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Stephen Harper, the Security Council and the Congo

According to Those Who Know, who are never mistaken, our Prime Minister has emerged from last week's summits as a major player on the world's stage, perhaps indeed the key one. Think LeBron Harper. As one immediate consequence, the PM's long-standing obsession with Canada winning a seat on the United Nations Security Council should now be a slam dunk.

There are 15 council seats, five permanent members (P5) each wielding a mighty veto and ten chosen for two years by the General Assembly. With the election for the rotating seats to be held in the fall, and consistent with my patriotic duty to stand behind my government, this column will lay out over the coming weeks some of the positions Canada can be expected to take once it secures that precious seat.

The Security Council matters. It's the most important body in the world when it comes to international issues of conflict, peace and security. In international law, only the Security Council is legally allowed to take military action against a perceived threat to peace and security. That's why the 2003 invasion of Iraq by George Bush and Tony Blair was illegal, a violation of international law, even trumping God's instructions to each of the men.

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Only the Security Council can establish or approve peacekeeping operations or impose sanctions against rogue states. Its writ covers the world, and there are Security Council resolutions related to conflicts in every corner of the globe.

Naturally there are limits. The council hasn't the enormous, often destructive, economic clout of the World Bank and IMF, nor can it challenge the might of the American armed forces (see Iraq, above). The veto power of the P5 - China, the United States, Britain, France and Russia - is clearly anachronistic and intolerable, although the chance that any of them would surrender or share that power is less than negligible. That the five also happen to be the world's leading arms peddlers is one of life's enduring little ironies. They may be morally illegitimate, as they demonstrated in Rwanda and Darfur, but they are the rule of law for our turbulent planet.

So love it or not, the Security Council is where a great deal of the world's action is, and where Stephen Harper naturally belongs. The Prime Minister has spared no amount of taxpayer dollars dispatching senior government officials around the world systematically lobbying for Canada against Portugal to win the next available seat. And given Mr. Harper's record on the world stage - you know, leadership on climate change and Middle East peace initiatives, for example - it should be no contest.

The Harper government urged the World Bank to defer the debt reduction deal, but luckily the bank refused. Let us note this historic moment when the World Bank is more flexible than the government of Canada.

Here's another example of what the Security Council can expect from Stephen Harper's Canada. The council is deeply engaged with the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo. Of course the United States, followed by France, bears substantial responsibility for Congo's woes. But never mind that for now. The council runs a huge peacekeeping operation in the DRC. Canada was asked to head this mission; Mr. Harper said no. It was suggested that Canada provide troops; Mr. Harper flatly said no. Not a moment of public discussion was held. Canada no longer does peacekeeping. I'm sure the Prime Minister will know how to explain this constructive response to his new Security Council chums.

The government is involved in another Congo issue as well. In fact, only days after Mr. Harper's great coming-out summits, his government came down hard on the side of a Canadian mining company in a dispute with Kinshasa. Now Congo's leaders are no angels, to say the very least. But the government had laboriously worked out a deal with the World Bank to relieve about $8-billion of its debt before its 50th independence jubilee last week. (1960 was the year Patrice Lumumba became the Congo's first -ever elected Prime Minister. 1961 was the year Mr. Lumumba was brutally murdered by the Congo's former colonial masters, the Belgians, cheered on by U.S. president Eisenhower and the CIA.)

The significance of debt relief for Congo can hardly be overestimated. The World Bank deal will cut the DRC's annual-debt service burden to $194-million from $920-million. Since the country's entire budget, for over 60 million people, is all of $5-billion a year, this is no chump change. And much of this debt was built up by Mr. Lumumba's successor Joseph Mobutu, Congo's long-time president, one of the world great kleptomaniacs and tyrants and - for a quarter of a century - one of America's and the World Bank's darlings. Call it the betrayal of Congo.

But the DRC government is disputing mining rights in Congo claimed by Vancouver-based First Quantum Minerals, and Ottawa has forthrightly waded into the conflict - smack on the side of the company. The Harper government urged the World Bank to defer the debt reduction deal, but luckily the bank refused. Let us note this historic moment when the World Bank is more flexible than the government of Canada.

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The rights and wrongs of the First Quantum case are not easy to determine, though mining in Congo has generally been a quintessential example of Africa's bitter resource curse: notoriously corrupt, harshly exploitative and tantamount to plundering. In any event, it's not easy to understand why an entire country should be penalized over the fate of a single Canadian company. Or perhaps the Harper government is sending a larger message - the interests of a Canadian company always trump the interests of another country (and maybe even those of Canada).

Here's one fact. In 2002, a UN-appointed group of experts on the "illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth in the Congo" accused 85 multinational mining firms of ignoring OECD guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Eight Canadian companies were named, and yes, one of them was First Quantum. The panel insisted it had concrete evidence of violations and the company insisted there were no violations. Since the Canadian government refused to pursues the investigation, as the UN requested, we can't be certain whether the group of experts or the company was right, nor do we know if the company has since changed any of its practices.

Stephen Harper, welcome to the Big Leagues. The world needs more of your Canada.

Gerald Caplan is a former New Democratic Party national campaign director and is author of The Betrayal of Africa

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