The Incredible Shrinking Canada


I am now approaching the end of my sojourn in London, some comments about which were referenced here.  While away I have even managed to get a bit of Canadian press.

After almost a month away, I must say that in relation to the relative absence of similar possibilities in Ottawa, there is lots of interesting stuff to be done here in the world city. The energy, dynamism and cosmopolitan buzz attributable to this place are absolutely invigorating.

But what is on my mind this Sunday morning is last week`s federal budget, and especially the latest round slashing and burning of Canada`s once robust and engaged global presence.

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The New Threat Set: Humanity’s Race Against Time

From May 18-20th in Oslo, Norway, along with participants from some 40 countries and organizations around the world, I attended an “experts workshop” on Science, Technology and Innovation to Address Global Challenges. The meeting was organized jointly under OECD auspices by the Norwegian and German Ministries of Education and Research

The agenda included presentations and discussions on issues such as priority setting, funding, capacity building, and…

Asleep yet?

Well, this is your wake up call.

The Oslo meeting was far from a garden variety bureaucratic encounter. The rubber really hit the road during the final substantive session, which was innocuously entitled “Delivering Benefits.” At that point in the proceedings a consensus began to develop around a single, somewhat terrifying realization: If  international policy and decision-makers cannot be convinced that a radical course correction is needed, then in the not too distant future the world may reach a tipping point beyond which recovery will be difficult, if not impossible.

The consequences could well be catastrophic.

To understand how a group assembled by such a respectable institution as the OECD could reach such a disturbing conclusion, some sense of the over-arching analytical narrative is required. My  interpretation of the fundamental line of argument goes something like this.

In the globalization era, the most profound challenges to human survival — climate change, public health, diminishing biodiversity, and resource scarcity, to name a few — are rooted in science and driven by technology. Moreover, underdevelopment and insecurity, far more than religious extremism or political violence, represent fundamental threats to world order. In this context, the capacity to generate, absorb and use science and technology (S&T) could play a crucial role in improving security and development prospects. Addressing the needs of the poor, and bridging the digital divide could similarly become a pre-occupation of diplomacy.

Although poverty reduction contributes to development, and development is the flip side of security, S&T issues are largely alien to, and almost invisible within most international policy institutions. National governments, foreign ministries, development agencies, and indeed most multilateral organizations are without the scientific expertise, technological savvy, cultural pre-disposition or research and development (R&D) network access required to manage effectively. If this is to change, and in order to examine the remedial possibilities, politicians, opinion leaders and senior officials must be critically aware of both the dynamic inter-relationships among principal actors and the key questions and issues at play.

Unfortunately, their preoccupations lie almost entirely elsewhere.

The lion’s share of international policy resources are at present devoted to the military, which according to the rationale outlined above represents a colossal, and extremely costly misallocation. With a dominant international policy focus in many industrialized countries on counter-terrorism and the struggle against religious extremism and political violence, the threats and challenges which most imperil the planet remain largely unaddressed.

All told, this tale amounts to one terribly disturbing disconnect.

Because not only are the dots not joined-up.

In  most cases, there are no dots.

Whatever comes out of the Oslo meeting, it clearly will not, in itself, be enough to save the world. But if the project contributes to a more acute and widely-shared awareness of the real threat set, then we may all emerge at least with something in rather short supply under the present circumstances.

Hope.

Defence Policy, International Security and the Military: Time to Talk

South of the border, there have in recent years been a growing number of voices expressing serious concern over the militarization of American life.

I certainly share that sentiment.

Is an F-16 fly over and trooping the colours  really appropriate for the opening of the Super Bowl?

The USA is apparently becoming the Praetorian pole in an increasingly  heterpolar world order. Still, I think that a debate of this nature is culturally healthy, and have always admired the fact that some of the most trenchant, even withering criticism of U.S. policy and actions comes from domestic sources, including not least that country’s many military academies and war colleges.

Even in the mainstream media, a decade’s worth of assumptions used to justify deploying the military to pursue the epically misguided global war on terror are finally being questioned.

One could only wish that a similar degree of the scrutiny accorded defence issues in the USA  might one day be evident in the discourse on international policyin Canada.

Apart from a few faint echoes in the academy and a handful of specialized publications, that discussion here  is practically non-existent. I find that most unfortunate.

Canadians need to start talking about the kind of military that they require in the face of all identifiable threats and challenges. They must then somehow try and square the outcome of that conversation against a thoughtful consideration of whether or not the defence capability that they need matches the one that they have got.

I have my doubts.

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Arms and the Man: What’s Next for Libya?

Libya is engaged in a civil war. New protests have broken out in Oman, Bahrain and Yemen. The uprising in Tunisia, the pioneer state of the so-called “Arab Spring,” is entering a second phase. As usual, the amateurish Obama administration has no idea what to do about any of this.

…America has established that its national policy in Libya is regime change. The question now is whether our inexperienced president will take concerted steps to back up that policy.

Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, boasted that the regime in Tripoli is not fazed by the prospect of U.S. intervention. “We are ready, we are not afraid,” he said Tuesday. “We live here, we die here.” Maybe that can be arranged.”

Editorial, Washington Times, 01 March 2011

Slowly but surely, the sound of sabres rattling is growing louder. Amidst a looming humanitarian crisis and incipient civil war, and denials notwithstanding, there are tell-tale signs of the ground being prepared. In the US and UK there is talk of establishing a no-fly zone, of sending in special forces, of arming and training the rebels…

As Western military assets are deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean and politicians are speaking increasingly of the possibility of some sort of  intervention, my sense of dread intensifies.

Where is the diplomatic offensive? Yes, the foreign holdings of the Qaddafi  family have been frozen, an arms embargo applied, and legal proceedings are being investigated by the International Criminal Court.  But this does not constitute anything like the full court diplomatic press purported to be underway. In fact, it reveals diplomacy’s displacement. Why is no one other than Hugo Chavez calling for immediate negotiations, offering mediation and good offices, dispatching special envoys, demanding that the UN Security Council act to separate the combatants before the onset of full blown hostilities…?

Have we not seen this movie – the one with the tragic ending – before?

Do governments ever learn?

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Cairo Burning: Implications for the Defence vs. Diplomacy Debate

The following commentary, based in part on my “Ferment in North Africa” entry, was posted by the University of Southern California’s Public Diplomacy Blog 02 February:

This is one of those rare, defining moments in world history. In Egypt – as well as Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere – change is unfolding at almost blinding speed. The reactions of the USA, EU, and UN  so far have succeeded mainly in positioning the international community well behind the curve, scrambling to catch up. Developments on the ground continue to outpace responses by a wide margin.

Between concerns over secure access to oil,  radical Islamic politics, and the prospects for Middle East peace, Western interests are heavily engaged in the region. What, then, are the the broad strategic considerations which policy planners and decision-makers could usefully take into account?

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

Part I of this series examined the relationships – or lack thereof – between diplomacy, science and international policy, and noted the serious image problems which plague all three enterprises. These difficulties have hobbled the practice of science diplomacy, and are compounded by a host of substantial issues, which will be addressed presently. First, however, it may be useful to unpack the key terms.

Not unlike “intelligence” or  “policy”, “science” and “technology” are words frequently invoked in both conversation and writing. More often than not, however, the users have little more than an intuitive sense of what these terms actually mean.

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

Readers of Guerrilla Diplomacy will know that in that volume I argue that if development is the new security in the age of globalization, then diplomacy must displace defence at the centre of international policy.

Were policy-makers to accept this formulation, then diplomacy, and in particular public diplomacy (PD), would be placed front and centre in international relations. Science diplomacy (SD), a term which encompasses both the use of international scientific cooperation to advance foreign policy objectives and the use of diplomacy to achieve scientific ends,  represents a critical component within the broader public diplomacy ambit.  Science diplomacy is an expression of soft power. It is perhaps best understood as a way to liberate scientific and technological (S&T) knowledge from its rigid national and institutional enclosures and to unleash its progressive potential through collaboration and sharing with interested partners world-wide.

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Whither Development?

Or, should that be withered development…?

It was not that long ago that terms such as  “international development”,  “development cooperation”, “development assistance” and even “aid” were in heavy rotation in the discourse on international relations. This was true not only in places like the United Nations, but also in many capitals, great and small.

Today development, like diplomacy, has becom somewhat of an exotic.

And yet, and yet… It wasn’t always that way. Remember the would-be New International Economic Order? The North-South Summit in Cancun? How about calls for a New International Information Order? The Rio Summit on Environment and Development, surely?  That meeting produced, among other things, a sweeping manifesto intended to guide development into the next century: Agenda 21.

Its contents make interesting reading even now, almost two decades later.

Even without reference to the much more recent, but already forlorn Millennium Development Goals,  I think it fair to say the the internatnational community, as it is so euphemistically known, has come up a bit short on its commitments. Indeed, the discussion of international development per se has has pretty much disappeared from the mainstream, especially in the wake of 9/11 and the launch of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

The GWOT continues. Whether restyled as the Long War, or Stabilization, or Overseas Contingency Operations, the epicentre of international policy remains heavily militarized. This has imposed all kinds of costs, ranging from the emaciation of diplomatic alternatives, to the hijacking of the post- Cold War peace dividend, to the reallocation of scarce public resources at the expense of vital social programmes.

Among the less noticed impacts, however, has been the effective marginalization of development  – and diplomacy – in the name of security.  It is not so much that development itself has become “securitized”, as occured during the Cold War with the competition for hearts, minds, and client states. Instead, it has simply been shunted aside, a victim of “compassion fatigue” and competing priorities in metropolitan centres where the development constituency is typically thin to non-existant.

Not so for defence, where the launching of the open-ended GWOT and its successors has put the military industrial complex back into business.

In previous posts I have set out the case that security is not entirely, or even mainly a martial art. You can’t garrison against climate change, or call in an air strike on resource shortages,  or pay Blackwater to protect you from pandemic disease. Among the many redeeming qualities of the human security doctrine is its insistance on the link betweeen development and security.  Expressed in a few words, you won’t achieve freedom from fear in the absence of respect for basic rights, the rule of law, good governance and, not least, freedom from want.  Met needs are the well-spring of dignity, and basic needs must be fulfilled before much else becomes possible.

In important respects, as I argue at some length in Guerrilla Diplomacy, development has become the new security.

Development, though, is not just a matter of engineering the achievement of various qualitative measures, such as economic growth or increasing trade and investment flows. While each of these may well figure in the overall development mix, for instance, none will guarantee a decrease in poverty if the issue of distributive justice remains unaddressed.

Nor, popular opinion notwithstanding, is development much related to disaster relief or emergency humanitarian assistance. These may certainly be required, as was the case, for example,  following the 2004 tsunami, or in the wake of  various earthquakes or famines. But the beneficial effects of such interventions are often fleeting, and tend to give rise to lingering distortions, such as changes in diet or a debilitating reliance on charity.

At the end of the day, development is in my view all about improving the quality of life for the majority of the population, about finding ways to encourage the emergence of circumstances which will afford each citizen  opportunities, such as access to education an health care, through which they might achieve their full potenial.

Genuine development, then, must be long term, equitable and sustainable. It must be grass-roots and participatory, whereby those affected are the subjects, not objects of their fate. And that  implies the necessary existance of significant political and social components in any grand development strategy.

Most of all, and as implied by these sorts of measures, development, like security, must be human-centred. And, like globalization, it is best thought of as a process rather than a condition or an end state. It is that dynamic relationship – between development and underdevelopment, security and insecurity –  which I have tried to capture in the ACTE world order model.

In the midst of the most sever economic crisis since the Great Depression, official development assistance budgets are shrinking, overseas remittances are falling and corporate philanthropy is drying up. In a world in which so many have so little, and so few have so much, one might expect rather more by way of discussion and debate on all of this.

Clearly, we will have to delve more deeply.

Diplomatic Surge? Part II – The things we carry

I would attribute the running down of diplomacy in recent years to a trio of developments related to the carry-over from the Cold War of certain habits of mind, or intellectual baggage, which have been hoisted into the globalization age from the preceding era. In a nutshell, in the face of the complex threats and challenges engendered by globalization, and the concomitant need for deep knowledge, nuanced understanding and a subtle approach, many continued to view the world in a way best described as Manichean, alarmist and militaristic.

Without getting into the full details of the argument, or assessing the important implications for recruiting, training and diplomatic practice, this must be unpacked a bit. During the Cold War, the West organized its international policy around the objective of ‘containment’, by deterring, blocking, and wherever possible, rolling back what was seen as a world-wide Communist threat. Think Harry Truman, George Keenan NSC 68 and Mutually Assured Destruction. From 1947 to 1991, the adversary was portrayed as a monolithic Red Menace Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, North Vietnamese, Cubans, Nicaraguans… No matter. Those Commies were all the same.

For a decade after the walls came down, there were few credible threats available to be conjured, but this changed instantly post 9/11 when a very similar, open-ended impulse – and function – again found expression. The Global War on Terror filled the ideological void once occupied by the Cold War. Al Qaeda, Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah – no matter. All Islamic extremists were alike. Substitute terrorism for communism, recycle a familiar ideological construct, et voila away they went. Again. No secretive conspiracy here, just consensus among members of certain influential groups who identified an opportunity to advance their agenda.

The principal elements of this Cold War carry-over include:

• the adoption of a binary world view, which reduces almost infinite complexity to a matter of “us versus them; you are with us, or with the terrorists”;

• the use of fear to galvanize domestic support by characterizing the threat as urgent and universal “they are not only out there, everywhere, but they are among us and could strike anywhere, anytime. Red alert. “, and;

• a preference for armed force in responding to perceived threats, and the favouring of defence over diplomacy or development in what might be reasonably described as the militarization of international policy.

Taken together, these elements constitute a persistent, and troublingly resilient line, one endlessly hyped in the media and deeply lodged in the public mind.

What is wrong with this picture? In my view, getting over this debilitating mindset, even more so than taking full account of science and technology as a driver of international policy and transforming diplomacy, will be the sine qua non for the success of any diplomatic renaissance. Diplomats can become entrepreneurial brokers and network nodes, building relationships and supporting civil society actors in efforts to advance democratic development, good governance and the management of political and social plurality. But this won’t be possible unless the model, the context and the motives are changed. It is not yet clear that all of these pre-conditions are in place.

In particular, and in response to the burden of left luggage:

The world is not black and white but a many layered and multi-stranded swirl of greys.

Fear motivates the construction of gated communities within a national security state; hope is a far superior starting point for policy formulation.

Compulsion has its place in international relations, but attraction is more widely applicable, generally more effective and much less costly.

The fact of this psychological transfer of Cold War perceptions into the globalization age has meant not only that the peace dividend remains unpaid, but that for the past two decades the scope for applying non-violent approaches, such as diplomacy, to the resolution of international differences has been very limited. Iraq and Afghanistan are the obvious examples, but there are many more ranging from Darfur and the Democratic Congo to Israel/Palestine and India/Pakistan/Kashmir.

The planet has paid a high price for this hiatus. Notwithstanding that diplomacy, often in combination with development, offers the key to sustainable security, both have in recent years been in large part displaced by defence. By any measure resource allocation, domestic political influence, even academic interest diplomacy, the foreign ministry and the priority of equitable, sustainable and human-centred development have been on the back burner. Not so the legions, although an over-reliance on the state’s instruments of violence has imposed a whole host of other costs.

The economic and market meltdowns have spurred a realization of the need for innovative thinking in coping with the uncertainties of globalization. They have also given rise to a sense that some of the tools so hurriedly stashed when the train left the Cold War station may be worth dusting off, public diplomacy (PD) perhaps foremost among them. Not only are the large scale international scientific, educational, and cultural exchanges of days gone by now sorely missed, but AIDs cannot be detained; the climate cannot be garrisoned; the environment cannot be extraordinarily rendered; hunger cannot be bombed out of existence.

For these reasons and more, the ball is finally coming back, at long last, to practitioners of the world’s second oldest profession. By linking development and security through the medium of international policy, diplomacy, and especially public diplomacy, is poised again to occupy a place front and centre in international relations. Diplomats are advantageously placed to provide the essential strategic advice required by governments to integrate values, policies and interests right across the international policy spectrum. Neither members of the military, nor aid workers, NGO reps nor journalists can provide the sorts of supple intelligence required. They lack the tools of engagement, the cross-cultural skill set, and the capacity to generate the detailed, place-specific knowledge which might permit them to substitute in this critical role.