Advancing Insecurity: How the Conservative Government’s “War on Science” has Undermined Canada – and Our Place in the World

Foreign policy issues rarely figure centrally in electoral politics, and in the public and media mainstream science is an even more distant outlier.

That’s unfortunate, because science policy matters. Years of resource reductions, and the centralized political control and manipulation of all public communications have deeply corroded Canadian democracy, governance and public administration.

Less visible – yet of at least equal consequence – has been the damage to Canada’s global brand wrought by the government’s ill-conceived war on science and rejection of evidence-based policy and decision-making.

Among the warrior nation wannabes in Ottawa, spin rules.

Ideology has displaced rationality.

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Public Diplomacy and Branding, Part III: A Pair of Aces?

In a couple of recent postings I have tried to elaborate the notion of a nation brand, to identify some of the salient issues surrounding the relationship between public diplomacy and branding, and to illuminate the more subtle distinctions. In this entry, I would like to drill down further into each of these, and several related issues.

Branding guru Simon Anholt has developed a hexagonal model that sets out the principal elements of a nation’s brand, including tourism, exports, policies, investment and immigration, culture and heritage, and people. This has become the industry standard. While Simon and I concur on many points,  we do not agree on everything covered in the continuing debate. For instance, as far back as 2006, he wrote me to say “I dispute… your contention that branding is fundamentally a monologue. The best brand theory – and the best brand practice – today sees brand as the common purpose or shared vision that unites businesses with their staff, suppliers and customers, and so is in every sense parallel to (e.g. the British Council’s insistence on) the mutuality of public and cultural diplomacy. A brand is also … as much an invitation to complain as it is a promise of quality, so even in that rather literal sense it must always be about two-way communication… Brand is very much more than ‘image’ and the communication, management or promotion of image. Brand strategy is almost synonymous with corporate strategy, and at least in theory, there is a parallel notion in nation branding. Most firms these days would describe their brand as their relationship with their market and their other stakeholders.”

My response? Let one hundred flowers bloom.

But when it comes time to pick the bouquet, it seems worth remembering that if branding is about selling dreams, public diplomacy is about sharing them.

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Public Diplomacy, Branding and the Image of Nations, Part I:What’s in a Brand?

I am writing today from London.

Although I will be going in to see colleagues at the FCO next week, I confess that I have not been thinking much about whether or not the Brits will be able to top, or at least equal the Chinese in skillfully using the occasion of the Summer Olympics to advance their top line public diplomacy (PD) objectives. Instead, I have been busy teaching a graduate seminar on Science, Technology, Diplomacy and International Policy, and helping to organize an International Symposium on the theme of heteropolarity and world order. Today I am preparing to welcome nation branding guru Simon Anholt into my MA class, hot on the heels of a command performance last Wednesday by Parag Khanna.

In order to introduce Simon, I have been reviewing his work, and in that regard came across a fascinating exchange he engaged in a few years back on the CPD blog with Craig Hayden. Their repartee got me thinking – again – about the hardy perennial issue of whether or not there exists a real distinction between branding and PD.

Is one a subset of the other? If so, which is the larger construct?  Does it really matter?

I’m not sure, especially because these sorts of considerations suggest that the relationship may be asymmetrical, rather than simply differentiated.

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Canada and the world post-9/11: What has been learned?

Looking back over decade since 9/11, what events and developments stand out globally? Among others:

  • The ongoing Global War on Terror and associated Western military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The hollowing out of the middle class, the financial crisis and the continuing Great Recession.
  • The lost opportunities to support non-violent political reform during the Arab Spring.

9/11 changed everything, and the carnage and consequences engendered by that day haunt us still.

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In Aotearoa: Small is Beautiful

I have been back in New Zealand, the enchanted Land of the Long White Cloud, since June 16. During that surpassingly enjoyable period I have been  reacquainting myself with various parts of the country – Auckland, Northland and the Coromandel peninsula, attending a conference on Science Diplomacy at Otago University’s 46th Foreign Policy School in Dunedin, condulting with colleagues at the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and  speaking at various branches of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

All of this has been most rich and rewarding, and some of the subject matter has even generated interest in the local press.

Before getting into any of that, however, here’s an instructive tale.

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A Role for Science Diplomacy? Soft Power and Global Challenges – Part III

Parts I and II of this series have examined the role and place – or lack thereof – of science and technology in diplomacy and international policy. How do those observations play out in reference to Canada, and, by extension, for members of the international community more generally?

The Canadian case brings many of these issues, and in particular the aspect of unfulfilled possibilities, into stark relief. Notwithstanding its humiliating electoral defeat at the UN, Canada retains a significant comparative advantage  vis-a-vis the global competition in terms of soft power.  A large part of this advantage may be attributed to default, that is, to the things which this country doesn’t  have or do, such as carry colonial baggage or harbor aggressive global ambitions. And however undeserved, Canada still enjoys a very positive international image and reputation. It’s brand was recently ranked the world’s best.

Unthreatening  and nice.

Cosmopolitan and approachable.

Open and welcoming.

The globalization nation.

Canada, moreover, has the capacity – educational, scientific and representational – necessary to make a substantial contribution to science diplomacy. Before that potential can be realized, however, significant reform will be required.

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The World’s Oyster? Rethinking Canada as the Globalization Nation

With the G8/G20 meetings about to begin, the attention of the international media will inevitably, if fleetingly, focus on Canada. What kind of impression might be conveyed?

For journalists prepared to eschew the backdrops, sound bites and briefing books and to venture beyond the sterile secure areas, there may be a few surprises.

Even the least intrepid would soon discover that in a world of well-established, pre-packaged national identities, this country is different.

That difference has little to do with beavers or moose, with the cold climate or the scenic attractions.

It is not the place. It’s the people.

No matter where you’re from, if Canada were a mirror, you would see your own face reflected.

And because everyone is here, no one stands out.

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Diplomatic Surge? Part I – From buzz to becoming

These should be heady days for diplomats. After a long stretch languishing in relative obscurity, the willingness to explore diplomatic alternatives to the use of armed force in the pursuit of international policy objectives has become suddenly, well, fashionable.

The arrival of the Obama administration, and especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, has unleashed a torrent of commentary on soft power, smart power, branding and public diplomacy. Harvard Professor Joseph Nye – the guru of soft, and now, in the vernacular of the moment, smart power – is becoming almost a household name. Special envoys have been appointed, difficult issues broached, executive orders signed and new directions indicated. Diplomatic studies specialists, long neglected by both the media and the mainstream, and rarely if ever consulted by decision-makers and opinion-leaders, are finding themselves surprisingly popular. Even within the sometimes rarified heights of international relations scholarship, diplomacy is receiving unprecedented attention.

The short road from heresy to liturgy is getting even shorter.

Foreign ministries and diplomats everywhere will welcome the attention; they have been through a rough patch and now have their work cut out for them, doing things like assisting with broad-based development, supporting democracy and human rights, and building bridges to civil society. Moreover, practitioners have rarely been better positioned to address pressing professional issues, to burnish the tools of the trade and to engage publics abroad through dialogue and partnership. In much of the world, the image and reputation of the West in general, and the USA in particular, has huge potential on the upside.

In short, statecraft is on a roll, and the timing could scarcely be better.

For those accustomed to toiling unnoticed in the diplomatic wilderness, all of this is giving rise to something akin to an out of body experience.

Carpe diem.

What might be said of this promising trend? How might the diplomatic difficulties of the past few decades be explained? And where to now – can smart power deliver as advertised? In this calculus I see both change, and possibly a disconcerting hint of continuity.

Some observations. Firstly, the new political leadership in the USA appears to have re-discovered that diplomacy per se matters. In the face of a profusion of unresolved conflicts and unaddressed global threats and challenges, many rooted in science and driven by technology, a fresh willingness is in evidence to give negotiation, compromise and meaningful exchange an overdue test drive. But the machinery and its operators have been idling on the sidelines in recent years. A major tune-up, if not a complete re-build will be necessary.

Secondly, and in that regard, the delivery of something broadly similar to the core of former Secretary Rice’s program for transformational diplomacy – representational reform, the retooling of organizational structure and bureaucratic process, and enlargement of the resource base – will be imperative. The implementation of this strategy will not in itself, however, suffice if talking is to triumph over fighting as the international policy instrument of choice. The dominant world view, too, needs a complete refit.

Thirdly, then, and perhaps most fundamentally, it seems to me that diplomacy reached this critical impasse as a result of the imposition of a particular ideological perspective which conditioned, if not determined the political and intellectual environment in which the foreign ministry and foreign service have had to operate.

Let me deal summarily with the first two points:

1. Over the long history of delivering international policy results for states, diplomats have had to manage issues such as territorial disputes, treaty and legal problems, and ideological competition. In the early 21st century, these sorts of challenges, to which might be added terrorism, migration and criminality, are still out there, but have been joined by a daunting set of S&T based issues: climate change and pandemic disease; resource scarcity and environmental collapse; weapons of mass destruction and genomics, to name a few. Most serving diplomats are not equipped, in terms of background, knowledge and experience, to handle successfully these types of files.

2. The prescription for transformational diplomacy recognizes that diplomacy needs to be re-invented from the bottom up, and that this will involve a complete rethinking of the diplomatic business model and reimagining of the essential skill set of the diplomatic person. I am convinced completely of the need to reconstruct the foreign ministry. In OECD countries especially, these tend to be among the oldest of central government institutions. Westphalian conventions are profoundly embedded, and the culture tradition-laden, hierarchic and risk averse. Placing adequate emphasis on overcoming these internal obstacles will be crucial.

Globalization has radically altered the role and place of states in the international system diplomats, diplomacy and the foreign ministry have not adapted well The main diplomatic institutions must accordingly be reconsidered fundamentally or face irrelevance, if not oblivion. Success at this game of catch-up will require vision and dexterity. Which brings me to the third point. Foreign ministries and diplomats have their shortcomings, but are their other reasons that performance has faltered? Might this affect the ability of the apparent diplomatic surge to endure?