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Opinion Canada shouldn’t tolerate U.S. snub on IS meeting

David Bercuson is director of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary and a Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

There are disturbing historical precedents for Canada's exclusion from Wednesday's meeting of the "core countries" of the anti-Islamic State coalition in Paris. The defence ministers of the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands met to discuss the future of the campaign.

Canada's Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, wasn't invited.

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Whoever decided that Canada is not important enough to be consulted – most probably U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter – apparently does not consider our military effort there important enough to invite Mr. Sajjan. Never mind that Germany has not dropped a bomb or fired a bullet in the campaign.

The fact is, Canada has been excluded from higher decision-making in coalition operations before and will be again, unless a Canadian government makes it clear to the United States or any other ally that when Canadian lives are at stake, Canada insists on full representation in any decision-making or Canada does not participate.

The scale is much different, but in the Second World War, Canada sent well over one million men and women to fight but was never asked to take part in higher decision-making. Even when president Franklin D. Roosevelt and prime minister Winston Churchill met, twice, in Quebec City to discuss higher war strategy, Canadian prime minister Mackenzie King sat with them for press photos, but was barred from the room when the discussions took place.

Churchill didn't want him there because he wanted to be treated by the United States – and seen by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin – as the sole leader of the entire Commonwealth war effort.

Roosevelt didn't want him there because he did not want to share decision-making with what he considered a minor player. After all, as the Americans said several times in the war, if Canada is invited, why not Brazil? Of course, Brazil's entire war effort consisted of about 1,000 soldiers sent to Europe and helping the United States hunt Nazi subs off its own coastlines.

As for King, he didn't want to be in the room anyway. He was content to generate an entire land army, thousands of planes and air crew and hundreds of ships for the war effort, but felt uncomfortable at the very thought of putting Canadian views directly to Roosevelt and Churchill. Thus, King found out about D-Day hours after it had started, and not before.

The same thing happened in the Korean War, where Canada warships, combat pilots and close to 30,000 ground troops fought for two and a half years. The Americans ran the war and made the key decisions without any strategic Canadian input or even information as to what the higher military strategy was.

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And it happened again in Afghanistan, where U.S. secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld asked Canada to re-enter Afghanistan in 2003, and move to Kandahar province in 2005, but made key strategic decisions about the war far from Canadian ears.

Time after time, Canada throws in with our allies and puts blood and treasure on the line, only to be ignored by Washington.

No one can know what Mr. Carter was thinking when the invitations to the Paris meeting went out.

Perhaps the confusion in Ottawa since the end of October as to what role Canada intends to play in this coalition under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contributed to the lapse. In November, Canadians were told that "our allies have no problem with us withdrawing our jets." Apparently they do. Perhaps Mr. Carter believes, as Roosevelt did, that if Canada is invited, then Brazil is also worthy of a seat at the table. Of course, Brazil doesn't have a dog in this fight, but never mind.

Or perhaps Canada's constant failure to actively insert itself in discussions such as this when the lives of our military are at stake has left us, once more, at the altar with no groom.

Maybe Mr. Trudeau should consider this when he thinks about the "state dinner" President Barack Obama is throwing for him in March. Rubber chicken at the White House is no substitute for respect.

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