Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Libya exists. Is that our policy?

I’ve been very keen to see how John Baird handles his massive new brief (I did not say massive briefs) and, with the 41st Parliament’s first Question Period now behind us, I’ve already got a question. Enter this short exchange:


Hon. Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, France and Italy have recognized the Libyan National Council as that country’s legitimate government. Can the Minister of Foreign Affairs clarify Canada’s position on this?

Hon. John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC): Mr. Speaker, in Canada we recognize states, not particular governments.



Uhhhhh….. I may not have ascended to Bairdist thinking on the concept of sovereignty, but I worry that he’s talking borderline impossible here. It’s akin to saying “In Canada, we recognize marriage, not husbands or wives.” Sorry, but unless you recognise the role of husband or the wife, then where in the world is the marriage?

When Canada refused to recognise the presidency of Laurent Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast, after challenger Alassane Ouattara had won the election, we were taking a position on legitimacy. It wasn’t saying “We think the Ivory Coast exists.” It was saying “We think the responsibility for running this territory falls to Government X.” Making those decisions and determinations is at the heart of what Foreign Policy is.

It’s not easy. States are not like the Canadian Shield, or the Moon, which exist whether you like them or not, and which exist outside human institutions and imagination. States explicitly require government, and this means the entire establishment of governance. The civil service, the armed forces, the whole elaborate apparatus of collective control. When two separate sets of this apparatus vye for overall control of a recognised territory, it does not do for us to suggest that we “recognise Libya to exist.” Eh? So what?

States require governance, and legitimate statehood requires both the consent of the governed, and the assent of other, peer governments, such as our own. Sometimes the balance there isn’t fair – often it’s not realistic. But that’s the big question Dominic LeBlanc was asking, and Baird fluffed it.

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Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , ,

Carts, horses, and Libyan liberation

Perhaps it’s a hasty enthusiasm for revolution, but France is the first country to drop recognition of the Gaddafi regime. Paris now recognises the rebellion movement, the National Libyan Council, as the legitimate Libyan government, exiled temporarily to Benghazi as it may be.

It’s a fascinating development – European MEPs have been calling for the EU, as a foreign policy making body in its own greater right, to do the same thing, and recognise the NLC as the new recognised power. Britain and Germany have jointly called on Europe to demand Gaddafi step down, while falling short of outright recognising the NLC at the moment.

Baroness Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs seems to be shrugging off the suggestion that the EU even could, saying obliquely that “she was not mandated to take such a step herself.”

Isn’t she? Here we were, thinking that the role of High Representative was defined in vague latitudes in the Lisbon Treaty because EU superelites wanted to expand Brussels’ sphere of influence on the sly, not retreat from it? Hum.

Anyway, my desire for Ashton and the EU to take themselves more seriously is another debate for another day. Whatever mandate she thinks she does or doesn’t have, she does raise a legitimate question as to whether recognition of the NLC at this stage in the game is wise. Yes, it sends a powerful political message to Gaddafi, and may have a domino effect across Europe and the world which could enable NATO or the UN Security Council to get tougher, faster, and that’s for the good (although NATO committing military hardware to anything new right now seems unlikely). It also, I suppose, opens the door to France (and others) trading directly with the NLC: delivering aid, and delivering, one assumes, arms (how soon would Britain follow suit? Not sure whether it’s comedy or tragedy to see Gaddafi and the rebellion, each of them firing UK-made missiles across a smoky Mediterranean sky).

But, but, but. The NLC was first conceived on 27 February 2011 – less than two weeks ago. Is there enough certainty whether the NLC is in a condition at this moment to deliver good government? Is it composed of the right people? Is it unified by anything coherent beyond opposition? Unless I’m mistaken, they don’t have a “prime minister” or a “secretary of the interior” or an alternate civil service devising national policy in the wings. If they do, it’s very, very early days. Diplomatically, what is it Sarkozy’s recognising?

We can applaud his boldness in not just waiting to meekly follow the global consensus after it’s been crafted (cough * Harper *), but this feisty energy might be best applied to helping the UK-German proposal succeed (however unpopular “Anglo-Saxon” solutions may be). Better, perhaps, to support the NLC’s role as a body facilitating leadership transition – rather than to imagine that they are already rightly governing, or should, having not yet been through an electoral process of any kind.

To enable Libyans to bring about a post-Gaddafi world, there are more practical things we can do:

Britain believes there are four priorities for the Nato meeting. These were agreed by David Cameron and Barack Obama in a telephone conversation on Tuesday. They are: surveillance of Libya as a possible precursor to a no-fly zone; humanitarian assistance; work on a no-fly zone; and a tightening of the arms embargo on Libya aimed at members of Gaddafi’s regime.

It’s the place to start. If it works, we can fly the black, red, and green Libyan independence flag as a meaningful symbol of a new Libya, rather than of one which doesn’t yet exist.

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , ,

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