Rethinking Diplomacy, Security and Commerce in the Age of Heteropolarity

A few weeks ago I attended  an International Symposium on the the subject themes organized by the University of East Anglia’s London Academy of Diplomacy.  I was especially keen to participate because I had helped with the conceptualization and design of the conference.  Lately I have also been trying to develop the idea of heteropolarity as a tool for making better sense of world order in the 21st century.

Attendees were invited first to consider a fundamental question: “Does diplomacy still matter?”  The consensus was yes, increasingly so.  But most also agreed that diplomacy’s practices, practitioners and institutions have not adapted well contemporary circumstances, and in particular to the exigencies of the  globalization age.

It was observed that in the public mind diplomacy has suffered from its association with weakness and appeasement, and that diplomats have been caricatured as ditherers, drinking and dining off the public purse, lost in a haze of obsolescence. Western diplomacy especially is seen as having failed to deliver the expected peace dividend at the end of the Cold War, a problem compounded by the militarization of foreign policy after 9/11 and the prosecution of an undifferentiated and  ill-defined “war on terror”. The Cold War, it seems, simply morphed into the Long War, featuring “overseas contingency operations”, stabilization programmes and counter-insurgency campaigns world-wide.

In short, the conferees agreed that diplomacy – a non-violent approach to the management of international relations through dialogue, negotiation and compromise – has not delivered the goods. Most diplomats work for states, and these days states are of diminishing importance, only one actor among many on a world stage now crowded with multinational corporations, NGOs, think tanks and celebrities.  In recent years foreign ministries have lost much of their turf, with leadership passing increasingly upwards, into the hands of presidents and prime ministers, outwards, to other government departments and a host of new players, and downwards, to other levels of government. Tradition-bound and inherently change-resistant, diplomacy has been sidelined and become marginalized, displaced in government by a preference for the use of armed force.

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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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Coming Home: Reality Check

It is a pleasure to return to the exquisitely sweet softness of central Canada in mid-summer.

While the month away in New Zealand and Australia for a series of speaking engagements, conferences and meetings with government, university and NGO representatives on matters of science, technology, diplomacy and international policy, was delightful, it’s always nice to be home.

Except, except…

Time spent abroad always sharpens the comparative perspective. Returning from trips abroad over the past decade or so, I have noticed – with an increasing sense of alarm – that in comparison to most of Europe and Australasia, this country is looking kind of tired, worn down, wrung out and generally uncared for.

For some reason, on this occasion I experienced that sensation of falling behind with particular intensity. So with this post I have decided to put the analysis of international relations on hold and share some thoughts instead on what is becoming of Canada, my home and native land.

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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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War and Diplomacy – Part IV

Two weeks after the shock of Canada’s UNSC debacle, discussions concerning the larger implications of that disaster continue. And so they should. Among the many possible messages, it is clearly time to turn the page on Pearsonian Internationalism and to get on with the job of rebranding this country as the globalization nation.

Where else but in Canada could a professor named Naheed Nenshi get elected as mayor in a place like Calgary? That happened only days after the electoral meltdown in the General Assembly, and the two events taken together represent a powerful symbolic combination – an epochal coda, and quite possibly a new beginning in the history in our national life.

So… Out with the old, in with the new.

But, in the meantime, back to some final thoughts on diplomacy and war.

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United Nations Security Council Elections and the Canadian Brand: The End of the Illusion?

On October 12, 1957 the Nobel Committee announced that Lester Pearson would be awarded the Peace Prize for his role in addressing the Suez Crisis. Fifty-three years later to the day, Canada lost out to Portugal – a small, former colonial power –  in its bid for election to the United Nations Security Council.

To my mind that irony, and those bookends provide compelling testament to the fact that Canada’s place in the world has a come a long way in half a century.

Wherever this country is now, it is certainly not where we were then.

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Listening to Lawrence – Part I

Last Sunday, August 1st, the Dutch began a low key, unceremonious withdrawal from participation in the NATO/ISAF mission to Afghanistan. With 24 dead, 140 wounded, and over a billion euros expended, Holland is the first major member of the ISAF coalition to head for the exit. This event, however, was almost lost in the Canadian mix of news coverage over the holiday long weekend, despite the fact that Afghanistan remains among Canada’s top international priorities.

As the number of outside  military forces active in Afghanistan shrinks – Canada, and likely Germany are set to follow the Dutch example next year – the US is more than compensating with a troop surge which is now in full swing. These developments, in combination with the record number of casualties, may serve to encourage more public and media attention and give rise to a broad consideration of the way ahead.

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Canadian Multilateralism: An Opportunity for Diplomatic Alternatives?

Last month the Canadian International Council released its report, Open Canada, on possible new directions for Canadian foreign policy. There is much to commend about this easily-digested document, not least the fact that at a critical moment a group of thoughtful Canadians took the time and effort required to bring the ambitious project to completion within a very short time frame.

My observations are directed at the content in Chapter 2, entitled Multilateralism: The Revolution. That section contains most of the authors’ commentary related to diplomacy in an interdependent, connected and network-centric world.

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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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