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)


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 third instalment of the full, unedited text follows.

Continuous learning?

At a personal level, what kernels of wisdom might I have acquired during the passage? For starters:

  • a diplomat’s most valuable assets are relationships based upon confidence, trust and respect
  • the ability to swim like a fish in the sea of the people is a hugely undervalued representational attribute; too many heads of mission flop around like fish out of water when outside their comfort zones
  • it is sometimes better to go down with all flags flying than to compromise a principle or submit to abusive authority

More broadly, I found out – usually the hard way – that about half of the decisions that really count in terms of career aspirations and outcomes can be ascribed to factors perhaps best described as personal and situational – who knows whom and what is going on where. Another thirty per cent or so of what happens tends to turn on matters of chance, luck and timing. That leaves typically only the remaining twenty per cent of decisions which are taken primarily on the basis of objective circumstances or the strength of a business case. The so-called “performance management” process for executives, from which flow the coveted bonuses, works more like a popularity or beauty contest, and is highly dependent upon who is present during the division of the spoils.

Meritocracy, while not unknown, is not the defining feature. [click to continue…]


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 second instalment of the full, unedited text follows.

Greasing the skids…

DFAIT’s network of missions abroad should provide the foundation for the foreign ministry’s comparative advantage vis-à-vis other government departments. Instead, by running down the geographic divisions at headquarters and adopting the “international platform” model abroad, local knowledge and regional expertise have been devalued. The vital connection to place is wilting on the vine, while turf wars are being lost to line departments with functional responsibilities. One colleague commented to me recently that current approach looks like a plan for turning DFAIT’s facilities into a global door mat, and its personnel into a corps of overseas concierges, a slightly refined equivalent of the greeters at Walmart. [click to continue…]


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

A burning platform

London cabbies are a great source of received wisdom. Over the past several years I have had occasion to focus test dozens of drivers drawn from this select group. I queried them about the reputation of diplomacy in general, and their impressions of diplomats in particular.

Their verdict?

Reduced to its most essential iteration:

Dithering dandies, hopelessly lost in a haze of irrelevance somewhere between protocol and alcohol…

For diplomatic practitioners, exposure to the mainstream view of cartoon caricatures in pin stripes or pearls riding high at public expense serves as a sobering reminder that any vestigial prestige and mystique once associated with the profession has worn long since off.

More worrisome still, since at least Chamberlain’s ill-starred visit to Munich in 1938, diplomacy has come to be associated with weakness and appeasement, with caving in to power.

In other words, diplomacy’s debilitating image problems are matched by serious misunderstandings concerning the substance of the work. That said, however misleading the archetypes, popular perceptions of diplomacy are not entirely unfounded. Neither the profession nor its institutions have adjusted well to the exigencies of the globalization age. [click to continue…]


Here is part one of a new web series from Ecotone featuring Daryl Copeland.


Diplomatic Security: A Necessarily Elusive Goal?

by daryl.copeland on December 12, 2012

A few weeks ago I was asked by a journalist to comment on the role of military police guards at Canadian diplomatic missions. As I had never worked in an embassy or consulate under those circumstances, I was unable to be of much help.

Still, the query got me thinking about the matter of diplomatic security in general, and, more particularly, about the question of how much is too much.

The more that I reflect on that subject, the less certain I am about the prospect of reaching any hard or fast conclusions.

Clearly, the Government of Canada must accord high priority to ensuring the well-being of its employees. Occupational hazards must be mitigated and workplaces maintained to a high standard of safety and security. This applies anywhere, and nowhere more so than in the case of nationals posted to fragile or failing states, or in conflict zones.

That said, in an overly securitized environment the conduct of effective international political communication becomes very difficult.

Staying “in the bubble”, and especially a fortified bubble, is a prescription for isolation from the broader community.

For a diplomat, that spells disaster.

Simply put, you can’t do diplomacy from inside a forbidding, bunker-like chancery which few will feel comfortable entering if they must endure an ordeal of intrusive registration procedures and searches.

Outside of the embassy, the practice of public – let alone guerrilla – diplomacy is a non-starter in the company of a close protection unit.

When you turn diplomatic missions into something resembling Fort Apache, and when diplomatic practice is limited by inordinate restrictions arising from concerns over personal safety, the establishment of vital local connections, and of relationships based on confidence, trust and respect, is next to impossible. [click to continue…]


The leak of a draft Canadian foreign policy plan, first reported nationally on 19 November, was treated breathlessly by the media and hyped as a major story.

By way of contrast, the event has generated something of a yawn from members of the commentariat.

Insofar as that lacklustre response reflects what we know of the apparently insipid content of the paper, it is unsurprising. The need to embrace trade and economic opportunities in emerging markets, while continuing with efforts to advance Canadian interests in the USA, is hardly the stuff of revelation.

So, too with the requirement to manage carefully the pursuit of Canadian objectives in countries where fundamental values may not align.

Still, the appearance of this document, the status of which remains uncertain, is not completely without significance. The absence of consultations during its preparation suggests serious problems of governance, not least an over-reliance on secrecy and control. Moreover, the issues that are not covered in the plan may be more significant than those that are. [click to continue…]