New CGAI Policy Paper on the prospects for science and diplomacy under the new federal government

Blogger’s Note: Following is a summary of the subject report which sets out in more complete detail the arguments which have underpinned my last several postings.

In the twenty-first century, Canada’s security and prosperity – and the shared prospects for peace and development globally – depend increasingly on diplomacy rather than defence. In that regard, not least because there are no military solutions for the most pressing problems facing the planet, science diplomacy, and international science and technology more generally, have never mattered more. Yet rather than building a capability to join in collaborative efforts to find and deliver effective responses to complex global issues, under the Conservative Government key Canadian policy instruments were run down. Preoccupied with foreign wars, Islamist terrorism and related fear-inducing threats, Canada’s political decision-makers shunned science, disdained diplomacy and dismissed multilateralism. That record diminished this country’s international reputation and influence while leaving the population vulnerable and exposed to a wide range of S&T-based threats. If Canada is to face the future with confidence, the new government must reallocate priorities and resources in support of science and diplomacy, and move immediately to address performance issues. Specific policy recommendations conclude this analysis.

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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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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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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Canadian Public Diplomacy – Where to?

In the previous post, I tried to show that during the 1980s and ‘90s the paradigm for the delivery of Canadian international policy shifted fundamentally. Over the course of those years, there was a deliberate move away from an emphasis on traditional, state-to-state interaction in the direction of public diplomacy (PD). This form of international political exchange features diplomats communicating directly with foreign populations and cultivating partnerships with civil society actors – NGOs, businesspeople, journalists and academics.  I also made the case that the PD formula, in conjunction with the right combination of political will and bureaucratic skill, can produce impressive results, especially if directed towards projects with broad popular and media appeal, such as a land mine ban or efforts to improve the lot of children in conflict zones.

Looking back, it can be seen that Canadian PD reached its apogee under Foreign Minister Axworthy (1996-2000). At a time of severe government-wide cost-cutting, Canada fundamentally down-sized its international ambitions, but that exercise was not translated into a retreat from the field. To be sure, the large scale, long range, potentially world changing projects of the post-war decades  – poverty eradication, conflict resolution, global environmental conservation – were gone. In their place, Canadian officials proposed a series of special projects – for example, curbs on the trading of “blood” diamonds and small arms – designed for implementation within media-friendly diplomatic niches. They did not always succeed, but each initiative featured a defined start and finish. Upon completion, the Minister could simply call a press conference, declare victory and move on.

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Canadian Public Diplomacy, Then and Now

I have recently been reviewing a new book entitled Diplomacy in the Digital Age, which is a collection of essays prepared in honour of Allan Gotlieb, a former Undersecretary of State  for External Affairs and Canada’s ambassador in Washington from 1981-89. It is an absorbing anthology, and contains valuable entries penned in some instances by those who worked with Mr. Gotlieb during his time in the USA. Quite apart from eliciting specific reactions to the content of the volume, reading it has also spurred me to reflect on the larger issue of what became of Canada’s once considerable contribution to the study and practice of public diplomacy (PD).

The Government of Canada was until fairly recently regarded as a somewhat of PD pioneer. That reputation would now be difficult to sustain. Indeed, I have come to the rather stark realization that whatever this country may at one time have achieved by way of advancing its interests through PD, those days are now long gone.

In official and political circles in Ottawa today, little or nothing is heard of PD. Diplomatic representatives can no longer connect directly with foreign populations unless their scripts have been pre-cleared, and even the use of the term has been discouraged. Within the foreign ministry (DFAIT), the function has been almost completely de-resourced.

Hence the questions must be put: what, exactly, did Canada manage to achieve in terms of public diplomacy outcomes over the past several decades?  Why has PD fallen from grace? Can any lessons of broader relevance be adduced?

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The Retreat From Internationalism – Part I

From the late 1940s  through to early in this century, Canada enjoyed a reputation as a determined, capable and effective internationalist. Regardless of which party formed the government, this country actively engaged with other peoples and states in the in the pursuit of collaborative solutions to the world’s major problems and challenges. From the founding of the UN, post-war reconstruction and the Suez crisis to non-proliferation issues, protection of the global commons and working to address the plight of children in conflict, Canada was always present, and, when appropriate, ready to lead.

As Canada’s relative power and influence inevitably declined with the recovery of Europe and Asia and the emergence of China, India, Brazil and others, the scale of Canadian activism was down-sized.  Grand, long-term goals such as eradicating poverty and bringing peace to the world gradually gave way to to smaller, “niche”  projects such as the land mine ban, conflict diamonds and the construction of innovative new doctrines such as the Responsibility to Protect.  The nature of Canadian internationalism changed with the times, and public diplomacy was mobilized to advance the likes of Human Security Agenda, but a core commitment to internationalism endured.

Today, little remains of that tradition, and international policy decision-making seems related mainly to the quest for future electoral advantage.

What happened?

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The Bottom Line: Thoughts on Commercial and Economic Diplomacy

For the past few weeks I have been lecturing and travelling in the UK and Europe with a group of MA candidates in diplomacy and international business. They are studying at the University of East Anglia’s London Academy of Diplomacy, and the subject of my short course is science, technology and international policy.

Even by Canadian standards, the group is exceptionally cosmopolitan and multicultural, with students from Afghanistan and Albania, South Africa and St. Lucia, Spain and Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Zambia. It’s a mini-UN, and our exchanges are informed and enriched by the diversity of perspectives brought to bear.

Continuous learning and compelling conversation.

Last week at Nyenrode Business University just outside of Utretcht, Holland, we received a very interesting lecture on “Commercial Diplomacy”. The subject also came up a few days later during a briefing at the Dutch Foreign Ministry, where we learned that in response to the Great Recession, the new emphasis for Dutch representatives abroad  is “Economic Diplomacy”. Some missions are being closed (mainly in Latin America), and a few new ones opened (mainly in Asia) with that priority foremost in mind.

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Guerrilla Diplomacy Revisited

It has now been a year since the release of Guerrilla Diplomacy. I have spent much of this time trying to promote the book’s main arguments in support of restoring the diplomatic ecosystem and de-militarizing international policy. Following are a few reflections on those efforts.

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Manoeuvring the Ship of State

Most diplomats work in foreign ministries, and most foreign ministries have been struggling to adapt to the challenges posed by globalization. Those challenges, which include the emergence of rival international actors ranging from celebrities, to NGOs, to other government departments – are compounded during periods of weak leadership and uncertain political interest. At such times, absent international policy demands or the requirement to produce related real-world outcomes, the employees of foreign ministries tend to fall back on the transactional, on the perfection of bureaucratic process, on entrail gazing. Endless internal reviews, re-organizations and narrow careerist calculation often substitute for policy analysis, development and implementation.

The result strikes me as something like a metaphorical equivalent to the board game “Snakes and Ladders”… or perhaps, “Vipers and Chutes”.

What to do? A few years ago, following the separation of the Canadian Departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, senior officials tried to turn adversity into opportunity by launching an initiative to create a “Foreign Ministry for the Twenty-first Century”, or FAC 21. At the centre of this strategy was a significant re-definition and sharpening the of the foreign ministry’s s mandate as an interpreter of globalization, articulator of foreign policy, integrator of the international agenda, advocate of values and interests, provider of services, and steward of public resources.

The plan?

To identify and address the imperatives for institutional change by:

  • strengthening policy capacity;
  • renewing core professional skills;
  • increasing agility, reducing rigidity;
  • maximizing assets in the field;
  • connecting with wider networks; and
  • focussing on public diplomacy.

All of this struck me as completely sensible, and indeed overdue, but an election intervened, the government changed, new resources were withheld, and the attempt to build a contemporary, stand-alone foreign ministry, but one that did not contain a trade component, was among the first casualties of the subsequent re-integration of the two departments.

When I think back on this initiative, or reflect on former Secretary of State Rice’s efforts to transform the State Department, or consider the current initiative in the UK to produce an FCO which is more foreign, less office, a certain image keeps returning to my consciousness. I imagine a scene set on the bridge of a once-magnificent ocean liner, still in service but well past its prime. The boarding process is complete, and thousands of passengers are excited about their imminent departure. The captain is gazing ahead, taking note of possible navigation hazards and enjoying a majestic view from his command centre on the bridge.

The last few voyages, though, have been a bit rough and the captain is eager to get underway. He gives the order to cast off, does a final check of the instruments, nudges the wheel to port and slides the throttle forward to “all-ahead half.” He waits to hear the rumble of the mighty engines… but nothing happens. He shoves the throttle to “full.” Still nothing. “Reverse.” Nothing. He tries to correct course – but the wheel now spins as if it were being used for roulette.

The captain looks down and to his horror discovers that none of his controls are connected. Either someone else is driving, or the ship is adrift.


The success of any diplomatic surge will be dependent, a least in part, upon fixing the foreign ministry.