Budget cuts at Global Affair

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The 2023 budget aims for public service travel cuts to compose a ‘portion’ of a 15 per cent reduction in professional services and travel

BY NEIL MOSS | April 12, 2023 HILL TIMES

As the federal government seeks to slash travel costs, there is hope that it will take a “common sense” approach to avoid harming the work of departments that rely on international engagement to conduct their day-to-day operations.

The March 28 budget pledged it would cut consulting, professional services, and travel by “roughly” 15 per cent, noting that the target of the reductions will “focus” on “professional services, particularly management consulting.” The cuts are expected to save $7.1-billion over five years.

Treasury Board Secretariat spokesperson Barb Couperus said reductions in travel will make up a “portion” of the 15 per cent cut.

“The details around how these reductions will be applied across departments are being developed and will be communicated to departments in the coming months,” Couperus said.

The Department of National Defence travels the most of any federal department. Its travel totalled around $190-million in the 2021-22 fiscal year (which includes hospitality and conference fees), up from around $85-million in the pandemic-affected fiscal year of 2020-21, but down from around $376-million in 2018-2019.

Global Affairs Canada is also among the departments with the largest travel expenditures, totalling more than $29-million in 2021-22—an increase from around $12-million in 2020-21, but down from $100-million in 2018-19. That $100-million figure was also boosted by Canada hosting the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que., in June 2018, as well as increased engagement with the United States amid the rocky renegotiations of NAFTA.

Other departments with substantial travel expenditures include the Canada Border Services Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Statistics Canada.The recent budget pledge is the second time in three years the government has indicated it will curtail trip expenditures. In the 2021 financial plan, the operating budgets of governmental departments and agencies were cut to save $1.1-billion over five years.

With technological improvements allowing for increased use of virtual platforms to engage internationally in lieu of travel, some caution against the federal government relying too much on Zoom diplomacy.

David Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told The Hill Times that the pledge to cut public service travel is a concern for the rollout of Canada’s foreign policy.

“What you’ve seen in the last three years, there’s lots you can do with virtual meetings … to meet remotely, it doesn’t 100 per cent replace face-to-face interactions,” he said. “We’ve suffered through, I think, three years of having far too few face-to-face interactions with people.

Perry said there is an added concern if the travel reductions will be based on spending in recent years that was already truncated due to the pandemic.

“I do have a lot of concern because you are basically cutting from a base that was already, I think, insufficient in terms of how much the people that implement Canada’s international policy are able to actually go out and meet with real humans in real life,” he said.

Perry said that public service travel cuts will have an oversized effect on internationally engaged departments, as they are the ones with a disproportionate travel budget.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said she is puzzled about why travel reductions were attached to cuts on professional services.“Why are those lumped together? I don’t understand,” she said.

The union represents more than 2,000 foreign service officers.

“There are some people—maybe in departments … where they don’t get to travel so much—that travel is seen as a luxury, but it’s not a luxury if your job is to maintain a relationship with foreign partners or to represent Canada at international meetings and be the expert on international files,” Isfeld added.

“We just hope that common sense is applied in this and that there are good, solid distinctions in when something is discretionary versus when it is essential,” she said.

While there is an advantage to meeting in person, Isfeld said it is a “double-edged sword” as diplomats don’t want to be constantly on a plane, but noted in-person meetings will “always be necessary” even if virtual options allow “more flexibility.”

She said while the union is keeping its eye on the budget pledge, it isn’t yet overly concerned that it will have a direct material impact on operations.

Isfeld also said that PAFSO will keep a watchful eye that foreign service officers won’t be forced into taking a “convoluted route” with a multitude of layovers that turns a day trip into a multi-day trek so the government can save money.

Former Liberal staffer Elliot Hughes, who served as policy director to then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.), said now isn’t the time to reduce Canada’s global presence.

“I really do hope that the government takes a smart approach to this,” said Hughes, now a senior associate at Summa Strategies. “This is not the time for the government to be pulling back from its international engagements, whether that be on the diplomatic side or the defence side.”

“Post-COVID, people are meeting more and more in person and Canada needs to be at those discussions and those tables,” he said.

“Those are delicate issues [and] ones that are best communicated face-to-face. We certainly shouldn’t be relying on the ability to simply Zoom with other ministers around the world as a replacement to meeting them face-to-face—there’s nothing that can beat that,” he said. “We can’t find ourselves relying on the technology just because we used it for a couple of years during the pandemic.”

He said Canada has to make sure that it isn’t being left out of discussions due to relying on virtual means.

“I do hope that we don’t rest on our laurels and get used to the world from the pandemic and avoid going to the meetings and seeing people face-to-face, shaking those hands, being able to have those candid, necessary discussions in person. That’s irreplaceable,” he said, while noting there are options to ensure that undue expenditures are kept under control.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, who served as Canada’s consul general in Los Angeles during a 33-year career in the foreign service, said travel cuts are a fact of life for Canadian diplomats.

“Travel cuts have always been a part of life of Global Affairs,” he said, noting that closer to the end of the fiscal year, there is always a tightening of the wallet.

Roberson said he doesn’t think the travel cuts would hamper the department’s work, remarking that he foresees the necessary travel still taking place.

“But we’re into a different paradigm,” he said, with the introduction of the various virtual platforms to conduct meetings.

“I do think travel is one area where reassessment has gone on as a result of technology and what we have learned from the pandemic,” he said.

But travel within a country will remain important for diplomats posted abroad, Robertson said, noting that the capacity to resolve an issue is “significantly higher” if a diplomat has met the person they are dealing with in real life.

“Those budgets have been pared back in recent years [so] that really the only person that travels is the head of mission,” he said.

The former diplomat said that despite the technology, there is “great value” for in-person meetings, as it is essential to grow a foreign service officer’s network.

“But if it’s somebody you know well, then you can often achieve the same purpose by telephone or through Zoom,” he said.


Biden Visit: What Happened

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Mr. Biden Came to Canada: Takeaways from the Visit

Colin Robertson

POLICY MAGAZINE March 30, 2023

As presidential visits go, the nearly 30 hours that Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden spent in Ottawa last week was as good as it gets. And while the optics were so exuberant and the mood so jubilant that it may actually go down in history as the “Fun Summit”, the substantive takeaways attest to both the real value and practical implications of bilateral harmony.

The stagecraft — the presence of the ‘Two Michaels’, the steelworker and Ukrainian refugee in the gallery of the House of Commons — lifted a page from presidential State of the Union addresses, while the gala dinner was done with Hollywood glitz with the help of star-spangled Canadians Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Eric McCormack and Hayden Christensen.

At the dinner, Biden toasted “to family, to Canada, and to the United States” the natural segue from his speech to Parliament, declaring that that “Americans and Canadians are two people, two countries … sharing one heart.”

The leaders’ 2700-word Joint Statement covers the waterfront, validating the hours and hours that teams of officials have spent fleshing out the detailed February 2021 Roadmap for a Renewed North American Partnership.

A presidential visit has a natural forcing function with the National Security Council’s inter-agency scrutiny and a similar process on the Canadian side led by the PMO and PCO. The top-level direction is the catalyst forcing deliverables and the dollars that go with them.

For Canada, the US process unlocked US approval of the extension to the Safe Third Country Agreement. It closes the loophole that last year saw 40,000 asylum seekers cross into Quebec from New York through Roxham Road, south of Montreal. In return, Canada will welcome 15,000 more refugees from the western hemisphere.

For Trudeau, it solves a problem with Quebec while the US gets another example of ‘legal pathways’ as it grapples with the migrant flow on its southern border. With an unprecedented 100 million displaced persons globally, including more than five million in the Americas, the challenge is how to implement safe and orderly migration.

Other border measures included more intelligence sharing, renewed focus on the U.S.-Canada Opioids Action Plan, and Canada joining the global coalition against synthetic drugs.

On trade, Biden told parliamentarians that the Inflation Reduction Act “explicitly… includes tax credits for electric vehicles assembled in Canada…recognizing how interconnected our auto industries are and our workers are.”

On defence and security, the two leaders maintained their ‘unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes’ and this week’s budget the Trudeau government committed $CAD 2.45 billion in loans to the Ukrainian Government.

Clean energy collaboration got a boost with agreement to “harmonize charging standards and develop cross-border alternative-fuel corridors.” The new network of electric vehicle fast chargers will draw on USD $7.5 billion and CAD $1.2 billion. Both countries re-committed to achieving net-zero power grids by 2035.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and White House Special Presidential Coordinator for Global Infrastructure Amos Hochstein will lead an Energy Transformation Task Force to “advance our collective energy security.” It will report within a year on “renewable energy and electric vehicle supply chains, critical minerals and rare earths, grid integration and resilience, nuclear energy.”

One goal is to develop reliable North American nuclear fuel supply chains. Canada will join the Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology program. An Advanced Technology Data and Security Dialogue will collaborate on shared priorities in quantum information science and technology.

Canadian companies are eligible for US Defense Production Act funding in “identifying, securing, and developing critical minerals extraction, processing, manufacturing, and recycling opportunities.” The 2023 federal budget provides funding incentives but, as panelists at this week’s CGAI annual Trade Policy Conference underlined, the real challenge in Canada is not funding but a regulatory process that is complex, confused, and takes forever.

Canadian companies will also be eligible for US funding “to advance packaging for semiconductors and printed circuit boards”. A cross-border packaging corridor is established beginning with the IBM facility in Bromont, Quebec.

On defence and security, the two leaders maintained their “unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes” and this week’s budget the Trudeau government committed $CAD 2.45 billion in loans to the Ukrainian Government.

Biden said that in Canada, America could “find no better partner, no more reliable ally, no more steady friend.” It surprised those expecting the kind of gentle chiding parliamentarians received from Barack Obama in 2016 when he told them “NATO needs more Canada.

Spending just 1.27 precent of GDP on defence, Canada is far from meeting the 2024 NATO goal of 2 percent set in 2014.

The US wanted Canada to lead a peace operations mission in Haiti. Trudeau declined, saying that Haitians themselves had to take the lead and instead pledged CAD $100 million to support Haitian police. Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre had earlier explained that Canadian Armed Forces capacity is strained coping with myriad operational challenges including recruitment, retainment and culture change. In February, Canada deployed two naval ships to patrol off Port-au-Prince as part of a multimillion-dollar assistance package announced at the Nassau CARICOM Summit.

NORAD modernization got more money: CAD $6.96 billion for two next generation Over-the-Horizon Radar systems to complement CAD $7.3 billion for northern forward operating locations for the 88 new F-35 aircraft costing CAD $19 billion.  here was no reference to new submarines or future naval bases in the Arctic. Presumably these, and more on missile defence, will be included in the anticipated, if delayed, update, announced in Budget 2022, to the 2017 defence strategy ‘Strong, Secure and Engaged’.

Leaders reconfirmed collaboration on cybersecurity and the resiliency of critical infrastructure, especially pipelines and power grids.

Trudeau specifically identified China, Russia and Iran as perpetrators of foreign interference and subterfuge as both leaders committed to defend democracies. At this week’s second Summit for Democracy the US pledged to make ‘technology work for, and not against, democracy.’ Participating by video, Trudeau announced over $CAD 50 million for initiatives that promote and protect democracy at home and abroad.

The Great Lakes, the world’s largest freshwater eco-system, are an example of over a century of joint Canada-US environmental stewardship. They will benefit from USD $1 billion and CAD $420 million over the next decade for cleanup, restoration and conservation.

Ongoing renegotiations of the 1964 Columbia River Treaty get a boost, with negotiators instructed to reach agreement in principle by this summer on mitigating water pollution in the Elk-Kootenai watershed that feeds into Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.

In another example of our deep diplomatic collaboration, Canada joins the US-initiated Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity and intends to join the companion Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that will complement the US-Canada Indo-Pacific Dialogue.

Despite the March weather, the Bidens’ visit was a love-in from wheels down to wheels up.

As President Biden pointed out, the American embrace reflects the numbers in a new Gallup poll showing Canada as America’s favourite country, with a rating of 88 percent favorability. Meanwhile, more than half of Canadians, per an EKOS poll published March 24th, now describe the U.S.-Canada relationship as good — a twofold increase since the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Making the case for keeping Canada within the US economic perimeter must continue. This requires an active business and labour outreach as well as engagement at all levels of government, in what must be a permanent campaign.

But Canadians cannot be complacent. While Americans may like us, protectionism and the appeal of “Buy American” policies are a permanent presence in our relationship.

For Canada, the Joint Statement, effectively updating the 2021 Roadmap, offers a lot of potential opportunity, most immediately around the clean energy task force.

Examining ‘green steel and aluminum’ presumably opens the door to Canada joining the EU-US arrangement. The task force should also look at a carbon border adjustment tax. The EU is well down this road. Given the deep integration of the Canadian and US economies a joint approach makes sense.

Our European allies and Japan need new energy supplies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. President Biden recently approved drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic. Freeland should press the US for a fresh look at Keystone and Line 5 and, within Canada, at supplying LNG from our East coast.

President Biden has embraced industrial policy and tied it to the seismic shift to green energy that comes replete with major tax credits and incentives contained in the IRA, CHIPs and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It will require us to rethink our trade policy. Where it was once based on freer trade and reducing protectionism, we now have to shift to one recognizing greater government intervention. This means incorporating climate and labour standards with border taxes and tariffs as well as industrial incentives including subsidies and tax credits.

Making the case for keeping Canada within the US economic perimeter must continue. This requires an active business and labour outreach as well as engagement at all levels of government, in what must be a permanent campaign.

While we seek alignment with the US, we need to work with like-minded partners – Australia, Korea, Japan, Mexico, the EU – in a collective approach to disciplines on subsidies and border measures, rather than just swallow what the US decides.

For middle powers like Canada, the rules-based system is how we level the playing field against the arbitrary weight of great powers.

That this order is imperiled was again demonstrated last week in Moscow, where Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin issued their Joint Statement “deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership” and accusing the West of  “damaging acts of hegemony, domination and bullying.” Bidding farewell to Putin, Xi delivered a propaganda message meant more for Western audiences than for his interlocutor:“Right now there are changes – the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years – and we are the ones driving these changes together.”

As the US president has said repeatedly, the threat to democracy from authoritarians is the challenge of our time.

Last week, Biden told Canadian parliamentarians that when Xi Jinping asked him to define America in one word, he responded: “Possibilities…Nothing is beyond our capacity…And I could’ve said the same thing if he asked about Canada.”

The capacities that provide capabilities require continuing investments. It’s how we earned our place at the table setting up our rules-based order in the aftermath of the Second World War.

In recent years, successive Canadian governments have skimped and pared on investments in diplomacy; defence, including peace operations; development; and in funding for the resettlement of the displaced. We have work to do if we are to be included at the table updating the world order for a new century.

Policy Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat who served extensively in the United States, is a Fellow and Senior Adviser with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Hal Brands Twilight Struggle

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The Twilight Struggle’: Competition Between the Sunshine of Peace and the Darkness of War

The Twilight Struggle: What the Cold War Teaches Us About Great-Power Rivalry Today

By Hal Brands

Yale University Press, 2023

Reviewed by Colin Robertson   

POLICY MAGAZINE February 19, 2023

Is the world slipping into a new Cold War? And, if so, what can we learn from the last one? Hal Brands gives us much to consider in The Twilight Struggle: What the Cold War Teaches Us about Great-Power Rivalry Today

A prolific essayist and author on US foreign policy and diplomacy, Hal Brands is the Henry Kissinger Professor of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

While the Cold War of 1945 to 1990 was the first to feature nuclear weapons, it is, says Brands, only the most recent in great-power competitions dating back to those recorded by Thucydides, Tacitus and earlier historians.

The Cold War is still part of our collective memory. It provides relevant experience for the US and its allies when it comes to blending cooperation with competition, marshaling a diverse and often fractured coalition, and thinking about long-term strategy while dealing with short-term shocks.

The Cold War, writes Brands, “was never strictly a debate of hard power or ‘geopolitical interests’” but “the larger principles—self-determination, democracy, human rights—that Americans had shed so much blood to defend.” Brands draws out key lessons, including the advantage of strategic patience, the focus on sustaining alliances, and the value of aligning grand strategy with national values.

If the Soviet Union was the principal antagonist for the West in the Cold War, this time it is a rising China. As led by Xi Jinping, China is determined to displace the USA in the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia while simultaneously undermining the rules-based international institutions and subverting democracies everywhere including, as CSIS reveals, in Canada.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is also a threat, largely because of its arsenal of nuclear weapons and cyber capability. Putin wants to restore the sphere of influence once enjoyed by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, while sabotaging NATO and the European Union, and destabilizing world order generally.

Future historians will likely point to February 2022, and the signature of the Russo-Chinese “no limits” friendship on the eve of the Beijing winter Olympics and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the start of the new great power confrontation that, in this iteration, pits democracy against autocracy. Brands says we can expect a series of long and grinding contests most of which will be “twilight struggles”  — hence the book’s title — because they happen “between the sunshine of peace and the darkness of war.”

In response, argues Brands, the US and its allies must build robust democracies at home and develop military deterrent capability.

Sustaining democracy at home is essential, says Brands, because this is an ideological struggle. A free, open and diverse society is a proven magnet to business, students and tourists, and refugees and migrants from every corner of the world.

Entrepreneurial by instinct, newcomers join the innovators and discoverers that give the West its edge. This was instilled in me by former Secretary of State George Shultz who decried the attempts after 9-11 by then-Vice President Dick Cheney to ban migration from Muslim nations.

But openness must also be accompanied by military strength, including cyber-deterrence, intelligence capacity, and informational capability, given the pervasive reach of social media and mis/disinformation. While avoiding backing a “desperate, nuclear-armed regime” into a corner, there is “no path to success that doesn’t involve making China and Russia pay exorbitantly for aggressive policies.”

Ukraine is an alarm bell for NATO allies to meet their commitments. The Cold War framework — the hub and spoke alliances, the multilateral institutions — has endured although it now needs reform and reinvigoration. It means allies must meet the NATO commitment of spending 2 percent of GDP on defence by 2024. Canada currently spends 1.3 percent. Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt, declared John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address, can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

The West, writes Brands, must be realistic in its expectations.

The most we can likely hope for is a return to “peaceful co-existence”, in which we can all enjoy the benefits of trade-based reciprocity. “Constructive inconsistency” is how Brands describes working with nations like India, Philippines and Vietnam because, as we are learning in the application of sanctions on Russia, the weight of the “consolidated” democracies – the EU, G7, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan – is insufficient.

Dealing with China or Russia, says Brands, will also inevitably involve “relying on expedients, from covert action to outright coercion, it would never sanction at home.” But this is too often tricky and treacherous and, for democracies, a slippery slope as the US learned in the Iran-Contra scandal. Integrating morality into foreign policy is hard. It often involves compromises. But it should always be kept in mind not least because it is in our best interests.

Brands says we can learn much from the strategy and tactics employed during the Cold War. The best starting point is still George F. Kennan’s containment strategy. Spelled out in “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (Foreign Affairs, July 1947), Kennan argued that the Soviet Union could “be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.”

At the time, few thought containment was the best strategy.

Isolationists like Herbert Hoover and Joseph Kennedy called for Washington to abandon its allies and withdraw to the Western Hemisphere. Kennedy, writes Brands, argued the US must “conserve American lives for American ends, not waste them in the freezing hills of Korea or on the battle-scarred plains of Western Germany.” Walter Lippmann, the leading American columnist of the day labeled containment a “strategic monstrosity” that would force unending interventions on behalf of “satellites, puppets, clients, agents about who we know very little.”

For now, the competitions with China and Russia have remained below the threshold of direct and open conflict, although daily cyber-intrusion is a gray zone and the necessary provision of Western arms to Ukraine is making it a proxy war.

Kennan’s view of the Soviet Union was that Stalin was incapable of good relations with the West because the combination of traditional Russian insecurity and expansionism, Communist ideology and Stalinist paranoia meant that it could never trust the capitalist world. But Stalin was not Hitler and he was in no particular hurry, so when he ran up against resistance he would recoil. Thus, the policy of containment. That Kennan lost faith in his own prescriptions because he put the emphasis on statecraft rather than military buildup is another story.

While strategy needs clear direction with conceptual guardrails, the vagueness of containment on specific tactics, says Brands, was also its strength because it allowed continuous adaptation to circumstances. Thus, the creation of institutions at home, like the National Security Council. Abroad, it resulted in NATO and the alliance system.

The “fusing of geopolitics and ideology”, Brands argues, “was necessary to create a Cold War consensus.” It furnished an overarching strategic theme: support for democracy. While anticipating the internal collapse of the Soviet system, it encouraged strategic patience.

Brands is ambivalent about détente. While engagement and statecraft are essential, the danger for the West is to ascribe our hopes to our adversaries when in fact our enemies are our enemies and they will exploit our piety. Ronald Reagan was right to employ the old Russian maxim “trust but verify”, with the emphasis on verification.

For now, the competitions with China and Russia have remained below the threshold of direct and open conflict, although daily cyber-intrusion is a gray zone and the necessary provision of Western arms to Ukraine is making it a proxy war. While history does not repeat itself there are similar rhythms of Cold War history that we need to study and learn from. That means preventing competition from turning into conflict.

Brands says much of Cold War strategy was distinguishing between what was central and what was peripheral. American commitments tended to proliferate and got them into trouble in places like Vietnam. While Ukraine does not qualify under NATO’s Article V, what happens there could well have implications elsewhere. With Taiwan his target, Xi Jinping is watching how the West responds in Ukraine.

There is also the danger of fatalism and ascribing strengths to the adversary that they don’t have. Despite Sputnik, Russia was never technologically or strategically superior to the United States. So, too, with China, which may have certain asymmetric advantages, but faces major demographic, environmental and internal strains at home.

We need to avoid acting precipitously. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the justification for invasion. Wishful thinking should never pervert intelligence subjected to critical scrutiny. Action against Afghanistan was necessary because it gave Osama bin Laden his base for 9-11. But as with Iraq, staying on and trying to install democracy turned liberation into the trap of occupation.

The Cold War, writes Brands, fundamentally changed the United States. It was both a national and international security emergency that lasted for decades. It required the US to do things that were without precedent. This included creating a large standing military establishment, a network of global security alliances, commitments to the defence of frontiers half a world away, and a centralized intelligence apparatus. The new challenge is creating cyber capability that was never previously imagined.

It was not the peace envisaged by Churchill and Roosevelt when they met off Newfoundland’s Grand Banks in August 1941 to sign the Atlantic Charter. But it was necessary.

Diplomatic history and grand strategy have gone out of fashion in our universities because they were perceived as too linked with traditionalists and old-school agendas. But understanding history and geography, study abroad and learning languages, is critical to better prepare for the future. As Brands says: “we need to see competition as a way of life” and prepare accordingly.

The Cold War is still part of our memory. We should study it systematically. Hal Brand’s Twilight Struggle is a good starting point.

Bernie Frolic Canada and China

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Canada and China’: The Bilateral Journey, from Trudeau to Trudeau

Canada and China: A Fifty-Year Journey

By B. Michael Frolic

University of Toronto Press/2022


Reviewed by Colin Robertson

POLICY MAGAZINE February 7, 2023

The famous Chinese aphorism attributed to Taoist philosopher Laozi holds that “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The first step in B. Michael Frolic’s Canada and China: A Fifty-Year Journey begins with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s recognition of China in 1970 — a diplomatic watershed that predated the Nixon-Kissinger visit to China by more than a year and full US normalization by nine years. The book traces the thousand miles from the senior Trudeau’s breakthrough to Justin Trudeau’s relations with a much different China 50 years later.

Bernie Frolic, as the author is commonly known, is Professor Emeritus at York University and one of Canada’s preeminent China watchers. Frolic was one of the Canadian scholars who served (in his case during the 1970s Cultural Revolution) with the diplomatic rank of first secretary at our Beijing Embassy. He has been to China more than 60 times, visiting almost all of its 31 provinces.

Canada and China draws on those experiences, with excerpts from his personal diary, and his half-century of deep research into accessible government documents (alas, China is opaque on this front) and from teaching thousands of Chinese officials, corporate executives and educators. He has also talked with fellow China watchers and those in the Canadian government, interviewing all fifteen of our ambassadors as well as five prime ministers and ten foreign ministers, business and civil society.

The book is scholarly but readable, and Frolic punctuates his story with personal recollections that started when he “stepped off the train in Beijing in 1965.” It complements Paul Evans’ Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration, and Strategy in Canadian Policy from Trudeau to Harper (University of Toronto Press, 2014) which has been the essential reference on Canada’s relationship with China.

Canada and China describes the evolution of Canadian policy from Trudeau’s recognition in 1970 of the People’s Republic of China through Tiananmen Square, the Chrétien era ‘Team Canada’ missions, the frostiness of the Harper years and then the aftermath of the debacle created by the ‘3Ms’ — Michaels Kovrig and Spavor and Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou – recounted in The Two Michaels: Innocent Canadian Captives and High Stakes Espionage in the US-China Cyber War by Mike Blanchfield and Fen Osler Hampson (and reviewed in these pages).

The last half-century has seen the emergence of China as a dominant regional power. No longer content to ‘bide its time’ it now has global aspirations, presenting itself as an autocratic alternative to our current liberal, rules-based system. As Frolic writes, “how Canada dealt with this changing China is the story of this book.”

Frolic says the relationship has gone through three distinct phases. The first was initiated by Pierre Trudeau, who had twice visited China before becoming prime minister. Trudeau saw recognition of China as both a way to lessen dependence on the United States and to assert a more independent foreign policy that resonated with our domestic economic interests. In the early years after normalization, we were “strangers” seeking to set aside our “substantial differences, political and economic”. As we did so, we mutually saluted our “friendship” and “partnership”.

Tiananmen Square precipitated a second phase, where human rights moved to the forefront. Of Canada, Premier Li Peng, who sent the troops into the Square, told then-Ambassador Earl Drake, “We don’t need you”. Frolic says one Canadian ambassador subsequently told him, “The days of romanticism in our China policy are over. We have to be realists now.”

Things were never quite the same again, although trade flourished and the Chretien ‘Team Canada’ missions worked wonderfully to both increase trade and demonstrate to Canadians that when their first ministers work in tandem, we all benefit.

Under Stephen Harper, says Frolic, Canada-China relations began the third period. Harper treated Beijing as an adversary, receiving the Dalai Lama in his office and making him an honorary Canadian citizen — a clear provocation to a regime that uses foreign treatment of the Buddhist leader as a litmus test for economic and diplomatic relations. Justin Trudeau promised to reset the relationship through closer trade ties but was rebuffed when he wanted to incorporate provisions relating to labor, environmental and human rights. Then came the 3Ms.

Reviving Mao’s favourite epithet for counterrevolutionary lackeys, one Chinese diplomat told me recently, perhaps half in jest, that Beijing sees Canada as a ‘running dog of American imperialism’.

We remain at a low point — most China hands think the lowest since prior to recognition of the PRC. That nadir reflects a global hardening on China in response to Beijing’s anti-democracy activities worldwide, its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, its continued crack-down on Tibet, minorities and dissidents within China, its control of Hong Kong and its belligerent approach to diplomacy, especially towards Taiwan, since the geopolitically disruptive Trump presidency.

At some point a reset will happen. Frolic offers advice noting that our China policy has traditionally focused on three baskets: trade, human rights and people-to-people ties. Now, we also need to add a fourth basket that covers security, including theft of intellectual property, business information and cyberattacks as well as the security of the diaspora and our democracy.

The trade relationship has endured despite the ups and downs of geo-politics. We have food, energy and fertilizer. China needs all three but not at the price of the ‘progressive’ chapters on human rights, labour and the environment that are now part of our trade catechism. If we want to trade, we should do so with eyes wide open and on the basis of reciprocity.

On human rights, Frolic writes, we need to accept that our efforts to change Chinese practices have “consistently failed”.  We also need to recognize that, geopolitically, we are a “marginal partner” for China, “one that the PRC can bypass whenever it wants”. It’s a harsh but realistic assessment. Reviving Mao’s favourite epithet for counterrevolutionary lackeys, one Chinese diplomat told me recently, perhaps half in jest, that Beijing sees Canada as a “running dog of American imperialism”.

Our people-to-people ties are important and continue to grow with immigration and Chinese students and tourists, although the flow has declined with COVID and cooling relations. This is where we have an opportunity to improve relations through public diplomacy, including cultural engagement.

A useful initiative would be to revive the practice of bringing a scholar into our Beijing Embassy for the sort of two-year diplomatic assignment that employed Frolic and others from 1975-2001. Both government and academe benefit from the experience and it will both replenish and reinvigorate our cadre of China experts.

Frolic acknowledges we have to stop China’s “relentless push to gain access to Canadian intellectual property.” Then there are the CCP’s covert activities in Canadian Chinese communities, at our universities, schools and in our municipal, provincial and federal politics. These are well documented by Jonathan Manthorpe in Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada (Cormorant, 2019)

The United States has always been critical to Canada-China relations. As Lester Pearson pithily put it, “Better to have peace with Washington than relations with Beijing.” That our trilateral dynamic comes with baggage was brought home in the Meng Wangzhou/Two Michaels controversy. Washington got us into the fix when they asked us to hold Meng in Vancouver. Did we think through the implications and consequences? The Chinese, who had already declared Canada to be an “American satellite” sanctioned our beef, pork (until they needed it) and canola and took the Michaels hostage. Donald Trump’s comment that he “would certainly intervene if (he) thought it was necessary” to protect US interests in the emerging Sino-US trade war led Canadians and Meng’s defenders to argue that for Trump she was just a ‘bargaining chip’. It was the intervention of another American president, Joe Biden, that brought the Michaels home.

What have we learned over the past half century? For Frolic, it is that China remains unique. It does not follow western norms and values. The challenge for our governments is to develop a policy that can account for these differences, especially on the human rights that matter to Canadians.

It’s no simple challenge. Frolic cites Paul Evans agreeing that “We don’t have a whole-of-Canada approach to China yet, not even a whole government approach.” At this point, that has much to do with timing. China is a power in transition between the fallout from the world’s negative response to its economic, diplomatic and human rights actions in this century and whatever comes next — a story playing out across a number of contexts from Ukraine to the World Trade Organization to the many datelines along its belt and road infrastructure and influence project.

Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy provides a framework, but it’s not a China strategy. For now, we are left with former Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau’s “eyes wide open” Four Cs: coexist, compete, cooperate and challenge.

In his final chapter, “Resetting Relations”, Frolic observes that “understanding China is an elusive concept.” He concludes that “In the future, Canada’s relations with China will be pragmatic and pedestrian: middle power to big power, democracy to one-party state, without any illusions that they will be particularly special.” It’s a fair assessment.

The prime ministers who understood China the best are Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien. They each invested their personal time and effort into the relationship. Of the three, Pierre Trudeau captured the dilemma best when he told Frolic:

“I never thought it would be easy to work with China. It is an authoritarian state. But after I had been there, I realized China had to become part of the rest of the world, and we needed to know much more about it.”

Pierre Trudeau was right. And Frolic’s Canada and China is a good place to start learning more about China.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is a Fellow and Senior Adviser with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

George Kennan

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A Life Between Worlds: The Further Examination of George Kennan

Princeton University Press

Kennan: A Life Between Worlds

By Frank Costigliola

Princeton University Press (2023)

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

January 31, 2023

As the author of America’s postwar policy of containment toward the Soviet Union that defined the core dynamic of the Cold War, it is hard to think of a foreign service officer with more enduring influence on US foreign policy than George Kennan.

Much has been written by and of Kennan. Historian Frank Costigliola has now supplemented his 768 pages of The Kennan Diaries (2014), with his 642-page Kennan: A Life Between Worlds (2023). It is only slightly shorter than the 800-page Pulitzer Prize-winning George F. Kennan: An American Life (2011) written by his fellow historian and official Kennan biographer, Yale University’s John Lewis Gaddis.

Kennan had a first-class mind. He wrote well, if at length. He developed an appreciation of European affairs through his postings and skill as a linguist. Kennan mastered Russian and achieved competence in German, Czech, Polish, French, Portuguese and Norwegian. His assignments included Geneva, Hamburg, Berlin, Moscow, Prague, Lisbon, London and then back to Moscow as deputy head of mission to Averell Harriman. But these were skills and experiences shared by others.

So, what made George Kennan special? Asked in February, 1945 to assess Soviet behaviour he responded with a dictated dispatch of 5363 words known as “The Long Telegram” — indeed, the longest telegram ever sent to the State Department. It was a summary of what he had been writing already, but this time its readership included President Harry Truman.

Kennan described a Soviet Union that saw itself surrounded by hostile powers. Compared with the West, the Soviet Union was economically and militarily inferior. So, its methods would be infiltration, subversion and opportunistic actions rather than an outright attack.That Kennan’s message hit the mark had as much to do with the moment as the man. It is a reminder that, in diplomacy, nobody hears your messages unless they are ready to listen.

Recognizing that there was “nobody like Kennan”, George Marshall, who had become secretary of state in January 1947, named Kennan head of the new Policy Planning Staff in May. With an office next to the secretary, Kennan helped draft the Marshall Plan and flesh out the Truman Doctrine.

Drawing from his Long Telegram, Kennan published ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’ under the pseudonym X in Foreign Affairs (July 1947). Articulating the fundamental thinking behind American foreign policy towards the Soviet Union, it argued:

We are going to continue for a long time to find the Russians difficult to deal with… The Soviet concept of power, which permits no focal points of organization outside the Party itself, requires that the Party leadership remain in theory the sole repository of truth… it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies… To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation.”  

I underline the final sentence for its continuing relevance. Many have tried to emulate Kennan but the analytical framework set out in the ‘X’ article, grounded in his deep appreciation of history, culture and geopolitics, continues to set the bar. It remains required reading in any diplomatic history.

For Constigliola, the X piece is both Kennan’s “most famous success” but also his “greatest tragedy”. Rather than rely on Kennan’s approach of engagement and patient statecraft, successive US governments embraced a “vastly more militarized form of containment.” Dismayed that his advice was ignored, Kennan left the State Department. Still wracked by the neurosis that plagued him all his long life, Kennan found a place at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. It would become his professional home for much of the next half century.

For Costigliola, this was Kennan the ‘flawed genius’ who tried to live between two worlds, not always with success: Kennan the realist on Stalin and Soviet behaviour and Kennan the romantic on the Russian people.

Kennan received two more foreign service appointments. Sent by Truman in May 1952 as his ambassador to Moscow, Kennan was declared persona non grata five months later after he compared life in the Soviet Union with that during his time in Berlin under the Nazis. Almost a decade later, President John F. Kennedy, who admired Kennan’s writing, appointed him to Belgrade in 1961 but after two years he resigned in frustration over Cold War intransigence on both sides and returned to Princeton.

Kennan flourished as an author, commentator and public intellectual, appearing before congressional committees and giving private advice to successive administrations. He spoke presciently on current events, opposing the Vietnam War as an unnecessary intervention in a country that was not of vital strategic interest. Pushing NATO’s borders “smack up against those of Russia” during the 1990s was a mistake and he warned of “much trouble lying ahead in connection with the Ukraine.” He worried about growing dependence on Chinese manufacturing. He championed environmental protection and nuclear disarmament. “For the love of God, of your children, and of the civilization to which you belong,” he exhorted the great powers in 1980, “cease this madness”.

Books flowed, notably American Diplomacy 1900–1950, his masterly Memoirs 1925–1950and Memoirs 1950–1963Sketches from a Life and the essays in Around the Cragged Hill. Accolades and honours continued to come his way: with two Pulitzers and multiple National Book Awards, the Einstein Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As Ronald Steel wrote in the New Yorker on Kennan’s 100th birthday, Kennan had become America’s “national interpreter, conscience, and censorious judge.”

Privately, Kennan worried about the cultural impact on America of immigration and the emphasis on social justice. For Costigliola, this was Kennan the “flawed genius” who tried to live between two worlds, not always with success: Kennan the realist on Stalin and Soviet behaviour and Kennan the romantic on the Russian people. Kennan who extolled the virtues of a mythical past America and the America changing through immigration and different cultural norms with which he was increasingly uncomfortable. “It helps,” wrote Kennan, “to be the guest of one’s time and not a member of its household.”

I met Kennan twice while posted at our Consulate General in New York City (1978-81). We had an active Canadian studies program at Princeton and I would time my visits there to Kennan’s occasional presentations. Kennan did not disappoint, speaking critically of the new Reagan administration and its hawkish approach to the Soviets. His intellect and grasp of history were impressive. But as a person I found him cold and aloof. Perhaps he had seen enough of junior officers come to gawk at the great man.

By the time he died at 101 in March 2005, I was at our Embassy in Washington. Living just around the corner from the National Cathedral, I volunteered to represent Canada at his memorial service. As do so many farewells to America’s policy architects held at the stately landmark, the service drew the great and the good of the foreign policy establishment, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Former President Bill Clinton sent a letter asserting that Kennan “shaped the discourse and guided the policy of this country for more than 50 years” leaving “this world a better place than he found it.” It is a fair assessment.

What stuck with me, however, was an excerpt cited by the Kennan Institute’s director, Blair Ruble, from Kennan’s diary. Traveling by train for days across Russia in June 1945 with the war in Europe over and the war in the Pacific coming to a close, its poignancy is only underlined by our current circumstance:

“How much more must the traveler feel who sees with his own eyes the deprivations of the Russian people and their heroism…and with it all the wistfulness, the hope, the irrepressible faith in the future” Kennan writes, asking himself what to make of the “gifted, appealing people” whose lives “are set against a landscape that should drive one to despair.” “The answer is anybody’s,” he wrote. “But I, for my part, should have thought with the sights and sounds of Siberia still vivid in my mind, that in these circumstances [it] would be wisest to try neither to help nor to harm… and to leave the Russian people – encumbered neither by foreign sentimentality nor foreign antagonism – to work out their destiny in their own peculiar way.”

This is Kennan the romantic, inspired by the Russia of Tolstoy and Pasternak, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Alas, we now live in the age of Putin and Putin’s regime. Kennan the realist would, unhappily, have to characterize them as the heirs to the Russia of Stalin and Stalin’s regime.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is a Fellow and Senior Adviser with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Legislative Agenda 2023

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Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat

Hill Times January 30,2023

Colin Robertson: ‘In my experience, governments’ legislative agenda and priorities reflect two things: the electoral timetable and the public priorities.’ The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

“In my experience, governments’ legislative agenda and priorities reflect two things: the electoral timetable and the public priorities,” said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who served as a legislative assistant to the late Allan MacEachen when he was the country’s first deputy prime minister, as well as secretary of state for external affairs in former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s government from 1982 to 1984.

According to a recent survey by Abacus Data, where the rising cost of living, health care and the economy were the top three issues of concern, Robertson said that he would expect health care “to be high on the agenda given the public mood.”

Three Amigos Summit

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Three Amigos Summit sets up Biden’s Ottawa visit to focus on critical minerals, ‘North American industrial policy’: experts

Joe Biden will visit Canada in March for the first time since he was elected U.S. president and Canada’s critical minerals is expected to top the agenda.

U.S. President Joe Biden, pictured here on the Hill on Dec. 8, 2016, when he was vice-president to president Barack Obama, will make his first official visit to Canada in March.

As the North American Leaders’ Summit wrapped up in Mexico City on Jan. 11, the eyes of stakeholders, MPs, and expert observers are turning quickly to U.S. President Joe Biden’s anticipated visit to Canada in March—the first official visit of his presidency.

The Three Amigos Summit ended with many promises made between the three countries, with a heavy emphasis on migration, drug trafficking, and trade. Canada walked away with a promise of further attention from Biden after he finally committed to making his first state visit to Canada in March, two years into the leader’s mandate.

“That’s a big deal, Canada should be happy about that. And the planning is in earnest now for March,” said Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canada-American Business Council and an expert on Canada-U.S. relations.

Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canada-American Business Council, said critical minerals will be the focus of Canada-U.S. bilateral relations in the coming months. Handout photograph

Asked what the focus will be during the next few months as both governments prepare for the visit, Greenwood said critical minerals and the production, processing, and recycling of them.

“That’s huge. Actually, I think that’s maybe the biggest opportunity for Canada,” she said.

The United States will always turn to its allies for help on global and regional issues, Greenwood said. And critical minerals could be a way for Canada to not only improve its trade relations with the U.S.—which at times have been fraught under Biden’s protectionist ‘Buy American’ policies—but would also be seen as a way to assist the U.S. on issues of global importance, particularly when it comes to China, Greenwood said.

“Critical minerals helps with the China question, and it helps with North American competitiveness and investment,” she said.

“Industry is [ready for it], provinces are [ready for it], and the feds seem to be indicating an interest in it. We’ll see. We’ll see what they come up with between now and March,” she concluded.

Canada released its Critical Minerals Strategy on Dec. 9, 2022, one month before the summit. The driving motive behind the strategy is to mine critical minerals in Canada to “support the development of domestic and global value chains for the green and digital economy.”

“Critical” minerals are technically subjective, and the determination of what is a critical mineral changes based on need. Currently, critical minerals including lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper, and rare earth elements are highly sought-after as they are essential to the development of clean energy, including batteries for electric cars.

At the summit, the United States and Mexico were primarily concerned about migration and cross-border drug trafficking. Combatting American protectionism, meanwhile, was a priority for the Canadian delegation to the summit, as evidenced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) emphasis on free trade between the three countries.

“We share deep ties as friends and trading partners,” said Trudeau early in his remarks at joint press conference held after the trilateral meetings on Jan. 10. In French, he lauded the decades-long partnership between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico via the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—now the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA.

But trade between the three countries—particularly Canada and the U.S.—is often mired with disputes, and Biden’s ‘Buy American’ policies have at times threatened the integrity of markets that are very much integrated across borders, including the auto industry.

Laura Macdonald, an expert in North American politics at Carleton University’s political science department, said Canada’s main objective at the conference was to stress “co-operation, not competition between the three countries.”

She said Canada generally got what it wanted out of the discussions—no mention of ‘Buy American’ policies, and getting trilateral commitment on things like mapping critical minerals, and deepening supply chains—which will now set the stage for Biden’s upcoming visit. Macdonald noted the leaders avoided specific trade disputes and instead focused on the bigger picture.

In a Jan. 10 press release from the Prime Minister’s Office detailing Trudeau’s meeting with Biden, critical minerals earned second mention—after the headliner of Biden’s upcoming Ottawa visit—highlighting “the critical importance of North American trade, competitiveness, and supply chains, including critical minerals and semiconductors.”

A map of Canada showing possible sites for critical minerals mines, smelters, refineries, and advanced projects. There are possible locations in all provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island, with heavier concentrations in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. Map courtesy of Natural Resources Canada

Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy is important for the country’s transition to a green economy, but also as a bargaining chip for Canada in the international arena. The strategy comes as the European Union moves away from reliance on Russian energy, and the U.S. looks to source resources from its allies, rather than foes—particularly China. (In fact, in November 2022, Canada declared its critical minerals would be off-limits for Chinese investment—a strategy business columnist David Olive wrote was “friend-shoring.”)

Former Canadian diplomat and expert in Canada-U.S. relations Colin Robertson said the critical minerals question is central to reinvigorating “the North America idea.”

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the ‘North American idea … actually may have some more life to it.’ Handout photograph

“The North American idea, which has waxed and waned, actually may have some more life to it. We’ll see. The tests will come with these ministerial-level meetings, [where] attention from the top on the economic front is supply chains, electric vehicles, semi-conductors, [and] how we manage critical minerals,” Robertson said.

Robertson pointed to how critical minerals are essential in auto production. If Canada can mine critical minerals and make the country an essential partner for electric vehicle (EV) production, then it can have some leverage when engaging in trade talks with American counterparts. Recently, Biden caused some strain on the Canada-U.S. trade relationship when he offered Americans a rebate if they bought EVs produced entirely in America, excluding those that may have had Canadian parts.

“We do have the potential to create a new electric vehicle to kind of rebirth the North American car industry,” Robertson said.

“Basically what we’re moving to is a North American industrial policy,” said Robertson. “Americans have adopted it, Mexicans are there. … We’re getting into it, almost from an external perspective, rather than internal.”

Macdonald noted the critical minerals strategy would likely continue to play a significant role in Canada-U.S. relations, particularly with the upcoming Biden trip.

But Macdonald noted that while there’s a lot of excitement around these critical minerals, most of them are still very much in the ground, and much of that ground is on Indigenous land.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on Canada’s possession of a lot of critical mineral resources. I think they recognized in the statement, there are a lot of issues around recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples and communities in development of those resources. And those are really tough issues. It’s going to be interesting how Canada starts approaching more intensive development of those factors,” she said.

NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West, Ont.), his party’s trade critic, said it’s clear Canada is still repairing “the damage and the distance” with the U.S. and Mexico.

“Things that should have been low-hanging fruit and accomplished before the summit were still being dealt with,” he said, referencing the problems with Nexus, the expedited travel program for frequent Canada-U.S. cross-border travellers.

NDP MP Brian Masse said it appears to him that Canada has some rebuilding to do with the United States and Mexico when it comes to Canada delivering on its promises. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

As part of their bilateral talks, Biden and Trudeau came to an agreement to clear the backlog on Nexus.

As a border MP, Masse said he’s glad to see a temporary solution for the program being put in place, but said it was “shocking” it took a meeting between heads of state to finally make progress on the issue.

Masse said the U.S. lacks trust in Canada to follow through on its commitments. He suggested the same issue would come up again regarding critical minerals.

“We’re, again, talking about how we can deliver on things, and we really focus on the hyperbole, but we have less, you know, real solid action plans to get them done,” he said.

The U.S. wants Canada to get more involved with Haiti

Macdonald noted that during the summit, extra-regional problems garnered a good deal of the focus in Biden-Trudeau discussions, including the war in Ukraine and the potential for Canada to play a bigger role in Haiti.

“It seemed that Canada was responding to pressure from Biden to ramp up its commitments in those areas and addressing threats outside of the region,” she said.

Macdonald said she thought these international issues would continue to emerge when Biden visits Canada in March. Biden put forward the idea of Trudeau having Canada lead a United Nation mission to the island nation struggling under gang violence.

“The big issue might be Haiti. Trudeau, I think wisely said that Canada would be consulting with Haitians about what they thought would be helpful, and I doubt he’s going to get many Haitians to say that it would be really helpful to have Canada lead a new UN mission,” she said.

It’s now Canada’s turn to host the next North American Leaders’ Summit sometime next year.

James Baker & Cold War diplomacy

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Master Negotiator: James A. Baker and the Hinge of History

Master Negotiator: The Role of James A. Baker, III at the End of the Cold War

By Diana Villiers Negroponte


Reviewed by Colin Robertson

Master Negotiator is a gem of a book by Diana Villiers Negroponte on the critical role of James A. Baker, III, in ending the Cold War during his almost four years as secretary of state in the administration of George H. W. Bush.

Unlike most western democracies, where foreign affairs are managed by professional diplomats, the American system relies to a much greater degree on its political class. They occupy most of the senior positions in the State Department as well as at their embassies. Negroponte’s book helps explain how this system works. Under the stewardship of Jim Baker, it had more successes than failures, especially in the critical area of arms control with the end of the Soviet Union.

Succinct but comprehensive, Master Negotiator is a meticulous, 360-page study. Based on interviews with most of the American principals of the period, with a deep dive into the archives, personal papers of the participants as well as French and German sources. It includes, for example the minutes of notes between senior American and Soviet leaders.

There are colourful vignettes, including the moment when Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev invites Baker and Ambassador Robert Strauss to drink, sweat, and soak bare naked in his personal sauna. As Nazarbayev whacks Baker on the back with bark twigs before plunging into the steam bath, Strauss, a fellow Texan, jokes to the security detail, “Get me the President on the phone! His Secretary of State is buck naked and he’s being beaten by the President of Kazakhstan.”

Diana Negroponte, a scholar on Latin America, is a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington and she dedicates the book to her husband, Ambassador John Negroponte. John Negroponte played an important supporting role during this period, having served President Reagan as Deputy National Security Advisor and then as US Ambassador to Mexico during the GHW Bush administration.

The 10 chapters in Master Negotiator address the key international issues: German reunification, China and Tiananmen Square, mobilizing international support during the Gulf War, the Arab-Israeli “distance”, arms control, and the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Surprisingly, the NAFTA negotiation in 1991-92 gets little attention, but as Negroponte concludes, Baker had more than enough on his plate and he was comfortable leaving the negotiations in the hands of the able US Trade Representative, Carla Hills.

The main focus of the book, appropriately, is on efforts to avoid disaster as the Soviet Union imploded. Negroponte points out that scholars still disagree on what caused its dissolution: Ronald Reagan’s SDI strategy; the stagnation of the Soviet economy and Mikhail Gorbachev’s radical domestic reforms; broad systemic changes including the diminishing conflict between capitalism and communism as nationalism, religions and the rights of people grew in importance. (Interestingly, the answer I heard most often during a recent trip to Eastern Europe as to what ended the Soviet Union was a variation of “Blue jeans, the mini skirt and rock ‘n roll.”)

This was the world that James Baker had to manage. Born in Houston, educated at Princeton and the University of Texas law school, he served in the Marines and rose to become a captain in the Reserve while practising law. His graduate thesis contrasted Ernest Bevin (union leader, British foreign secretary) and Aneurin Bevan (Welsh Labour Party leader, instrumental in founding of the National Health Service). Negroponte concludes that Baker preferred Bevin’s pragmatism but that the distinctions between the two men reflected the tension within Baker’s life and his preference for achieving his goals through purposeful and pragmatic steps.

A confidant and friend of George H. W. Bush, Baker served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, ran Bush’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1980 and then served Ronald Reagan as both Treasury Secretary — playing the role of “closer” in the final days of the Canada-US FTA negotiations — and chief of staff.

By the time he became secretary of state, Negroponte says, Baker was tough, determined and competitive “not only with foreign counterparts but also with colleagues on the home front.” He chose carefully which battles to fight and then focused every sinew to win. She approvingly quotes former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s assessment of Baker as “a master craftsman of the persuasive and backroom arts at the peak of his powers.”

Baker needed all these talents. The results after four years were: pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, the launch of UN peace negotiations to help end civil wars in Central America, the reduction of the threat of nuclear war, the bringing together of the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Territories to meet face to face; freedom for East European nations; and the unification of Germany, anchored within NATO.

Why did Baker succeed?

First, he had the full confidence of his president. As Negroponte observes: “He was so close to the president that each could finish the other’s sentence.” Bush conferred with him every day and Baker wrote a nightly report that was “honest, if not blunt”, in keeping the president informed. Importantly, Bush, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Baker kept their differences among themselves, resolving distinct approaches to policy through internal debate and achieving consensus before communicating a final decision.

Second, as Negroponte observes, Baker was a master negotiator, a pragmatic realist who also believed in concepts such as liberty, freedom and democracy. He pursued the traditional US policy of working with allies and international institutions to reassure them of US steadfastness while at the same time creating a firm basis upon which to negotiate with Moscow on arms control and regional issues. Baker’s goal was to establish the United States as a leader of democratic ideals and influence, a purpose that Bush named a “New World Order.” “A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle,” Bush said in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 11, 1990. “A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”

Bush and Baker confirmed the priority of good bilateral relations by making their first foreign trip as president and secretary to Ottawa in February, 1989. They met with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who had just seen Gorbachev, and discussed the general secretary’s likelihood of success in carrying out his reforms. Mulroney also understood the importance of relationships and, if anything, the Canada-US entente grew even closer, and Canada achieved its long-sought Acid Rain Accord.

Third, originally dismissive of the bureaucracy, Baker came to rely on and trust his State Department. He removed Reagan’s political appointees and rotated-in foreign service officers, preferring men and women who would think creatively to face the challenges of 1989 and beyond. Baker’s deputy, Lawrence Eagleburger, was a career foreign service officer, who would succeed him as secretary for the last two months of the Bush administration.

James Baker worked hard. When one avenue closed off, he found another. He was not a strategic thinker like Henry Kissinger, but he was deliberative, possessing a fine grasp of complex facts and a better sense of politics than Kissinger. Baker’s years in government gave him experience in foreign affairs. Focused and disciplined, he had also developed a superb global network of presidents, prime ministers, foreign and treasury ministers. He had no compunction about calling in chits. In Negroponte’s assessment, Baker was a man of action who pursued the logic of his decisions with determination and persistence

James Baker did not succeed on all he put his hand to – the Middle East remained intransigent. He left Yugoslavia to the Europeans, who promised to fix things, but Yugoslavia imploded. Post-Tiananmen China did not break the long-term US economic interests with the Peoples Republic but critics argue that human rights were left behind.

But in the one big thing — sorting out the dissolution of the Soviet Union and avoiding loose nukes — he succeeded. For a generation, we slept more comfortably.

Baker fits into that cohort that Walt Isaacson and Evan Thomas described as the American “wise men”. They took on the burden of first designing and then sustaining our rules-based multilateral system based on liberal principles of democracy and open markets. For those of us born after the Second World War, the rules-based order has given humanity relative peace and security unknown to previous generations.

While now fraying, that system owes much to American leadership, statecraft and diplomacy. Freedom of navigation is guaranteed by the US Navy and collective security is guaranteed by alliances, notably NATO, for which Americans still shoulder most of the burden. The US taxpayer also pays a heftier share in supporting the multilateral institutions – the UN and its alphabet soup of agencies, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

Driven by duty, devotion and patriotism, Americans like Baker aimed to make the world a better place. Others, including Canadians, helped engineer this remarkable experiment in global order, but the Americans were the architects.

As Negroponte demonstrates, James Baker proved to be a “master negotiator” in ensuring it endured with the end of the Cold War. We can only hope for more like Baker as we enter into a new epoch that, for now, is both messy and mean. 

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is a Fellow and Senior Adviser with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Inflation Reduction Act and US Protectionism: International Trade Committee

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Remarks to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade on the impacts on Canadian businesses resulting from the United States Inflation Reduction Act with a focus on sectors most impacted such as critical mineral extraction, auto-sector and electric vehicle auto-sector and clean technology and energy

Colin Robertson

Canadian Global Affairs Institute

December13, 2022


In the fall of 2005, I was leading our advocacy team at our Washington Embassy. Softwood lumber was a top priority. Our ambassador, Frank McKenna, asked me when our troubles over lumber began. I called the Librarian of Congress and a couple of days later, he said their research showed that timber merchants in northern Massachusetts – what is now Maine –  had successfully petitioned Congress during the second administration of George Washington to impose levies – tariffs – on New Brunswick timber sent to Boston to be used in shipbuilding.


The point of this story is to remind ourselves that Americans practising protectionism is as old as the Republic. And it will never change.


We are not usually the primary target of US trade actions. A lot in the Inflation Reduction Act is aimed at countering China.  But the deeply integrated nature of our trade means that we become collateral damage, as with the Trump administration’s steel and aluminium tariffs.


Trade policy is even more complicated because it now involves climate, human rights, labour and environmental provisions. And in the wake of the pandemic and the return of great power competition, national security is a dominant consideration. We must now secure and make resilient our supply chains through de-coupling, near-shoring and friend-shoring.


Security of supply now trumps comparative advantage.


We witness the return of national industrial policies, complete with incentives and subsidies, like those in the IRA.


For this reason, and this is my second point,  our advocacy efforts with the United States must be a permanent ongoing campaign reminding Americans that reciprocity in trade and investment continues to benefit both nations. 


The US is the market that matters most for all  business, especially for those we are encouraging like women and minorities.


Three-quarters of our exports –manufactured goods like auto parts or resources like lumber, oil and gas – go to the US. And with trade generating over sixty percent of our economy, access to the US matters.


For thirty or more states, their biggest market is Canada.  Our trade and investment generates nine million American jobs. Parsing this by state and by congressional and legislative district works because, just as all politics in the US is local, so too is trade.


Other witnesses have testified how a Team Canada effort helped us secure a level playing field for the production of electric vehicles. Our Ambassador, Embassy and consulates play a critical role. Having done this both in Washington and at consulates, our success also depends on a ‘Team Canada’ effort involving the prime minister, premiers, ministers, and members of parliament from all parties. All levels of government must be involved as well as business, labour and interest groups.


To level the playing field on US protectionism we pursue various avenues.


We will continue to protest their incentives on battery production as discriminatory and contrary to their CUSMA and WTO trade obligations arguing, as we did in the case of the EV tax credit, that we should approach this on a continental basis.


We will remind the US of our right to respond to discriminatory behaviour with trade sanctions. The threat of targeted sanctions helped persuade the US to lift the steel and aluminum tariffs. But imposing counter-tariffs is also imposing a tax on our own consumers.


As this committee knows, there is pressure to match the American subsidies with subsidies of our own. We have done this before, but the cost is borne by the taxpayer.


Alternatively, we could agree with the US on the use of incentives as we did recently on solar panels.


The ideal would be a continental industrial strategy, including Mexico.


Regardless, and this is my third point, we need to get our own act together by making the sectors that matter most to us as competitive as possible.


There is lots of useful research from business, government and think tanks to draw on. Two stand out:  ‘Restart, Recover, and Reimagine Prosperity for all Canadians’ prepared by Canada’s Industry Strategy Council and the Senate Prosperity Action Group report Rising to the Challenge of New Global Realities


To help implement and make practical their recommendations, we should reconstitute the sectoral advisory groups or SAGITs, that served us so well during the Canada-US FTA negotiations. Composed of business, labour, provincial government and civil society, they guided the negotiators with practical advice on what Canada needed, acting as sounding boards on what we could accept in negotiations.


To conclude: Advancing our interests with the US is a permanent campaign, requiring a Team Canada approach with a clear focus on our objectives.


Advocating for Canada’s Trade Interests is a Permanent Campaign

This article for Policy is adapted from Colin Robertson’s submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade of December 13, 2022. 

Colin Robertson

December 14, 2022

In the fall of 2005, I was leading our advocacy team at the Canadian embassy in Washington. Softwood lumber was a top priority. Our ambassador, Frank McKenna, asked me when our troubles over lumber began. I spoke to the librarian of Congress and, a couple of days later, he said their research showed that timber merchants in northern Massachusetts — what is now Maine — had successfully petitioned Congress during the second administration of George Washington to impose levies — tariffs — on New Brunswick timber sent to Boston to be used in shipbuilding.

More than two centuries on, we are still battling the US on softwood lumber. It is a reminder that American protectionism is as old as the Republic. And it will never change.

Canada is not usually the primary target of US trade actions. Like the CHIPS and ScienceAct, much of Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is aimed at countering China in the ongoing war for technological dominance that includes AI, quantum computing and semi-conductors. But the deeply integrated nature of our trade means that Canada becomes collateral damage when the US subsidizes domestic industry – as with the Electric Vehicles (EV) tax credits –  or takes punitive trade action, as was the case with the Trump administration’s steel and aluminium tariffs.

Trade negotiations are complicated. They now involve considerations around climate, human rights, labour and the environment. National security has become a transcendent consideration in the wake of the pandemic and the return of great power competition. We must now secure and make resilient our supply chains through de-coupling, near-shoring and friend-shoring. Security of supply now trumps the economics of comparative advantage.

One result of the changing trade environment is the return of national industrial policies, complete with incentives and subsidies, including those in the IRA.

In this changed environment, Canada needs to look to its interests. Our advocacy efforts with the United States must be a permanent ongoing campaign reminding Americans that reciprocity in trade and investment continues to benefit both nations.

Notwithstanding our necessary efforts at trade diversification, the US is the market that matters most for big, medium and small business, and to those just starting to trade, including enterprises owned by women and minorities.

Manufactured goods like auto parts or resources like lumber, oil and gas go to the US. And with trade generating over 60 percent of our economy, access to the US matters.

For 36 American states, their biggest market is Canada. Our trade and investment generates nine million American jobs. We can parse this by state and by congressional and legislative district. Do this we must, because just as all politics in the US is local, so too is trade.

A “Team Canada” effort helped us secure a level playing field for the production of electric vehicles (EVs). Our wider success also depends on a collective effort involving the prime minister, premiers, ministers, and MPs from all parties. All levels of government must be involved as well as business, labour and interest groups. Through their daily advocacy, our ambassador, embassy staff and consulates play a critical role.

To level the playing field on the IRA and its successors requires Canada to pursue various avenues.

We will continue to protest their incentives on battery production as discriminatory and contrary to their trade obligations under the CUSMA and WTO, arguing, as we did in the case of the EV tax credit, that we should approach this on a continental basis

We will remind the US of our right to respond to discriminatory behaviour with trade sanctions. The threat of targeted sanctions helped gain us relief from steel and aluminum tariffs. But we need to keep in mind that imposing tariffs is also imposing a tax on our own consumers.

There is pressure to match the American subsidies with subsidies of our own. We have done this before, but let’s not forget that the ultimate cost is borne by the taxpayer. The better alternative is to seek an agreement with the US on the use of incentives, as we did recently on solar panels. The ideal would be a continental industrial strategy, including Mexico, leveraging our various assets, that in Canada’s case include our critical minerals.

Regardless, Canada needs to get its act together starting with the identification of the sectors that matter most to us. Then we need to come up with plans to make them as competitive as possible. Again, this will require a Team Canada approach.

There is a great deal of useful research that we can draw on from business, government and think tanks. Two stand out: ‘Restart, Recover, and Reimagine Prosperity for all Canadians’ prepared by Canada’s Industry Strategy Council (October 2020) and the Senate Prosperity Action Group report, Rising to the Challenge of New Global Realities (July 2021).

For Industry Council chair Monique Laroux, the changing geo-politics means Canada must develop an industrial plan linked to an investment strategy that capitalizes on our “core strengths, and aim for the top of the podium in promising areas such as digital and data; resources, clean energy, and clean technology; innovative high-value manufacturing and agri-food.” The Senate report endorses this approach arguing for a comprehensive review of our tax system, regulatory reform to ensure transparency and timely approvals, free trade within Canada, and to increase global exports, outside of the USA, to 35 percent.

To help implement and make practical their recommendations, we should reconstitute the sectoral advisory groups on international trade, or SAGITs, that served us so well during the original Canada-US Free Trade negotiations.

Composed of business, labour, provincial government and civil society, they guided the negotiators with practical advice on what Canada needed and acted as a sounding board as to what we could accept in negotiations.

Working together, Canadians have been remarkably successful in advancing our trade and investment interests, beginning with the Canada-US FTA in 1988, the NAFTA in 1994 and, despite Donald Trump, its recent re-negotiation into the CUSMA (2020). At the same time, we are diversifying our markets through free trade with the EU (2017), through our Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific partnership (2018). And with the Indo-Pacific Strategy (2022) we are now looking to closer relations with India, Indonesia and ASEAN.

It has been 40 years since Canada upped its trade game beginning with the Review of Canadian Trade Policy that helped pave the road to the Canada-US FTA negotiations. What has not changed in advancing our trade interests, especially with the US, are the requirements to make it a Team Canada effort, to take the initiative with a clear focus on our objectives, and to remember that when dealing with the US, this is a permanent and never-ending campaign.

Contributing writer Colin Robertson, a Fellow and Senior Adviser at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa, is a former career diplomat who served Washington as well as New York and Los Angeles.  


Indo-Pacifac Strategy

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Plan to boost diplomatic footprint in Indo-Pacific scant on details for new demands on foreign service

With diplomatic capacity-building projects in Eastern Europe, Africa, and now in the Indo-Pacific, implementation will be a ‘challenge’ as recruitment will come under focus, say experts and former diplomats.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy on Nov. 27, which includes a pledge to bolster diplomatic capacity in the region.

With a pledge to boost its diplomatic capacity in the Indo-Pacific region as part of the government’s $2.3-billion strategy, Canada’s foreign service will be pulled in several directions as the government seeks to increase its diplomatic reach.

When revealing the strategy on Nov. 27, the government announced it would earmark $100-million over five years to boost capacity at Canadian embassies and high commissions abroad and back at headquarters in Ottawa. A new high commission was announced for Fiji, as well as a commitment to post a Canadian diplomat in Hawaii.

The Canadian government is still working to determine where new diplomats will be located in the Indo-Pacific region, according to a senior government offical

Prior to the strategy launch, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) said there would be 60 new diplomatic jobs in the region, according to the Canadian Press. The strategy doesn’t indicate a specific target for new diplomats in the Indo-Pacific.

The government had previously announced that $92.5-million will be included in the strategy to boost diplomatic capacity at home and in the region. Asked whether the $92.5-million is within the $100-million commitment or if the two are separate pledges, a spokesperson for Global Affairs said they represent the same funding announcement, but reflect a difference in accounting numbers. “For clarity and consistency,” the spokesperson said in an email, “we have we have adjusted the figures online to reflect cash accounting figures,” which is $100-million.

The strategy did note that the new positions will include “diplomacy, international security, trade and economic, international development, and climate issues.”

The nearly $2.3-billion strategy seeks to reorient Canada’s presence in the region, calling China an “increasingly disruptive global power.” The long-anticipated document was launched in Vancouver on Nov. 27 by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.), International Trade Minister Mary Ng (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.), International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.), and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.).

Global Affairs, which has its headquarters in the Pearson Building, is in the midst of a review of its foreign service. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“Resources are not unlimited,” said University of Toronto professor Janice Stein, who served as co-chair of the Indo-Pacific Advisory Committee. “I think there will be some shift of people and focus towards the Indo-Pacific.”

“I would be surprised if there were not a shift from Europe, and possibly the Middle East as well,” Stein told The Hill Times just prior to the release of the strategy. “That’s what it means when you make a region a region of priority, because you can’t do everything.”

Canada has also announced new missions and an increased diplomatic focus in Eastern Europe and Africa, which includes embassies and high commissions in Armenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, as well as in Rwanda, and a permanent observer post to the African Union. The government has said it will further expand its presence in Africa.

Staffing the multitude of regions that the foreign service is being pulled towards will be a “challenge,” said former Canadian diplomat Guy Saint-Jacques.

“But it’s something that can be done and should have been done,” said Saint-Jacques, a former ambassador to China and a past director general for personnel management.

He said Canada hasn’t devoted sufficient attention to recruitment over the last 10 to 15 years.

Without a significant emphasis on recruitment, Saint-Jacques said the staffing capacity of the department has “eroded” and “weakened.”

“It is time now to build this back,” he said, noting that to attract people, those with specialized areas need to be rewarded.

He said recruiting for the new positions will be a “huge effort,” and that increasing diplomatic capacity in the region is the “right approach.”

“We have to know China better, because they won’t go away. We have to understand what makes them tick and how they function,” he said.

He remarked that one of the challenges will involve foreign-language training, as diplomats are far more efficient when they speak the local language.

A recent report from Canadian diplomat Ulric Shannon, written while on leave from Global Affairs, found that foreign language compliance is at 23 per cent, which dips to 18 per cent at the executive level.

The report also detailed the work that the department has done since 2021 to create increased capacity on China, especially with political and regional analysis. Mandarin compliance in the department was 14 per cent.

As part of the strategy, the government announced that a special envoy position will be created to co-ordinate Ottawa’s approach in the Indo-Pacific.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said details are still needed about new diplomatic positions and how capacity can be increased.

“If this happens, this is great. It’s great for the foreign service in terms of really getting people out there and using them,” she said. “But I’m not quite sure that the rubber meets the road, and that’s always where the problem comes iShe said increased diplomatic jobs and opportunities are always a positive, but there is a question of whether the foreign service has the right people to staff the added roles.

“You shouldn’t be sending somebody off to Armenia the same way you would send someone off to Houston,” she said, noting that language and local knowledge is required.

Global Affairs is in the middle of a review of its foreign service to ensure that it has the personnel it needs to perform required duties, as well as technological and digital abilities, and to examine its global presence. The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is also undergoing a review of the machinery of Canada’s foreign service.

Canada is an outlier among its allies when it comes to the high concentration of diplomats Global Affairs has stationed at its headquarters opposed to abroad. Only around 18 per cent of Canadian diplomats are posted abroad.

Past Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the government has made a “compelling case” that the Indo-Pacific is becoming increasingly important to Canada and there is a need for more people on the ground.

He said there is a question of what those people on the ground will be doing.

“Is it defence, security, intelligence, trade promotion, agriculture?” he asked. “The devil will be in the details, but at least the intent is there and now the test will be for senior civil servants to implement this.”

He said there is a need for more people in the foreign service overall, not just transitioning people from another region to the Indo-Pacific.

Robertson said the expansion of diplomatic capacity in several regions around the globe will be a challenge for the department.

“It means we should be recruiting now, because all of this takes a couple of years before we can get anyone in the field on a first assignment,” he said.

“We need to grow our foreign service,” he said, remarking that there is also a need to grow capacity on the defence and security side, as well.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously announced that there would be 60 new diplomatic jobs as part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, but when the document was released it was left undefined. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Former Canadian ambassador to Vietnam Deanna Horton said Canada has a built-in advantage in boosting its diplomatic capacity in the region, remarking that the government has yet to capitalize on the large number of Canadians in Asia, and the extensive Canadian university alumni networks in the region and their knowledge of local economies and cultures.

“The government should be taking the resources that are already there—in terms of knowledge of cultures and local economies—[and] leveraging what we already have, which has not been a focus up until now, but I think people realize that is important,” she said.

Randolph Mank, who was a Canadian ambassador to Indonesia, Pakistan, and Malaysia, said it is the nature of government officials to want more people, but the question is how they will be best deployed.

“It’s not automatic that more people leads to greater results, but it certainly can help,” he said, adding that more needs to be done in Southeast Asia.

“Southeast Asia is not free of challenges, but you’ve got some big markets,” he said.

Mank said officials need to be deployed in a way by which their work can match that of the business community and civil society in those regions.

In the strategy, the government also announced $31.8-million over five years for the opening of the first Agriculture and Agri-Food office in the region, as well as $45-million over five years for “large-scale” trade missions. Ottawa will also appoint an Indo-Pacific trade representative.

Sustained engagement a key to strategy’s success: experts

According to a background document, the $100-million Indo-Pacific regional capacity uplift project will help to “ensure that Canada has the capacity to co-ordinate sustained engagement,” as well as “seize emerging opportunities” and “quickly and efficiently respond to regional developments and challenges.”

Just prior to the release of the strategy, Indo-Pacific experts and former diplomats said sustained engagement in the region where Canada has had an inconsistent footprint will be vital for its success.

“We are considered as being inconstant in terms of our attention. We get enthusiastic for a period and then they don’t see much of us for years,” said Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada president Jeff Nankivell, a former Canadian diplomat who was consul general in Hong Kong and deputy head of mission to China.

“That’s what you hear from leaders in the region in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia. They will say, ‘Canada has come and gone over the years. We don’t see a sustained commitment,’” he said. “That’s the challenge that Canada has to address.”

The strategy earmarked $24.5-million over five years for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada to open a “physical presence” in the Indo-Pacific region, which Nankivell said will be in Singapore.

Stein said Canada has been engaged in the region in an “erratic way” in the past.

“In the Indo-Pacific, that just doesn’t work. It’s not about coming; it’s about staying and engaging in a very sustained way,” she said, adding that Canada will have to earn trust in the region.

“It’s pretty clear about how you earn it. You come, you stay, you engage, and you stay and engage over the long term,” Stein added.