Canada and the World

Note to Canada’s next government: Diplomacy is not a sign of weakness

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail  Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2015

Allies are usually friends but adversaries are not always enemies. Our next government needs to recognize this distinction to give Canada better leverage in the changing international order.

At the end of the Second World War, Canadians helped construct a new international order.

Idealism guided our efforts in designing the United Nations. Realpolitik drove the creation of NATO. The West’s collective security alliance contained Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, an erstwhile ally but no friend. NATO now constrains Vladimir Putin’s Russia, an erstwhile friend but no ally.

The United States is Canada’s enduring, if occasionally frustrating, friend and closest ally. Strengthened daily by deepening economic integration, this relationship now includes Mexico.

Geographic propinquity gives Canada a special place in Washington and our interpretive role leverages our standing. Canadians have roots in every corner of the globe. When we are on our diplomatic game, Washington welcomes our global perspective.

We are well placed to interpret the United States. Foreign nations, confused by the White House and Congress, look to us for explanation.

Our ability to arbitrage this interpretive capacity requires a global diplomatic service constantly gathering insights. Even when we don’t like the incumbent government we need to be there. Keeping our ambassador in Havana throughout the Castro era allowed us to be a useful fixer in the recent re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba relations.

The University of Southern California’s Geoffrey Wiseman has edited the book Isolate or Engage which concludes that when it comes to dealing with adversarial states, engagement works better than isolation. Policy makers must distinguish between efforts at regime change (for example, Islamic State) and regime behavioural change (such as Russia in Ukraine, China in the South China Sea).

The U.S. withheld relations at various times with the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Libya, Iran and North Korea. “More often than not,” writes Prof. Wiseman, “this policy has frustrated U.S. foreign policy goals.” With Vietnam, for example, it hampered U.S. efforts to recover the remains of fallen servicemen. Isolation of Cuba damaged U.S. relations with the rest of Latin America.

To isolate or to engage increasingly breaks down on party lines in the United States. In his first inaugural address, President Barack Obama pledged to foreign adversaries to “extend a hand if you unclench your fist.” It’s not easy. President Obama’s ambiguous Syrian red-line left him looking weak but his patience and perseverance with Iran achieved a nuclear agreement. By contrast, many of the Republican contenders for 2016 would isolate China and put U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Nor do they like the Iran deal or the Cuban accord.

Conservative foreign policy under Stephen Harper is too often binary. Mr. Harper has shunned the United Nations, telling a Montreal audience in May: “Gone are the days when Canadian foreign policy was about nothing more than trying to be liked by every dictator with a vote at the UN.” This attitude explains why Canada speaks 190th, ahead of only San Marino and Palau, at this week’s General Assembly.

In recent years, we broke relations with Iran, recalled our ambassador to Russia and circumscribed contact with North Korea, moves that created headlines and puffery about “toughness.” They also removed our ability to influence and provide insight.

Avoiding high-level contact with China for nearly five years earned a reprimand from the Chinese premier. It also reduced our economic opportunities with the second-largest global economy. Giving Russia’s Foreign Minister the cold shoulder in Iqaluit – so he didn’t attend – was an ungracious finale to our Arctic Council chairmanship.

Diplomatic relations are not an endorsement of good housekeeping. Rather they give us vital communications, in-country observation and consular protection for Canadians.

Why not engage China, as agreed, on closer economic collaboration and maritime energy corridors? Why not engage Russia in the Arctic? Why not work with China and Russia on containing jihad and managing climate change and cyberspace?

Trying to shape the behaviour of friends, adversaries and enemies is a constant effort requiring hard and soft power.

A recent study assessing Canadian international engagement concluded that our spending on defence and development assistance, key indicators of engagement, has fallen by half since 1990. We have become, argued authors Robert Greenhill and Meg McQuillan, international “free riders.”

International engagement requires a robust foreign service, Canadian Forces ready for action and generous development assistance. For the next government, this means political will and multiyear budgeting commitments.

“To jaw-jaw” said Winston Churchill, no appeaser, “is always better than to war-war.” In an era of protracted conflict and asymmetrical warfare, the international order needs constant attention and strategic patience. To engage is not a sign of weakness.

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Foreign Policy Debate

Five things to watch for in Monday’s federal leaders’ debate

Monday’s debate between the three federal leaders will include foreign affair issues such as the Syrian migrant crisis, Trans-Pacific trade and ties with Russia.

Foreign policy takes the spotlight Monday as Stephen Harper, left, and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, seen in this file photo, debate international issues.

Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Foreign policy takes the spotlight Monday as Stephen Harper, left, and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, seen in this file photo, debate international issues.

OTTAWA—The leaders of the three main political parties will be on the same stage tonight to debate foreign affairs. The debate lands as the conflict in Syria, the fight against the so-called Islamic State and a multinational free trade agreement have focused campaign attention on international affairs.

Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s debate:

1. The photo of the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi focused Canadian public interest on the Syrian migrant crisis and the Conservative response. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has cited figures in defence of his government’s response and recent changes to speed up processing of refugee claims. But facts and figures may not be enough. Jonathan Rose, an associate professor in the political studies department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., wrote earlier this month on his website that “such a powerful image will not be mitigated by logical appeals or statistics.” The public, he wrote, will judge the leaders on their response to the crisis.

2. Voters should pay attention to concrete commitments from the leaders that will give a clearer idea of where they intend to take Canada in the coming years, going beyond the immediate issues of Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says the audience should listen for sustained budget commitments, for example, to the military.

3. Representatives from 12 countries, including Canada, will be in Atlanta this week to try to finalized what’s called the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade pact that could open up doors in Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, among others, to Canadian products. But how much will Canada under a Conservative, NDP or Liberal government relax protections for domestic industries in exchange for more access overseas?

4. Mulcair and Trudeau have been trying to look like they are ready to lead the country, but they also have to look like they can represent Canada on the world stage. Will voters be able to picture them sitting next to President Barack Obama (or a President Donald Trump, perhaps?) at a foreign leaders’ meeting, or dealing with Russian leader Vladimir Putin? Tonight is another chance for Harper’s challengers to look like statesmen.

5. Obama also dealt what could be a wild card in tonight’s debate when he told the United Nations on Monday he was willing to work with Iran and Russia to end the conflict in Syria and defeat the so-called Islamic State. The Conservatives have taken a hard line against working with Russia over its involvement in Ukraine. Robertson says Obama’s olive branch may force Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau to reconsider how they would deal with Russia after Oct. 19, be it in Syria or the Arctic.

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Canada in the World


It’s time for Canada to stop sleepwalking across the global stage

By | Sep 27, 2015 8:58 pm |



Canada’s international brand needs a make-over. It starts with a strategic plan, focused priorities and specific initiatives for international re-engagement.

In preparing for Monday’s foreign policy debate, our party leaders should read Roland Paris’ letter to the next prime minister, Ian Brodie’s After America and a recent study by Robert Greenhill and Meg McQuillan assessing Canada’s global engagement.

Greenhill and McQuillan observe that spending on defence and development assistance has fallen by half since 1990. The drift downwards — from 2.4 per cent to 1.2 per cent of GDP — began in 2000. Canada, they argue, has become an international “free rider”.

Earning our way back into good global citizenship requires money and time. Budgets, especially for defence and development, require sustained commitments. The next prime minister must devote time to building relationships with his counterparts, most importantly with the U.S. president.

Our first priority must be developing a plan for Canada’s international re-engagement. Start with three questions:

  • Where do we want to play a role in the world and why?
  • What do we want to achieve?
  • How much will we spend?

Any international re-engagement strategy needs to keep in mind the following:

  • One in five Canadian jobs depends on trade. Trade — both exports and imports — accounts for more than 60 per cent of our GDP. Despite expanding our trade agreements, our share of global exports has fallen in recent years.
  • Shielded by the U.S. security umbrella, we do defence on the cheap — spending just one percent of GDP. Our continental and collective security obligations, especially maritime, need attention. When it comes to military procurement, especially for our navy, we need to put defence readiness ahead of the jiggery-pokery of industrial and regional benefits.
  • Our birth rate is below replacement level, so we need a vigorous immigration program to attract talent with commensurate programs to help newcomers settle into Canada. Half of the people living in our largest city, Toronto, were born outside of Canada.

Good international citizenship means a re-commitment to multilateralism and a healthy development assistance program. Creating economic and political stability depends on democratic governance, something Canada does better than others, so we should make better use of institutions like the Parliamentary Centre and International Development Research Centre.

Our leverage in foreign capitals, especially Washington, depends on the intelligence and insights gathered by our diplomats. The Foreign Service needs to be revived and resourced, with more overseas offices. Let our ambassadors experiment with different forms of public diplomacy.

open quote 761b1bIn life’s lottery, being Canadian is the top prize. We are a comfortable country in an increasingly uncomfortable world. But with privilege comes responsibility.

To signal that Canada is back in the multilateral arena, we should consider the following initiatives:

  • Expanding our resettlement of refugees and asking the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees what more Canada can do to help.
  • Putting a battalion into blue berets in response to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s plea for more peacekeepers.
  • Re-joining the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in advance of the Paris Climate conference.
  • Declaring that we will soon seek election to the UN Security Council, running as a voice for the middle powers.

Our second priority should be rebuilding and expanding the North American relationship. McKinsey estimates that, by 2035 — through improving trilateral economic integration — North America could achieve cumulative productivity gains yielding another $10 trillion in trade flows and $1.5-$2.2 trillion in cumulative GDP growth. How can the three of us work together to promote our collective prosperity?

We should challenge the U.S. and Mexico to help us take North American integration to the next level — unifying our approach on economic, social and global issues. Getting the North American platform right — a different model than that of the EU — will help us grow supply chains and diversify our markets overseas.

We can lead in developing a new view for North American integration through the following initiatives:

  • A North American competitiveness agreement that addresses continental labour mobility, regulatory harmonization, and infrastructure priorities. For financing we should join and broaden the scope of the North American Development Bank.
  • A North American approach to the Paris climate conference that shares, for example, the best practices in tailings, water, land and greenhouse gas developed by our oilsands industry, or the regulatory excellence of the Alberta Energy Regulator.
  • Strategic engagement with Mexico, starting with the lifting of the visa. Make Central America the priority for our development assistance.

Our third priority should be to make the changes at home necessary to implement our expanded global role.

While the United States will always be our main market, we need to diversify. Disputes on softwood lumber, Keystone XL and country-of-origin labeling should have taught us that dependence on one market dooms us to be price-takers. If we want a global price we need to get our goods to global markets. This means building the infrastructure — coast-to coast pipelines, LNG terminals, ports, rail and road.

Projects of national scope require national consensus. All levels of government need to collaborate with business, environmental groups and First Nations. Look to the Boreal Forest Agreement as a good example of public-spirited cooperation.

We need new ideas on managing our market economy against the changing international landscape. The Macdonald Royal Commission on Canada’s Economic Union (1982-85) is the model for developing new thinking on our national and international development prospects. The Macdonald Commission generated the intellectual capital behind free trade, the GST, balanced budgets and pension security. Completing its work in less than three years, the Commission cost just $21 million.

In life’s lottery, being Canadian is the top prize. We have an abundance of land and resources and a friendly neighbour. We are a comfortable country in an increasingly uncomfortable world.

But with privilege comes responsibility. We can’t do everything — but what we do should advance our interests and promote our values. International engagement — bilateral and multilateral — accomplishes both objectives. It is with this principle in mind that the next government needs to reset Canadian foreign policy.

Colin Robertson is vice president and a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

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Canada and Peacekeeping

Canada can and should do more to support peacekeeping

In an age of displacements created by protracted conflicts, increasingly within states rather than between states, there is an urgent need for peacekeepers. The core principles of peacekeeping – voluntary contributions, consent of all parties, impartiality – still apply. But peace operations are now more complex.

The UN is increasingly mandated where there is no peace to keep. The UN must operate where there are no identifiable parties with which to negotiate. Peacekeepers face asymmetric and unconventional threats requiring them to be flexible, adaptable and mobile.

As first responders, peacekeepers work closely with humanitarian and relief organizations. Peacekeepers set up camps for the displaced, organize fresh water and sanitation, and get civilians out of harm’s way. Peacekeepers police crime, including traffickers and smugglers of people and illicit goods.

Twenty years after the Srebrenica massacres and the Rwandan genocide, hauntingly captured in Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil, these experiences have taught lessons. Peacekeepers are now given clearer mandates to protect civilians and clearer authority to use force. For UN commanders, decisiveness and good local relationships are critical elements in peacekeeping.

There are currently 16 UN sponsored peacekeeping missions, involving more than 120,000 personnel, including 90,000 troops and more than 13,000 police. Two-thirds of UN peacekeeping missions operate in conflict zones. An additional 22,000 are involved in the African-Union-led peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Secretary-General Ban says the requirement for peacekeepers will only increase.

Canada may not have invented peacekeeping but we were instrumental in its development. Canadians monitored the truce in Palestine (1948) and Kashmir (1949). During the 1956 Suez crisis, we helped broker the creation of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). For his efforts Lester Pearson earned the Nobel Peace Prize. Between 1956-2006, more than 120,000 Canadians served in over 50 missions from Cambodia to Congo. More than 25,000 Canadians rotated through Cyprus from 1964-1993.

Our peacekeeping commitment has declined. Today 112 Canadians are involved in various operations including an officer in the Sinai and Cyprus.

Critics, with some justification, argued that peacekeepers had become long-term band-aids to what should be diplomatic solutions. Fair or not, white soldiers confronting angry Africans or Asians also evokes complaints about neo-colonialism. Others argue that our military should first defend the homeland, then our continental and collective security obligations. They are right and peacekeeping complements all of these goals.

Then there is the cost argument.

The UN peacekeeping budget this year is $8.27-billion (U.S.), less than a half of one per cent of the $1.75-trillion that nations spend annually on arms. Developed nations – USA, Japan, France, Germany, U.K. – are the top peacekeeping financiers with Canada in 9th place.

The UN compensation for peacekeepers is about $1,100 a month. It costs considerably more for developed nations to field troops overseas. To keep a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan cost $525,000 (Canadian) annually.

Developing nations now supply most peacekeepers. Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Rwanda and Nepal field more than 5,000 each. At a summit on UN peacekeeping hosted last September by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden (Canada did not participate) Mexico announced it will now join peace operations.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told defence chiefs “when peacekeeping missions are deployed in post-conflict situations, countries are 50 per cent less likely to experience renewed conflict.” Representing all 193 member states, the blue berets possess unique legitimacy.

Canada can and should do more to support peacekeeping.

First, revive the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre that was closed for budgetary reasons in 2013. During its two decades of operations it trained more than 18,000, representing 150 nations. As Romeo Dallaire observes, peacekeepers always face ethical, moral and legal dilemma. Training, especially on working with local populations, is essential.

Second, we bring professionalism to peace operations. We are good at logistics, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Royal Canadian Air Force lift capacity was recently used for peace operations in Mali. Our Special Forces are very good. The requirement for rapid response obliges our next government to prioritize Forces readiness.

In putting forward the UN resolution creating UNEF, Mr. Pearson told the General Assembly, “We need action not only to end the fighting but to make the peace.” Etched into Canada’s peacekeeping memorial, Mr. Pearson’s words should inspire the Canadian voice at the peacekeeping summit.

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Diplomats and Electioneering

Keep your noses out of our election, Foreign Affairs warns diplomats

Embassy By | Sep 8, 2015

The Canadian government has issued a warning to the heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Canada to keep their noses out of the country’s federal election and multiple ex-diplomats say they view the move as unprecedented and concerning.

The note, dated July 16 and stamped with the seal of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development’s Office of Protocol, asks that the heads of missions distribute it to all members of their teams and stresses that under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations they have a duty “not to interfere in the internal affairs of the receiving state” — namely, in the then-yet-to-be-called federal election.

“During an election period, the Department has the honour to remind the Heads of Mission that these duties include ensuring that diplomatic and consular personnel do not conduct activities which may either be perceived as inducing electors to vote for a particular candidate or prohibiting them from voting for a particular candidate in any way,” the letter reads.

It continues on, warning that diplomatic and consular personnel are also forbidden from making any financial contributions to candidates or political events, and directs them to the Public Service Commission of Canada’s Guidance Document for Participating in Non-Candidacy Political Activities for guidelines on how the heads of mission can “support employees on making an informed decision about the type of activities that may be regarded as inappropriate during an election period.”

That document only applies to members of the federal public service, not to foreign diplomats working in Canada, and lists examples of “non-candidacy political activities,” other than voting, as:

  • Volunteering or fundraising for a candidate or a political party;
  • Supporting or opposing a candidate or a political party by displaying political material such as a picture, sticker, badge or button, or placing a sign on the lawn;
  • Attending events, meetings, conventions, rallies, or other political gatherings in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate or a political party;
  • Developing promotional material such as writing campaign speeches, slogans and pamphlets for a candidate or a political party;
  • Using blogs, social networking sites, a personal Web site or video sharing to express personal views in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate or a political party.

The letter has many in Ottawa’s diplomatic community concerned, with one saying it goes beyond the definition of acceptable behaviour towards foreign missions.

“I don’t think it’s something you would expect from a liberal democracy to send such a warning,” one senior foreign diplomat in Ottawa said of their reaction to receiving the letter.

The vice president of the Canada Global Affairs Institute says letters containing information about the election have normally been sent to the heads of foreign missions as well as the heads of Canada’s diplomatic missions abroad during elections — they just weren’t as strongly-worded as the current letter.

“In past elections it was customary to inform but it may have been done verbally or in a shorter note,” said Colin Robertson, also a former Canadian diplomat. “What the government has done, it may be more specific and spelled out in greater detail but it is what governments have done in the past.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs’ media team declined to say whether it has issued similarly-worded notices before, saying only that the federal government regularly engages with the diplomatic community in Canada on a variety of matters, including upcoming elections.

“All host countries operate in this fashion,” said Nicolas Doire, spokesperson for the department.

However, several former diplomats contacted by iPolitics expressed surprise at seeing the text of the letter, saying they can’t recall ever coming across a similarly-worded letter during their years of service.

“I’ve never seen it nor have I heard of it,” said Michael Bell, former Canadian ambassador to Israel, Egypt and Jordan and now a member of Justin Trudeau’s international advisory council.

Gar Pardy, former head of Canadian consular services, echoed that sentiment and called the move “most unusual.”

“I cannot recall ever seeing such a communications before either when abroad or when here in Ottawa,” Pardy said. “The only reasons for such a note would be if there were enquires from the local embassies on the matter or if something had happened to occasion such a warning.”

Lawrence Lederman, former Canadian chief of protocol, said he was disappointed — but not surprised — that the government would instruct the Office of Protocol to issue such a letter.

“I have not seen any similar instruction during my tenure at Foreign Affairs,” he said. “I find it in bad taste and can’t understand why they decided to take this action.”

Rick Kohler, also a former Canadian chief of protocol, said the same thing.

“I had never seen such a message,” he told iPolitics. “On the other hand, this is the type of message quite typical of the attitude of the current folks.”

None of the former diplomats contacted could point to a specific incident that may have inspired the wording in the letter, such as a foreign diplomat or consular official in Canada advocating for a candidate or supporting a particular party.

Bell said diplomats are generally well aware of their responsibilities while working in a host country, although many will have their own personal views of the parties and candidates.

“They’re obviously going to have particular views on which government would best suit their national interests,” Bell said. “But that would be very different from open advocacy.”

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Refugee Crisis CTV News

CTV News on the Migrant crisis

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Canada and the Refugee crisis

How Canada could be doing more to stop the migrant crisis

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