Canada and the World – II

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Canada and the World

In recent years a spate of books and reports by Jennifer Welsh, Andrew Cohen, Canada 25, and many others have set out in some detail Canada’s recent international performance and perceptions thereof.

To know where to go in international policy, you must know where you have been.

Having a narrative, of course, is one thing; having an assessment is another.  How did this country arrive at what many consider to represent an all time a low tide?

In my estimation, this has occurred, in roughly equal measure:

* By default. That is, the inevitability of a relative decline post-1947 in Canada’s power and influence as other countries rebuilt or emerged; the generally shrinking place of the state in the overall globalization mix, and; the movement of the locus of activity upwards, outwards and downwards to supranational, transnational and sub-national actors, respectively.

* By design. That is, the deliberate reductions in DFAIT resources;  the ascendance of micro-management and centralized control; the nature of recent ministerial appointments; the downsizing of Ottawa’s world-view, and; agglomeration of decision-making function at the executive level.

* As a result of long term domestic trends. That is, the fragmenting of the old middle class, non-partisan consensus which used to exist around a suite of widely-held notions (Pearsonian internationalism, middle power role, generous aid donor, conflict resolver, helpful fixer, peacekeeper, provider of good offices) in favour of a focus on more highly particularistic special interests (climate change, aboriginal issues, weapons of mass destruction, rain forests, terrorism, women’s rights, pandemic disease, genomics, etc.)

This splintering – for better or worse – of international policy values and interests will make it difficult to again catalyze public opinion around broad Canadian objectives. That said, public diplomacy, or PD, as a technique for delivering international policy results through dialogue, plays directly to Canada’s soft power strengths (image, reputation, brand). Equally significant, it minimizes the weaknesses and vulnerabilities associated with diminished hard power, ongoing capacity limitations and this country’s generally shrinking space in the planetary scheme of things.

With an admirable reputation and positive image, public diplomacy is Canada’s strongest comparative advantage in international relations.  It is almost incomprehensible that this function has taken among the hardest of hits in the recent round of resource reductions. Not only is this akin to shooting yourself in the foot when you are in a race, but it forces even greater distortions and misallocations throughout the diplomatic network.

The Public Diplomacy Officers assigned to Canadian missions abroad are on the front lines of reductions, and in some cases the removal of their budgets for programming, travel or representation. The very significant administrative overheads and related costs associated with keeping these people in place is difficult to  justify when in many cases no real work can be done.

How might a compelling value proposition be rebuilt?

The bottom line, I believe, will involve restoring DFAIT in general, and PD in particular to the centre of a whole-of-country, whole-of-government Canadian grand strategy for international policy re-engagement. In this, diplomacy and development would displace defence as the policy instruments of choice.

This strategy would be crafted in explicit response to key contemporary developments in world political economy:

* power shift, in favour of the (re)emerging Asia-Pacific region

* the coming into place of a new suite of global  challenges, distinct from the Cold War threat set in that most of these transnational issues are rooted in science and driven by technology

* the rise of heterpolarity as the basis for world order

Canada is unique in this highly competitive world in that it bridges: to Europe, through our history; to the USA and the Americas, through our present priorities and orientation, and; across the Pacific, to Asia, the largest source of new Canadians and the dynamic centre of the new global economy.

It is long past time for this country to use those bridges, diplomatically, as conduits to a brighter international policy future.

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference – dealing now with one of the foremost issues, among many, which is rooted in science and driven by technology – will offer manifold opportunities to engage constructively.

Canada and the World – I

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Canada and the World

It has been a week now since I returned from Foreign Policy Camp in Vancouver – an amazing enterprise largely ignored by the mainstream media.

What to make of the Camp?

The event was superbly organized, innovatively delivered and very well attended by a diverse selection of Canadians drawn from across the country – students, teachers, NGO representatives, business-people, the interested public. CIDA and DND had several delegates each, and all participants were eligible to contribute to a survey of government performance, the findings of which are now available.

DFAIT, curiously was not represented. The absence was noted.

One might wonder what kinds of factors might have combined to keep Canada’s  foreign ministry from attending a major national conference on foreign policy. Have the budget cuts been so deep that any travel by anyone is now impossible? Was the Department under political instruction not to attend? Were officials just too busy dealing with all of the urgent issues – such as rising waters around several officials associated with the Richard Colvin  affair – to spare time to attend to issues which might merely qualify as important?

I don’t have these answers.

Yet book touring all fall and engaging many audiences on both sides of the Atlantic nonetheless did provide some useful perspectives. With that experience in mind I can offer a few observations related to DFAIT’s unprecedented predicament and the challenges facing Canadian international policy generally.

Despite serial attempts at reform, the Department has mainly failed to adapt to the imperatives of globalization. It remains  overly state-centric, hierarchic, rigid in structure and risk-averse in culture. At a time when it might be focussed suppley on managing the clusters of cross-cutting issues which are not the responsibility of other government departments or other levels of government – public administration and policy development, international science and technology issues, the rule of law, rights and democracy, and governance, to name a few – the Department must instead devote its energies to identifying further cuts.

Nor has DFAIT been able to resist the continuing militarization of Canadian foreign policy. It’s influence was reportedly near invisible in high-level discussions on Afghanistan held during the crucial period of 2005 – 07, when arguments favouring a move from stability operations in Kabul to aggressive counter-insurgency in Kandahar were permitted to trump the case for peace-support.

The DND-driven decision to depart from ISAF and join Operation Enduring Freedom, aka the GWOT, was hugely consequential, yet the larger implications for Canada’s security and the management of its overseas brand apparently received scant attention. War has since come to dominate competing international policy priorities.

On these points and others, some of the commentary ventured at the Foreign Policy Camp was insightful, and a number of the prescriptions refreshingly forward looking and strategic.

With so little going on in Ottawa in terms of strategic planning, policy development and global analysis, it was re-assuring to hear so many new voices in Vancouver.