Cultural diplomacy writ large: Is Canada anywhere to be seen on the world stage?

Blogger’s Note: On December 14, 2017 I appeared before the Senate Foreign Affairs and International trade Committee to provide testimony on the place of culture within Canada’s suite of international policies and relations. A lengthy Q&A session followed my oral presentation, the transcript of which  may be found below.



Many thanks for the kind invitation to share my thoughts with you on this important matter.

When I was reflecting on the subject, I was drawn to what might be considered a radical assessment, at least in the sense of a fairly high level of analysis of trying to get to the roots of three key issues which I think are in play today. I’m going to set out my argument in terms of background, foreground and a conclusion, a bit like a briefing note. I would like to begin by posing three of what I think are the most fundamental questions.

When we speak of culture, diplomacy and science, what exactly do we mean? In each case, if at all, how are these big blocks of human enterprise interrelated?

Culture is perhaps the most all-encompassing yet amorphous of the three concepts, but it is not airy-fairy and fuzzy. In fact, it can be defined or understood as a collectivity of the norms, customs, characteristics, traditions, artistic expression and behaviour of human groups. It’s transmitted through social learning, which I think is key.

Science, which is often regarded as dense and impenetrable, is an empirical, objective and evidence-based method of knowledge creation which through interrogation, trial and error, and rigorous analysis provides systematic insights into the nature of things. Its methods include postulation, experimentation, data analysis and theorizing.

Diplomacy, sometimes described as the world’s second oldest profession and usually terribly misunderstood, is actually an approach to the management of international relations characterized by dialogue, negotiation, compromise, problem solving and complex balancing. Its tools include soft power, the power of attraction, advocacy, persuasion and influence.

Culture and science, along with education, media relations and advocacy, when bundled together and used by governments internationally to pursue their interests, promote their policies, and project their values is commonly labelled “public diplomacy.”

Let’s dig deeper by unpacking and examining the connections among and between these three critical but too often misunderstood aspects of Canadian foreign policy.

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Blogger’s Note: Readers may be interested in the following feature article, published earlier this month in L’actualite magazine,  which was the result of an interview with the author. Please excuse the curious formatting.

La techno pour sauver le monde
MondeAvoir 18 ans en 2018

La techno pour sauver le monde

Entretien avec l’ancien diplomate Daryl Copeland, membre du Centre d’études et de recherches internationales de l’Université de Montréal.

Fêter son 18e anniversaire en 2018 garantit de voir, de son vivant, le premier président américain issu des géants du Web de la Silicon Valley.

Le président Donald Trump s’est appuyé sur deux
piliers du XXe siècle pour se hisser au sommet : une
fortune amassée dans l’immobilier et une notoriété
acquise à la télévision. Or, le jour approche où un candidat
conjuguera les deux grands pouvoirs du XXIe siècle pour
s’installer à la Maison-Blanche : une fortune amassée grâce
aux renseignements personnels des particuliers soutirés sur
Internet, et une célébrité alimentée par les réseaux sociaux.
Quelqu’un dans la salle a dit Mark Zuckerberg, fondateur de
Facebook ?
Ce pourrait être un mal pour un bien, puisque l’avenir de
la planète se jouera au confluent de la science et de la technologie,
estime l’ancien diplomate Daryl Copeland, membre
du Centre d’études et de recherches internationales de
l’Université de Montréal et auteur du livre Guerrilla Diplomacy
: Rethinking International Relations (Lynne Rienner
Selon lui, le défi des nouveaux adultes sera de réorienter les
immenses ressources humaines et financières utilisées pour
combattre le terrorisme vers la science et le développement
humanitaire afin de sauver la planète. Une tâche à la mesure
de l’ambition de cette génération, dit Daryl Copeland, qui a
fait le point avec L’actualité.
religieux. Ce sont des menaces réelles, mais les
chances que ces phénomènes touchent
directement un jeune Canadien de 18 ans sont
aussi faibles que de prendre son bain dehors
par beau temps et d’être frappé par la foudre !
Or, nous y consacrons l’essentiel de nos efforts
sur la scène internationale.
L’avenir de la planète n’est pas remis en
question par cette bataille de territoires ou
d’idéologies. Il faut consacrer davantage de
ressources ailleurs.

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The world is still waiting: Rethinking Canadian international policy

Blogger’s Note:  Following is my review of  Roland Paris and Taylor Owen, eds.
The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink Its International Policies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).  It was published recently in the in the International Journal (72:3, 2017).  Please pardon the peculiar formatting/spacing.


The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed itself to an
activist international agenda. That said, with a beaten-down, reamed-out public
service still recovering after a decade of ideologically driven neglect and abuse
under the Harper Conservatives, not much new thinking is coming up through
the bureaucracy. This is hardly unexpected. How can a patient who has been on life
support for many years, with limbs emaciated, reflexes dulled and muscles atro-
phied, suddenly get up and run a marathon?

Enter Professors Paris (University of Ottawa) and Owen (University of British
Columbia). In addressing the policy and analytical vacuum, they present ideas
generated by ‘‘some of the country’s brightest ‘next generation’ thinkers and
most experienced policy practitioners.’’ All twelve authors are believed to ‘‘share
the editors’ view that Canada needs to pursue a comprehensive, constructive and
ambitious international strategy’’ (vii).


The papers, originally presented at the Ottawa Forum in May 2014, offer a
sweeping critique of the Conservative government’s disastrous stewardship of
Canada’s place in the world. The anthology’s core argument is that in a rapidly
changing global environment, Canada has failed to keep up. Performance must be

Although this project was somewhat sideswiped by the election of October 2015,
not to mention the rise of the populist right, Brexit, and the Trump ascendancy,
most of the articles remain relevant.1 Moreover, while many of the contributors are
academics, several are professionals drawn from different disciplines. That uncon-
ventional mix may represent the book’s greatest strength. But it has also resulted in
several prescriptions that fall outside the purview of analysis usually associated
with International Relations.

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The internationalization of Canadian science – Part III: Getting back in the game?

Going global?

While the outlook is not entirely bleak, Canada – unlike Quebec – has not really stepped up to the plate. The government is underperforming on its commitments to science, and risks engendering a “say-do” gap. The findings of last spring’s Fundamental Science Review (Naylor Report) highlighted the need to pursue opportunities for enhanced international scientific collaboration, but the government has been slow to respond.  R&D spending lags seriously behind our competitors. The Mandate Letters presented to Foreign Minister Freeland,  Development Minister Bibeau, and Science Minister Duncan lack any specific reference to science diplomacy or objectives in international S&T more generally. There is no strategy or plan to attract and fast-track diaspora scientists and scientific refugees, an untapped resource which, if carefully exploited, could rapidly augment Canada’s depleted capacity.

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has for many years toyed with the idea of appointing a departmental science advisor, but that has not happened, despite the rising trend to this end elsewhere. While a Science and Technology division does exist at GAC, it serves the trade and commercial side of the department, and is preoccupied largely with efforts to sell products and services abroad.  Policy planning papers have been written on science diplomacy, but they are gathering dust, and the concept – let alone the practice –  remains largely alien.

Canada signed the UN Arms Trade Treaty, but – as underscored painfully by the controversial decision to proceed with a large sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia – export controls have not been tightened. Perhaps most discouragingly, Canada refused to join 122 other countries in support the landmark  UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

With a general election only two years away, the case for the government to move, quickly and deliberately, on issues of international science cooperation seems unassailable. How else will this country be able to demonstrate its commitments in this regard, or to the attainment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, all of which feature a significant S&T component? There are, moreover, a range of accessible, low hanging fruits which are well within reach and easily harvested.

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The internationalization of Canadian science – Part II: Getting back in the game?

The way we were

Canada was once a pioneer in environmental advocacy, development assistance and creative diplomacy. Running through these enterprises there exists a strain of activity which is usually referred to as international scientific cooperation – the term science diplomacy has only come into widespread parlance over the past few years. In any case, when viewed through the lens of S&T, a summary review of the past fifty or so years illustrates convincingly that the combination of science and diplomacy has often paid handsome dividends.

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The internationalization of Canadian science – Part I: Getting back in the game?

Blogger’s note. My apologies, again, to regular followers of this series. This fall I have been preoccupied with a combination of conferences, travel, consulting, and other writing projects. As a result, I have fallen behind with my postings. I will do my best to remedy that situation, starting with this entry.   


Paul Heinbecker’s compelling 2010 book, from which I have borrowed the second part of my title, offers many useful insights into how Canada’s once storied place in the world might most expeditiously be restored. It does not, however, dwell upon the role of science in diplomatic practice or as a constituent element of foreign policy kit. This is not surprising. Those issues have never registered appreciably on the domestic public or political radar screen. That said, the need for, and possibilities associated with combining science and diplomacy carry critical implications for security, prosperity and development. Indeed, this connection has never been more relevant.

Or timely.


Because at this crucial juncture, were the earth to be equipped with a collision warning system, the alarm would almost certainly be clanging incessantly.

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