Does Canadian diplomacy still matter? What might be done to restore its relevance and effectiveness in the age of globalization and heteropolarity?

Listen here.


The world is beset by a host of daunting, seemingly intractable problems, ranging from climate change and environmental collapse to diminishing biodiversity and pandemic disease.  These profound threats, unlike political violence or religious extremism, afflict everyone on the planet.

Many citizens, alarmed by the declining quality of their lives, have become cynical and dismayed as the downward spiral accelerates. National governments, frequently captured by special interests or trapped in old ways of operating, have failed to act remedially.

Bereft of creative alternatives, when faced with trouble the first instinct of many decision makers has been to reach for the gun.

Since the post-9/11 advent of the Global War on Terror, in many Western countries policy has become an instrument of war. Fears have been conjured and insecurity instilled, thus undercutting support for fundamentally different approaches to the construction of world order. Right wing think tanks have reliably provided ideological grist for the defence-industrial mill. The consequences have been calamitous, not only in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, but on the home front, where privacy has been invaded, rights and freedoms circumscribed and inequality exacerbated. Society is increasingly militarized and the armed forces have become dominant national institutions.

There is, however, another way forward. That alternative proceeds from the conviction that because long-term, equitable and sustainable development has become the basis for security in the age of globalization, diplomacy must replace defence at the centre of international policy.

In other words, in an increasingly heterpolar world, security is not a martial art. [click to continue…]


Manning verdict leaves the big issues unresolved

by daryl.copeland on July 31, 2013

There is something for almost everyone in the judgement delivered yesterday against Bradley Manning, the army private who single-handedly conveyed hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic documents and military battlefield reports to the so-called whistleblowing web site WikiLeaks.

This is the largest unauthorized transfer of government-origin classified information ever recorded.

Manning’s detractors – those who see him as a criminal and a traitor – will look with satisfaction upon his conviction on charges of espionage, computer fraud , possession of restricted documents and theft.  These could bring him a total of over 100 years behind bars.

Manning’s defenders – those who see him as a patriot and a hero – will be relieved that he was acquitted on the two most serious charges of aiding the enemy. Daniel Ellesberg, for instance, commented that:  ‘It could’ve been worse’ – a lot worse, not just for Bradley but for American democracy and the free press on which it depends”.

Whatever the sentence, the mixed messages implied by the judgement may end up satisfying no one completely.

Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, was ambiguous:  “We won the battle, now we need to go win the war…  Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, himself a fugitive and holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London,  described the verdict on Twitter as “dangerous  national security extremism.”

If reflecting on what to make of the verdict seems difficult, consider this. The most critical issues of public policy raised by the Manning case have yet to be broached: [click to continue…]


The Snowden Affair: Winners and Losers

by daryl.copeland on July 18, 2013

Ed Snowden, the US citizen and cyber-surveillance whistleblower, has been somewhere in the transit area of Moscow’s labyrinthine Sheremetevo international airport for almost one month.  His disclosure of documents detailing mass telephone and internet monitoring by US, UK, NZ, Australian and French intelligence agencies, often with active private sector collusion, has resulted in him being proclaimed a hero in some quarters, and a traitor in others.

The US Government has charged him with the theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence to unauthorized persons. They are seeking his extradition, and have criticized the governments of Russia and China for their failure to cooperate. Washington appears intent on sparing no effort in its attempt to ensure that Snowden’s fate resembles something closer to that of Bradley Manning than that of Julian Assange.

Stuck in a legal and immigration netherworld with time on his hands and no obvious way to take up offers of asylum received from Venezuela, Ecuador or Nicaragua, Mr. Snowden may be reflecting on the implications of his decisions. [click to continue…]


Where in the World is Canada?

by daryl.copeland on June 29, 2013

Amidst breaking news of convulsions shaking Egypt, Turkey and Brazil, the election of a moderate president in Iran, the despatch of a UN “intervention force” to the DRC, and revelations of massive cyber-surveillance, Canadians are understandably distracted.  Few seem to be paying much attention to an issue of longer-term, yet potentially much larger domestic consequence – this country’s changing place in the world.

When it comes to foreign perceptions of Canada, a fundamental shift has occurred.

This country and its people, although certainly not reviled, are no longer accorded the admiration and esteem which until recently was the norm.

The red maple leaf, once a widely recognized and even revered as symbol of Canadian internationalism, does not evoke the enthusiastic response which once made it the envy of backpackers everywhere.

The magic is gone. [click to continue…]

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Canada: The view from afar

by daryl.copeland on June 28, 2013

Editor’s note

Over the past six months I have had occasion to spend much of my time working and travelling overseas. I spent the first few months of the year teaching a course on science, technology, diplomacy and international policy at Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand, and last month I participated in several conferences  in Europe.

Although these activities have resulted in fewer postings to the GD blog, being abroad has proven useful in terms of gathering insights not so easily gleaned from home.

What did I learn about changing international perceptions of Canada?

Stay tuned for a special Canada Day posting…


Afghanistan: Looking Back, Looking Forward

by daryl.copeland on May 11, 2013

There has been much commentary and speculation in recent weeks regarding Pakistan’s national elections, and the possible impact of the results upon events in Afghanistan. While the nature of developments in Pakistan might well amount to the single most important external influence, not least because of the shared Pashtun population on either side of the Durand Line and Pakistan’s longstanding pre-occupation with Indian designs in the region, in Afghanistan there are many other factors and actors at play.

That country, situated at a crossroads of civilizations, is an almost bewilderingly complicated place. The burden of history is enormous: over the past few centuries, Afghanistan has more often than not been treated as a pawn in the imperial “great game.” It has deservedly developed a reputation as the “graveyard of empires,” not least because outsiders’ forces have only ever succeeded in pacifying small parts of the country. Internal stability, such as it has ever existed, has been predicated typically upon the decentralized, often shifting political arrangements between the capital and the provinces.

That pattern was long gone by the time NATO intervened. Still reeling in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S.-led coalition effectively took sides in a complex ethnic, tribal, sectarian, and geographically rooted civil war. Twelve years later, ISAF is shrinking by the month, and is further than ever from prevailing. Unsurprisingly, the continuing presence of foreign forces, viewed widely as occupiers by the population, has exacerbated the conflict. [click to continue…]


The rub

The Government of Canada should be doing everything in its power to support its employees on the foreign policy front lines. Alas, for diplomats this is not the case. Years of underinvestment, exacerbated by over $300 million in cumulative cuts imposed on DFAIT by the 2012 federal budget, have severely degraded the work environment.

Add to that what amounts to bad faith bargaining and the lingering absence of a contract, and all elements are in place for a perfect storm of labour unrest. [click to continue…]


Last month the membership of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers  (PAFSO), Canada’s working-level diplomats, voted overwhelmingly in favour of job action. The 1350 members of this occupational group, who have been without a contract since June 2011, are now in a legal strike position.

While this situation has raised eyebrows, to date the actions undertaken by PAFSO members have been largely symbolic, involving tactics such as “working to rule”, refusing overtime, and ignoring their Blackberries outside of office hours. An “electronic picket” affecting email communications has been deployed to automatically alert Canadians and international officials to the possibility of delays in responding to correspondence.

There has been no wholesale withdrawal of service, and PAFSO has shown itself as anything but rigid or uncompromising. When the Boston Marathon was bombed on April 15th, all job action measures at the Canadian Consulate-General in that city were suspended immediately in order to best assist Canadians.

So…what is all discontent all about, and why is it important? [click to continue…]

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Digital Diplomacy: The Power of Attraction

by clowry on April 4, 2013

Digital Diplomacy: The Power of Attraction
The fifth episode of our web series (4 minute segment featuring Daryl Copeland)


What Ails Diplomacy? Follow the Money

by clowry on March 18, 2013

Part four of the Guerrilla Diplomacy web series – a brief comment by Daryl Copeland.
(If you would like to view previous short webisodes in the series, please scroll down.)
3 minutes, Ecotone Productions (Produced by Chris Lowry)


Science Diplomacy: Back To The Future

by clowry on March 6, 2013

Part three of the Guerrilla Diplomacy web series – a brief comment by Daryl Copeland.

3 minutes, Ecotone Productions (Chris Lowry)


Editors’s Note: Abridged versions of the following retrospective have appeared recently in bout de papier (in print) and on the web site of the Canadian International Council.  The final instalment of the full, unedited text follows.

Turning the page

Too bleak?  Perhaps we can all look forward to reading a comprehensive rejoinder refuting the arguments set out here. That would certainly be welcome.

I should add that while critical, I remain committed to supporting DFAIT in its efforts to change and evolve. Most of the shortcomings outlined above can in fact be remedied, and the descent into genteel oblivion reversed, but getting there will require both budgetary support and a more strategic, determined and committed effort than has yet been attempted. Diplomatic performance can be dramatically improved, but not without radical reform and serious reinvestment. A new narrative is needed, as is an improved prescription for a smarter, faster, more supple approach to the way we work. .

And still, although praising Cesar is not my purpose here, there are many items on the positive side of the ledger.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers has made enormous strides, and now serves the interests of its membership rather than those of management. Salaries, benefits, and many of the terms and conditions of foreign service have improved markedly as a result.

Fascinating issues and smart people abound.

And the opportunities to travel, live work, and represent Canada abroad are priceless.

It was all of this, and more, that kept me coming back for three decades.

In all, quite the journey. There were many highs: Thailand was a dream come true, and I used one of my formative experiences there to construct the prologue for Guerrilla Diplomacy. The posting to Ethiopia in the midst of famine and civil war was like working in a theme park for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Participation in the (long extinct) exchange program with Ministry of  Foreign  Affairs and Trade in New Zealand exposed me to the experience of working for someone else’s government, and began a close association which continues to this day in my teaching, public speaking and consulting work. Doing intelligence analysis for Central and Southeast Asia as Cold War ended provided an intriguing window on a changing world. Winning the Canadian Foreign Service Officer Award for advancing the interests of the diplomatic profession- rather than just doing my job – has been a source of enduring satisfaction.

Last, but by no means least, securing approval for my book project – an epic undertaking in itself – and the subsequent teaching gig at the Munk Centre built nicely upon the foundations laid during my secondment as National Programme Director at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs in the late nineties.

Low points usually involved conflicts with bosses and various battles with “the system”. Even at that, the experience of taking on – often in full, frontal assaults – a number of abusive, psychopathic senior managers, none of whom were accustomed to dealing with (very) active resistance, taught me the importance of resilience, resourcefulness and strategic planning.

Loyal opposition is not easy. I sometimes felt like the lone ranger, riding the high sierra in isolation.

But I was never, ever bored. And I am especially grateful that those thirty years equipped me with the professional contacts, knowledge and experience required to re-invent myself for an excellent life after DFAIT.

* * * * * * * * * *

Of one thing I am certain.

As we move inexorably into the messy, dynamic, asymmetrical world order which is heteropolarity, governments will need diplomacy – and diplomats – more than ever. There simply are no military solutions to the vexing range of transnational issues which constitute the globalization threat set. To address these sorts of challenges, complex balancing, knowledge-based problem-solving, and genuine dialogue remain the best tools in the shed.

Thus the question must be put – why are the vast majority of international policy resources still being directed to the Department of National Defence, while DFAIT and CIDA are savaged?

Unless and until that misallocation is remedied, performance is unlikely to improve.

* * * * * * * * * *


Blink, and its gone.

It is our most precious non-renewable resource.

When time runs out, access to any other resource – wealth,  power, influence – no longer matters  much.

Keep that in mind while working.


Part two of the Guerrilla Diplomacy web series – a brief comment by Daryl Copeland.

3 1/2 minutes, Ecotone Productions (Chris Lowry)