The road to Huntsville: restoring Canadian leadership on the global stage

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Excerpted From Policy Options September 2009 The road to Huntsville: restoring Canadian leadership on the global stage

As host of next year’s summit of major world leaders in Huntsville (June 25-27, 2010), Canada should seize the initiative, in bridging the evolution of the G-8 to a more representative summit of leaders. What Kinsman calls our ‘multilateralist wiring’ – we have amongst other organizations, a voice in the Commonwealth, Francophonie, APEC and OAS – gives us place and standing and makes us especially well suited to the task. As the long-time beneficiary of the Chinese and Indian diaspora – since 1980 over half our new settlers have migrated from Asia changing both how we look and how we think – we are especially well placed to bridge between the shifting balance in world order and especially the relationship between Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Canada has been an active participant in the creation of the post-war architecture and we have played the role of ‘helpful fixer’ through creative initiatives including breaking the log-jam on UN membership, the development of peacekeeping, building a north-south dialogue, creating a representative Commonwealth and Francophonie and, in the creation of the G-20 in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. Once again we have an opportunity to apply our constructive internationalism and engage on a broad canvas of issues with a range of countries. It will require much hard work. We will have to raise our game and devote sufficient resources to the task. But it will be worth the effort….

For Canada the months before Huntsville are an opportunity to reinforce the emerging consensus for a transformation from G-8 to a more representative meeting of leaders as well as to establish an agenda for progress. Events will likely reinforce the opportunities that, for convenience, can be loosely divided into three, inter-connected baskets.

First, the economic situation. Aquila was essentially a ‘take note’ discussion papering over the differences between those who would argue for a second stimulus (UK and Russia), those who want to assess the effect of the first tranche of which considerable monies are yet to be expended (Canada, USA) and those who are already frightened about the longer term impact of so much spending (France, Italy, Germany)….

The second basket is climate change. At Aquila the seventeen countries in the G8 and Major Economies Forum responsible for about 80 per cent of the world’s emissions agreed to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Scientists reckon that it has risen about .8 degrees since 1850 but that at 2 per cent we’d face the kind of catastrophic events predicted by Al Gore and depicted in the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster (filmed in Montreal) The Day After Tomorrow.

Third, the peace and security basket of issues, notably nuclear proliferation. At Aquila the leaders condemned “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches in defiance of UN resolutions…

In his conclusion to Diefenbaker’s World, Basil Robinson, who would go on to become undersecretary of state for external affairs, observed that the two constants to Canadian policy have been consistent support and active association with the major institutions and alliances, and a solidarity in global affairs with the United States, “modified by a spirited nationalism in bilateral matters.” It continues to be a sound coda for the conduct of Canadian foreign policy. Those who think Canada is taking a vacation from international involvement need only read the daily headlines detailing the blood and treasure we spend in Afghanistan to appreciate that when it matters we can be depended on to stand up.

Basil Robinson was a member of a generation in which Canada’s diplomatic service and foreign policy was muscular, nimble and imaginative. They understood that ‘being there’ required a contribution – ideas and initiatives on peace, security and economic well-being. It meant a commitment to hard power and the application abroad of soft power. As a ‘middleweight’ we recognized that to compete in the global arena with the ‘heavyweights’ required international institutions with rules to even the odds. Canadian efforts to engineer multilateralism, through the UN and its alphabet soup of agencies and, to create collective security. regionally through NATO and bilaterally through NORAD, are a part of our history. Initiative and adaptability in the face of change has been a Canadian characteristic. It is time to apply it again.