The present round of unilateralism had a sinister, fishy debut

Montréal, 20 December

The Bush administration is sabre-rattling as usual and citing material breach of the latest “resolution” (read: ultimatum) from the UN Security Council. It reserves the right not to send inspectors to check up on the dangerous aluminum tubing or point out the weapons of mass destruction that previous US governments helped Saddam acquire, because its say-so seems to be all the evidence required. The popular interpretation of this is that they'll launch a war at their convenience, with or without anyone's approval.

Some people rightly suggest that the recent warlike postures of Australia towards nations harbouring terrorists (making Indonesia and Malaysia rather nervous) and Russia's enthusiastic backing of the war on terror so long as terror includes people they'd rather not have in nearby Georgia are the result of the US making unilateralism the normal tack for large-ish and relatively developed nations to adopt.

But where did the Bush administration get this idea? They aren't widely regarded for creativity outside of accounting and science-fiction, certainly not diplomacy and public relations (just recall anything Ashcroft ever does from losing a senate race to a corpse to an awful singing debut to putting blind justice where nobody can see her, or nominating a man not known for his forward-thinking or his hardy constitution as the backup presidaent). The answer, I'm afraid, has to be us. Canadians, that is.

Back in March of 1995, the fish stocks were declining off the Grand Banks on our Eastern coast. Canadian fishers were called back from their cod fishing in a giant moratorium. Fish plants closed, fishers were out of work and towns threatened to fold. Yet foreign trawlers on the open sea continued to fish from the same fish populations we were protecting when they strayed into international waters. We (as embodied by Brian Tobin) were mad. Beyond royal-commission mad. Beyond trade complaint mad. Even beyond calling foreign leaders names mad. So we (through our elected representatives and their staff) sent ships with a guns and coast guard operatives to clean things up. No UN resolution. Warning shots were fired, nets were cut and the Estai was towed back to Canada as evidence. The Spaniards protested, we blamed the Spaniards. We were defending our interests in international waters and no details were going to get in the way. After the fact, Mr. Tobin was able to hold up a too-fine fishing net before the cameras as proof of a material breach of fishing rules.

So don't be too surprised when the U.S. outdoes us, 'cause we want our turbot and they want their oil, and someone needs to keep an eye on those rogue states and international waters.