Rebuilding Canada – and its place in the world: Science and diplomacy after the decade of darkness

We cannot solve the problems we have created with the same thinking we used in creating them.

Albert Einstein


During the recent federal electoral campaign, little was said about the state of science in Canada.

That’s unfortunate, because science policy matters, and in that respect, as the electoral dust settles, it will become clear that the new Liberal government has inherited some daunting challenges. Years of resource reductions and the centralized political control and manipulation of all scientific and public communications have deeply corroded Canadian democracy, governance and public administration.

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Canada’s lost decade: Withered diplomacy, and whither multilateralism?

Saturation coverage and shocking images of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and Europe have focussed attention on Canadian foreign policy and on this country’s decade-long record of diplomatic and multilateral underperformance.

While unusual for an electoral campaign, such scrutiny is long overdue.

The inventor of peacekeeping, longstanding proponent of North-South relations, and determined promoter of sustainable development – once universally welcomed as an honest broker, helpful fixer and provider of good offices and innovative ideas – is today regarded as an obstruction to progress, a country with little to bring to the table.

Canada’s vaunted foreign service has languished, marginalized and under-employed by a government uninterested in professional diplomatic advice or enlightened international initiative.

Unrecognizable to its former partners and friends, Canada has become something of an international pariah – a serial unachiever, the fossil of the year, the country that others don’t want in the room. The one-time boy scout has become a distant outlier in the international system, sometimes ostracized but more often simply ignored

In a world in which nothing can be achieved by acting alone, Canadian influence has become spectral, and the orchestration of action in concert, through the United Nations and most other international organizations, next to impossible.

The Conservative Government has shot Canada in the foot when we are in a race.

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Bridging the Chasm: Why science and technology must become priorities for diplomacy and international policy – Part III

What is to be done?

The problems faced by the world can be remedied, but not easily, and certainly not quickly – enough. As long as international policy makers remain so heavily addicted to the use of force, any gains will be modest at best.

  1. Security is not just a martial art, yet militaries around the world continue the receive the lion’s share of international policy resources. This misallocation has resulted in serious domestic costs and distortions, and has wrought untold damage abroad. If that is to change, publics must insist on breaking the influential stranglehold of what President Eisenhower, in his now famous 1961 farewell address, referred to as the Military Industrial Complex. Legions of lobbyists, think tanks, special interest groups and the right wing media have joined with the defence industries, uniformed armed services and congressional interests to stifle any kind of meaningful reform. Yet of this there can be no doubt. Absent a shift in emphasis in international relations from defence to diplomacy and development, and a decisive move away from defence research in favour of public and civic applications (for instance health, agriculture, alternative energy, conservation, urbanization, etc), progress will remain largely out of reach.
  2. Diplomacy and international policy, on one hand, and science and technology, on the other, represent two solitudes, floating worlds which rarely intersect. How many diplomats are scientists? How many scientists are diplomats? Why is there no Venn diagram showing shared space and functional overlap? Insularity on the part of the scientific community, and anxiety over the unknown on the part of the diplomats must give way to a pattern of cross-fertilization and regular interaction and exchange. The two solitudes must be eliminated, in part through the creation of networks, connections, and collaborative commons. Rigid hierarchy and authoritarian social relations must give way to the lateral and the unorthodox. Think Silicon Valley style skunkworks. During the Cold War, science was more deeply embedded in diplomacy; that characteristic requires re-instatement, but on a larger scale; today the challenges are more diverse and the needs enormous. Back to the future.
  3. S&T capacity in diplomatic and multilateral institutions must be broadened, deepened, and, where it does not exist, constructed from scratch. This outcome could be encouraged through promotion and recruitment processes and career specialization. But a faster way to build capability would involve turning the inside out and bringing the outside in through training and professional development, secondments and exchanges, and the provision of incentives. In some cases (such as Canada) unnecessary obstacles and constraints would have to be removed, and replaced by a commitment to information sharing and critical thinking. Perhaps more easily achieved would be the injection of high level S&T advice into policy formulation and decision-making throughout government and the international governance process. High quality science advice , and more easily intelligible science communications are desperately needed.
  4. Public-private partnerships and institutional linkages – between governments, corporations, NGOs, universities and think tanks – need to be encouraged in order to leverage international S&T cooperation. To this end, it would be useful to go beyond tapping the usual suspects by embracing dynamic new forces, facilities and actors. Here I am thinking of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), private philanthropists and foundations, venture capital firms, and the like. Creative use could also be made of collaborative intelligence, global value chains, open source problem solving and web-based policy development. A little out of the box thinking about how best to engineer S&T teamwork could pay high dividends.
  5. Finally, any and all measures intended to improve performance in science diplomacy and international S&T must be rigorously benchmarked, monitored and evaluated. Re-investment cannot be justified in the absence of a convincing demonstration of value for money and results achieved. If you don’t know where you are, you can never be sure where you are going. And, as George Harrison once famously observed: “If don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”.

The wrap

Science and diplomacy do have one thing in common – problems with image and reputation in popular culture. Science is often recalled as a bewilderingly difficult subject which most people were keen to drop as soon as they could in high school. And although the WikiLeaks “Cablegate” episode helped to dispel some of the myths, diplomacy is still frequently associated with ineffectiveness, weakness and appeasement, with caving in to power, with pin stripes and pearls, receptions and exotic travel.

Putting the two together – science diplomacy – and raising the topic at a dinner party is usually sufficient to stop any conversation dead in its tracks.

The best way to counter popular misconceptions about science and diplomacy is through better advocacy and what Secretary Clinton referred to as “diplomacy of the deed”.

Notwithstanding the present spike in the incidence of armed conflict, there are no military solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. The path to peace and prosperity, security and development lies elsewhere. To that end, and as a response to the negative attributes of globalization – including polarization at all levels and the tendency to socialize costs while privatizing benefits – science diplomacy will be indispensable.

The very idea of science, as an evidence-based form of knowledge acquisition, underscores that all events are caused, that misery is not fated, and that poverty and suffering are not intrinsic to the human condition. Threat conjuring, issuing terror alerts, and fomenting the politics of fear – be afraid, very afraid – are part of the problem, not the solution. A more lasting and effective approach would be to genuinely address the needs of the poor by sustaining broadly-based development.

For these reasons and more, S&T must become a pre-occupation of both diplomacy and international policy. The case is clear, and it is long past time that governments and international organizations reconsidered their priorities and reallocated resources accordingly.

Rebuilding Canada’s international capacity: Diplomatic reform in the age of globalization – Part II

Editor`s note: This article is the second part of a feature  co-authored with my CDFAI colleague and friend Colin Robertson. We served together in the Canadian foreign service for 30 years.


The new diplomatic dialectic

The days of designated envoys speaking only with each other about the business of government have gone forever. Diplomats now have to engage with whole societies, creating partnerships and exchanging meaningfully not just with the usual suspects, but with strange bedfellows as well.

In short, public diplomacy has in important respects become the new diplomacy. In consequence, the epicentre of diplomatic practice must move out of the shadows and into the light.
That said, no amount of Twiplomacy, virtuality, digital dexterity or technological savvy will ever be able to substitute for face to face contact, cross-cultural communications, and the ability to cultivate relationships based on confidence, trust and respect.

At its core, diplomacy will remain a contact sport.

A cultural, but also a substantive revolution

Even by comparative bureaucratic measure, foreign ministries are conservative, rganizationally silohed institutions. With their faces to the world but backs to their own citizens, they are friendless and isolated. Social relations are hierarchic, communications are vertical, authority is unquestioned and risk is averted.

In the 21st century that combination represents a dead end, a fast track to irrelevance.

Risk must be managed, innovation relentlessly pursued, and failure treated as a learning experience, all within an institution that values and provides continuous learning – again, something the modern military does very well.

In terms of content, political and multilateral relations will remain central features of diplomacy, but the articulation of sound trade, commercial and investment policies are equally important as keys to a prosperous and peaceful future.

There is also a need to reach international agreement on rules governing cyber and space – both enable globalization, but they also offer terrible possibilities for chaos and destruction.

Finding effective ways to pursue the just and joint management of the global commons has become job one.

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Exploring the Myths of International Relations: Three Deadly Disconnects?

Summer in Canada is a wonderful time to reflect.

In that spirit, I was intrigued by an article, entitled “Seven Myths About International Relations”, which appeared recently on the splash page of the Canadian International Council’s (CIC) web site. It is part of a new series being published under the theme Diplomacy and Duplicity: The Myths, Fictions and Outright Lies of International Politics.

I commend the CIC on this latest initiative. Over a few short years of existence, this organization has produced an impressive record of achievement. It has carried forward the work of its predecessor, the venerable, but perpetually vulnerable Canadian Institute of International Affairs, but has innovated, diversified, and reached out to new members and partners. Two years ago the CIC launched its comprehensive Open Canada report on possible new foreign policy directions, and in the interim have presented a steady stream of high quality commentary and analysis authored by the likes of Roland Paris, Jennifer Welsh, James Der Derian and many others. The Council doesn’t hesitate to address sensitive issues, such as what went wrong in Afghanistan, and it keeps the fresh content flowing.


It occurs to me that in this era of anti-government government, and with the continued downsizing of the state, Canada’s comparative advantage in thinking about the implications of a changing world may well be moving out of official Ottawa. With budgets at DFAIT, CIDA, IDRC and other international policy institutions under significant downward pressure, it is both refreshing and a great relief to see a civil society actor stepping up to the plate and helping to fill the civic gap created by a muzzled, cowed and receding public sector.

This country’s vibrant community of NGOs, universities, and think tanks could now be in a position to drive the international policy discussion and debate.

I certainly hope so.

But a closer consideration of just how those structural changes might play out is for another day…  Back now to the CIC’s list.

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In Defense of DFAIT: Why Diminished Diplomatic Capacity Damages Canadian Interests

These are not the best of days at DFAIT.

According to an article on p.1 of this week’s of Embassy magazine, Canada will be moving to a “hub and spoke” model for its diplomatic network in Europe, centralizing resources at a few larger missions while reducing the Canadian presence elsewhere in the region.

A box on p. 9 in the same edition reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will lose about $170 million from its budget over the next three years. As a result, and among other things, the Department will:

• Review Canada’s participation in some international organizations

• Close five US missions in Anchorage, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Raleigh-Durham, and one satellite office in Princeton

• Introduce five new regional clusters in the United States: West Coast, Midwest,Great Lakes, South East, North East, and the South Rocky Mountain corridor

• Phase out the international Canadian studies program

• Reduce the funding and geographic scope of the International Scholarships Program

• Change DFAIT’s domestic network to have five regional hubs (Vancouver, Calgary,Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax) and close offices in Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon,Winnipeg, St. John’s, Charlottetown, and Moncton

• Eliminate 35 Commerce Officer positions

• Reduce the vehicle fleet at missions

• Update allowances for diplomats

• Extend the length of postings

• Sell some official residences abroad

Working smarter?

Readers may well be thinking… Hub and spoke in the EU? A bit of trimming here and there?

Under the prevailing circumstances in public finance, these measures seem modest, sensible, and perhaps timely if not overdue.


With a few exceptions, that has certainly been the reaction across the Canadian mainstream.

As with so much received wisdom, however, a closer examination is necessary.

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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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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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Heteropolarity, Globalization and the New Threat Set

In the last two posts I have tried to develop the concept and content of heteropolarity, which I  believe has some value as a heuristic tool for describing and analyzing contemporary world order. In part three of the trilogy, I assess the implications for grand strategy and the work of foreign ministries.

The most profound threats which imperil the heteropolis – and religious extremism and political violence do not make the A-list – are not amenable to military solutions. The best army cannot stop pandemic disease. Air strikes are useless against climate change. Alternatives to the carbon economy cannot be occupied by expeditionary forces. You can’t capture, kill, or garrison against these kinds of threats.  As instruments of international policy, defence departments are both too sharp, and too dull to provide the kinds of responses required.

Still, militaries continue to command the lion’s share of international policy funding, while foreign ministries struggle on the sidelines. Not only does this give rise to serious inefficiencies, distortions and misallocations, but Western governments have failed to apprehend the main lesson of the Cold War, namely, that force works best when it is not used. Take the sword out of the scabbard – think Iraq, Afghanistan – and it makes a dreadful mess.

Recalling the dismal experience of two world wars and a Cold War, the products of failed attempts at “managing” the emergence of new powers in the 20th century, this time around an alternative approach will be required. In the heteropolar world under construction, security will flow not from defence, but from development and diplomacy.

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Heteropolis Rising: World Order in the 21st Century

In the previous post,  I argued that the short-lived era of unipolar American hegemony has given way to  a new international dispensation best characterized as heteropolar rather than multipolar. This metamorphosis may be attributed mainly to a series of colossal strategic misjudgements and the profusion of diverse sources of power and influence globally. The implications for security and diplomacy are profound.

To be sure, and as was the case with the multipolar world dominated by the European Empires from the 15th to 19th centuries, there are once again many poles. But this time the differences between them far outweigh the similarities. These players share little in common.  Unlike in previous eras, the heterogeneous nature of today’s competing actors renders comparison difficult and measurement even more so.

That said, and although this is very much a new order in the making, we can begin to trace the contours and discern the content of heteropolarity, a condition which I believe will increasingly define international relations. New poles are forming, and old poles are evolving. In terms of identifying the major heteropoles in the early years of the 21st century, the following thoughts come immediately to mind.

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The Retreat From Internationalism – Part II

In the last entry, I tried to illustrate how changes in domestic Canadian politics, in combination with the imposition of capacity reductions on the Department of Foreign Affairs, had contributed to a turn away from this country’s internationalist traditions. Today, I continue that line of inquiry with an exploration of the profound shifts in the nature and orientation of media coverage, as well as the impact of Canada’s rapidly changing demography.

As the Euro-zone’s continuing debt and monetary crisis has underscored, growing global economic interdependence means that all nations are vulnerable and exposed to events unfolding beyond their frontiers. At the same time, travel, tourism, immigration and the Internet have contributed to a vast increase in cosmopolitanism. These realities, however, are rarely reflected in the overall news mix, and less so in the content behind the headlines. Even as Canada’s increasingly diverse and multicultural  population charges ahead ever more completely into the culture and ethos of globalization, the coverage of international affairs in the mainstream media – television, radio, newspapers – continues to slide. To the extent that the media informs and conditions the public and political spheres, this paradox will have broader implications.

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Diplomacy in the Digital Age

Today the contributors to a recently released collection of essays assembled under this title and edited by Janice Stein will gather in Toronto to discuss the lifetime contribution to the diplomatic profession of  former Ambassador to the USA Allan Gotlieb.

It is encouraging to see attention of this nature being directed towards the study of diplomacy. Over my 30 years of diplomatic practice and scholarship, I could never understand why so many mainstream educators, senior officials and analysts spent so little time trying to understand or assess the inner workings of the world’s second oldest profession.

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Diplomacy, Journalism, and the New Media

Over the course of the past few months I have been conducting research for an article on “Digital Diplomacy” and the implications of the “WikiLeaks/Cablegate” revelations for diplomatic practice and international relations. That piece, when finished and peer reviewed, is scheduled to appear in a forthcoming reference text entitled the Oxford Handbook on Modern Diplomacy.

Reflecting on that enterprise, it has occurred to me that much of what is new in contemporary diplomacy may one way or another be attributed to the emergence of the Internet. Over the space of about twenty years it has displaced other venues as the principal medium for global information exchange and interaction. As more and more people look to the Web as a primary source of information and communication, including e-mail, social networking, video conferencing, and telephony, and as higher transmission speeds and greater bandwidth expand audio and visual streaming possibilities, communications media are converging. In recent years the Internet has edged out newspapers, TV, radio, and conventional telephones as the primary communications medium. Current Web 2.0 applications, featuring an emphasis on networks, wikis, interactivity, file sharing and downloadable “podcasts” – in marked contrast to the simple Web 1.0 presentation of static information – promise to further accelerate this trend.

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Libya and the World after Gadhafi: Preliminary Thoughts

It is perhaps premature to propose potential conclusions and lessons learned in the immediate wake of the rebel victory over the Gadhafi regime. On the surface, it appears that NATO support for the rebellion assisted materially in achieving the objective of ridding Libya of a widely detested dictator.

In terms of success, this would seem to represent more than can be said for Western efforts in backing one side in the Afghan civil war, or intervening under manifestly false pretences in Iraq. Both of those episodes have proven extremely costly. Still, before breaking out any more champagne, there are several issues regarding the Libyan affair which require more sober and sustained reflection than they seem to have received at the international meeting on Libya’s future held September 1st in Paris.

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