Halffax Security Forum 2022

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The Halifax Security Forum’s Window on the World

Anita Anand addressing the HISF on Nov 20/Anita Anand Twitter

Colin Robertson

November 25, 2022

If last year’s Halifax Security Forum was preoccupied by the US withdrawal and Taliban re-taking of Afghanistan and the threat of a rising China, this year’s was largely focused on Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Forum Founding President Peter van Praagh set the tone, underlining that the “tenacious bravery, defiance, and courage displayed by the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression provides a renewed sense of purpose for defenders of democracy worldwide.” In contrast to Afghanistan’s Asraf Ghani, who fled the country as the Taliban approached, Volodymyr Zelensky quipped that he needed arms, not a ride out.

In his taped remarks to HISF, Zelensky reiterated the 10-point plan he presented to G20 leaders earlier in the week asking for a continued flow of arms as well as food and energy support, the release of prisoners of war and deportees, the implementation of the relevant UN Charter protections and the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. “For peace to exist” argued Zelensky, “we must make all elements of Russian aggression impossible.” What impressed those of us at the forum was the Ukrainians’ determination to win despite the awful destruction and atrocities wrought by Putin.

recent report by the German Marshall Fund assessed the cost of rebuilding damaged Ukrainian infrastructure at more than $US 100 billion, a manageable sum for donors when spread out over yearsCritical to rebuilding will be a plan to improve Ukraine’s governance, increase transparency and curb corruption.

At last year’s HISF, weeks into the job, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand identified her three objectives as “First, cultural change in the Canadian Armed Forces; second, equipping our military; and, third, peace and stability at home and abroad.” This prioritization puzzled the Europeans and unsettled the Americans for its lack of any reference to increasing Canada’s NATO contribution. More trenchant (and controversial) criticism came earlier this month from Vimy Foundation Awardee Lt.-Gen. Michel Maisonneuve who said “Today, I see a military woefully underfunded, undermanned and under-appreciated.”

American leadership consistently encourages Canada to spend more on defence and this message was repeated by this year’s congressional delegation. NATO leaders agreed in 2014 to achieve a two percent defence spending target by 2024. The latest NATO figures (June 2022) put Canada at 1.27 percent, the US at 3.27 percent, the UK at 2.12 percent, France at 1.9 percent and Germany at 1.44 percent. When Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire was asked at HISF about Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s chances of becoming the next NATO Secretary General, she responded by asking about Canada’s defence spending. Shaheen made her point.

This year, Anand focussed on defence and deterrence. “No matter how you look at it, our world is growing darker” Anand declared, adding that “emboldened authoritarian regimes are openly challenging the international order in pursuit of their own reckless agenda.” Announcing that Canada wants to situate NATO’s Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic in Halifax, she said the West faces a choice: “Do we let the hard-fought gains of the past 80 years slip away and return to a world where might makes right or do liberal democracies stand together to preserve the longest stretch of progress, cooperation and freedom the world has ever known?”

Her US counterpart, Defense Secretary (and retired Army general) Lloyd Austin, making his first trip to Canada, remarked that “Ukraine matters” because “first principles are that countries don’t get to invade their peaceful neighbors. Autocrats don’t get to redraw borders by force. And the imperial ambition of bullies doesn’t outweigh the sovereign rights of UN member states.” Austin also warned that other autocrats are watching Putin and if he succeeds, they will think that “Getting nuclear weapons would give them a hunting licence of their own. And that could drive a dangerous spiral of nuclear proliferation.” Asserting that “the Indo-Pacific is key to an open, secure, and prosperous world,” Austin said the “pacing challenge is an increasingly assertive China—a China that’s trying to refashion both the region and the international system to suit its authoritarian preferences.”

Established in 2009 at the inspiration of van Praagh and then-Defence Minister Peter MacKay, HISF is a two-day conference for 300 mostly security and defence experts, former presidents, prime ministers, ministers and legislators, senior military officers, civil society and media. Originally trans-Atlantic in orientation, HISF identified itself as a security conference for democracies and those aspiring to democracy globally. In terms of conference quality and participation it ranks with the Munich Security Conference and the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-la Dialogue.

HISF is a good place to take the pulse of current threats and to gauge the mood of Washington – in recent years it has been all about Trump – and to cross-check them with the trans-Atlantic and, increasingly, trans-Pacific participants.

Last year, in the wake of the retreat from Afghanistan, the Europeans asked “Is the US really back?” President Joe Biden’s leadership on Ukraine and his team’s continuing efforts to reinvigorate multilateralism at the NATO Madrid summit and within the G7 and NATO, as well as in the Quad and AUKUS, have put the debacle of Afghanistan behind him.

On Ukraine, the delegation echoed Secretary Austin’s warning that stopping Putin is not just about Ukraine but sending a message of western solidarity to adversaries such as China who would like to upend the international order

There was also a palpable relief, especially from the Europeans, that the “red wave” had not materialized in the midterms and, for now, the malignancy of Donald Trump’s assault on the democratic-led world order has faded. But concerns about the health of American democracy remain.

The presence of a bipartisan US congressional delegation along with a strong American government and policy community presence gives HISF participants a sense of current thinking in the capital 1,000 miles or 1,700 km to the south. With the midterm results almost complete by this year’s opening day, the US delegation was anxious to underline the success of the election process, or as Democratic Rep. Jason Crow (Colorado 6th) put it, the election showed “an element of self-correction, a swing back towards moderation, towards good governance.” He added: “The world saw it, and it was a relief.”

But that doesn’t change the politics. Republican Rep. Mike McCaul (Texas 10th) expects to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee when the GOP assumes the House majority in January. McCaul has promised investigations into Hunter Biden’s Ukraine activities as well as into the Afghan withdrawal debacle. But on Ukraine, the delegation echoed Secretary Austin’s warning that stopping Putin is not just about Ukraine but sending a message of western solidarity to adversaries such as China who would like to upend the international order.

The congressional presence at HISF gives Canadian participants an ideal opportunity to advance Canadian objectives. And defend them we must as New York’s Democrat Senator Gillibrand reminded us when she said for her near-shoring means jobs in the USA not in other countries. While her colleagues stressed ‘friend-shoring’ with allies, Gillebrand is reflective of a protectionism that is as old as the Republic.

In addition to Anand and several members of Parliament, Canadian officials included National Security Advisor Jody Thomas, Chief of Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre, Navy  Commander Vice Admiral Angus Topshee, Canada’s Ambassador in Washington, Kirsten Hillman, and Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security, Jacqui O’Neill.

A splendid HISF initiative — marking its fifth anniversary this year — is the Peace with Women in Security Program that brings together a dozen women officers on the cusp of flag rank for a three-week orientation that takes them from Washington to Silicon Valley to Ottawa and then to Halifax, and in recent years to Brussels and other NATO capitals. Talk with the participants and it is clear that PwW is helping advance the role of women in our armed services.

Many Canadians will recall that, until his death, the late American Senator John McCain led the HISF “CODEL” and there is now an annual award in his name to those who fight for liberty, presented by his widow, Cindy McCain, currently serving as US ambassador to the UN food and Agriculture agencies in Rome. This year, Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska accepted on behalf of the women of Ukraine.

On terrorism — the dominant theme during the forum’s early years, the sense is that while requiring constant vigilance, it is a tactical issue better addressed not by the military but by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

HISF also commissions an annual foreign policy survey of more than 32,000 people across 33 countries. Almost three in four (for Canada the figure is 76 percent) agree we could see a worldwide conflict like last century’s major military confrontations. Those saying China will have a positive influence on world affairs dropped from 53 percent in 2019 and today stands at 42 percent. Most (85 percent — for Canada as well ) respondents to a global poll say that the world needs new international agreements and institutions that should be led by the democracies.  Two in three want their government to spend more on their military’s power — an increase of 13 percentage points from last year.

Indeed, with Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic and China’s polar strategy, there was support at HISF for NATO to develop an Arctic strategy (most nations have strategies; Canada has a “framework” in development). When it comes to burden-sharing the Americans are clear: Canada needs to act on its promise to make NORAD renewal a reality. For them, this means a permanent military presence, including bases and an enhanced sea, air and space presence.

On terrorism — the dominant theme during the forum’s early years, the sense is that while requiring constant vigilance, it is a tactical issue better addressed not by the military but by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. While understandable, the catalytic reaction to 9/11and the subsequent War on Terror likely unduly escalated this threat.

On China, the US may be polarized politically, but the congressional delegation said there is no divide when it comes to the China threat. Based on ongoing conversations with Taiwanese officials, including at Halifax, they see the Chinese threat as fundamentally a political challenge rather than a military issue. Does the CCP leadership, or more to the point, the for-now unassailable Xi Jinping, see the window of opportunity on Taiwan closing? If so, then a military option is possible.

As to other threats, the new battlegrounds of cyberspace and actual space require ongoing attention. Mutually assured destruction of satellite capabilities threatens not just military tactics that the world’s great powers adopt, but our daily dependence on connections increasingly provided by satellites. It’s a vital field in which Canada has expertise and history, if we are prepared to invest in it.

This year’s HISF Builder Award went to Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza who participated in last year’s forum. Now imprisoned by Putin, Kara-Murza asked Peter MacKay to read his remarks:

“Such are the times – again – in Russia when the truth is considered a criminal offence. But if the choice is between imprisonment and silent complicity, then there really isn’t any choice after all…a Europe whole and free will only become possible with a democratic Russia as part of it. Even in this darkest hour, I firmly believe that time will come – and, with strategic and principled global leadership in defence of the democratic order, we can all bring that time a little closer.”

The rival political systems are in competition as to which better delivers social stability, shared prosperity and innovation. Canadians know which side they are on and increasingly so does our leadership, or at least some of it. As Chrystia Freeland recently observed, “Liberal democracy worldwide has today declined back to 1989 levels, and autocracies have been making a comeback.”

So, it’s game on. In this new not-so-twilight struggle, we need to engage and invest in defence and security as well as diplomacy and statecraft.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat is a Senior Fellow at the Global Affairs Institute of Canada, based in Ottawa.

China and Taiwan House of Commons China Committee

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Remarks to the Special Committee on the Canada–People’s Republic of China Relationship (CACN)

November 15, 2022

Colin Robertson

Senior Advisor and Fellow

Canadian Global Affairs Institute

The Committee hearing can be viewed here. 



I made my first visit to Taiwan in the spring of 1988, six months after being posted as Consul to the British Crown colony of Hong Kong. Hong Kong was China’s entrepot to the world and our best entrée into the rest of Asia. It was also home to an expatriate population of Canadians that after the Tiananmen Square massacre, when Hong Kongers flocked to Canada, is now the largest in Asia.


I was also accredited to China. Every four months I would travel north by rail to Guangzhou to attend to our consular cases while reporting on the economic developments in China. I watched the transformation of Shenzhen from bucolic rice paddies and water buffalos to a booming frontier town of bamboo scaffolding and raucous growth. Today Shenzhen is China’s Silicon Valley, home to its tech champion, Huawei.


I had already visited Beijing, cloaked in coal smoke, with its hutongs and bicycles. My visit to Taipei, with its bicycles, coal smoke and hutongs, reminded me very much of Beijing. The people were ethnically the same – Han Chinese – but they had backed the wrong side in the civil war. The Republic of China’s Kuomintang party and the People’s Republic of China’s Chinese Communist Party ruled in much the same autocratic fashion.


For the West, the iconic Asian leader of the time was Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew. Lee argued that the ‘Asian Way’, or at least the Chinese way, was a benevolent but autocratic government that accorded no priority to human rights. It seemed a fair assessment even though it did not align with the UN Charter and the commitment by all member nations to human rights.


Fast forward to 2019 when I returned to Taiwan. Months earlier, I had visited Shanghai and Beijing – now modern and bustling cities. Taipei had kept pace.


But there was one fundamental difference.


As we drove into the city we passed Taipei’s ‘White House’, the home of President Madame Tsai Ing-wen There was a demonstration. What was it about I asked? It was in support of freedom of the press. An oligarch with ties to China wanted to buy a local newspaper, something the public opposed. For them it was part of the long-running PRC disinformation and cyber campaign designed to disrupt Taiwanese democracy.


Taiwan has become a vibrant and lively democracy with peaceful transitions between parties, a free press, independent judiciary, a competent and arguably, the most uncorrupt civil service in Asia. In its annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom House scores Taiwan with 94 out of a hundred. (Canada scores 98, the US gets 83. China is ranked at 9).


I had dinner with their Digital Affairs Minister, Audrey Tang. Tang is transgender. Taiwan was one of the first Asian nations to recognize LGBTQ rights.


Applied technology, notably semiconductors – Tang began, is the means by which Taiwan leapt into the ranks of developed nations. Yes, she told me, China is relentless in its campaign to destabilize and intimidate the Taiwanese through disinformation, cyberwarfare and intrusions into its airspace. But the Taiwanese people will defend their democracy. They rely on the US and wish the we in the West were less cowed by China


I’ll conclude with an observation and three recommendations:


My observation: Taiwan belies the CCP belief that Chinese and Asian people prefer and do best under autocracy. In that sense, Taiwan undermines the foundational belief and thus the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. For Xi Jinping, Taiwan is the heretic state. Xi is determined to reunify Taiwan with the mainland, by force if necessary. Vladimir Putin feels the same about Ukraine.


As to recommendations:


First, Now that the CCP has snuffed out the liberties guaranteed by UN sanctioned agreements to grow representative government in Hong Kong, Taiwan is the best place in the Indo-Pacific, to monitor the mainland. Taiwan’s think tanks and intelligence about China are without peer. With China a hotbed for pandemics but inclined to cover-up, Taiwan’s proximity gives us early warning.


Second, we should do more to support Taiwan through trade and investment and people-to-people ties. Let’s market Canadian schools and universities and promote Canada as a destination for tourism and immigration. This committee should officially visit Taiwan. We need to resume ministerial visits based on shared interests like trade, innovation, health, and regional security. The last minister to visit was then Industry Minister John Manley in 1998. We should also support Taiwan’s legitimate aspirations to join institutions like the CPTPPWHO and the Montreal-based ICAO.


Third, China is actively challenging our rules-based order and, as we know, covertly attempting to disrupt democratic governments. I applaud this committee’s discussion of Chinese disinformation and cyber-intrusions including intellectual property theft and attacks on critical infrastructure. But what about allegations of money-launderingsecret police, co-opting officials, and campaign funding for parliamentary cantidates?


We must stay engaged with the PRC for reasons of geo-politics – climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation – as well as trade and our people-to-people ties. But we must re-examine our policy on Chinese state-owned enterprises. And we need to add teeth – sanctions – to the Declaration on Arbitrary Detention to deter further Chinese hostage-taking.


Down the Danube

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Policy Dispatches: Meeting History — Past and Present — Along the Danube

With tour guide Mihai outside the former Communist Party HQ in Bucharest’s Piata Revolutiei/photo Maureen Boyd 


Colin Robertson

November 8, 2022

Delayed by the travel constraints imposed by the pandemic, my wife, Maureen, and I finally embarked on our voyage along the Danube — three years later than planned and at a time when Europe is once again embroiled in a ground war.

The Danube is not Europe’s longest river; that’s the Volga. Nor does it carry the commercial traffic of the Rhine. But when it comes to the popular imagination, the Danube is to Europe what the Nile is to Egypt and the Mississippi is to America; a physical feature of the landscape whose place in the culture is amplified by a thousand songs and stories. For my mother, New Year’s Eve was not complete without the concert from Vienna that always featured Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz.

Three thousand kilometres long, it flows through 10 countries, including four European capitals — more capitals than any other river in the world. Its basin covers 20 percent of European Union territory, containing around 115 million people. We travelled 900 miles aboard the Avalon Waterways 164-passenger Passion. We boarded in Bucharest, cruising east toward the Romanian port of Constanta on the Black Sea, before returning upriver through Romania with stops in Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary.

We left the ship in Budapest, where it later continued its voyage into Austria and then to the source of the Danube at the confluence of the Brigach and Breg headstreams near Donaueschingen, Germany.

While the right combination of location, company and craft, traveling by ship is remarkably agreeable. No fuss about packing and repacking or changing hotels. Docking within walking distance of the historic heart of these port cities is another major attraction — no parking worries, someone else does all the navigating and the guides were capable and well-informed.

One guide told us that his grandmother lived in four different countries in her lifetime — all at the same address. Others were not so lucky, and flight from war and oppression have produced cycles of major displacement.

While there is no universal agreement on which countries are included in the toponymic label “the Balkans” — broadly defined in geographical terms by Eastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula — the list usually includes Romania, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia, Kosovo and Croatia. Historically, it is where Occident met Orient for trade and commerce. It’s where empires clashed — Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Romanov, Hapsburg — earning it the title “Powder Keg of Europe”. In the last century, it suffered first Nazi then Soviet invasion and occupation, followed by more than a decade of war and ethnic cleansing across the former Yugoslavia through the 1990s.

Throughout the region’s history, boundaries were constantly redrawn without much regard for concentrations of race, religion or ethnicity. One guide told us that his grandmother lived in four different countries in her lifetime — all at the same address. Others were not so lucky, and flight from war and oppression have produced cycles of major displacement. The result is a hodgepodge of languages, alphabets and nomenclature — concentrated into a geographical space the size of Alberta but with a population of around 60 million.

By Canadian standards, the geography of the Balkan states may be small but their nationalism, history, myths, animosities — all wound into their traditions and distinctions, including religion — still matter profoundly. Often, those divisions have been delineated in blood.

They still register in daily life, including by omission. We remembered skiing at Whistler, where name tags of lift attendants and other staff indicate their country of origin, yet our cruise staff wore only name tags. We asked our Serbian captain — a 34-year-old Roger Federer look-alike — why the multinational Balkan crew did not include their home countries. “I’m trying to create a team. We have too much divergent history…like the EU, we now need to work together.”

Crossing borders was easy, with the exception of Viktor Orban’s increasingly “illiberal” Hungary. The zealous passport officials obliged the 42-member crew and all 82 passengers to show their faces at 6:30 a.m. We had no idea there was such variation in sleepwear.

Our voyage up the Danube gave us a riverside view of the CANDU reactors in Cernavoda, Romania that were originally installed beginning in 1982. Two of the five are still operating and generate 20 percent of Romania’s electricity. It’s a technology that Canadians once led and should again, given Europeans urgent requirement for carbon-free energy.

While touring Bucharest — still aspiring but not yet quite fulfilling its ambition to be the “Paris of the Balkans” — I asked our guide what he thought of communism. Mihai, sporting a name tag ringed with a Romanian flag-inspired red, yellow and blue ribbon and a pork barrel hat that made him look like Elmer Fudd, replied “bad times”. In a nod to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, he continued, “We were all equal but some were more equal than others.” What decided the end of the Cold War? Mihai said it was simple: “Blue jeans, the mini skirt and rock and roll.” A week later, in response to the same question, I got a similar reply from Vicki, our Hungarian guide: “Blue jeans, books and Coca-Cola.” Communism could not compete.

Buying his first vinyl — a second-hand Pink Floyd — on the black market in 1989 was a memorable moment for the 18 year-old Mihai, then serving as a paratrooper during Romania’s December Revolution. Viorica, our guide in Belgrade, preferred Jim Morrison and the Doors. She agreed that what convinced her generation that communism did not work was American culture and the portrayal in American popular films of the cornucopia of choice offered in American supermarkets and department stores.

It took me back to my time as Consul General in Los Angeles and an exhibition called Western Films Through Polish Eyes at the Gene Autry Museum of the American West. Who would have guessed that the poster of the 1952 High Noon — my favourite western — would be appropriated by the pro-democracy Polish workers movement and political force Solidarity in 1989 (above) as the nation faced its first election in 40 years? As the visiting Solidarity leader and first elected president of post-Soviet Poland Lech Walesa later told me, what’s not to like about Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), facing down the vengeful Miller gang when everyone else in town had opted for appeasement?

The end of communism across the Balkans was mostly peaceful but Romania’s revolution was not a velvet one. More than a thousand people were killed before — after a perfunctory trial — dictator Nicolae Ceauçsescu and his wife, Elena, were publicly executed on Christmas Day in 1989. Before that indelible end to Romania’s dictatorship, our guide Mihai’s brother was nearly killed by friendly fire when dispatched to the nine-story underground shelter for the nomenklatura. In a fog-of-war episode, Securitate secret police were firing on Romanian troops. Each side thought the other were terrorists. There were no terrorists, just frightened young men led by equally frightened old men. Mihai’s brother is now an architect but keeps his helmet with the bullet crease as a reminder of how close he came to death.


The police-state side of life in the Soviet satellites is graphically portrayed in Budapest’s House of Terror Museum (above). During Nazi times, it was the home of the secret police. When the Soviets conquered the city in 1945, many just changed their uniforms, learning new terror tactics from new masters.

With Marxist-Leninism swept into history’s dustbin, religion — Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim — re-emerged in the Balkans. Our guide in Belgrade shared the tale of the city’s late archbishop, who asked who owned all the Range Rovers, Mercedes and Lexuses waiting outside a conference of bishops. “Why, the bishops!” replied his acolyte. The archbishop, a humble man who repaired his own shoes, quipped, “Just think what they’d be driving if they had not taken a vow of poverty.”

Under communism, Tito had stilled Yugoslavia’s Orthodox, Muslim and Catholic tensions through authoritarian control but, as with tyrants elsewhere, history filled the vacuum of his passing. Of course, religion played its part in the horror that consumed the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s under the brutal rule of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. The genocide Milošević committed against first Bosnian, then Kosovar Muslims was a catalyst for the creation of the International Criminal Court in July 2002 and the adoption, in September 2005, of the United Nations Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. Canada played an instrumental role in both initiatives.

In the wake of the bloodbaths of the 1990s rationalized by religion and ethnicity, the nations of the former Yugoslavia have sorted themselves into religious and ethnic enclaves: Croatia and Slovenia majority Catholic, Serbia majority Orthodox, Kosovo majority Muslim, with splits in North Macedonia as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In a part of the world famous for long memories, the most recent war remains fresh in the minds of people. In Ilok, we visited a winery dating back to the Romans where, in October 1991, Croatian vintners used bricks from medieval times (adding mold as camouflage) to hide their archival wines, including some served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, from marauding Serb forces.

Our Croat guide, who worked for the BBC’s Martin Bell during the war, told us that she still never takes a bath as it took so long to jump out and run to the shelters whenever Serbian bombs began falling. We visited Vukovar, once home to a Bata shoe factory employing 22,000 before the war. Now it employs 800. Like the rest of the Balkans, the Croat population is declining as a result of aging and migration, with many of their youth going to Ireland, in part because the landscape and sociability remind them of home. The Irish welcome their talents and, as in the rest of the Balkans, English is now the second language of young Croatians.

English is also the language of our Danube vessel. Unlike with air travel, where ICAO has made English the working language, the Danube Commission in 1954 set theirs as German, Russian and French. Our Serbian captain told us that an EU study found the cause of most accidents on the Rhine and Danube was confusion over language. So, he and the crew use English, a practice he says all river traffic should adopt.

Our guides, unprompted, repeatedly said, ‘Thanks be to God for NATO’. Exercises on the Danube based on the enhanced NATO presence obliged our ship to get to Budapest a day earlier than scheduled. The one question on which everyone we met agreed: nobody wants a return of Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.

Europe’s latest deadly conflict — the ongoing war started by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of democratic Ukraine in February — has affected trade and commerce. In Constanta, Romania’s port on the Black Sea, the waterway is busy with barges carrying diverted Ukrainian grain and fertilizer that is loaded into ships sailing through the Dardanelles into the Mediterranean.

The Balkans have always had to balance between the great powers and they still do. But collectively and individually, the people we met are glad to be in the West. Our guides, unprompted, repeatedly said, “Thanks be to God for NATO”. Exercises on the Danube based on the enhanced NATO presence obliged our ship to get to Budapest a day earlier than scheduled. The one question on which everyone we met agreed: nobody wants a return of Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.

Walking along a street in Budapest, we happened on the open-air exhibition Hope and Tragedy: Hungary ’56 a display of recently discovered photographs from the brave 1956 Uprising against the country’s Soviet-imposed Stalinist government. The Hungarians we met had all seen it and spoke of the Uprising as though it were yesterday. Canada took in almost 38,000 refugees at the time, including some who became distinguished Canadian diplomats.

The Ukraine war has brought both rich and poor Ukrainian refugees to Bucharest, Belgrade and Budapest. There are also recently arrived young Russian men avoiding Putin’s draft. The rich drive their Mercedes and BMWs and have pushed up the rates for luxury flats. The poor have had a similar effect on housing. In Romania, our guide told us the EU pays 15 Euros a day to house the dispossessed Ukrainians, to the disgruntlement of local students searching for cheap housing but, as our various guides pointed out, many of the Ukrainians have since gone home.

It had been nearly 50 years since I’d last back-packed as a student through what was then Yugoslavia. What struck me then was its friendliness and ethnic and religious diversity. The old ladies on the train from Zagreb who fed me and shared their wine. The Muslim boy in Sarajevo who gave me abode for the night – his father was a judge – and then hiking with his redheaded Orthodox girlfriend. The Catholic doctor who took me with his young family to Dubrovnik and its splendid beaches.

That harmony was disrupted by the commodified hatreds of Milošević’s rampage of power consolidation. The ravages, losses and lasting effects of that period are, for most people we met, still a firsthand experience. One legacy of the war is a cautious reserve and wariness about active politics. But disengagement from civic life is not necessarily a good thing. Democracy is still nascent in the Balkans. Elections alone do not a democracy make. The Balkans should be a priority for Canada’s promised ‘protecting democracy’ initiative.

Winston Churchill is said to have observed that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. While other places, including nearby Russia and Ukraine, have been producing much of the history recently, the essence of that observation remains true.

Hungarians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, and Bulgarians — the Balkan people along our Danube route — all bear generational animosities over ancient grudges and modern grievances that lurk beneath the otherwise sophisticated exteriors of all, including millennials. Few conversations last longer than five minutes without a mention of war, past or present. Their history, geography and demography are such that hard power will always matter. NATO provides for their collective security but in the ongoing contest for hearts and minds, we also need soft power, statecraft and diplomacy.

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

Seven Months after Ukraine Invasion

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The Defining Moment of Ukraine—Values vs. Interests, Democracy vs. Autocracy

POLICY MAGAZINE Colin Robertson September 20, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks the end of the post-Cold War period. Coming on the heels of the pandemic and the pressing urgency for action on climate change, inequalities within and between nations are exacerbated and key multilateral institutions like the UN Security Council and World Health Organization have proved inadequate to the challenges.

In setting the stage for this week’s 77th General  Assembly, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke of a “world blighted by war, battered by climate chaos, scarred by hate, and shamed by poverty, hunger, and inequality”. With “geostrategic divides …the widest they have been since at least the Cold War” he warned that the “solidarity envisioned in the United Nations Charter is being devoured by the acids of nationalism and self-interest.”.

As the war in Ukraine moves into its seventh month, with no prospect of a cease-fire, we can draw some tentative observations:

First, the war demonstrates that Washington remains the ultimate guarantor of European security, providing the bulk of both boots on the ground and the necessary armaments to deter and defend. By a wide margin, the US is the biggest supplier of arms and money to Ukraine.

The European Union, for all its ambitions, has failed to achieve its own strategic autonomy. The post-modern period in European security, when economic and soft power provided it with political leverage, proved inadequate. European leaders had at least 16 years, starting from the first complete cut-off in Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine in winter 2006, to diversify gas supplies. They ignored the risks and increased their energy dependence on Russia. Despite their efforts, they are still transferring huge amounts of money for Russian energy. According to CNN, the European Union accounted for around 70 percent of Russia’s fossil fuel export revenues globally, which amounted to US $66.3 billion in March and April of this year.

Despite best efforts, notably by the French, Germans and others, including Canada, during the Trump administration, an Alliance for Multilateralism does not work without the US. Ivo Daalder and Jim Lindsay got it right in titling their book The Empty Throne about the US abdication of global leadership under Donald Trump. They argued, persuasively, that the three US-championed pillars of the postwar order — strong alliances, open markets, with commitments to democracy and human rights — were undermined under a once, and perhaps future, President Trump.

From now on, hard security, both military and economic, needs to be the priority. NATO, once derided by French President Emmanuel Macron as “brain dead” is now the most important organization on the European continent. With its new Strategic Concept designating Russia as the most ‘direct threat’ to the Alliance and labeling China as ‘systemic challenge’ to its ‘interests, security and values’, NATO will also coordinate more closely with Asian partners. If Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s August trip to the Canadian North is indicative, in Arctic security as well. China calls itself a “near-Arctic state” and wants to expand its access.

For Canadians and Europeans — especially the Germans — it means relearning the language of hard power. It is the language China and Russia understand best and they complement it with cyber-intrusions, misinformation and disinformation, and interventions in the democratic process.

The aggregate military expenditure of EU members is $225 billion, twice that of Russia’s $100 billion military budget and roughly three-quarters of China’s $290 billion. Europe has the capacity, with a GDP 30 times that of Russia and three times their population. Italy’s (and Canada’s) economy alone eclipses that of Russia. But do they have the will?

Second, long-term stability in Europe and Asia will depend on Washington’s ability to build local balances of power and promote regional orders. But make no mistake: most of the world is not aligning with the West.

The United States’ main strategic focus remains the pivot to Asia and “the growing multi-domain threat posed by the PRC.”

Prospects for a US-Chinese confrontation are growing in Asia. Any Asian sense of US reluctance to resist Chinese hegemony will inevitably push more countries in the region to bandwagon with Beijing. The Biden administration is restoring existing pacts and creating new ones. In seeking to constrain Russia and China simultaneously, the United States looks to its partner nations:  29 and soon to be 31 with Sweden and Finland through the NATO alliance; four bilateral pacts with Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand; the reinvigorated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that includes India; the AUKUS partnership. The G7 should invite its close Pacific partners – India, Australia, Korea – to be regular participants in the group’s strategic dialogues, whether on sanctions policy, technology investment, or critical supply chains.

While 141 nations at the UN General Assembly condemned the Russian invasion and Russia was tossed out of the Human Rights Council, when it comes to the imposition of sanctions in the face of territorial aggression, most of the world chose not to. Sanctions are imposed by only about 40 nations — the EU and G7 nations along with Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Norway and Switzerland. Together they represent about 16 percent of the global population.

Russia and China are actively seeking to increase their influence. China’s Belt and Road initiative already includes 139 nations. As we witnessed at last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Iran was elevated to full membership, alongside China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and Egypt. Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan now wants to join the club. Together, the SCO, a rough counterpart to the G7 for dictators, represent one-third of global GDP, about 40 per cent of the world’s population, and nearly two-thirds of the Eurasian landmass. and include four nuclear powers. Xi Jinping is continuing to strengthen Chinese relationships in Central Asia, once described by a Chinese general as “a rich piece of cake given to today’s Chinese people by Heaven”.

Third, Putin and Russia are weakened by the Ukraine war and even more dependent on a China within whose ruling circles there is likely some buyer’s remorse about their partnership with ‘no limits’.

The aggregate military expenditure of EU members is $225 billion, twice that of Russia’s $100 billion military budget and roughly three-quarters of China’s $290 billion. Europe has the capacity with a GDP 30 times that of Russia and three times their population. Italy’s (and Canada’s) economy alone eclipses that of Russia. But do they have the will?

Putin’s war aim, detailed in his long essay (July, 2021) on the “Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” was to topple the Zelensky government and incorporate Ukraine into its sphere of influence. Russia’s reliance on its energy resources are a reminder of the late John McCain’s caustic description of Putin’s Russia: “A gas station run by the Mafia masquerading as a country.”  Putin shows no sign of changing his approach, confident that in the coming months the West will divide over the hardships inflicted on them by the war. The Russian public is still behind him, having been fed a steady diet portraying NATO and the USA as the aggressor and the Zelensky regime as run by Nazis. The recent military setbacks have stimulated the nationalists who are demanding national mobilization.

Xi and Putin continue to share the same objective, which is to challenge the Western designed rules-based order. Six months on, Xi is likely embarrassed by the failure of the Putin invasion. If nothing else, he will wonder about the efficacy of the Russian weapons they have bought for over 30 years. The Ukrainian response will also likely make them think twice about military intervention in Taiwan.

The Xi-Putin February “no limits” pact has also shown it does have limits. There was no promise from Xi of weapons or armaments or endorsement of Putin’s “special military operation”, although the Chinese narrative claims a more inclusive model of international relations through SCO and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and other multilateral groupings where China plays a central role. It also reflects Beijing’s criticism of the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, for unilaterally targeting states that fail to follow the “universal values” of liberal democracies. NATO is regularly vilified as a “gangster,” a “war machine,” and a “butcher”. China promotes its networks of multilateral and bilateral strategic partnerships as positive-sum correctives to US-led formal alliances, which Beijing consistently asserts drive world politics toward zero-sum competition. The secondary and tertiary consequences of the conflict are affecting supplies of fuel and food, while increasing famine and forced migration.

The International Energy Agency warns of continuing shortages of energy for coming years. “The world has never witnessed such a major energy crisis in terms of its depth and its complexity,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in July. Until renewables come into their own, it puts a premium on getting energy to Europe. For reasons of collective security Canada needs to get gas and oil to both our coasts. Of course, this is not the context hoped for at November’s Sharm el-Sheikh COP27.

The World Food Program warns of famine for many millions in Africa and the Middle East. As many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night, the number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared since 2019 from 135 million to 345 million. A total of 50 million people in 45 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.

Food and fuel shortages will spur more outward migration from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean and through Eurasia. Putin and Erdogan have demonstrated that migrants can be weaponized. And as we see in the Swedish and Italian elections with the rise of the populist right, there are political consequences.

With a deeply rooted Ukrainian diaspora, the Mulroney government was the first western government to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991. Successive governments have supported Ukraine with aid, military training and technical assistance to support good governance.

There was a sense after the Biden and Macron victories that the nativism and populism leveraged by BREXIT, Trump, Modi and Bolsonaro had run its course. It now appears that the force of populism and its underlying drivers that go back to the 2008 financial crisis, the inequalities created by globalization and the power of social media are very durable and have stimulated parties both the far right and far left.

Is a post-dollar world coming? The effect of sanctions combined with decoupling, Chinese “self-sufficiency” and dual circulation may well spell the end of the dollar as the global currency with more regional blocks doing business in their own currencies.

Canada has responded to Ukraine’s plight with armsmoney and resettlement of 87,000 refugees. With a deeply rooted Ukrainian diaspora, the Mulroney government was the first western government to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991. Successive governments have supported Ukraine with aid, military training and technical assistance to support good governance. Canada will be involved in Ukraine’s eventual, massive reconstruction.

The war has also refocused attention on the importance of collective security through NATO and the importance of deterrence, defence and intelligence. The Trudeau government has increased its defence budget and NATO deployments, although we are still well short of spending two percent of GDP on defence – the NATO commitment for 2024.

Looking forward, the US Institute for Peace argues for three levels of negotiations: a contact group for the Russia and Ukraine; Multilateral Talks in Europe involving EU, OSCE, NATO; Strategic Stability Dialogue using Track 1.5 and Track 2 involving US, Russia, China, and others.

There are also good ideas in a recent German Marshall Fund report on reconstruction in Ukraine. It answers core questions including When to start? Who should lead? Who should pay? What about corruption?

The Ukraine war has refocused debate on values versus interests. But it is an ultimately sterile debate as our values underline our interests and our interests reflect our values. Abandoning or soft-peddling the values dimension towards Russia and China in favour of the Realpolitik of market access is a mistake. We cannot depend on Russia for energy, nor on China for critical minerals and strategic goods.

The West reacted to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 with words and very limited sanctions. In the case of Chinese-made islands in the South China Sea we made “protests” – words not deeds. We did the same with the international tribunal’s ruling in favour of the Philippines. Democrats in Russia and China lost faith in the West. The net result was to leave the Kremlin and Beijing with the impression that the West can be either intimidated or bought. It did not serve our interests and diminished faith in our values.

The Ukraine conflict reminds us that leadership, intelligence, arms and allies all matter. But so does morale and the belief you are fighting for something you believe in. Narratives are important and the closed nature of autocracies gives them the advantage. They control the media. One of the early actions of the Putin regime was to ban independent and social media. By controlling the media they control that what people hear and see. Western governments have adapted through, for example, the release of intelligence previously kept secret as to when the war would begin to discredit Putin’s denials.

Going forward the narrative needs to hammer home that Russia has violated territorial sovereignty in violation of international commitments. In doing so, it is also breaking the rules of war in its treatment of civilians and that those responsible will be held accountable.

The defining divide of our time is not that of right versus left but democracy versus autocracy. We can never take liberty for granted. And let’s not delude ourselves, we are not doing very well, either at home or abroad.

Patten Diaries on Hong Kong

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Policy Magazine: Patten’s ‘Hong Kong Diaries’: An Engaging Stroll Through the Handover Snake Pit

The Hong Kong Diaries

By Chris Patten

Penguin Random House/October 2022

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

September 14, 2022

It would be easy to introduce this review of Chris Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries by observing that the author had a good 20th century. But Patten — son of an Irish Catholic jazz drummer raised in west London who went on to Oxford’s Balliol College from whence he entered politics by working for New York Mayor John Lindsay before becoming the Tory MP for Bath, a cabinet minister, then the chairman of the UK Conservative Party — has also had a pretty good 21st century. He has been chancellor of Oxford since 2003 and Lord Patten of Barnes since 2005. He fits comfortably into the pantheon of Britain’s ‘great and good’.

Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries cover his five years (1992-97) as the 28th and last British governor of Hong Kong, an assignment that was both enthralling and notoriously thankless under the circumstances. Insightful and intelligent, Patten’s Hong Kong diaries are the jottings of high life, low life, and family life, including the antics of their two Norfolk terriers, Whisky and Soda. Mostly, they are the story of his efforts to entrench Hong Kong with basic liberties and a more representative government ahead of the 1997 handover to China agreed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 that ostensibly gave the former British colony 50 years of limited autonomy under the principle ‘One Country, Two Systems’. The subsequent Basic Law of 1990 guaranteed fundamental freedoms and human rights.

By his own admission, Patten’s efforts for the “good and brave people” of Hong Kong did not succeed. He would write (May 16, 1997), just weeks before the handover: “We have let them and others down. We should have delivered more explicitly what was promised in the Joint Declaration and given greater protection for the values which the great majority of Hong Kong Chinese citizens believe in and want to survive.”

For Hong Kong, once described by the writer Han Suyin as a city that “works splendidly – on borrowed time in a borrowed place,” the clock ran out in June 2020, nearly 30 years prematurely, with China’s brutal eradication of democracy through its Hong Kong national security law.

Patten’s failure to avert catastrophe for Hong Kong ahead of his return to England in 1997 was not for want of trying. The deal was already done through the Joint Declaration and Basic Law and Patten could really only tinker, albeit valiantly, at the edges. In that sense, the diaries are a five-year chronicle of intrigue and obfuscation, of frustrations and disappointments, a case study in the challenges of negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Diplomats and leaders in the West can learn lessons from all of it.

The title of Patten’s final chapter, written earlier this year, says it all: “The Destruction of Hong Kong: What Happened After 1997”. As Patten observes, the CCP never really understood the difference between “rule of law and rule by law” nor that the “law must serve the people, not the people the law.”

Patten writes that Nobel laureate-economist Milton Friedman, who spent years lauding the democratic Hong Kong as an example of a successful free-market experiment, thought the idea of a free market economy under the rule of law shifting to “living happily within the control and jurisdiction of a communist totalitarian state was preposterous. It was an oxymoronic contradiction on stilts.” For many in the CCP, who still believe that the success of Hong Kong resulted from “piggybacking on China’s own economic resurgence”, the crackdown was also about getting even with a place Deng Xiaoping once described as the “pimple on the arse of China.”

Like Taiwan, Hong Kong stood as a success story, its citizens and residents enjoying more liberty and more prosperity than people living on the mainland under the CCP. Patten concludes: “As we know from what has happened in Hong Kong, we cannot take the survival of those values for granted. Hong Kong’s fight for freedom, for individual liberty and decency, is our fight as well.”

For many in the CCP, who still believe that the success of Hong Kong resulted from ‘piggybacking on China’s own economic resurgence’, the crackdown was also about getting even with a place Deng Xiaoping once described as the ‘pimple on the arse of China’.

The British had governed the colony since 1841 when, after the first Opium War, the island of Hong Kong was ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by the Qing dynasty. Subsequent treaties (1898) added a ninety-nine-year lease on Kowloon, the New Territories and the adjacent islands, but not Hong Kong.

In 1984, Margaret Thatcher — on advice from Henry Kissinger who, as he writes in his own recent book, Leadership, was acting as private-citizen backchannel between London and Beijing — agreed to include Hong Kong on expiry of that lease based on the former US Secretary of State’s urging that, if she didn’t,  China would take the island by force.

It was Patten’s challenge, working with Hong Kong’s Executive and Legislative Councils and supported by the colony’s civil service, to codify into law the guaranteed ‘separate system’ for Hong Kong. Patten was determined to instill human rights and representative government. Therein lay the rub.

Patten early on identified the conflicting, often countervailing, pressures in what he would later characterize (September 2, 1996) as a “snake pit”.

It was hard slogging. Patten continually felt undermined by the British Foreign Office, especially the “clever, conceited, acerbic” Sir Percy Craddock, a “vain old thing” who “puts my back up.” A sinologist, Craddock was chargé d’affaires in the British embassy in Beijing when it was invaded during the Cultural Revolution in 1967. Craddock later served as UK Ambassador to Beijing and played a key role in negotiating the Joint Declaration. Craddock was not alone, Patten writes, and was backed by, among others, former prime ministers Jim Callaghan and Ted Heath.

Beijing, whose pre-millennial antipathy toward Hong Kong democracy would be amplified and contextualized by its anti-democracy activities, investments and coercions globally over the first two decades of this century, also relied on the Hong Kong taipans, British and Chinese, who saw their future with the mainland. They wanted nothing that would annoy Beijing, while expecting the “continuing certainty of the rule of law” and “the conditions of stability for an effective market economy”. Many in the business elite had foreign passports in their back pockets. After Tiananmen Square (1989), those who didn’t soon got one.

Then there were those in Britain and abroad who, as Patten observed (April 17-21, 1993), “would like to feel a warm glow of satisfaction that we are doing the decent thing by Hong Kongers, but they feel somewhat constrained in their enthusiasm by dislike for the gerontocracy in Beijing, which doesn’t give much of a damn about concepts like human rights.”

As a skilled politician, Patten was very much attuned to what was taking place in Britain and within the Conservative Party. Patten had been minister for, at various points, Northern Ireland, Education, Environment and Overseas Development. He also chaired the 1992 Tory election campaign that won John Major his unexpected post-Thatcher majority. Had he not lost his own seat, he would have been in line for a major cabinet post. As well as Hong Kong, Patten was offered a safe return to the House or an appointment to the Lords. Throughout his time in Hong Kong, these opportunities would continue to beckon.

Canada comes out well in the diaries. In the wake of Tiananmen Square, when the lineups for Canadian emigration stretched several blocks around Exchange Square, Canada prioritized practical help in the entrenchment of representative government. Patten would write of his final conversation (July 1, 1994) with Canada’s senior representative, Commissioner John Higginbotham, before Higginbotham was re-assigned to Washington:

“He believes that we have been successful in getting Hong Kong accustomed to the software of a free, open and plural society, that policy previously was a matter of just keeping our fingers crossed about the Joint Declaration and the Chinese commitment to it. We weren’t telling people the truth or making them face up to the reality that they would have to want Hong Kong to succeed if it were to have any chance of doing so after the handover. He thinks that this was in many ways a dreadful hoax. At least we have given Hong Kong citizens the chance to make some of their own decisions about the future. I wish this man had been working in our own foreign service for the last 20 years.”

Tiananmen Square had a profound effect on the Hong Kong people. Overnight, they realized that the politics they had eschewed – previously less than a third turned out in local elections – mattered. Over a million in the then 6.4 million colony marched through the streets. Institutions we assume – a free press, independent judiciary, an honest and non-political civil service and police force, representative government – suddenly became meaningful.

The response of Hong Kong people convinced me that the fundamental divide is not right vs left but rather open vs closed systems. And never take liberty for granted. In supporting the nascent democracy, we Canadian diplomats faced the same conflicting pressures at home, in Hong Kong, and in Beijing that Patten describes.

Posted as Consul to Hong Kong (1987-92), I was deeply involved in the Canadian efforts to support autonomy for Hong Kong. We brought out the last commissioner of the Northwest Territories to help explain the transition to self-government. Our Chief Electoral Officer explained the mechanics of a free, fair and efficient election. We signed agreements on air services and did an ad hoc exchange of civil servants. We accepted Vietnamese refugees who had been languishing in Hong Kong camps. In the years after Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong became our principal source of new migrants, with annual numbers rising from just over1,000 to a peak of 44,000 in 1994.  Between 1984 and 1997, 335,646 Hong Kongers moved to Canada, making us home to one of the largest Hong Kong diasporas.

Our efforts had the full backing of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Patten describes Mulroney as “extrovertly on our side”. To underline Canada’s commitment, Mulroney dispatched ministers to visit Hong Kong. He and Mila came and dedicated a totem pole in Kowloon Park. Of succeeding Canadian governments, Patten would write (January 10, 1995) that they have “a crush at the moment on China. They see – here we go again – treasures beyond human craving just over the horizon.”

If the Trudeau government would act on its promised “Canadian centre to better support democracy and good governance around the world”, what we did for Hong Kong could be a model for future initiatives.

Hong Kong is still our best entrée into the Indo-Pacific. There are still at least 300,000 Canadians living there. The forthcoming Indo-Pacific strategy will be the poorer if standing up for Hong Kong and the Canadian community there does not figure prominently in a larger China policy that also includes support for Taiwan and defence of human rights.

Perhaps the most poignant diary entry (Friday, September 20, 1996) is Patten recounting a conversation with a patient during a visit to Castle Peak psychiatric hospital, whose improvement the Pattens made a personal project.

Patten writes:

‘Excuse me, Governor. Would you claim that Britain is the oldest democracy in the world?’ he asked.

‘One could certainly claim that,’ I replied.

‘And would you also agree that China is the last great communist totalitarian state in the world?’

 ‘Some people might say that,’ I responded diplomatically.

‘Well could you tell me, Governor,’ he went on, ‘why your democracy is handing Hong Kong, a fine and free city, over to a communist society without ever having consulted the people who live here about what they want?” 

Here was the sanest man in Hong Kong locked up in a hospital for the mentally ill. So, we are rebuilding it!

These diaries complement Patten’s earlier book East and West: The Last Governor of Hong Kong on Power, Freedom and the Future (1998)At 580 pages, the diaries are a brick, but Patten’s breezy style and trenchant commentary make them an easy read. I recommend the audio version – 25 hours – that Patten reads himself, providing a much better sense of people, places and events. I would pop in the earbuds at bedtime and let Patten’s mellifluous voice put me to sleep.

Variously described by CCP-backed media as a “sinner for a thousand years, prostitute, triple violator”, Patten was named by Queen Elizabeth in 1998 to the 65-member Order of the Companions of Honour. The Order also includes Canadians John de Chastelain, Margaret MacMillan and Margaret Atwood. Patten continues to speak out and to write a regular column for Project Syndicate.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, students returning to their classrooms have got new history books. They claim that Hong Kong was never a British colony because Britain was never the sovereign power and that the protests of 2019 were driven by ‘external forces’.

Historical revisionism is not only nothing new in totalitarian regimes, it’s a defining ingredient. When Joseph Stalin rewrote history in the 1930s, the Soviets joked that “The past changes so often you don’t know what’s going to happen yesterday.”

As Patten writes, you can learn a lot about how China would like to deal with the rest of the world by looking at how Beijing has dealt with Hong Kong.

Beijing seems confident that the rest of the world will turn a blind eye to its disregard for the rule of law and freedom of expression. For a Chinese leadership emboldened by the power of 21st-century propaganda — especially anti-democracy propaganda generated by corrupted domestic actors in key democracies — it is only the weak that need abide by democratic norms being systematically eroded from within, as President Joe Biden pointed warned in his recent Philadelphia speech. Beijing is confident that, sooner rather than later, China will be setting the norms. Which makes Chris Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries a warning for the rest of the world.

Canadian Foreign Service

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Canada risks splitting from allies by not encouraging expertise in its foreign service, new report finds

By NEIL MOSS      
With allies and competitors focusing on adding expertise in their foreign ministries, Canada risks being an ‘outlier,’ a new report suggests

A new report by a Canadian diplomat is raising a red flag over Canada’s use of a generalist model for its foreign service, instead to cultivating increased subject matter expertise.

Comparing and contrasting Canada to six other foreign ministries, the report finds that maintaining a generalist approach for its diplomatic corps would risk Global Affairs becoming an “outlier” compared to some of its allies and adversaries.

The study was authored by Canadian diplomat Ulric Shannon while he was on leave from the foreign service. Shannon was Canada’s ambassador to Iraq from 2019 to 2021 and was its consul general in Istanbul from 2016 to 2019. He specializes in conflict issues and stabilization in Arab countries.

“The Canadian foreign ministry remains wedded to the generalist model that has defined the ethos of its foreign service since it was created,” Shannon writes. “There is a risk that Canada will become an outlier among its peers and competitors and miss the opportunity to modernize its diplomatic service.”


“The experience of other foreign ministries suggests that it is possible to operate a diplomatic service with a generalist core, while nonetheless incubating cadres of rotational specialists at all levels of seniority across a range of regions and thematic issues,” the report recommends.

The report cites several historical examples to show that “major geopolitical blunders” have taken place in part due to the absence of expertise, such as the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Arab Spring in Egypt, and the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban.

With a focus on a generalist model, foreign ministries around the world are ceding policy expertise to defence ministries, the report finds.

While there are sections that have built up subject expertise, such as the trade policy bureau, the generalist approach is seen throughout the department.

Another area where the foreign service has started to prioritize expertise is on China.

The “China Capacity Project” was initiated in 2021, which was “reputedly the brainchild” of former Canadian ambassador to China Dominic Barton, as the department was “deficient in the area of political and regional analysis” since expertise was focused on trade, Shannon finds. The project encourages diplomats to learn Mandarin, which has a compliance of 14 per cent, according to the report, and it recommended incentives for successive postings in China.

Not mentioned in the report is a step that past foreign affairs ministers’ offices have used to fill the gap on China expertise by bringing experts in to work as political staff.

Overall language competency is also a concern, with many foreign service officers not compliant with their positions.

Citing Global Affairs’ training department, the Canadian Foreign Service Institute, the report finds that foreign language compliance is at 23 per cent, which dips to 18 per cent for executive-level posts. The level of compliance is well below allies like Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom. All six countries have language compliance of more than 50 per cent.

Explaining the low level of compliance, Shannon points out that Canada is the only G7 country that doesn’t offer financial advantages for its diplomats to learn and retain a foreign language. He found that there is a perception that Global Affairs “did not value” language skills for career promotion.

The fact that 18 per cent of executive-level positions are foreign language compliant shows “further evidence of the perceived irrelevance of language skills to advancement” in the department, Shannon writes.

With “frequent delays and uncertainty” in the appointment of ambassadors and high commissioners, the report finds that the “unique and complex process” leads to heads of missions not being able to have the time to take “sufficient” language training before the posting.

As with language competency, expertise is also not rewarded through career promotion.

“The Canadian foreign service has … developed a tradition of word-of-mouth career guidance, which consistently stresses the virtues of a generalist trajectory as the surest way to get ahead—and conversely, the risks associated with being ‘pigeon-holed’ as a specialist,” the report states. “This advice typically goes on to advocate spending the bulk of one’s career at headquarters in Ottawa where promotion is perceived to be easier.”

The growth of expertise is also restricted due to limits on foreign postings.

Canada puts a cap on foreign service time at seven years before diplomats have to return to Ottawa. American diplomats can serve abroad for 15 straight years.

Only around 18 per cent of Canada’s diplomats are posted abroad.

The report also finds that the department has not “sufficiently emphasized” diplomatic skills in the promotion of senior managers.

Successive deputy ministers of foreign affairs have been put in the post who weren’t career diplomats. The last deputy minister who was a career diplomat was Len Edwards, who served as the top bureaucrat in the department from 2007 to 2010.

Requiring foreign posting experience for a senior-level position has been “overruled” because it was deemed to be “unfair” to candidates from other governmental departments.

Shannon ends his report noting that those he interviewed said the foreign service needs to “improve its public image and its reputation within government.”

“[Former deputy minister of foreign affairs] Morris Rosenberg suggested,” the report highlights “that the Canadian foreign service ‘needs to do some public diplomacy in Canada,’ for example by showcasing its ambassadors domestically so they can better explain how their work overseas serves the domestic agenda.”

Global Affairs Canada did not make Shannon available for an interview.

‘Time is urgent’ to reform foreign service

Canadian International Council president Ben Rowswell, a former diplomat, said it is “essential” that the government use ongoing reviews to address gaps in the foreign service.

Both Global Affairs and the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee are currently undertaking reviews of the foreign service.

“The international situation is so pressing right now with the rise of a much more hostile greater power in China, with the war in Ukraine, and the open defiance of the rules-based international order,” he said. “The time is urgent. … This is the time to drastically reform the delivery of foreign policy in Canada.”

Rowswell said Canada’s current foreign service is constructed for a “benign world,” but that world no longer exists.

He said one specific area of need is in technological expertise in the department, which he said will be addressed by recruiting different types of candidates.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said he endorsed the findings of the report, noting there is a need for the foreign service to have both a generalist core and a core of specialists.

“We’re a relatively smaller foreign service. For us to achieve what is being suggested, the foreign service needs to grow,” he said, remarking that a larger foreign service would allow the development of more diplomats with subject matter expertise.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said the foreign service needs to be staffed “properly.”

She said that would require a big enough service where the government wouldn’t need to scramble to cover the latest crisis.

She said she hopes that the government is willing to make investments of funds and time.

“We’ve been in an era for quite a while where Canada needs to be at the top of its game diplomatically,” Isfeld said.

VIctory at Sea Paul Kennedy on the Sea War WWII

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Victory at Sea’: How Naval Power Helped Win WWII



Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II

By Paul Kennedy

Yale University Press/May 2022


Reviewed by Colin Robertson

August 25, 2022

Historian Paul Kennedy’s Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II is the story of how the navies of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan prepared from the mid-1930s and then fought in the waters of three main theaters: the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific. As Kennedy relates, the European war began with U-boats sinking British warships while the Pacific war would begin with a surprise Japanese assault by air – “The age of modern asymmetric weaponry had arrived.”

Victory at Sea is divided into five parts: Setting the Stage; Narrative of the Great Naval War, 1939–42; The Critical Year of 1943; Narrative of the Great Naval War, 1944–45; Aftermath and Reflections.

The British-born, Oxford-trained Kennedy is currently the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History, and Director of International Security Studies at Yale, where he also taught the Grand Strategy seminar with the late diplomat Charles Hill and Gaddis Smith. A prolific author and columnist, he is perhaps best known for his The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (1987). It was required reading in foreign ministries. It argued that the challenge for the great powers is to balance their economic capacity with their military power and strategic commitments. Success or failure hinged on decisions around investment, defense and consumption.

Like Rise and Fall (677 pages), Victory at Sea is equally magisterial (544 pages) even if the scope is a decade and a half rather than half a millennium. It tells the story of convoys, amphibious landings and naval battles involving the six great powers and their allies. By war’s end four of them were vanquished.

Victory at Sea is an analysis of power shifts in the international system and a study in the causes of historical change. Kennedy argues that “at no other time in history did the naval balance of power change as much” as during the crucial period covered by the book. It was “the greatest naval war the world had ever seen,” a “deadly struggle between revisionist and status quo Great Powers.” Winston Churchill — notably First Lord of the Admiralty both during the First World War and, more fatefully, again before becoming prime minister in 1940 — was proved right when he opined that if Britain could just withstand the early Axis blows then the entry of America, “that giant boiler”, would be decisive.

Kennedy makes a convincing case that the “transformation of the global order” hinged on the crucial role of naval warfare and America’s superior industrial capacity. The dynamic growth of the United States and its rapid attainment of naval mastery left it the number one world power — the ‘superpower’ — by 1945.

Kennedy’s fluent storytelling is accompanied by statistical charts and detailed maps. The elegiac watercolour paintings of the late Ian Marshall are a visual treat. Look at the 53 plates, beginning with HMS Hood and HMS Barham at harbour (1936) in the Royal Navy’s Malta base (both were later sunk in the Battle of Malta) and including the Allied fleet led by USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay (1945).

Kennedy acknowledges his debt to French scholar Fernand Braudel (who spent time in a German prisoner of war camp) and Braudel’s equally magisterial The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949). Braudel describes the shift from a Europe centered on the Mediterranean to a continent looking to the Atlantic and beyond. For Kennedy, World War II marks the decisive shift of the Eurocentric world order to one dominated by the United States. Kennedy argues it could not have happened without the navy.

To illustrate the Battle of the Atlantic, the war’s longest campaign. Kennedy tells the story of ONS-5, an Allied merchant convoy returning from British ports in May, 1943 to New York City to receive the vital stocks of food, fuel and manufactured inputs such as steel that kept Britain fed and industry sustained. German U-boat wolf packs were sinking ships faster than they could be replaced. Churchill would write that it was the “only thing that ever really frightened me during the war.” He told the War Cabinet (March, 1943) that the country’s naval resources were “stretched to the uttermost”, and “inadequate to meet the enemy’s concentration of U-boats”.

In a compelling vindication of Churchill’s championing of radar technology, that confrontation off the coast of Newfoundland ended with seven U-boats sunk and another seven damaged because of technological innovation that combined lengthening the radius of aircraft escorts and improved equipment for the detection of submarines: the centimetric radar dish invented at Bell Laboratories that allowed the convoys to ‘see’ the wolf pack. Kennedy writes that “In the entire naval war, it is hard to find a better example of a novel technology immediately making a difference to the fight.” So, of course, did Bletchley Park’s ability to read German naval codes.

The numbers tell the story: convoys sank 87 U-boats in 1942. With better air support and radar, 244 submarines were sunk in 1943 and 249 in 1944. The tide had turned in the Battle of the Atlantic.

‘War was coming,’ Kennedy writes about the 1930s, ‘because two revisionist and authoritarian regimes were no longer willing to tolerate existing borders.’ History does not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain reminds us, it often rhymes.

For Kennedy, 1943 was the pivot year. The Allies turned the tide in the Atlantic. With the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS Essex, the first of its class, and the new Grumman Hellcat fighter jet and fighter-bomber, there were victories in the Pacific. In the Mediterranean, the Allies made landings in Sicily after retaking North Africa.

The Hellcat, writes Kennedy, tells another story of the war: the extraordinary supply chain that stretched from the mining of bauxite — the ore needed to produce aluminum — in the then-Dutch colony of Suriname, to the production of aluminum in Alcoa refineries in Tennessee, to the manufacturing of parts in East Hartford, Connecticut, to the construction of the planes at the massive Grumman factory at Bethpage, Long Island. They were then flown to naval bases in San Diego and Long Beach, California where they found their new home on newly-built Essex-class carriers. Hellcats eventually shot down 5200 enemy aircraft, far more than any Allied fighter.

The Essex carriers and Hellcats symbolized Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration that the USA had become the ‘arsenal of democracy’ in its global dominance. One chart, measuring warship tonnages from 1939 to 1945, essentially tells the story of World War II. While the lines of all the five other powers go up or down slightly as the war progresses, the line for the United States climbs steeply, starting in 1941, in an almost vertical direction. By war’s end, the American shipbuilding program was “almost choking on its own productivity.” American warship tonnage outstripped all the other belligerents put together. The US Navy ruled the waves with almost 100 carriers and hundreds more battleships, destroyers, corvettes and auxiliary ships.

Kennedy cites fellow historian Correlli Barnett, who argues that a nation’s capacity — national direction, strategic decision-making, productive resources, scientific and technological capacity, the armed services and their weapons systems — is determined by conflict because it tests the strengths and weaknesses of their society. A fundamental figure in that audit is naval expenditures, because warships are usually the biggest ticket item in war-making as compared with jets or tanks.

Kennedy gives Canada scant attention even though we played a critical role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Our warships were part of Britain’s lifeline, helping to escort more than 25,000 merchantmen across the Atlantic. Employing more than 125,000 workers, our shipyards built more than 4,000 vessels, each ship in an average of 307 days.

At the end of the Second World War, Canada had the fourth- largest navy in the world with 95,000 sailors and 434 commissioned vessels.

Today, Canada has around 12,000 sailors with twelve frigates and four submarines originally built in the 1980s, a dozen coastal vessels built in the 1990s, and a reconditioned commercial supply ship. The first of our six new offshore patrol ships, HMCS Harry DeWolf, sailed through the North West Passage last fall.

While the Trudeau government has committed more money to defence, at 1.36 percent of GDP our defence expenditures are far below the NATO target of two percent. As we revisit our current defence strategy, we need to ask ourselves: Is this sufficient to secure our sovereignty and ensure collective security?

Fronting on three oceans — the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific — Canada’s coastline is the world’s longest. We live in an era of increasing threats, higher collective security obligations and, with climate change, the waters we must defend expand daily. We hope to see our 15 new surface combatants in the early 2030s and our two new supply ships in the late 2020s. We also need new submarines.

For Kennedy, the application of sea power, fundamental to projecting geopolitical power, reached its culmination in World War II. It decided the outcome of the transformative struggle between the Grand Alliance and the Axis Powers. Today,  we look to the Indo-Pacific, through which 60 percent of world commerce passes. Sea power is vital to preserving freedom of navigation for our trade.

“War was coming,” Kennedy writes about the 1930s, “because two revisionist and authoritarian regimes were no longer willing to tolerate existing borders.” History does not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain observed, it often rhymes.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career foreign service officer, is a Fellow and Senior Adviser at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa. He also serves as an Honorary Captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.


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Hacking Cybermaggedon: How to Prevent the End of the World as We Know It

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race

By Nicole Perlroth


reviewed by Colin Robertson

POLICY MAGAZINE  July 13, 2022

The 15-hour Rogers’ shutdown of July 8th  and its impacts – on everything from buying groceries to banking, border entry and 911 – reminded us of the extent to which our lives now depend on cyber-connectivity.

Now, at government direction, Canadian telecoms are scrambling to come up with better redundancy and resiliency plans. It is time well spent. For their homework, they may also want to read Nicole Perlroth’s engagingly depressing book, This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race.

For over a decade, Perlroth was the lead cybersecurity reporter at The New York TimesThis is How They Tell Me the World Ends draws on more than 300 interviews as well as her investigative reporting. Her stories, which often read like spy thrillers, detailed Russian hacks of nuclear plants, airports, elections, and petrochemical plants. She revealed North Korea’s cyberattack against Sony Pictures, Bangladesh banks and crypto exchanges, as well as Iranian attacks on oil companies, banks and dams. Then there were (and continue to be) the thousands of Chinese cyberattacks against western businesses, including the Chinese hack of The New York Times.

Perlroth’s stories led the US Department of Justice to file hacking charges against the Chinese military. This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends won both the McKinsey and Financial Times’ 2021 “Business Book of the Year Award.” Perlroth left the Times last year to join the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Advisory Committee.

This book was highly recommended by friends who work on cyber-threats but each time I dove into it I pulled away because while it reads like a spy thriller, it’s all true. It scared the bejeezus out of me, so I set it aside for the fictional spy tales of Ted Allbeury, Anthony Price and Helen MacInnes. The hacking of my Twitter account and the Rogers shutdown prompted me to reconsider. As Perlroth observes, time and again, we need to understand our cyber-vulnerabilities and then prepare for them.

One of the better satirical commentaries arising out of the Rogers debacle was the tongue-in-cheek Beaverton headline: “Putin determines cyber-attack against Canada not necessary since Rogers is far more effective”. But as Perlroth details, the threat from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and other rogue actors is no joke. Having basically automated and digitized our entire economies, the West has a very soft underbelly when it comes to cyber. As we’ve all known for nearly two decades, digital connectivity creates a vast target field for remote, anonymous sabotage, as we have witnessed with attacks on hospitals and pipelines.

Perlroth starts with a 2019 trip to Ukraine to learn more about the Russian cyberattack that was timed to coincide with Ukraine’s Constitution Day in 2017. It shut down government agencies, railways, ATMs, gas stations, as well as the radiation monitors at the Chernobyl nuclear site. The collateral damage closed factories in Tanzania, destroyed vaccines, infiltrated computers at FedEx and brought Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping conglomerate, to a halt.

The hackers were Russian, cheered on and directed by Vladimir Putin, who had told a gaggle of reporters just prior to the attack that “if they have patriotic leaning, they may try to add their contribution to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia.” The crux of Russian foreign policy, shared with Xi Jinping’s China and spelled out in their February 2022 entente, is to undercut the West, and the rule of law that underwrites our global institutions. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has admitted and Perlroth reiterates: “We might have seen that the end game wasn’t Ukraine. It was us.” We are even more exposed, says Perlroth, as offensive cyber-technology leaves those responsible for defence constantly playing catch-up. For Perlroth: “The Ukranians knew it. Our enemies knew it. The hackers had always known it. This is how they tell me the world ends.”

This book was recommended by friends who work on cyber-threats but … it scared the bejeezus out of me, so I set it aside for the fictional spy tales of Ted Allbeury, Anthony Price and Helen MacInnes. The hacking of my Twitter account and the Rogers shutdown prompted me to reconsider.

So, what can we do to mitigate our vulnerabilities, recognizing that it is now arguably easier for a rogue actor to sabotage the software embedded in an airliner than to hijack it? Perlroth offers these cautions and recommendations:

First, a global cyber-arms race is in full swing. Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are stockpiling their weaponry. They know our digital topography well. In too many cases, they are already inside.

Second, digital vulnerabilities that affect one, affect us all. Our infrastructure is now virtualized, and only becoming more so as the pandemic thrusts us online as never before. More Canadians – civil servants and business – are working from home. Cybercriminals have seized on this to penetrate home computers and steal secrets and access bank accounts. Business and governments need chief information security empowered with budgets and the authority to be logging what’s happening on their network while identifying suspicious activity so they can report it and shut it down.

Third, we need to take what the US National Security Agency calls “defense in-depth”, a layered approach to security that begins with fixing the bugs in the code for the programs operating our basic infrastructure. Today, Perlroth points out, the average high-end car contains more than 100 million lines of code—more than a Boeing 787, F-35 fighter jet, and space shuttle.

Our current system penalizes products with the most secure, fully vetted software. It means a mindset change. The tech sector needs to replace Mark Zuckerberg’s “move fast and break things” mantra with “Move slowly and fix your stuff.” Security engineers need to be brought in from the start to conduct sanitary checks, to vet original code and any code borrowed from third parties. Microsoft and Facebook sponsor an internet-wide bug bounty program to pay hackers cash for bugs they turn over in widely used technology. The European Union sponsors open-source code audits and offers a bug bounty.

Fourth, elections cannot be conducted online. There is not a single online voting platform that security experts have not hacked. Getting ourselves to the polling station and marking our ballot is fundamental to democracy. So is scrutinizing the vote count – machine counts should always be verified with counting by hand.

Fifth, governments at all levels need to use regulatory powers to ensure cybersecurity certification and then enforce those regulations. This means mandates that critical infrastructure operators refrain from using old, unsupported software; that they conduct regular penetration tests; that they don’t reuse manufacturers’ passwords; that they turn on multifactor authentication; and that they airgap the most critical systems.

Regulation is not going to solve the problem but by mandating basic cybersecurity requirements, we can make our critical infrastructure more resilient to a cyberattack. This should include vetting the developers and making compulsory training and certification exams in secure programming. It also means redesigning computer chips from the inside out, adding contamination chambers that would keep untrusted or malicious code out. Why not, writes Perlroth, deploy our best hackers to find and patch vulnerabilities in the nation’s most critical code for one year and then devote a second year to working with IT administrators to secure their systems.

Sixth, it starts with personal responsibility. The vast majority of cyberattacks—98 percent—start with phishing attacks. At the most basic level, says Perlroth, the easiest way to protect ourselves is to use different passwords across different sites and turn on multifactor authentication whenever possible.

In Canada, the annual reports of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, drawing on sources including CSIS, CSE, and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, have consistently observed that China and Russia are  conducting “significant and sustained” foreign interference activities in Canada. Their most recent report (June 2022) bluntly concluded that “cyber threats are a significant and pervasive riskto Canada’s national security…affecting Canadians at numerous levels, threatening government systems and services, critical infrastructure providers, financial and health systems, research and academic networks, and sensitive personal information.”

There are no cyber silver bullets. Dealing with our cyber-vulnerabilities will involve compromises to our national security, to our economy, to the daily conveniences we now take for granted. But we need to act because the annual cost from cyber losses now eclipses those from terrorism.

Democracies need to work together on this. Digitally speaking, says Perlroth, the safest countries in the world, those with the lowest number of successful cyberattacks per machine, are actually the most digitized. The best prepared are the Nordic nations – Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden – and the Baltics – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – as well as Taiwan. Their governments and commercial sectors have made cybersecurity core to their training and corporate culture.

Civic education is also important. Perlroth cites Harvard’s Joe Nye, who remarked after the investigation into the 2016 US election revealed Russian interference: “The defense of democracy in an age of cyber information warfare cannot rely on technology alone.”

Need more convincing about the dangers of our lack of cyber-preparedness? Look at the Centre for Strategic International Studies log of significant cyber-attacks. It’s a depressing reminder of our cyber-vulnerabilities. We need to read Perlroth’s reporting and heed her advice. Otherwise, Cybermageddon really may be how our world ends.

Canada US Relations

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Canada needs to disaster-proof its relationship with the United States: experts

By Chelsea Nash      
Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman wants to see a bilateral agreement between the two countries to ‘codify’ the important parts of the relationship while Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau are both still in office.

Increasing political polarization in the United States has prompted some Canada-U.S. expert observers to call for the Canadian government to prepare itself for worst-case scenarios south of the border.

In the wake of the reversal of the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, as well as the revelations of the congressional hearings into the events on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, some expert observers say Canada needs to disaster-proof its relationship with the United States in preparation for worsening political instability in that country in the future.

“[The U.S.] is not as reliable a partner as it was, or as we may have thought it was, 10 years ago,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “We do need to do some disaster-proofing,” he said.

Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada who is currently living in the U.S., thinks it’s more dire than that. “I think that Canada should be preparing for an eventuality that nobody wants to see take place, but could take place, which is the eventuality of civil war,” she said in an interview.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade came about after former president Donald Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices to the bench, creating a conservative majority. On June 24, the court overturned Roe v. Wade, effectively removing access to abortion as a federally protected right in the United States. The Supreme Court downloaded the decision on abortion access to the state level. In the text of that final decision, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the court “should reconsider” other past rulings, including those on same-sex marriage and access to birth control.

“These are political decisions,” said Hudson on the podcast she shares with fellow activist Nora Loreto, Sandy and Nora.

“What the big problem there, I think, is that it means that more and more people are seeing that these are political decisions, and refusing to believe that the law has any sort of objectivity, which I think is going to be a problem for the stability of the United States,” she added, in an episode titled, “When the U.S. falls, what happens to Canada?”

For Canadian cultural commentator Stephen Marche, the Roe v. Wade decision has pushed the U.S. closer to a civil war.

“The cracks in the foundations of the United States are widening, rapidly and on several fronts. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has provoked a legitimacy crisis no matter what your politics,” he wrote in The Guardian.

“For the right, the leaking of the draft memo last month revealed the breakdown of bipartisanship and common purpose within the institution. For the left, it demonstrated the will of dubiously selected Republican justices to overturn established rights that have somewhere near 70 per cent to 80 per cent political support,” he continued.

As for the risk of civil war, Marche cited accelerating political violence, like the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, where the shooter is accused of killing 10 Black people and has been charged with a hate crime. Marche stated “the right wing has been imagining a civil war, publicly, since at least the Obama administration,” and quoted former Kentucky governor, Republican Matt Bevin as having said, at the time, that “the roots of the tree of liberty are watered by…blood.”

Hudson said the first thing that needs to happen to prepare for the worst in the United States is a public discussion about what the impacts to Canada might be, and how to mitigate them.

“It’s going to impact the economy. It’s going to impact people’s movement across borders. It’s going to impact what policies we’re going to have to interacting with this country [with] which we are bound up [on] pretty much [every level] of any public service,” she told The Hill Times. 

The decision on Roe v. Wade has already had a ripple effect on Canada culturally, as it has galvanized discussion about access to abortion—or lack thereof—in Canada, too. It’s also sparked the question of whether Americans might cross the border to seek abortions in Canada, and what that would mean for providers here.

NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West, Ont.), whose riding sits on the American border, said he hasn’t heard from his colleagues at the state level about Americans accessing abortion in Canada.

“There is a history of us relying upon some state access to abortions because of lack of access in Canada. And then I think that there might be some reciprocal attempts for Americans coming to Canada at some point in time, but I think it’s too early now,” he said.

Robertson rejected the idea of a second civil war breaking out in the U.S., but said there are certain scenarios Canada must be mindful of.

“What if things go very badly in the United States in the next election? What happens if the certification of elections does not proceed the way we would expect them to? What happens…if the state legislators, supported by the courts, overturn the results, and you end up with an election which seems to be truly stolen, and there is violence in the streets, and militia gets called?” he wondered.

“These are things that we have to pay attention to. You have to now be more mindful of it,” he said.

Robertson said if something like that were to happen, Canada would have to amp up its defence and security spending, because it wouldn’t be able to depend on America’s protection.

“We have free-loaded, because we could, because the U.S. looks at us—correctly—as their northern frontier, so they’re prepared to pay extra for it,” he said.

Robertson said while he’s “more worried than I have been for a while,” about the U.S., he’s still optimistic.

Canada should prepare for these possibilities, but Robertson described them as “remote.”

“It doesn’t mean we have to tear out our hair and declare the house is on fire,” he said. Robertson said the congressional hearings on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, are evidence that “the American system is functioning the way it’s supposed to.”

Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada during the Obama administration, said the Jan. 6 committee makes clear that a group of people, including a sitting president, tried to “circumvent the rule of law and even use violence to try to hold onto power.”

“We survived that. The question is, if [Trump] is re-elected in some way, or people who have like-minded perspectives, will we survive it again?”

Need to focus on bilateral relationship

Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, said Canada simply needs to focus its efforts on its bilateral and multilateral relationships with the United States.

“I think that is the way to protect Canada’s own interests and advance important partnerships, notwithstanding whatever domestic crisis arises from time to time in either country,” she said.

She added that Canada should also “figure out how to make itself relevant to the U.S. on the U.S.’s biggest challenges,” like China and energy.

Canada has a lot to offer to the U.S. and the world in terms of critical minerals and rare earth, she said.

“That is the ticket: to leverage with us on key disputes, but also relevance and a way to help be part of a long-term important global conversation where Canada can really lead,” she said.

Heyman said he’d like to see Canada and the U.S. sign a bilateral treaty to add further protection to the relationship.

“If we sat down and made a list…of the things that we cherished and we valued about our relationship that we wanted to protect, by codifying it [in] a non-partisan bilateral agreement that is passed by Congress and passed by Parliament, that is the insurance against more radical elements of either [of the] two countries taking hold in the future,” he said.

Heyman said Canada and the U.S. should prioritize the creation of such an agreement before the next federal election on either side of the border, saying the two countries should take advantage of having like-minded leaders in U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) for the time being.

“To sit around and just talk about it in theory and not do anything about it, I think is a huge mistake, especially given the experience we had during the Trump administration,” Heyman said, noting the tariffs Trump placed on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“It’s so much easier to buy fire insurance on your house when it’s not on fire. Once it catches on fire, it is very difficult to call the insurance company and say you need fire insurance, if not completely impossible. And so there is no fire right this minute. But boy, there’s smoke from the last presidency,” Heyman said.

Summits G7, NATO, Commonwealth

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Diplomacy A-Go-Go: Trudeau Hits the Road for a Whirl of Summits

Colin Robertson

June 22, 2022

In this month of renewed face-to-face summitry – the Americas, World Trade Organization (WTO), the Commonwealth (CHOGM), G7, and NATO – we are getting a sense of a shifting world order in which the United States is no longer transcendent and in which our democratic verities no longer prevail. There is a role for Canada but only if we are up for it.

For now, managing global order is going to be complicated and confused. We will have to experiment, adjust and adapt to ever-changing circumstances and new threats. Facing institutions no longer fit for purpose, it means more ad-hockery, including coalitions of the like-minded to get things done.

What is certain is that the democracies will need to devote more attention to diplomacy and, in the case of Canada, more investments in defence and development. Decisions on vital issues like trade, climate and health will be at best incremental. We will have to pay special attention to funding – pledges must be delivered – and to follow-through.

Citizens, especially in the democracies, are seized of social and racial inequalities, skeptical of governments and business, and hostile to traditional elites. This is particularly true of a United States still reeling with political polarization and the virulent sedition that culminated on January 6, 2021. But if we learned anything during the Trump years it is that without American leadership, the democracies flounder.

All this takes place against the grim backdrop of a sharpening divide between autocracies and democracies. There is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s territorial aspirations of an empire modeled after Peter the Great. There is something between a mutual decoupling and contempt between the US and China, most recently expressed in the competing speeches of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe at the June 10-12 Shangri-la Dialogue.

As voting patterns at the UN illustrate, most nations don’t like what Russia is doing, but when it comes to sanctions, outside of the G7 and European Union and a handful in the Indo-Pacific – Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore – most are sitting on the fence.  Ambassador Bob Rae described this well in a recent piece for Policy magazine:

“Recent tactics adopted by Russia, China and other interests aiming to degrade democracy and replace the rules-based world order with one more amenable to their interests and less accountable to humanity did not exist and could not have been foreseen amid the debris of Hitler’s rampage,” Canada’s Ambassador to the UN writes. “They have been enabled by the deception, corruption, coercion and propaganda-amplifying innovations of new technology. The threat of nuclear conflict represents a more overt form of leverage meant to evoke a power hierarchy beyond moral authority.”

If this plate of problems were not enough, there is continuing climate change, the pandemic is still with us and now we face rocketing inflation and economic stagnation, the bane of democracies.

The Americas summit in Los Angeles (June 6-10) was supposed to be about migration, climate and economic development. Instead, the media focus, before and throughout the meeting, was on Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador’s boycott over who was not invited – the dictators of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. It should have been obvious. Leaders, meeting in 2001 in Quebec City, agreed to the the Inter-American Democratic Charter declaring that any break with democratic order is an “insurmountable obstacle in the participation of that state’s government in the Summit of the Americas process.” But aside from President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau, there was no collective voice in Los Angeles speaking out for democracy. The Inter-American action plan announced at Biden’s Democracy summit (December 2021) got only passing mention.

The contretemps did underline that the Americas are relatively fragmented and that the US no longer holds sway. China has surpassed the United States as South America’s largest trading partner. Beijing has free trade agreements in place with Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru, and 20 Latin American countries have so far signed on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build their infrastructure although, as Asians and Africans will tell them, they need to be wary about the ultimate costs.

In Los Angeles, 20 countries, including Canada, signed a declaration to help and protect “all migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons, regardless of their migratory status.” Canada pledged $27 million promising to take more refugees by 2028, including those from French-speaking nations such as Haiti, and to recruit more temporary agricultural workers.

The Los Angeles summit also netted initiatives on cities, health and resilience, and a US partnership on climate with the Caribbean. President Joe Biden also announced a US plan for economic partnership in the Americas but it’s a long way from the free trade area of the Americas from “Canada to Chile” envisaged by President Bill Clinton as part of the post-Cold War architecture. Clinton hosted the first summit in Miami in 1994. The intent was to eventually bring the 35 nations of the Americas into a hemispheric league of democracies. It’s an idea whose time is not yet come.

As with the rest of the world, the democratic ideal in Latin America has slipped in recent yearsWith conservative governments seen to have failed to deal with inequities, a pink tide has now put leftist leaders into office, most notably in Canada’s Pacific Alliance partners– Mexico, Chile, Peru and now Colombia.

With its economies accounting for more than two-fifths of global GDP, when the G7 acts collectively, its decisions make a difference.

With the World Bank estimating that trade accounts for 61 percent of Canadian GDP, the recently concluded World Trade Organization ministerial meeting (June 12-17), the first in five years, matters. To the surprise of most observers, the 164 member states reached agreement on WTO reform, vaccine production and fishing subsidies. The challenge, as always, will be in meeting and, inevitably, enforcing those obligations. There is still no agreement on dispute settlement, the issue on which Canada is leading reform efforts.

More than most nations, trade generates Canada’s prosperity. It is why we have always been active participants in sustaining an open, rules-based trading system, whether multilaterally at the WTO, through plurilateral regional agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and our recently renegotiated North American agreement (CUSMA).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is participating in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (June 23-25) in Kigali, Rwanda. There is  controversy over the next Secretary General as well as the Rwandan regime’s human rights record – Freedom House ranks Rwanda “not free” – and over British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to send migrants to Kigali for processing.

Although only 35 of the 54 leaders will be there, Trudeau can profitably spend his time taking the pulse of his fellow leaders, especially the Africans, as to their energy and food situations given the turmoil created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It will be useful intelligence for the next stops in his journey: Schloss Elmau for the G7 and then Madrid for the NATO summit.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the emerging Commonwealth was described by Louis St-Laurent as a pillar of Canadian foreign policy, complementing the relationships with the US, UN and NATO. While Pierre Trudeau was originally disdainful, he soon realized it was his entrée into the leadership of the developing nations and that within the forum of the now 54 members of the Commonwealth – including 19 African, 12 Caribbean and eight Asian nations – Canada could play a pivotal role as both “helpful fixer” and “bridge”, a role that Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien also realized. If the Commonwealth is less relevant today, it is still a place where Canada stands outside of the shadow of the United States and, as the senior dominion, without the colonial baggage of the United Kingdom.

The G7 (June 25-28) is hosted this year by the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the leaders will meet in Schloss Elmau, high in the Bavarian Alps. It’s picturesque but also security-wise, which is why the Germans chose to use it in 2015, when they last hosted the G7. The host sets the agenda and “Progress towards an equitable world” is how theGermans sum up their objectives around the economy, climate and health. But the focus will be on security, including addressing the energy shortages and the looming global hunger crisis caused by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian wheat.

Shoring up international support in the now-explicit rising threat of autocracy is the priority, recognizing that the dynamic has not been one of mutually engaged bilateral conflict but of a trend toward existing democracies being degraded and replaced by autocracies through a range of factors that reward leaders and regimes for corruptly betraying the interests of their own citizens.

The Germans have invited the leaders of Senegal, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Argentina to join the meeting and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will join by video link. As Chancellor Scholz put it, the purpose is to “strengthen the cohesion of the democracies” recognizing that “major, powerful democracies of the future are in Asia, Africa and the American South and will be our partners.”

With its economies accounting for more than two-fifths of global GDP, when the G7 acts collectively, its decisions make a difference. Meeting first in 1975 to deal with the economic fallout from the energy shocks of the early 70s, its summits are now the culmination of a yearlong process of meetings, including ministerial tracks: foreign, finance, development, digital, energy, trade, health and environment. Then there are the now- formalized engagement groups: Business7, Civil7, ThinkThank7, Labour7, Science7, Women7 and Youth7.

Comparing the G7 to an iceberg is apt: if the annual leaders’ summit is the tip and most visible piece of the G7, this coordinated process involving ministers and officials lies mostly beneath the surface of public attention but is vitally important. More people probably work on the draft of the final communiqué than will read it but the process of getting there is what really matters. The G7 final communiqué always looks like a smorgasbord but it reflects the G7’s role and the many challenges it must address.

If the G7 is the management board for the democracies, NATO has represented their collective defence since 1949. Canada played a role in its creation – Article II on economic cooperation was a Canadian initiative – and Lester Pearson was offered the job of being its first Secretary General.

The NATO summit (June 28-30) in Madrid will be one of its most consequential as it adapts “to a changing world and keeps its one billion people safe.” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has put three questions to NATO’s 30 members and nine global partnernations:

  • How has Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the new security reality in Europe affected NATO’s approach to deterrence and defence?
  • What is the Alliance doing to address other challenges, like China’s growing influence and assertiveness or the security consequences of climate change?
  • What will be included in NATO’s next Strategic Concept, the blueprint for the Alliance’s future adaptation to a more competitive world where authoritarian powers try to push back against the rules-based international order?

There is also the expected invitation to Sweden and Finland. Traditionally neutral, both now want to join NATO. NATO acts through consensus and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an often disruptive member, is demanding the Swedes change their support of what he calls Kurdish terrorism.

Inevitably, members will be reminded of their 2014 pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defence by 2024. Canada spent approximately 1.4 percent of GDP on the military in 2021, putting it in the bottom third of the Alliance. The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates Canada will reach 1.59 percent by 2026-27. For Canada to reach the 2 percent of GDP benchmark, the government would need to spend between $13 and $18 billion more per year over the next five years.

Most of the NATO allies say they will reach the 2024 target. Following the Russian invasion, German Chancellor Scholz reversed decades of German foreign policy by providing weapons to Ukraine and putting billions more into defence. As we are learning in Ukraine, in the final analysis it’s all about will and the hard power to back it up.

The divides between the leading autocracies – China and Russia – and the developed democracies, under the necessary but domestically distracted leadership of the United States, on issues of human rights, trade and international norms, are increasing.

In what promises to be a prolonged period of tension, diplomacy will matter more than ever if we are to avoid further acts of aggression similar to Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

We need to take care with too-clever phrases like “arc of autocracy”. The Russia-China entente is less an alliance than an interest-based relationship between strategically autonomous powers. Both have declared their desire to replace the existing world order. China wants stability while it is working assiduously to adjust the liberal rules-based norms to its own design. Russia is a disruptive power that thrives on disorder. Russia is also very much the junior partner. Frictions between the two powers are inevitable.

Much of the world, including the most populous developing democracies such as India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, and Pakistan, are sitting on the fence. As a Singaporean observed at the Shangri-la Dialogue, Asians do not want to align. They wish that both sides would dial down their insults. They are fearful that “red lines” only escalate tensions.

Canada sits firmly in the democratic camp, but we need to recognize that the world order is once again shifting under pressures, new and old. Reforms are necessary. There is room for niche diplomacy and acting in our traditional role as both helpful fixer and bridge-builder.

We must be vocal in defending and advancing our democratic values. It also means significant and sustained new investment in Canadian defence, diplomacy and development. But are we up for it? And do we have the necessary cross-party political will for what will be a sustained effort, with inevitable setbacks and disappointments, over the life of several governments? If not, be prepared for a grim world.