Saturday, February 27, 2010

Who could have guessed...

that the moral hazards of an international legal regime that forbids war would include fecklessness on matters of war and military policy?

A couple of weeks ago, our junior foreign minister announced that “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada.” Years ago, before the UN charter forbade war, we used to call a declaration like that a security guarantee. Governments thought before they made such guarantees, because they might have to back them up. When Franklin Roosevelt came to Queen's University and announced in 1938 that the United States would not "stand idly by" if a foreign power threatened Canada, he understood, and the Canadian government understood, that he pledged American lives and treasure. Everyone in the American and Canadian governments understood the seriousness of his statements.

Fast forward to the present. The UN charter renounces the use of force, Israel needs no help with conventional defence, and Canada has little meaningful help to offer with the dilemmas which really cloud Israel's future. Why should a junior minister not throw a little "red meat" to the "Christian Zionists" and other supporters of current Israeli policy, whose support his government has zealously courted? In a dangerous world, governments should retain a sense of responsibility about the statements they make. Perhaps this one statement will not lead directly to any bad results, but it does not do to get into the habit of making statements about serious matters without evidence of serious thought.

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