A helpful fixer role for Canada in Syria and Egypt?

These are Canada’s options in Syria and Egypt. None of them are easy

The Globe and Mail Published Wednesday, Aug. 28 2013

So what can Canada do about Syria and Egypt where the options for policymakers range from bad to worse.

Syria is the latest example of a failing state where the dictator is doing everything he can to hang onto power including breaking international law, most recently in the apparent use of chemical weapons.

UN-sanctioned inspectors are on the ground attempting to determine the facts although US Secretary of State John Kerry has declared evidence of chemical weapons is “undeniable” and that there must be “accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons”.  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the US is “ready to go.”

Acting precipitously, as the USA and its ‘coalition of the willing’ learned in Iraq comes with a huge cost in blood, treasure and international standing. But, as Senator John McCain argues,  if the USA doesn’t make an armed response “our credibility in the world is diminished even more.”

Meanwhile, the military coup in Egypt that ousted President Morsi is a reminder that the transition to representative government takes time and requires patience.

It took the Anglosphere nearly a millennium to go from Magna Carta to the extension of the franchise to first, all men and, less than a century ago, all women. In the case of civil rights for African Americans, it is just fifty years since the March on Washington that led to legislation on voting and civil rights.

If we have learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan it is that the road to representative government is long, crooked, tortuous and filled with disappointments.

The costs of Iraq and Afghanistan to the USA are estimated at between four and six trillion dollars (Canada’s entire economy is  $1.83 trillion).

An estimate of the costs of intervention in Syria is contained in a recent letter from General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Senators Carl Levin and John McCain.

Dempsey observed that “the decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly” because it “is no less than an act of war.”

To train and advise the Syrian opposition is costing $500 million annually.

Establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, Dempsey wrote, would have a start-up cost of $500 million and a monthly bill of a billion dollars. Intervention employing special forces to secure the chemical stockpiles in Iraq would cost at least another billion dollars a month

Policymakers, as well as armchair generals and responsibility-to-protect advocates, should start any discussions on intervention by reading aloud Dempsey’s observation that the last decade has taught that it is “not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state.”

They should also heed Dempsey’s three warnings:

First, “We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action.”

Second: “We must also understand risk-not just to our forces, but to our other global responsibilities.”

Third, “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”

Intervention, Dempsey says, should also be done  “in concert with our allies and partners to share the burden and solidify the outcome.”

These considerations and the requirement for burden-sharing were discussed during the weekend conversations involving President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry with western leaders, including Prime Minister Harper.

Surveys reveal that Americans are very wary of armed intervention. Canadian attitudes are likely to be similar.

So what can we do?

The immediate consideration is humanitarian.

The UNHCR estimates that there are now nearly two million refugees, including a million children, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Funding for the three billion dollar Syria Regional Refugee Response plan is currently only 38 percent funded. Canada has subscribed $81.5 million towards Syrian relief.

Beyond money, we should also consider ramping up our refugee intake in a way that is both strategic and humanitarian.

Experience has taught us that successful integration of refugees depends on many factors. Like the installation of democracy, some adapt better than others and sustaining Canadian support for a generous refugee and immigration program obliges policymakers to temper generosity with pragmatism.

One group that is under stress and that may require resettlement is Egypt’s Christian minority. We have condemned the attacks on the over 60 churches but their situation is precarious.

Forty years ago, in response to the expulsion of 60,000 Ugandan Asian, Canada resettled nearly 7,000.

Like the Egyptian Christians, the Ugandan Asian were a community of small business people and professionals. Today, their success is another reflection of the positive virtues of Canadian pluralism.

The Egyptian Christians would likely integrate in similar fashion, especially given the presence in Canada of their co-religionists to help in the transition.

Taking a leadership role in humanitarian relief in Syria and Egypt would give tangible substance to Foreign Minister John Baird’s ‘dignity’ agenda. It would also demonstrate, once again, the Canadian tradition as a helpful fixer.

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Canada and ASEAN

These Asian countries have formed a tight-knit web. Why is Canada still outside?

Special to The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Aug. 21 2013

It doesn’t get a lot of attention but ASEAN – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – is like the little engine that could. Its growing appeal as a launching pad into the rest of Asia is fuelled by its aggregate population of more than 600 million and estimated GDP of US$2.2 trillion.

This week International Trade Minister Ed Fast will meet in Brunei with ASEAN Economic ministers to promote Canadian trade and investment.

The ten nations – Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – just celebrated their 46th anniversary. Created initially as a bulwark against communism, it has become an Asian model for regional economic cooperation. Four of its members – Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam – are also in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

ASEAN’s goal is to develop an Economic Community with free flow of goods, services and investments by the end of 2015. ASEAN nations are working on improving competition policy, increasing foreign equity in services industries, mutual recognition of professional qualifications – the kinds of things we should do more of within the Canadian federation.

Canada has had a formal relationship with ASEAN since 1977. In recent years we have upped our regional commitment with the 2009 appointment of an ASEAN ambassador, 2010 accession to their regional peace treaty, and the 2011 joint declaration on trade and investment.

In addition to our contributions through the Asian Development Bank, CIDA invests more than $130 million focusing on human rights and disaster risk.

After nearly a decade of few high level visits, Governor General Johnston and Prime Minister Harper have recently made official visits, with recurring missions by Ministers Baird and Fast.

‘Face’ and sustained relationship-building matters in Asia and our record has been weak on both counts. We need to sustain high-level engagement, especially if we are to gain admission to the security-focused East Asia Summit.

ASEAN nations represent Canada’s 7th largest trading partner. Our investment in the region is greater than in China and India combined. ASEAN investment in Canada grew over four-fold during the last five years, including the acquisition of Progress Energy by Malaysia’s Petronas.

While our focus is on trade, sustaining the relationship requires a commitment to regional security as well as the socio-cultural. The people-to-people ties are growing. Nearly ten thousand students from ASEAN countries study each year in Canada. Last year we admitted more than 37,000 permanent residents and there are nearly 18,000 temporary foreign workers from the region.

Created in 2012, the membership of the Singapore-based Canada-ASEAN Business Council numbers twenty-one companies, representing our financial, mining, manufacturing and engineering industries.

In proclaiming Canada to be an Asia-Pacific nation at last week’s ASEAN reception at Ottawa City Hall, Foreign Minister John Baird underlined the importance of ties with ASEAN promising that “we will continue to increase our engagement to its fullest potential.”

We have work to do.

ASEAN has free trade area agreements with Korea, India and China and a comprehensive economic partnership with Japan. The ASEAN-Australia New Zealand Free Trade Area eliminated tariffs on incoming ASEAN products last year and restrictions in both directions will end by 2020.

The US-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement Initiative is ambitious and results-oriented. It includes simplified customs procedures and joint development of investment principles along the level of ambition set by the Trans Pacific Partnership. The US-ASEAN Business Council is highly developed and has offices throughout the region.

The European Union is the largest foreign investor in the region. ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner after the USA and China. The EU is in FTA negotiations with Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. Their long-term goal is a EU-ASEAN FTA.

The Europeans finished negotiating a free trade agreement with Singapore last year. The US-Singapore FTA was concluded in 2004. Our own FTA negotiations with Singapore (like those with Korea) stalled.

We risk developing a reputation as a country that can’t close a deal.

A recent report, prepared for Canadian business looked at six sectors aerospace, agrifood, automobile, clean tech, ICT, oil and gas arguing that Canadians wanting to get into the market need to identify their niche and then determine the best entry point. It warned that Singapore aside, the biggest impediments to doing business in ASEAN are corruption, infrastructure and inept bureaucracy.

Connectivity is the mantra of ASEAN. Their ‘master plan’ envisages huge investments in infrastructure and technology including upgrades to roads and rail, and megaprojects like a high-speed rail line from Singapore to China. We have the capacity to get a piece of the action.

If we are serious about ASEAN we need to sustain our embrace. Ministers have to make regular visits across the Pacific. Deliverables – regional and country-by-country – need to be realistically defined and priorized. For obvious strategic reasons, Indonesia, whose Foreign Minister is in Canada this week, requires special attention.

We are playing catch-up with the competition in ASEAN but the rewards will be worth the effort.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior strategic advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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Time to send an Envoy to Tehran

Canada needs to be ‘on the ground’ in Iran: Time to reopen the embassy

COLIN ROBERTSON The Globe and Mail Friday, Aug. 09 2013

If we are serious about engaging Iran then we need to re-establish diplomatic relations.

September will mark a year since we closed our Embassy in Tehran and declared Iran’s diplomats personae non gratae because we feared for the safety of our diplomats and in protest for Iranian behavior.

Responding to last Sunday’s inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, Foreign Minister John Baird proclaimed that ‘proof of strategic shift’ required Iran to change its nuclear policies, respect human rights and cease meddling in Syria.
These priorities are right and in the correct order. A nuclear Iran with ballistic missiles threatens stability in the Middle East and beyond, including cities on the eastern seaboard of North America.

Mr. Baird is to be encouraged in getting to know the regional players through his frequent travel. His use of social media, as demonstrated recently at the Munk School’s Global Dialogue with Iranian civil society, is innovative diplomacy.

Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom continues to churn out lively releases on human rights abuses, although their targets would likely pay more attention if they toned down the adjectives. A useful initiative for the Office would be to resurrect the ‘two-track’ research aimed at opening channels for dialogue with Iran conducted by the University of Ottawa’s Peter Jones.

Effective diplomacy is about ‘being there.’ This means having a presence on the ground so that you can look, listen and speak out when necessary.

A diplomatic presence does not imply regime endorsement but rather it is the conduit for official dialogue and discussion. Withdrawal of diplomatic personnel is an extreme step that should only be done if there is a personal threat to our diplomats or when a declaration of war is imminent. In between, there are gradations of presence, based on Winston Churchill’s conviction that ‘jaw-jaw’ is better than ‘war-war’.

The Middle East is complicated, confusing and frustrating but Canada has interests – commercial, political, and social. Through refugee re-settlement, immigration and study, there is a growing regional diaspora living in Canada. As we learned in the 2006 evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon, there is also a growing Canadian expatriate population whose interests oblige our protection.

Through the past half century of global primacy, the U.S. has developed a cadre of smart, experienced practitioners who devote their lives to finding solutions to difficult international problems. Their number includes Ambassador Tom Pickering who, with colleagues William Luers and Jim Walsh, has written ‘For a New Approach to Iran’. It builds on the ongoing, excellent work of the non-partisan Iran Project, which is designed to improve the relationship between the U.S. and Iranian governments and to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Pickering et al note that while Iran has the basic ability to make a bomb, its nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach. The election of Mr. Rowhani, whose platform included engaging the international community, offers opportunities to influence Tehran.

They argue that ‘coercive diplomacy’ – more sanctions and angry rhetoric – is counterproductive because it hardens resistance to change and reinforces the hardliners.

On military intervention, they recall McGeorge Bundy, President Lyndon Johnson’s national security advisor during the Vietnam War. In a retrospective interview, Mr. Bundy observed that what surprised him most was “the endurance of the enemy.” Too much emphasis had been placed, concluded Bundy, in “the power of coercion.”

Canadian practitioners should draw inspiration from Mr. Pickering and the work of the Iran Project.

Our knowledge of Iran now depends on the reportage of foreign correspondents, the intelligence shared by our friends and allies and what we glean through the Iranian community living in Canada.

This is not adequate if we are to seriously engage Iran and encourage their ‘strategic shift.’ We need our own eyes and ears on the ground. Our policy will oblige patience, persistence and a step-by-step process of proof and verification to build trust.

As a first step towards building confidence, Mr. Rowhani should guarantee the safety of our diplomats. Then it will be time to send a Canadian envoy back to Tehran.

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Awaiting a US Envoy to Canada

U.S. Envoy To Canada: Nomination In Limbo As Obama Weighs Keystone

CBC |  Posted: 08/07/2013

The fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which has become a thorny issue in Canada-U.S. relations, could be holding up U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision for the next U.S. envoy to Canada.

Obama may be holding off on a nomination because he doesn’t want to have the U.S. Senate “hold that candidate hostage,” Colin Robertson, a former diplomat, now working as the vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute told CBC News.

While the nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, U.S. senators can place a hold on presidential nominations, a practice that can be used as a tactic to advance policy or political goals regardless of party lines.

Diplomat Richard Sanders will mend the gap and serve as the newest American representative to Canada until a new ambassador is confirmed, the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa announced last week.

Sanders, who arrived in Canada on July 22, will act as chargé d’affaires in the interim as a matter of due course, following the departure of outgoing U.S. ambassador David Jacobson, whose term ended on July 15.

According to Robertson, Jacobson’s own nomination was delayed when then Democrat Senator Chris Dodd put a hold on it because he was unhappy with another appointment.

In this case, it may very well be that Obama doesn’t want any U.S. senator to hold his next ambassador to Canada as leverage to force his hand on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Robertson said.

“This isn’t a slight against Canada, it’s U.S. politics.”

Keystone XL the ‘dominant issue’

CBC News reported in April that Obama had picked Bruce Heyman, a partner from the investment firm of Goldman Sachs in Chicago, for the Canadian post.

Heyman, one of Obama’s top fundraisers, was set to be vetted and nominated for the job, but four months later there is still no word on Obama’s nomination.

It’s possible Heyman backed out of the nomination of his own accord before the vetting process was complete, but even if Obama had made Heyman’s nomination official, any hope that a new U.S. envoy could get the nod this summer evaporated last week when Congress headed into a five-week summer break pushing all confirmations to the fall.

A decision over the controversial pipeline could also come this fall.

Uncertainty over the fate of the pipeline project may be affecting other aspects of the Canada-U.S. relationship.

TransCanada’s $7-billion proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta’s crude south to refineries in Texas, is “the dominant issue” between the two countries right now, said a former U.S. ambassador to Canada.

In an interview with CBC News, David Wilkins, Jacobson’s predecessor, said Keystone XL has “sort of sucked the air out of the room.”

The former ambassador, appointed by George W. Bush, is now a partner at the U.S. firm of Nelson Mullins, where he chairs the public policy and international law practice group. Its primary focus is on representing businesses on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

“It’s imperative the U.S. go ahead and make a decision on that.”

Otherwise, “it’s tough to tackle other issues,” Wilkins said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated last Friday the Canadian government’s assertion that the proposed pipeline would boost employment “on both sides of the border.”

Harper’s comments came days after the U.S. president downplayed the number of jobs that might result from the building of the pipeline, citing vastly lower numbers than supplied by the U.S. State Department’s draft environmental analysis of Keystone XL.

Canada, eh?

Although Ottawa isn’t London or Paris, being appointed to serve in Canada does not appear to be a hard sell south of the border.

Gordon Giffin, who was appointed ambassador to Canada by president Bill Clinton, said that “to be U.S. ambassador to Canada is one of the premier opportunities any president can offer someone.”

In this country much is made about Ottawa’s reputation as a boring city, but in the U.S. a posting in Canada is “something that is sought and competed for,” Giffin said in an interview with CBC News.

According to Wilkins, about one-third of American ambassadors are political appointments. “That is, they generally have a relationship with the president, they are not career foreign service officers.”

Perhaps it’s not so surprising then, that Obama has consistently rewarded his top fundraisers with political appointments.

Whoever the next U.S. ambassador is, both Wilkins and Giffin agree it’s imperative that the next envoy have the ear of the president.

“Some of our ambassadors drink wine and hold cocktail parties for a living. In a Canada-U.S. dynamic, you have a full-time job. It’s not just a ceremonial position,” Giffin said.

Wilkins, who is from South Carolina, conceded that our Canadian winters “would be the only hesitancy somebody from the south may have about coming to Canada.”

Even Giffin, who grew up in Canada for 17 years before returning to the U.S., admitted “Ottawa was a little bit colder” than he expected.

The only way around that, Wilkins said, was to “embrace the weather, not the TV.” Wilkins said part of the Canadian experience was to skate on the Rideau Canal, even if it was just once a year.

“I stumbled around and looked pretty awful, but I got off without ever getting hurt.” If anything, it made for “good speech material,” Wilkins joked.

The Republican from South Carolina said he became “very familiar with Canadian maple syrup” and did try poutine at least “one time.”

Wilkins said the best thing he did was to visit Canada’s 13 provinces and territories during his first six months as ambassador, and he offered this simple advice to the next U.S. ambassador: “Get out from behind your desk, get out from the embassy.”

see also

U.S. envoy post to Canada in limbo as politicians duke it out over Keystone XL project

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On Public Diploamcy at our Washington Embassy

War of 1812 commemorations, Strange Brew screening among Washington Embassy’s activities last year

by Lee Berthiaume Postmedia, August 8, 2013

OTTAWA — Canada’s embassy in Washington hosted a half-dozen visits to the oilsands last year, inviting not just congressmen and their staff, but U.S. Department of Energy officials, think-tank experts and even journalists.

Yet as important as those visits were to promoting the oilsands and the Keystone XL pipeline, they represented only a fraction of the embassy’s activities when it came to promoting Canada — and advancing the federal government’s agenda.

Newly released records show the embassy sponsored a congressional visit to Alberta during the Calgary Stampede, fitness sessions featuring the creator of the popular P90X exercise program, and even a screening of the movie Strange Brew, complete with Tim Horton’s donuts and Canadian beer.

There were also nearly half-a-dozen events promoting the War of 1812, including an art show and a lecture by a prominent military historian and adviser to former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who says Canada won the conflict.

The oilsands tours were the most expensive activities undertaken by the embassy at a cost of between $20,000 and more than $90,000 each.

The rest of the initiatives were relatively small, with the majority costing less than $10,000, with the embassy seeking partnerships where it could.

The documents, obtained by Ottawa-based researcher Ken Rubin, do not give a clear total of how much the embassy spent on advocacy last year, though one planning estimate puts the number between $500,000 and $800,000.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, who served much of his career in the United States, says the federal government actually used to spend much more on these types of activities, which together are called public diplomacy.

And while some Canadian taxpayers may be upset that the embassy hosted a “tailgating party” during U.S. President Barack Obama’s inauguration, or that congressmen took in the Stampede on their dime, Robertson says these things do work.

“My own observation is that these things do have effect, even if it is very difficult with an individual event to say A, B and C happened,” he said. “This is all subtle and you don’t move by great leaps but by inches.”

Using the War of 1812 to advance Canada’s interests might seem a curious choice, but Robertson noted the military is a key part of the American culture and that one in five members of Congress has military experience.

According to the documents, the subtext of the War of 1812 events was to highlight the 200 years of peaceful co-existence between Canada and the U.S., while highlighting Canada as an important friend and ally in North American and global security.

It was the same message Canadian diplomats hoped to convey when the embassy hosted a reception in honour of the Devil’s Brigade, a group of Canadian and American elite commandos who served together in the Second World War.

Similarly, the embassy “disguised an intense fitness workout” featuring P90X creator Tony Horton last September to highlight the strength and readiness of Canada’s military, according to the documents.

“Sprinkled throughout will be a strong visual of Canada’s military men and women who are dedicated to physical and mental well-being. There will be reminders of our evolving role in Afghanistan and our partnerships with other countries to engage in hot spots worldwide.”

The embassy also donated several P90X workout videos to the Washington, D.C., school system, which officials said would reinforce the priorities of both governments, namely Michelle Obama’s exercise campaign and Health Canada’s fight against child obesity.

The total cost of the event was $1,500.

The vast trading relationship between Canada and the United States, as well as the integrated nature of the two countries’ economies, also featured prominently in the diplomatic events.

This included VIP receptions held to mark the opening of an exhibit on Canada’s 50 years in space as well as visits by the National Ballet of Canada and Cirque du Soleil, all of which were seen as an opportunity for Canadian diplomats to talk trade.

Trade was also the impetus behind the Stampede visit, which also included a tour of beef and cattle operations in a bid to eliminate a new rule that would require Canadian beef and other agricultural products to be labelled.

That tour cost $28,852, though the number of participants was not indicated.

Canadian Taxpayer Federation president Gregory Thomas said he would like to see a line-by-line tally for the events to ensure “they weren’t doing the job in a way that was lavish or unseemly and makes you want to shake your head.”

But he also said selling Canada is an essential objective for the federal government and Canadian diplomats, and that he supports activities that go towards meeting that goal.

“When you see the way Canadian industries like the oilsands are misrepresented on the world stage,” Thomas said, “obviously Canadians have to push back against that kind of thing and our diplomats abroad have a tough job.”

A number of other countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and even China have dedicated agencies devoted to public diplomacy efforts.

Former Canadian diplomat Daryl Copeland, who has written a book on new ways of doing diplomacy, said Canada used to be a leader when it came to public diplomacy but has fallen behind the pack under the Conservative government.

Some Canadian diplomats have also quietly complained that the government is muzzling them when they are working abroad, which Copeland said undercuts the potential benefits of activities that are undertaken by embassies.

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