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Stephen Harper’s Persian Problem

Series Contributors:

As the G8 transforms to the G20 and an increasing number of emerging countries compete with Canada for status on the world stage, Canada no longer boasts the flexibility it once did to be a leader across many areas of international concern. Canada only has so much power on the international stage – to be effective, it must focus its efforts.

In the past few months, Canada has directed this focus toward Iran. While most international leaders are reluctant to suggest that the Iranian regime would use nuclear weapons without hesitation, in a January interview, Prime Minister Harper noted, “[the Iranian regime’s] statements imply to me no hesitation of using nuclear weapons if they see them achieving their religious or political purposes.” As international expert Roland Paris has remarked, “If Harper is correct, virtually all measures, up to and including a military attack on Iran, might be warranted, or perhaps even required…”

The only country that has gone as far as Canada in describing the magnitude of the threat posed by Iran is Israel. The focus of Canada’s international leadership, then, is closely tied to its alliance with Israel and, specifically, the country’s current leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. As Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declared on his recent visit there, “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.”

While the Canadian government may not be in line with many of its allies, it is in line with many Canadians: A recent poll showed that a majority of Canadians think Canada’s Middle East policy is “about right.” Further, strong cases have been made for a preemptive strike against Iran by both Niall Ferguson and Matthew Kroenig.

Many commentators have noted that a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities could have wide ranging consequences. Others feel that only the legitimate threat of force can usher a diplomatic solution. Though it is unlikely that Canada would be directly involved in such an action, its support has a significant impact on how Canada wields its moderate power and influence. While vigorous debate about the merits of a strike on Iran persists elsewhere – particularly in Israel – in Canada, the discussion remains muted.

This week, OpenCanada seeks to change that.