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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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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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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Days of Future Past – Part II

Editor’s Note. A few days ago I received an email from one of my younger brothers. While cleaning out some old files, he came across a paper which I had sent along for comment back in the spring of 1993. It was entitled At the Crossroads and had been prepared for delivery at a session of the Canadian Learned Societies on 07 June of that year.

I offer a selection of unabridged excerpts below, in hopes that readers may find them of some interest as a very early critique of the “New World Disorder”, neo-liberalism,  and what has come to be known as globalization.  For ease of handling, I have divided the post into two parts, the second of which follows:

At the Crossroads (continued)

The world may be smaller…

The global village has become crowded and unruly. The huts are ramshackle and the underprivileged precincts poorer. The profusion of ever more meagre units of political affiliation, and in particular the proliferation of dubiously viable, ethnically inspired states which have oozed from the wreckage of former federations, has greatly complicated the task of forging any consensus on new forms of international organization. With the possible exception of the UN, most of the post World War Two institutions are failing or facing irrelevance. The rational pursuit of national interests has been rendered vastly more difficult. The tribes are rising as states and institutions crumble.

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Days of Future Past – Part I

Editor’s Note. A few days ago I received an email from one of my younger brothers. While cleaning out some old files, he came across a paper which I had sent along for comment back in the spring of 1993. It was entitled At the Crossroads and had been prepared for delivery at a session of the Canadian Learned Societies on 07 June of that year.

I offer a selection of unabridged excerpts below, in hopes that readers may find them of some interest as a very early critique of the “New World Disorder”, neo-liberalism,  and what has come to be known as globalization.  For ease of handling, I have divided the post into two parts, the first of which follows:

At the Crossroads

Bubble, bubble, toil and…

These are ironic times. The end of the Cold War has lifted the pall of nuclear Armageddon, and the doomsday clock has been wound back. Yet few have felt any tangible benefits, and the work of multilateral institutions, policy analysts and decision-makers has been made immensely more complex and difficult. While the familiar patterns of behaviour imposed by the rigours of a superpower stand-off have faded from view, the outlines of the next global paradigm are only beginning to coma into perspective. The icy hand of death has slipped from the tiller, but the passage into unknown waters promises to be anything but smooth.

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Egypt After Mubarak: Talking About A Revolution?

The departure of President Hosni Mubarak from Cairo on 11 February, bound apparently for his villa at Sharm al-Sheikh on the Red Sea, unleashed a torrent of breathless media commentary about the “Egyptian Revolution”. It may be that change of a revolutionary magnitude is in store for Egypt, but to date the events in that country resemble something more akin to a popular uprising followed by a palace coup. The ruling regime and state apparatus remain largely intact.

The absence of a clearly defined  leadership cadre on the part of the rebels makes the assessment of about what has been achieved rather difficult. It is, however, possible to evaluate the current state of play against an inventory of demands issued by the “January 25″ movement  and translated in a recent ZNet article authored by Juan Cole. A preliminary check list, based upon  key demands and responses, follows:

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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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Rethinking World Order – Part III

Why think about world order?

Because diplomats, like everyone with a practical or intellectual interest in international political economy,  need an analytical tool suitable for understanding the big picture.  Today, the  marketplace for world order models is littered with paradigms and prototypes.  Some aren’t labelled as such. Many have next to no predictive or explanatory capacity. Most take inadequate account of global issues.

That’s a problem.

To recap…

Bipolarity is history.

The unipolar moment of US hegemony has passed, flaming out in a spectacularly violent starburst of shock and awe.

Multipolarity doesn’t readily fit the circumstances inherent in the globalization age – the power of nations is no longer easily compared.

Heteropolarity, a term first applied to international relations by Brown University scholar James Der Derian in 2004,  might be more apt, but it its analytical power is somewhat limited by its association with polarity per se, and as such it can  take us only us so far conceptually.

The notion of worlds – First (advanced, capitalist); Second (defunct, communist) Third (less developed); and perhaps even Fourth (least developed) – comes closer to getting at what we see today. But this model, too, fails to take account of the emergence of worlds within worlds at all levels. It is too state-centric, too territorial, and it does not adequately reflect the dynamic flux which is globalization.

Though now almost forgotten, and to some extent discredited, in my view it was the dependency theorists, whose influence peaked in the 1970’s, that contributed the elements of an analysis which comes  closest to capturing the underlying patterns of development and underdevelopment. Readers may find it worthwhile, even revealing, to return to the work of Raul Prebish, Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, Osvaldo Sunkel , Fernando Cardoso, Theotonio Dos Santos, Paul Baran, and others, with a view to comparing the applicability their diagnoses and prescriptions against current conditions in the world political economy.

To be sure, some of their prescriptions – self-sufficiency, or import substituting industrialization, for instance – did not stick. Yet there are many points of continuing relevance and insight – the critique of free market economics, the focus on transnationalized elites, the perils of reliance upon commodity exports and the associated difficulties with terms of trade, the idea of the poverty trap.

None, however, is more appropriate to the early 21st century than the notion of core-periphery relations at many levels between and within states, regions and social groups.

I have tried to draw on some of this prescient thinking in the construction of the arguments adduced in support of the ACTE world order model set out summarily in Part II above. I have also tried to abstract various insights offered by the dependency school in setting out the defining elements of both guerrilla diplomacy and the guerrilla diplomat, and will elaborate these at greater length in future.

Unlike traditional diplomacy, and even more so than public diplomacy, guerrilla diplomacy, and indeed guerrilla diplomats, are designed to perform effectively within and across the full spectrum of conditions encapsulated within the ACTE world order model.   Part of that alternative predisposition is borne of a very different understanding of two key terms, development and security. So, too, with the diagnosis of globalization’s  darker  side, underdevelopment and insecurity.

In the era of globalization, these two concepts are fused. Security is no longer the exclusive preserve of departments of defence, or a function of arms and  force.  Development has implications which extend well beyond the machinations of aid agencies, or notions of modernization and growth. To a great extent, development has become the new security, and guerrilla diplomacy, both as diplomatic method and as an alternative approach to understanding international relations, proceeds from that conviction.

Globalization. Security. Development.  These sprawling topics are the touchstones of our times.

A closer examination of each is coming up next.

Rethinking World Order – Part II

Polarity is a static concept, and its expression is spatial. Various poles, be they considered of the hetero or multi-polar genus, can be named, mapped and fixed on a world atlas. In the dynamic, de-territorialized environment that characterizes the globalization age, each of these aspects is highly problematic.

To construct a model of international relations that puts people, rather than states or measures of GDP at the centre of notions of security and development, a more fluid and supple approach to modelling is required.

A quick survey reveals this point starkly. Today, parts of the USA, such as the abandoned neighbourhoods of Flint, Michigan or Akron, Ohio, or New Orleans, Louisiana, look as bad or worse worse than much of anything that might be found in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, or Santiago, Chile, or Accra, Ghana. The downtowns of Shanghai, Sao Paulo or Dubai outshine those found in many major centres in Europe or North America. For the homeless in Los Angeles, life is at least as tough, and likely moreso, than it is for those at the bottom of the social pyramid in Singapore.

All of which is to say that the old distinctions just don’t work any more. First World conditions are enjoyed by many people, and found in many places in what used to be known as the Third World. The upscale opulence associated with the better districts of Capetown or Caracas attest to this emphatically. At the same time, nominally Third World lifestyles and environments are found among many individuals, such as the disposessed, and groups, such as aboriginals, as well in many places, such as inner cities and social housing estates, all over what we used to call the First and Second Worlds.

How might such diverse and shifting characteristics be incorporated in the construction of a new world order model? Not easily. But that is no excuse for not trying.

I would propose moving beyond both the now obsolete First, Second and Third World labels, as well as the centre-periphery model and its variants favoured by the dependency theorists and their successors, to adopt four broad categories of people and places affected by globalization:

•    The A- or advancing, world, whose economic and political advantage is growing

•    The C- or contingent world, whose prospects are uncertain and will be determined by future developments which could tip in either direction

•    The T- or tertiary world, whose relative position is subservient or dependent; and

•    The E- or excluded world, who find themselves for the most part outside of globalization’s matrix.

Put the four categories together and there you have it –  a user-friendly and adaptable world order model, the ACTE.

World order modelling is, of necessity, undertaken at a high level of abstraction, and hence exceptions will be inevitable. But these do not the rule make, and the rules, I think, hold up quite well. Each category could contain individuals, social or cultural groups, cities or parts thereof, states or parts thereof, regions, or multilateral combinations. The hybrid formulation, which is transnational and not ordered by geography, combines the utility of labelling with the dynamic quality of the dependency analysis. It avoids undue association with immobile national political space, while allowing for the constant movement upwards, downwards and sideways within and between the principal groups associated with globalization.

The point here is that it is no longer useful or even possible to attempt to classify entire countries, regions or groupings into this or that particular intellectual or geographic box. There is just too much complexity and swirl out there, and much less stratification and rigidity, for any of that. In the globalization age, the concept of de-territorialization – of power, agency, nationality, language, even of ethnicity – has become a defining attribute. While it is very difficult to avoid completely the use of spatial and geographic terms, economic and political relations in the globalization era are less and less between territorially based units and more and more between social agents – individuals, classes, and other groups of various description.  It is these billions of people, almost one half are under twenty-five and live in cities, rather than entire countries, that experience development and underdevelopment.

The situation of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is illustrative. In these resurging or aspiring great powers, there are very large elements of A-, C-, T- and E-worlds internally. There are also elements of each in Europe and North America, although in those cases the A- component would be larger, the E- component smaller, and the C- and T- components perhaps more mobile.

Unconvinced? More on all of this, and why it is germane to guerrilla diplomacy, in Part III.

Rethinking World Order – Part I

It is Easter Monday in central Canada, and change is everywhere. You can smell it in the air and see it on the land.

Seasons change. The way we see the world, and understand its workings, apparently does not.

Modelling world order is a very high level analytical pursuit. It informs and conditions perception.

During the long decades of the Cold War freeze, it was easy enough to get a handle on the idea of world order. There were two competing superpowers, two clearly identified and associated blocs, and competition, to a greater of lesser extent, for the allegiance most everyone else. One bloc, capitalist and led by the USA, was the widely referred to as the First World; another, nominally communist and led by the USSR, the Second World, and the rest, some affiliated with one or the other bloc and some non-aligned, was known as the Third World. Later in the game the notion of a Fourth World emerged – not less, but least developed countries, the poorest of the poor.

In my Diplomatic Surge? post I mentioned the problems related to carrying over a binary, Cold War era world view into the globalization age. Our inability to imagine accurately the world in transition, however, has implications which extend beyond the persistence of a Manichean sensibility, a mis-diagnosis of the threats and challenges, and a tendency to militarize international policy and relations.   At a very basic level, we don’t know how to name,  or describe, or come to terms with the powerful forces which are re-shaping the planet’s political economy. About two decades after it began, the latest epochal shift remains, in large part, unassessed.

When the dust finally cleared in the wake of walls coming down and an empire imploding in 1991, it was clear that bipolarity did not work anymore. One of the poles had melted away. In the intervening years there have been several attempts  –  by Robert Cooper, Thomas Barnett, Immanuel Wallerstein and others – to reconstruct models which somehow capture the complexity and swirl which has characterized the intervening years. None have stuck, though,  like the familiar First, Second and Third Worlds, and accordingly terms remain in widespread use. Unfortunately, given the sheer flux of contemporary geopolitics, not to mention the disappearence of what had been the Second World, they no longer make much sense.

In the mainstream media, the notion of unipolarity became initially very popoular – one remaining superpower, the USA, leading in just about any category worth measuring, and having its way pretty well whenever, and wherever it wished. With the 2003 invasion of Iraq – no WMDs, but plenty of Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Guantanamo Bay, black detention sites, torture, and extraordinary rendition – that period of unparalleled  quasi-imperial dominance quickly eroded away. Associated neoconservative preferences for ideas such as  pre-emptive defense,  the creation of a homeland security state,  and the gutting of domestic governmental capacity revealed so starkly in the inability of government to respond effectively to either natural or man-made disasters, combined to become the Bush administration’s brand. A trickle of defections from the Coalition turned into a stampede for the doors, the economic meltdown discredited the laissez faire economic doctrine embedded in the Washington Consensus, and the result was a near perfect storm over America’s international image and reputation, its soft power and political influence.

All have tanked.

And all will probably recover, but when they do, the environment will be very different, and it is not quite clear just what will emerge. Many commentators are speaking of a return to some kind of multipolarity, based on the sorts of balance of power calculations and relationships which prevailed for a few hundred years following the Treaty of Westphalia and later, in a more deliberately codified form, the Congress of Vienna. I don’t think that model fits, either. The kinds of power that the statesmen of the day were trying to balance were more or less similar and hence comparable, based on benchmarks such as the size of armies and navies, the nature of weapons and armaments, population numbers, resource bases and colonial connections.

But that was then. Today, extant types of power are not easily comparable.  The US leads in military strength. The European Union will soon have the largest GDP and projects broadly attractive social and political values. China has become the world’s manufacturer and is destined within a decade or so to become the single largest national economy. India is huge in back office operations, software design and call centres. Resurgent Russia is a resource giant and rearming fast. Brazil is leading Latin America. ASEAN is integrating Southeast Asia. The concept of multipolarity does not adequately capture the existance of so many different types of power.

A new term, heteopolarity, which suggests different sources of power and influence, just might.   Yet even if it does, finding any kind of balance will be extremely difficult. And any model based on polarity will in any case be too territorially based and state-centric to embody the dynamism and blur which are hallmarks of  the globalization age.

Perhaps the time has come to dispense with the very notion of polarity as an organizing principle of world order. More on that coming soon.