without UN approval. If the plan works, the UN would be strengthened and Canada would avoid splitting with the U.S.

The U.K.'s new list of six demands shows that the Blair government -- beset by internal divisions -- is looking for further negotiations. France opposes any deadline for the start of war, but may yield on this point.

The U.S. says the time for diplomacy is almost up, but is it? In this chaotic atmosphere, perhaps the Canadian plan stands a chance.

Two big obstacles remain. First, Iraq must show that it is serious about permanent disarmament. Second, U.S. President George W. Bush must stop saying his war will be a "moral exercise" because it will stimulate democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

This claim has been rejected by one of Bush's predecessors, Jimmy Carter, who says there are no grounds for a "just war."

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has turned reckless. There is no UN resolution calling for the removal of Saddam. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a host of legal scholars are saying that war without a UN mandate would be a violation of the charter, and therefore illegal. There is no basis in international law for a pre-emptive attack claiming self-defence when the alleged aggressor poses no immediate threat and can be contained without recourse to war.

The U.S. successfully contained the Soviet Union -- a country with much grander designs -- for some 50 years. No one can answer the simple question: "Why Iraq, and why now?"

Bush doesn't care. He is fixated on the idea that terrorists might again strike the U.S. as they did on Sept. 11, 2001, and that his constitutional duty is to protect Americans. He may well launch his war -- with or without UN approval.

That is why the Canadian proposal -- the second made within a month -- is so important. It gives Bush a chance to claim victory without a shot being fired. Prime Minister Jean Chretien said as much on American television: "The president has won. I have no doubt about it. He won."

Canadian diplomacy at its finest -- if it works.

Douglas Roche is an Independent Senator from Alberta and the author of Bread Not Bombs: A Political Agenda for Social Justice.