Canada finds itself navigating the most uncertain moment in international relations since the end of the Second World War, says Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Freeland made the remark Tuesday in Washington during a panel discussion at a women-in-business summit organized by Fortune magazine.
She was being asked about recent comments by the head of the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee.
In a blistering interview, Republican lawmaker Bob Corker suggested that people in the White House must constantly babysit Donald Trump to prevent chaos and he expressed fear the erratic U.S. president might cause “World War III.”
Freeland refused to directly discuss Trump, but says there are many things that worry her in the world because old, successful institutions are starting to fracture. She credited post-Second World War trade bodies, as well as the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF with safeguarding more than 70 years of prosperity.
“There are a lot of things that are concerning in the world right now. I think this is probably the most uncertain moment in international relations since the end of the Second World War,” Freeland said when asked about Corker’s comments.
“(The postwar order) has really worked. With time it has embraced more and more people into a peaceful, prosperous world. It’s been great. And that order is starting to fracture. As a result, we’re seeing tensions in lots of different places.”
She mentioned North Korea as one example.
Her comments come with official Washington on edge, on multiple fronts. Corker’s comments have yanked away the curtain on a conversation that has been rampant in Washington for months. In private, and in off-the-record chats, numerous Republicans criticize the president and fret about instability.
One well-placed military officer aware of high-level discussions confirmed Corker’s account.
He described in an off-the-record chat with The Canadian Press how senior brass work constantly to block the worst ideas from the White House for fear of escalating tensions and provoking war.
He cited three indispensable players and offered a dark prognosis of what should happen if chief of staff John Kelly, Defence Secretary James Mattis, or National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster left government: “Start panicking.”
NAFTA talks resume this week
Then there’s the trade front.
The next round of NAFTA talks starts this week and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is arriving to meet with Trump and pro-trade American lawmakers, amid concerns the talks might collapse.
The biggest U.S. business lobby is starting to sound the alarm.
The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce expressed concern Tuesday that the negotiations have been designed to fail. Tom Donohue singled out his own country’s proposals — for auto parts, for dispute resolution, for Buy American procurement rules, and for a sunset clause that could terminate NAFTA after five years.
“There are several poison pill proposals still on the table that could doom the entire deal…. All of these proposals are unnecessary and unacceptable,” Donohue said, according to a prepared text.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached a critical moment. And the chamber has had no choice but ring the alarm bells.”
He said the business lobby will ramp up its efforts on Capitol Hill. It will also send the White House a letter signed by more than 300 state and local chambers expressing support for NAFTA.
Trudeau is scheduled to meet Wednesday with both lawmakers and the president.
Trump, for his part, keeps threatening to leave NAFTA. He told Forbes magazine in a just-released interview that he wants to invoke its exit clause, to get a better deal: “I happen to think that NAFTA will have to be terminated if we’re going to make it good. Otherwise, I believe you can’t negotiate a good deal.”
Freeland has expressed concern before about the potential for instability.
At the last round of NAFTA talks, she gave her colleagues from the U.S. and Mexico three books, including Margaret MacMillan’s “The War That Ended Peace,” about how, at the turn of the 20th century, a breakdown in globalization, fears about terrorism, a fast-changing economy, and a rise in nationalism led to the First World War.