Dealing with The Donald: Advice for Canada’s new Foreign Minister

The Trump ascendancy carries with it much anxiety and uncertainty, but of this we may be confident – on 20 January, under dark skies, the world collectively entered terra incognita.

PM Justin Trudeau is meeting with his cabinet in Calgary this week to assess options, and has tried to act pre-emptively by shuffling his cabinet.  Liberal Party stalwart Stephane Dion was abruptly replaced by the celebrated and cosmopolitan Chrystia Freeland.

A study in contrasts

This was not unexpected. As Foreign Minister, Dion was engaged and knowledgeable, but emotionally tone deaf and intellectually rigid. He delved deeply into issues, read his briefs, and wrote many of his own speeches, but was not at ease as a communicator. He lacked an integrated policy agenda and as a result seemed locked perpetually in reactive mode. Unlike the more easily defined, tractable issues which he had previously mastered – climate change (Kyoto Accord, Green Shift) or the constitution (Clarity Act) – at Global Affairs Canada (GAC) he was unable to find his footing or leave his mark.  Some files – Saudi military sales, human rights, arms control and disarmament, non-proliferation – were seriously mishandled. And his would-be ideological centre-piece, “Responsible Conviction”, was both obscure and never joined-up to a concrete plan similar to Lloyd Axworthy’s Human Security Agenda.   Adapted from the work of Prussian sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, such a maxim undoubtedly appealed to Dion’s academic and bookish bent. But it was way over the top in Ottawa and stillborn politically.

Enter urban sophisticate Chrystia Freeland, an accomplished author, public speaker and journalist, at home in Davos and well-connected in major capitals. She is acutely attuned to the neoliberal political economy of globalization, and to the over-arching importance of addressing its downside  – distributive  inequality and intensified  polarization. Although her fit with the prevailing mindset in Washington is not natural, concern over the fate of the shrinking middle class may provide common ground for discussions with her US interlocutors. Moreover, given the preponderance of former military figures in Trump’s cabinet, the  naming former Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie as her Parliamentary Secretary, with special responsibility for Canada-US relations, appears inspired.

The 3Cs: Preparing for the Trump transformation

In this volatile, unpredictable and complex operating environment, the Freeland appointment may have been a necessary response to the incoming Trump administration, but it will not be sufficient. In terms of action, how might Canada’s new Foreign Minister best minimize risk, manage vulnerabilities and maximize opportunity?

Not easily. There are at least three major issue areas which require major work.

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Trump’s Up: An International Policy Wish List

The largely unanticipated accession of Donald Trump to the American presidency has occasioned an explosive reaction from the commentariat.

Let us suspend disbelief and assume, if only for purposes of discussion, that civility and rationality will somehow re-assert themselves south of the border. In that spirit of impossible optimism, I offer the following five recommendations for the new administration:

 

  1. Launch a comprehensive international policy assessment, rolling in defence and development, and including politics, commerce and immigration. Engage Americans, who so evidently long to be heard, in a national conversation about grand strategy, identifying areas of both capacity and constraint.  In the quest to chart where the USA is going – particularly in the wake of disastrous interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – propose  concrete measures on how it might get there.
  2. Re-invest in diplomacy and development. Target inequality and polarization – and the tendency of globalization to privatize benefits while socializing costs –  by assisting with governance, public administration, the rule of law, democratic institution-building and human rights support. Achieve this by getting back into public diplomacy.  Multilaterally, find a way to salvage the US position on climate change and focus on the achievement of the UN SDGs.
  3. Recast the mandate, mission and structure of the State Department to create a central agency for the integration of international policy across government and the management of globalization. Functioning at a higher level will require some fundamental re-engineering,  legislative action, and a more sophisticated approach to the use of social and digital media. To better generate intelligence and to take full advantage of the vital connection to place, the reform package should feature a more flexible approach towards overseas representation, and a more prominent role for US missions abroad. The State department is a singularly underutilized asset. Use it or lose it.
  4. Re-energize the “pivot” by accepting the inevitability of shifting power and re-building and reinforcing relationships in the Asia Pacific, which is re-emerging as the dynamic centre of the global political economy. America’s connection to this vital region has been mismanaged and neglected, not only with giants China and India, but also with the promising ASEAN countries.  Jump start the reconnection by making better use of the USA’s large Asian diaspora communities. A variety of think tanks have produced some useful new thinking on future American strategy;  a decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank would help to anchor a larger regional reset.
  5. Champion international science and technology. Today, the planet’s most pressing perils are rooted in science, driven by technology and have little to do with ideological rivalry, territorial ambition, religious extremism or political violence. Think climate change, diminishing biodiversity, pandemic disease, management of the global commons, and genomics, to name a few. Little is known about the Trump government’s approach to science advice or its commitment to science diplomacy.  Both  should be accorded a central role in American diplomatic activity.

This sweeping array of S&T-driven, transnational issues together constitute the new threat set, a distinctive group of complex and vexing problems  for which there are no military solutions.

Expeditionary forces cannot occupy the alternatives to a carbon economy. Pandemic disease can overwhelm any garrison. Air strikes cannot save a warming planet.

Armed force is both too sharp, and too dull an international policy instrument with which to engage the swirling currents of globalization. The enduring lesson of the Cold War is that the military  works best when it is not used. Evidence-based policy and decision making is the only way forward.

It would send a re-assuring signal to the planet if President-elect Trump actively supported an accelerated and intensified commitment on the part of the USA to knowledge-based, technologically-enabled problem-solving.  The place to start would be to endorse whatever progress emerges from the COP 22  climate change negotiations which have just concluded in Marrakesh.

The argument in favour of concerted attention to the central challenge of our times is unassailable, and, unlike pipeline approvals, would be strongly advocated by the Trudeau government.

Trump seems given to rapid course corrections… but this is slender recompense for a jittery world. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a climate science epiphany in post-Obama Washington.

No Military Solutions: Science, Technology, Diplomacy and the New Threat Set – Part II

Two solitudes

The capability to generate, absorb and use S&T should play a crucial role in addressing the new threat set by resolving differences, reducing inequality and improving security and development prospects. With few exceptions, however, the individuals and institutions charged with the responsibility for managing global issues are unprepared and ill-equipped to deliver. The thinking of most leaders remains mired in outdated, Cold War era convictions – that security is best achieved through defence rather than by addressing human needs; that the state, not the person is the primary referent; that armed force is the ultimate arbiter in international relations.

The world’s foreign ministries, development agencies, and indeed most multilateral organizations have not kept pace with the transformative impact of globalization. These institutions are without the scientific expertise, technological savvy, cultural predisposition or research and development (R&D) network access required to manage S&T-based issues effectively. How many diplomats are trained in science? How many scientists are found in diplomatic services? How often do diplomats and scientists meet, and, when they do, can they communicate effectively?

Scientists are for the most part an insular group, and prefer the lab to the polis. Diplomats tend to view science as dense and impenetrable, the subject that they could not wait to drop in high school. Diplomacy (stability, risk aversion, compromise) and science (change, experimentation, empiricism) are founded upon very different values, and effectively constitute two solitudes. The alienation of science and technology from the mainstream of diplomacy and international policy represents perhaps the greatest sleeper issue of our times.

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No Military Solutions: Science, Technology, Diplomacy and the New Threat Set – Part I

 

In February 2016, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences hosted a meeting that was convened by the Science and Technology Advisers to the Foreign Ministers from Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Although the observation was not new, during this meeting the importance of increasing the capacity and capability of Foreign Ministries to broach the ever increasing number of issues at the interface of science, technology and innovation was identified as urgent.

On 18-19 October 2016, a small group of about 30 international policy experts and practitioners  will gather in Laxenburg, Austria to discuss the  vital – if largely unappreciated –  relationship between science and diplomacy. The meeting is being convened by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in collaboration with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA) and the Global Network of Science and Technology Advisors in Foreign Ministries.

The purpose of this high-level international dialogue on science-diplomacy is to explore opportunities for delivering on national foreign policy priorities by increasing the quality and quantity of science and technology advice into policy development and implementation process.

Principle objectives of the dialogue will include:

  • Highlighting areas where science and technology are impacting the work of foreign ministries
  • Sharing experiences and best practices in providing scientific advice to Ministers
  • Identifying practical issues, such as how best to engage with scientific institutions
  • Developing a global network of practitioners.

I will be attending the conference at IIASA and will be chairing a panel on Mechanisms for Delivering Science Advice in Foreign Ministries”.

Sound boring and bureaucratic? It’s not.

In fact, when it comes to the relationship between science and diplomacy the prospects for human survival may hang in the balance. That said, don’t expect to read about the Laxenburg meeting in the mainstream media.

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Accumulating clouds may threaten Trudeau’s “sunny ways”

Hot on the heels of his high profile visit to China and attendance at the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, PM Justin  Trudeau last week successfully hosted the Global Fund replenishment conference in Montreal and will  address  the UN General Assembly in New York today or tomorrow. Amidst this whirlwind of activity, Canada’s peripatetic PM will undoubtedly attract renewed domestic and international attention.

Not unlike their treatment of fellow celebrities Bill Gates and Bono,  an adoring media is almost certain to dole out continued exultation.

While such adulation is not entirely unwarranted, a closer look at the government’s first year in office suggests that a more critical assessment of its diplomatic and international policy performance may be in order.

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“Canada’s Back” Can the Trudeau Government Resuscitate Canadian Diplomacy?

Blogger’s Note: The Liberal government headed by PM Justin Trudeau has launched defence and development reviews, but little is known of its intentions regarding diplomacy, international policy or grand strategy.  This is the final installment in a three part series on Canada’s role and place in a changing world – where we were, where we are, and where we may be going.

 

Part III:

Looking forward – What a changing world means for Canadian diplomacy and international policy

The first installment in this series set out the defining features of the transition from the Cold War to the globalization age. The second explored the implications of shifting power in an increasingly globalized and  heteropolar world order.

Since the last burst of Canadian international activism – the rolling out of Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s Human Security Agenda 1996 – 2000,   the operating environment for diplomacy has continued to evolve. Moreover, it has been a long time since Canadian leadership helped bring to fruition the Land Mine Ban Treaty, International Criminal Court, the Kimberly Process to curb trafficking in “blood diamonds”, and efforts to regulate the trade in small arms and address the problem of children in conflict.  The Canadian-convened International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty produced its influential Responsibility to Protect report in 2001, but in subsequent years this country has been largely absent from the world stage. With the exception of the Harper government’s controversial foray into maternal, newborn and child health and participation in ill-starred military interventions in Afghanistan and Libya, Canada’s once ubiquitous presence in the international arena became spectral.

The Trudeau government is fond of proclaiming that “Canada’s back”, and has taken some significant steps, both symbolic and substantive, to modify this country’s international engagement. That said, apart from the questionable involvement in Syria/Iraq and provocative deployments to the Baltic states, much of the heavy lifting has yet to begin.

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“Canada’s Back” Can the Trudeau Government Resuscitate Canadian Diplomacy?

Blogger’s Note: The Liberal government headed by PM Justin Trudeau has launched defence and development reviews, but little is known of its intentions regarding diplomacy, international policy or grand strategy.  This is the second installment in a three part series on Canada’s role and place in a changing world – where we were, where we are, and where we may be going.

 

Part II:

Globalization, Power Shift and Heteropolarity –  The Way Things Are

 

In the last posting, I made the case that during the Cold War period, whatever its many hazards, Canadians were able to find ample room for diplomatic manoeuvre.

Are opportunities still available today?

Perhaps, but, navigation is difficult. World order has given way to a whirled order, with many of the old distinctions and assumptions, as if placed in a blender, either blurred or erased.  There is less political or ideological conviction, and more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In the 25 years since the Soviet Union imploded and the icy grip of Cold War constraint melted away, much has changed. The Great Thaw has transformed the operating environment, freeing up virulent strains of ethno-nationalism, nourishing religious fundamentalism, and gestating a  new threat set.

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