Five ways for Canada to get back into the diplomacy game



by Daryl Copeland

The Hill Times
August 17, 2016

The Liberal government has launched defence and development reviews, but little is known of its intentions regarding diplomacy. This is the third and final part of a series meant to offer thoughts on Canada’s role in a changing world.

The first instalment set out the defining features of the transition from the Cold War to the globalization age. The second explored the implications of shifting power in an increasingly globalized and heteropolar world order.

Since the last burst of Canadian international activism, the promotion of Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s Human Security Agenda from 1996 to 2000, the operating environment for diplomacy has continued to evolve.

Moreover, it has been a long time since Canadian leadership helped bring to fruition the landmine ban treaty, International Criminal Court, the Kimberley Process to curb trafficking in “blood diamonds,” and efforts to regulate the trade in small arms and address the problem of children in conflict. The Canadian-convened International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty produced its influential Responsibility to Protect report in 2001, but in subsequent years this country has been largely absent from the world stage.

With the exception of the Harper government’s controversial foray into maternal, newborn, and child health and participation in military interventions in Afghanistan and Libya, Canada’s once ubiquitous presence in the international arena became spectral.

The Trudeau government is fond of proclaiming that “Canada’s back,” and has taken some significant steps, both symbolic and substantive, to modify this country’s international engagement. That said, apart from the questionable intervention in Syria/Iraq and provocative deployments to the Baltic states, much of the heavy lifting has yet to begin.

As a point of departure, Canadian policy-makers must recognize that in the globalizing heteropolis, security is no longer a martial art. Instead, it is a function of long-term, equitable, and sustainable development—an imperative by no means limited to what was once referred to as the Third World. Security and development have become indivisible, two sides of same coin, with the welfare of the person, rather than the state, as the central referent. It is all about the elimination of fear and want, and the meeting of basic needs in the absence of violence or unreasonable obstacles.

Responsibility for advancing security and development, like the challenge of balancing asymmetrical power, must fall upon diplomacy rather than defence. The military is both too sharp and too dull an instrument with which to address complex global issues.

Today, the most profound threats to mankind’s survival, as well as the possible solutions, are intimately related to science and technology. Climate change, diminishing biodiversity, urbanization, environmental collapse, and pandemic disease are transnational challenges that require the application of knowledge-based, technologically-enabled problem solving. Canada, however, is woefully unprepared to respond.

What, then, to do?

  1. Launch a comprehensive international policy assessment, rolling in the ongoing defence and international development reviews, and include politics, commerce, and immigration. The 2005 International Policy Statement, dispatched with extreme prejudice by the Conservatives following their election in 2006, provides a useful model. Engage Canadians in a national conversation about grand strategy, identifying areas of both capacity and constraint in the quest to chart where we are going and how we will get there.
  2. Reinvest in diplomacy and development. Bring Canada’s world-view into alignment with the government’s domestic vision. As the globalization nation, target inequality and polarization by assisting with governance, public administration, the rule of law, democratic institution-building and human rights support. Multilaterally, focus on the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Get back into international peacekeeping training, and return to active participation in peace support operations. To resume diplomatic leadership, initiate the negotiation of an international convention governing the management and stewardship of fresh-water resources.
  3. Recast the mandate, mission, and structure of Global Affairs Canada to create a central agency for the integration of international policy across government and the management of globalization. Functioning at a higher level will require some fundamental re-engineering, as well as legislative action. To better generate intelligence and to take full advantage of the vital connection to place, the reform package should feature a more flexible approach towards overseas representation, and a more prominent role for missions abroad.
  4. Rebuild and reinforce relationships in the Asia-Pacific region, which is re-emerging as the dynamic centre of the global economy. Canada’s connection to this vital region was severely mismanaged and run down by the Conservatives, not only with giants China and India but also with the promising countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Jump-start the reconnection by making better use of Canada’s large Asian diaspora communities. Some useful new thinking on Canadian strategy has already begun by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
  5. Champion international science and technology. Today, the planet’s most pressing perils have little to do with ideological rivalry, territorial ambition, religious extremism or political violence. The Trudeau government has pledged to restore science advice, but little is known about its commitment to science diplomacy, which should be the centrepiece in any resumption of progressive diplomatic activity.

Much was lost during the decade of darkness, but in adversity lies opportunity. For Canada to come back meaningfully on the world stage, our diplomacy and international policy will need a new look for fall.

Former diplomat Daryl Copeland is an educator, analyst, and consultant; the author of Guerrilla Diplomacy; a research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a policy fellow at the University of Montreal’s Centre for International Studies (CERIUM). Follow him on Twitter @GuerrillaDiplo.

Image credit: Global Affairs Canada

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