http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20040430/IBBIT30/TPComment/Columnists PM hopes to extricate Canada from UN box By JOHN IBBITSON Friday, April 30, 2004 - Page A4 WASHINGTON -- With yesterday's landmark speech, Paul Martin tacitly acknowledged what Canada's foreign policy establishment has refused to accept for decades: that the United Nations is a failure, for which there is no solution. The Prime Minister's proposed alternative is a new international body, the G-20 summit of world leaders, representative of North and South, developed and developing, rich and poor: a working group unfettered by the UN's bureaucracy and its anachronistic Security Council. It is a bold, though perhaps unworkable plan. But however it is ultimately greeted by the world community, Mr. Martin's proposal at least recognizes and sets out to correct a fundamental flaw in Canadian foreign policy, one that has left us hostage to a dysfunctional world body whose interests are often irrelevant to Canada's. In his address to the Woodrow Wilson Center, Mr. Martin formally proposed an initial meeting of heads of government that would most likely include the G-8 plus Australia and the major developing nations -- such as China, Brazil, India and Indonesia. The first summit would take on one specific issue, most likely global security in the face of terrorist threats. The goal would be to find a common voice to speak on the larger questions of goals and priorities, and to examine specific measures -- say, implementing anti-terrorism measures at major sea ports in the developing world similar to those under way in Europe and North America. If the summit worked, it might become a regular gathering, looking at issues of global reach. The biggest problem with the proposal is that the major nations are already experiencing what is called summit fatigue: Between the G-8, the Commonwealth, the Francophonie and regional organizations such as the European Union and the Organization of American States, a prime minister or president already spends a lot of time in foreign hotels. Nonetheless, sources report that the Americans have responded favourably, if cautiously, to the Canadian proposal. It will be up to us to see if we can make a G-20 summit work, and we should try hard. For whatever the rest of the world thinks about it, such an organization is very much in Canada's interest as a way of extricating this country from its current foreign-policy cage. After decades of working closely with our major allies to confront the global threats of fascism and communism, Canada began to drift away, increasingly investing diplomatic capital in the United Nations, even as we undermined our traditional commitments by slashing the defence budget. As a result, by the 1990s Canada was committed to a policy of multilateralism, addressing the world's conundrums primarily through the United Nations, although other forums such as NATO could be used in a pinch. The problem with UN-based multilateralism is that it distances Canada from its natural allies, leaving us hostage to an institution over which we have little influence. Canadians were sharply divided over whether to support the American-led coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein. Jean Chrétien decided Canada would not join without UN approval. Whether the invasion was right or wrong, the result of Mr. Chrétien's decision left Canada hostage to the French veto on the Security Council. Mr. Martin's proposal is one way the new PM hopes to extricate Canada from this box. A properly functioning G-20 would be every bit as representative of world opinion as the UN, without being hobbled by its ossified bureaucracy. And, unlike the Security Council, Canada would have a permanent seat at the table. Again, it remains to be seen if the Great Powers are willing to give life to this new creation, which could constrain them in ways the UN -- because it is so ineffectual -- does not. Nonetheless, the G-20 is a good idea, and Canada should pursue it, for the reason any country should pursue a foreign-policy goal: self-interest.