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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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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Science Diplomacy: New Day or False Dawn?

A few weeks ago in Oslo, Norway, in the company of about 40 other invitees from around the world, I attended an OECD “experts” meeting, sponsored by the Norwegian and German Ministries of Education and Research, on the subject of Science, Technology, Innovation and Global Challenges.

The workshop was predicated upon the shared realization that if  international policy and decision-makers cannot be convinced that a radical course correction is needed, then in the not too distant future the planet may reach a tipping point. Beyond that point, recovery will be difficult, if not impossible.

Think climate change, diminishing biodiversity, food insecurity, resource scarcity, pandemic disease, and so forth.

So… we were talking about the principal threats imperilling life on the planet.

Not your standard bit of bureaucratic process.

Today, I am en route to Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand, to speak at a conference entitled Science Diplomacy: New Day or False Dawn. Among many other speakers are Murray McCully, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Vaughn Turekian, head of  the science diplomacy unit at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and Dr. Jeffery Boutwell, from Pugwash USA.

Two global gatherings in two months on science, technology, diplomacy and international policy. Is it possible that something’s happening here, even if what is ain’t exactly clear?

Maybe.  I certainly hope so.

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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.


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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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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