Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Plane! The Planes!

The combination of trade dispute/military basing agreement between Canada and the United Arab Emirates just got that much visible today when the UAE denied a C-17 carrying the Canadian Minister of Defence and Chief of Defence Staff from landing.  The dispute is this: Canada has leased a base in Dubai--Camp Mirage--and the UAE will only renew the agreement if Canada allows the national airline of the UAE to have many more landing slots at Canadian airports.  The Emirates airline wants to fly more regularly to Toronto as well as having flights into Vancouver and Calgary.  The fear is that it would ultimate replace Air Canada as a major link to the Mideast and perhaps even more locally as Toronto might become a hub for Emirates flights around North America. 

The interesting thing is how much hardball the UAE is playing.  They are antagonizing a country with which they have had good relations on a core security issue--a logistics base for operations in Afghanistan--to promote their national airline.  While a colleague joked about how Emirates replacing Air Canada would be a win for the Canadian flying public, I am not surprised that Canada is being stubborn.  Just as the UAE is promoting its national airline, Canada is protecting its national airline.  And now the UAE has gone one step further by denying the landing of the senior military leadership even though there is still about a month left on the lease.  I don't see Canada caving in now that it has been slapped in its collective face. 

Perhaps the UAE is pushing so hard now because they understand that its leverage is expiring.  Once the Canadians depart Afghanistan in 2011, Camp Mirage will not be relevant any longer for Canada.  It is unlikely that the UAE would do this to other space-consumers in and near Dubai--the US--since they have other interests, including their own security.

This is an interesting case, as it turns things around.  Usually, economic carrots are promised to get progress on a security issue, like when the US promised the Soviet Union better access to American markets in exchange for progress on a variety of Detente issues  (arms control, Helsinki Accords, etc).  Or countries will receive economic assistance in exchange for basing rights.  Here, the priority is the other way around--promising a security benefit in exchange for compromise on an economic issue.  Linkage in the past has been a mixed bag, as countries may get offended by the bribery/extortion implications.  Still, this is a very interesting case.  Bears watching not just for those of us who use Air Canada or have hung out overnight at Camp Mirage but for IR scholars who care about how security and economic issues bump into each other.

*  When I was part of a group of Canadian scholars flown to Afghanistan via Camp Mirage, we were not supposed to identify to others where the base was located, even though it was listed as being in Dubai in Wikipedia.

No comments: