BMD and Canada

‘A big joke’: Only imperfect U.S. defences can save Canada from North Korean missiles

Published Tuesday, September 19, 2017 6:26AM EDT

If North Korea launched a dozen nuclear weapons at North America the U.S. missile defences probably would not be able to stop them all, and they wouldn’t be required to defend Canada, either.

Canada currently has no means of defending against an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile, and no formal guarantee that the United States would use its missile defences on Canada’s behalf. In fact, Canada declined to work with the United States on its missile defence program in 2005, and has not reversed course under subsequent Liberal and Conservative governments. And with North Korea now claiming it can strike a target anywhere in the continental U.S., Canada is technically defenceless against such an attack.

“It’s a big joke,” said Christian Leuprecht, a political science professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute. “Canada is too vulnerable in not buying into ballistic missile defence,” he told

Leuprecht points out that the U.S. and Canada have an information-sharing agreement in place through their participation in the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD. However, that agreement does not include a specific plan for dealing with a missile headed toward Canada.

In other words, Canadian military personnel at NORAD might be able to spot an incoming missile, but the decision to try and shoot that missile down rests entirely with the Americans.

NORAD’s Canadian deputy commander, Lt.-Gen Pierre St-Amand, echoed that sentiment in September, saying that under the current policy the U.S. would not come to Canada’s defence.

“It’s not that Canada is a target, but the danger  is… if those missiles are coming over the pole, they may be aimed at Chicago but they wind up in Toronto,” Colin Robertson, vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said on CTV News Channel Sept. 14.


The Charlie crew, made up of U.S. and Canadian military personnel, work the night shift Jan. 18, 2006, at the NORAD command center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colo. (AP / Denver Post, John Epperson)

But arms control expert and UBC political science professor Allen Sens says the direct threat to Canada is a “red herring,” because the Americans would likely shoot down an incoming missile anyway.

“When a missile is in its flightpath, it’s difficult to determine exactly where it’s going to land,” Sens, of the University of British Columbia, told Sens also cast doubt on the notion that the U.S. would back off with its missile defences once it learned that the weapon was headed for Canada.

“The Americans don’t want a missile to hit Canada because the Americans could be impacted,” he said.

The North Korean threat has renewed debate in Ottawa over whether Canada should participate in the U.S. missile defence program. Canada’s recently-released defence policy does not specifically address missile defence, although it does acknowledge the dangers of North Korea’s burgeoning arsenal.

“The number of countries with access to ballistic missile technology, including some with the potential to reach North America or target Canadian and allied deployed forces, has increased and is expected to grow and become more sophisticated,” the policy says.

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan has said the missile defence issue will be revisited as part of efforts to modernize NORAD.

“We’re going to have a much more thorough discussion with the U.S. on this,” Sajjan told CTV’s Question Period in June.

Those who oppose missile defence argue that it can be a cause for escalation, prompting rival countries to build more nukes so they can maintain the ability to overwhelm American defences. Essentially, greater defences call for greater offensive capabilities.

With the political debate only just ramping up, Leuprecht says it’s unclear what it would cost for Canada to buy into missile defence. “Technologically, no additional material would be required,” he said.

However, it is possible that the U.S. would ask Canada to pay for it, Leuprecht said.

And as many experts have pointed out, the primary U.S. missile defence system simply can’t guarantee protection with its success rate of just 55 per cent in controlled tests.

How the U.S. missile defence system works

Although it’s often characterized as a “shield,” the United States isn’t actually protected by some kind of sci-fi force field. Instead, it relies on missiles intended to intercept and destroy incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles before they detonate over a populated area.

The flight of an incoming missile is broken down into three stages.

The first stage is called the boost phase, during which the enemy ICBM takes off from its launch site, shedding its boosters one at a time as their fuel is expended. The missile is particularly vulnerable at this stage, as it spends about four minutes to work itself up to a speed of about 24,000 kilometres per hour. This is the best time to shoot it down, but since these launches usually occur in enemy territory and without warning, it can be difficult to detect it and respond to it in time, Leuprecht says.

Next comes the midcourse phase, which can last up to 20 minutes. During this phase the missile starts coasting up toward the peak of its arc (approximately 1,000 kilometres up).This is when the warhead might also release decoys to confuse any attempt to intercept the real nuke.

The missile’s final descent toward its target is known as the terminal phase, and usually only lasts about two minutes.

How a three-stage ICBM works

The U.S. missile defence system, perhaps best described as trying to stop an enemy bullet by shooting it with another bullet, uses short- and medium-range missiles. Each of these defensive missiles is a single-booster rocket used to deploy a “kill vehicle,” which manoeuvres itself into a collision course with incoming warheads so it can destroy them on impact.

how ballistic missile interceptors work

The system uses radar posts and satellite imagery to constantly update the kill vehicle’s trajectory, despite its travelling at supersonic speeds.


In this photograph provided by Boeing, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar, a key component of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, completes sea trial testing in the Gulf of Mexico July 16, 2005. (AP / Missile Defense Agency)

Most of the Americans’ missile defences are geared toward intercepting missiles in the midcourse or terminal phases, with various weapons systems providing overlapping coverage to defend the North American coast and America’s Asian allies.


This file photo from May 10, 2012, shows a test of the Aegis missile defence system aboard the USS Lake Erie. (AP / Missile Defense Agency)

The Ground-based Midcourse Defence (GMD) system based in Alaska and California offers long-range intercept capability during the midcourse and terminal phases, while sea-based Aegis missiles and land-based PAC-3 missiles provide back-up defence during the terminal phase.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system is also designed to take out incoming missiles in the terminal phase, although it’s geared more toward short- and medium-range attacks against Japan, Guam or South Korea.

Leuprecht says this overlapping system might be quite effective at taking down a single incoming missile, because it can make numerous attempts at intercepting an ICBM before it strikes. But if North Korea were to launch a dozen missiles, for instance, there would be no way to ensure they were all shot down.

“The North Koreans are working on the ability to overwhelm those missile defence shields,” he said.

Poking holes in the U.S. defence ‘shield’

The Americans currently have THAAD defences deployed in South Korea and Guam, Aegis missiles on their destroyers in the Pacific, and at least 36 GMD missiles ready to launch from bases in Alaska and California.

However, defence experts don’t agree about the effectiveness of the American missile defence system. Some say the testing process is not scientifically sound, while others stand by the official results released by the U.S. military.

The Americans’ cutting-edge THAAD system is considered the best element of their arsenal, with a perfect 15-15 testing record. However, those trials were conducted under controlled non-combat conditions, and are geared toward shooting down shorter-range missiles that might strike at North Korea’s neighbours.


The THAAD missile defence system is seen at a golf course in Seongju, South Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. (Kim Jun-beom/Yonhap via AP)

The U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defence system has only taken out 10 of 18 targets in tests since 1999 – a result that leaves much to be desired, especially when imagining a nuclear weapon on the end of an incoming ICBM.


This image provided by the U.S. Air Force shows the successful launch Friday Sept. 28, 2007 of an intercontinental ballistic missile interceptor at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (AP / USAF / Joe Davila)

The Pentagon acknowledged this shortcoming in a 2016 report, which concluded that the GMD system “demonstrated a limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.”

According to the report, the GMD failed its tests for a variety of reasons, while radar availability was also found to be an issue with its effectiveness. “The reliability and availability of the (ground-based interceptors) are low,” the Pentagon said.

Leuprecht says the U.S. system leaves something to be desired, but that’s intentional. He says it must be able to defend against North Korea or Iran, but not against nuclear superpowers such as China or Russia, because peace with those nations is partially built on the awareness that both sides could destroy each other in a nuclear conflict.

“The system can defend against North Korea, but the system can’t defend against the Russians,” Leuprecht said. “It’s mutually assured destruction.”

He added that North Korea is working on the ability to overwhelm the U.S. missile defence shield with sheer numbers, but it remains a long way off from that goal.

However, North Korea’s more immediate neighbours in Japan and South Korea are not so safe.


The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force demonstrates the training to utilize the PAC-3 surface-to-air interceptors at the U.S. Yokota Air Base in Fussa, on the outskirts of Tokyo Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP / Eugene Hoshiko)

Leuprecht says the North is already fully capable of annihilating the South Korean capital of Seoul, regardless of whether or not it uses nuclear weapons. The North has been perfecting its short- and medium-range missiles for years, and could easily overwhelm the THAAD system in South Korea with those weapons.

“That would mean 10 million dead in the first hour of a conflict,” Leuprecht said.

That threat has existed on the Korean peninsula for years, but what Kim Jong Un really wants is to extend the threat to include North America.

He adds that, if North Korea ever did strike at North America, NATO’s member nations would all be drawn into the conflict. “They know,” he said. “If there’s a missile that flies toward North America, it’s going to be ‘all in.’”

Comments Off on BMD and Canada

Next US Ambassador to Canada

CTV Host Omar Sachedina interviews Colin Robertson on Power Play on transition of US ambassadors.

Screen Shot 2017-01-07 at 3.53.34 PM

Comments Off on Next US Ambassador to Canada

Halifax International Security Forum

CTV News Channel: The future of diplomacy

Colin Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute on the highlights of the Halifax International Security Forum.
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016
Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 9.50.41 PM

Comments Off on Halifax International Security Forum

Trump Victory

Some of what was said Wednesday in Canada about the U.S. election result

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers remarks at the WE Day celebration in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Trudeau has offered his congratulations to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers remarks at the WE Day celebration in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Trudeau has offered his congratulations to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Some of what was said Wednesday about the potential impact on Canada of president-elect Donald Trump:


“The relationship between Canada and the United States is based on shared values and shared hopes and dreams and we will always work well together. We are strong because we listen to each other and we respect each other.” — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


“Any relationship will change with new incumbents. But our relationship is founded on some pretty fundamental principles, and we’ll work continuously on those fundamental principles and we anticipate that it will go well, as it has with other administrations.” — Gov. Gen. David Johnston.


“Canada and the U.S. have been usually pretty resilient in working through difficulties as and when they arise.” — Johnston.

___”The United States is, and will remain, Canada’s closest friend and ally. Our unique relationship has stood the test of nearly 150 years.” — Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.


“I think when you see the type of racist, sexist comments that were made by Mr. Trump during the campaign, those are things we don’t want here in Canada.” — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.


“If they want to have a discussion about improving NAFTA, then we’re ready to come to the table.” — David MacNaughton, Canadian ambassador to Washington.


“We will not be seeing a carbon tax in the U.S. any time soon. It makes no sense for our federal government to push ahead with imposing a national carbon tax, when our biggest trading partner — and our biggest competitor for investment and jobs — is not going to have one.” — Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.


“He’s a deal maker. He wants to know: what do you have to offer?” — Georganne Burke, a former Conservative party staffer and a Trump supporter, speaking of the president-elect.


“Mr. Trump campaigned in punchlines and broad strokes but not a lot of detail. Now, the transition team will be working on the detail. We can work on that in the coming month to shape that.” — Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who has served in the United States.


“I think Canada is well-placed, honestly. I don’t think this is the gloom and doom for Canada at all.” — Sarah Goldfeder, a former diplomat with the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

What President Donald Trump will mean for Canada

WATCH: Americans voted for Donald Trump to be the president of the United States. What does that mean for Canada?The American electorate has spoken, selecting Donald Trump as their next president.

As the shock waves from Tuesday night’s stunning upset victory reverberate south of the border, Canadian officials are likely already bracing for a very bumpy ride.

WATCH: Trudeau expects ‘respect’ as Canada now prepares to ‘work’ with President-elect Trump

Experts who spoke with Global News last week about what a Trump presidency would mean for Canada agreed on one point: it’s not going to be business as usual.

Here’s a look at what we might expect from Trump in several key policy areas.


The business mogul-turned political leader has made it clear he will not be the most climate-friendly president ever to take up residence in the White House.

Trump once called climate change a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, and his promises to pull out of the Paris climate-change agreement and to back coal at the expense of greener energy have environmentalists very worried.

WATCH: Over 80% of Canadians say Hillary Clinton would be better for Canada

“Regulations that shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants and block the construction of new ones — how stupid is that?” he said during the campaign.

Catherine Potvin, a biology professor and climate change expert at McGill University, said her biggest worry is that Trump will reverse many of the green initiatives launched under President Barack Obama, and that it will have a direct impact on Canada.

“Because the Congress is largely Republican, I think it’s pretty bad news for the climate,” she said.

But businesses (both Canadian and American) are increasingly benefiting from the transition to a low-carbon economy, she added, and the world is moving toward that future with or without American support.

WATCH: President-elect Donald Trump calls for unity in his victory speech

READ MORE: Donald Trump presidency will be ‘very difficult’ for Canada, analyst says

“Under President Trump, I would say it’s going be the businesses that will be driving the transition, and it’s going to be more costly for them because they will not be able to take advantage of government regulation or subsidies.”

But having the U.S. pull out of the Paris agreement at this stage would be catastrophic, according to Debra Steger, a professor and former Canadian negotiator at the World Trade Organization. Not least because the Trudeau government has worked so hard to trumpet it.

“It would be a devastating blow” for Canada, she said.

As for a unified North American agreement on carbon pricing, Canadians shouldn’t hold their breath.

One small patch of common ground might be the Keystone XL pipeline project, however, which Obama recently rejected. Trump has said he’ll approve the pipeline, effectively reversing that decision, but only if America gets a chunk of the profits.

Security and defence

Canada can expect pressure from the White House to increase dramatically under Trump when it comes to international security efforts, said Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“Whether it’s Trump or Clinton, I think they’ll both push us to spend more on defence.” Robertson predicted.

“Right now we don’t meet the NATO standard of (defence spending) commitment by 2020 of two per cent of (Gross Domestic Product).”

WATCH: Trump steps back stance to pull out of NATO

America is devoting a full four per cent of its GDP to defence, something that Robertson said probably isn’t sustainable. Canada is sitting at the bottom of the list of the biggest spenders, he noted.

While Clinton may have been more diplomatic, Trump will demand more spending “in a kind of forceful fashion.”

“Almost, ‘If you don’t pay your dues we’re not going to defend you.’” he said.

“And that has importance obviously for NORAD, which is the bilateral defence agreement we have with the United States, but also in the case of NATO.”

WATCH: NATO chief focused on strong ‘transatlantic bond’ with US following Trump victory

When it comes to the fight against the so-called Islamic State, Trump has promised to “pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cutoff (sic) their funding, expand intelligence sharing, and cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting.”

READ MORE: Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy plan could trigger World War 3

All of these pledges could mean major pressure on Canada to increase troops and other security resources, as well as renewed pressure from the United States to resume the bombing mission halted by the Liberal government last winter.

Economics and trade

It’s this policy area that has many analysts most concerned.

Trump is blatantly protectionist, which runs contrary to Ottawa’s pro-trade stance under Trudeau. Among other things, the new president has pledged to pull the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He has also promised to drastically increase tariffs on Chinese goods making their way to America.

“(Canada) wouldn’t be the first target,” Robertson said. “But the danger there is that we become collateral damage because we have so much trade with the United States.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is almost guaranteed to be consigned to the scrap heap.

WATCH: We have to stop the horror known as Trans-Pacific Partnership, says Trump

“It is highly improbable with Mr. Trump that the TPP would go anywhere, which means we would have to then think about negotiating separate deals with first Japan, and perhaps talking to Mexico,” Robertson said.

Pulling out of NAFTA, meanwhile, would have a very real and significant effect on the Canadian economy. The United States is our largest trading partner, and Steger pointed out that Trump “hasn’t even bothered to ask Prime Minister Trudeau whether he’s willing to renegotiate.”

Steger, an expert in international trade, also questioned the legality of many of Trump’s proposals on trade, noting that they may contravene World Trade Organization regulations.

“What’s he going to do, withdraw from the WTO?” she said.

“This just demonstrates to you the absurdity of some of his positions. It’s just unthinkable for the U.S. to begin to flagrantly violating WTO rules and yet most of the so-called policies that he advocates … you simply can’t do.”

International relations

As much as Trump seems ignorant of how international trade works, Steger said, he seems even less informed about international diplomacy. That could spell big trouble for Canada as it seeks to present a united front with America on issues like Russian aggression in Ukraine, or the ongoing conflict in Syria.

“(Trump will) be a very different kind of person to deal with, and this cuts across all foreign policy issues,” Steger said.

“Basically he doesn’t understand how international relations work, when it comes down to it.”

According to former diplomat Robertson, presidents and prime ministers normally focus heavily on international affairs when they meet, and that may hold true for Trump and Trudeau in spite of their differences.

“(The Americans) are genuinely interested in what we can bring to the table from our diplomatic service abroad, what we pick up in talking to other leaders,” he said.

Canadian election watchers stunned by surprising Trump victory

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump delivers his victory speech to a crowd of supporters in New York.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence speaks at Trump campaign HQ in New York.
The Associated Press is projecting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will be elected president of the United States.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 8, 2016 6:08AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 9, 2016 6:26AM EST

OTTAWA — It wasn’t the party that they were expecting.

Donald Trump’s surprise win in the bitterly fought U.S. election came as a sharp surprise Tuesday to election watchers in Canada, including those gathered in the historic ballroom of a downtown Ottawa hotel.

The U.S. Embassy’s viewing party at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier hotel started as a festive occasion, but the mood soon turned serious. The cocktail banter of embassy staffers, politicos and invited guests became decidedly muted through the night as big-screen TVs blared live coverage of Trump’s gains in key swing states like Florida, Ohio and Michigan.

The sound was turned up on the television screens and stayed up for much of the evening as Hillary Clinton’s expected victory — some said it would be a landslide — failed to materialize.

One woman covered her mouth and turned away from the screen, while another said, “Oh no!” one U.S.-born guest was overheard telling a friend they might have to reconsider moving back south of the border as planned.

“It appears we’re going to have to still wait a little while to determine who is going to be the next president of the United States,” U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman told the few dozen embassy staffers, journalists and guests lingering shortly before midnight when the embassy had to pack up their party for the night, hours before Trump’s victory became clear.

“Regardless of who wins this race, the U.S.-Canada relationship will continue to thrive and be very strong,” he said. “I know that we will continue to be the best friends, trading partners and allies as we face this new presidency.”

A Trump presidency would surely have wide-ranging repercussions in Canada, said Laura Dawson, the head of the Canada Institute at Washington’s Wilson Center, citing examples like climate policies, Syrian refugees and trade.

Trump has promised to gut environmental regulations at a time when Canada plans a variety of climate-change policies, including a carbon tax, she noted.

“Canada is going to be left with very, very, very expensive climate policies,” Dawson said. “It will be a disincentive to investment and manufacturing.”

Dawson was less convinced of major changes to trade policy. Other Canadians interviewed have also expressed doubt that his renegotiate-or-scrap threat about NAFTA would arrive at its most potent impact.

A president could rescind a trade deal. But the setting of tariffs belongs to Congress. Furthermore, remnants of the 1987 Canada-U.S. agreement could kick back in. And the private sector, she said, would revolt.

“All of those folks are going to be lined up saying, ‘Are you kidding me? Do you know how much of our livelihood is dependent on open borders and trade between these three countries?”‘ Dawson said.

“There would be huge backlash.”

There’s also the matter of the Keystone XL pipeline — rejected by U.S. President Barack Obama but supported by Trump, and an interesting prospect for a federal Liberal government that needs to get some pipelines built.

On refugees, Canada has thrown open its doors while Trump has appealed to his supporters by pledging to slam them shut — a sentiment that was thrown in sharp relief by a tweet that came from the federal government’s official account just as the Republican candidate appeared to be picking up steam.

“In Canada, immigrants are encouraged to bring their cultural traditions with them and share them with their fellow citizens,” the tweet read, prompting a number of users to suggest it was meant as an intentional jab.

A government official said in an email that the tweet should not be “construed as having anything at all to do with the US election.”

There were also multiple media reports about the website for Citizenship and Immigration Canada crashing at the height of the campaign coverage; the site was indeed slow to load throughout the night, but it was unclear whether excessive traffic from would-be U.S. emigrants was the cause.

Tuesday’s narrow vote count was in many ways a fitting end to the angry and hard-fought presidential battle between Trump, the brash businessman-turned-improbable Republican nominee, and the would-be first female president in U.S. history.

Before Trump’s victory was certain, Heyman predicted a smooth transition regardless of who won.

“Having gone through the day, watching Americans coming out all across the country in record numbers and seeing the large number of votes that were in early, I’m very relaxed,” Heyman said earlier in the evening, before results began coming in.

“One of the things we have to be most proud of is the smooth transitions in our government.”

Retired Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, who commanded the NATO force that backed rebels fighting Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi, called it a historic night that Canadians would be watching closely.

Bouchard knows the U.S. well having served Fort Hood, Texas military base on an exchange at NORAD in Colorado Springs and other U.S. postings during his Canadian military career.

“We wish them the best and we wish them a peaceful transition,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said it would have no comment until a winner was declared. Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna both came and went from the party without talking to reporters.

Fen Hampson, the head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., said Trump’s success was reminiscent of the “Berlusconi effect,” a reference to the former Italian leader Sylvio Berlusconi.

“Nobody said they supported him but he kept getting elected,” said Hampson.

One Canadian official, who was not authorized to discuss the election publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that should Trump manage to pull out a victory, Canadians can take some measure of comfort in the fact Trump apparently has a lot of respect for Justin Trudeau and his international celebrity status, added the official, who has spoken to the Trump campaign about the prime minister.

“They think he’s a showman…. They respect his success.”

It helps matters that Trudeau has steadfastly refused to get drawn into the acrimony south of the border.

“You’ve noticed how careful our prime minister has been,” the official said. “I think that was smart… You don’t ever know.”

Dawson said one of the biggest headlines for Canadians in the event of a Trump win — renegotiating or tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA — would in all likelihood never come to pass.

“All of those (companies) are going to be lined up saying, ‘Are you kidding me? Do you know how much of our livelihood is dependent on open borders and trade between these three countries?’ she said.

“If you were to impose a 30 per cent tariff on Mexico, the economic impact would be immediate, swift and would represent even more job losses for the United States.”

Colin Robertson, a retired Canadian diplomat who served in the U.S. said a Clinton victory would have been better for Canada because it would ensure a level of continuity from Obama’s two terms.

“We’ve already got a reset relationship starting in March, confirmed at the end of June when the president came up here.”

Comments Off on Trump Victory

On Ambassador Kevin Vickers ‘unorthodox’ intervention

CTV National interview with Omar Sachedina

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 11.20.56 AM

Comments Off on On Ambassador Kevin Vickers ‘unorthodox’ intervention

Trudeau and Foreign Policy

Trudeau’s first month as PM includes four major international meetings

Justin TrudeauJustin Trudeau walks to a news conference from Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 20, 2015. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Michelle Zilio, CTV Question Period


Published Sunday, November 8, 2015 5:26PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 8, 2015 8:49PM EST

As Justin Trudeau heads into his first full week as prime minister, he is also preparing for the busiest month on the international leaders’ agenda.

Despite his busy domestic schedule guiding a new government, Trudeau confirmed last week he will attend four major international summits over the next month.

That means some of Trudeau’s initial tests as prime minister will take place on the global stage.

Speaking to CTV’s Question Period, former Canadian diplomat and Vice-President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute Colin Robertson had some advice for Trudeau as he heads into the series of summits.

“In global affairs, it’s not the quick step, it’s the long term. So it’s not the first 100 days, it’s going to be the first 1,000 days,” said Roberson. “My advice to the prime minister at these big four events that are coming up would be to look, to listen and to learn.”

Here’s a breakdown of Trudeau’s upcoming international agenda.

1. G20 Leaders Summit 

Trudeau will make his global debut as prime minister in Antalya, Turkey for the annual G20 meeting on Nov. 15 and 16, where the conflict in Syria and the fight against ISIS are expected to be on the agenda.

The Liberal government says it will pull Canada out of the combat portion of the U.S.-led mission against ISIS, but it’s not clear exactly when that will happen.

Speaking to CTV’s Question Period, former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy said Trudeau should be prepared to present some substantial ideas in Turkey.

“I would hope that he might go the G20 with some real initiatives around the (Syrian) refugee issue, around working in Syria,” said Axworthy. “I think there’s lots of good news that can be put forward in terms of upgrading and mobilizing on the humanitarian front (in the fight against ISIS).”

2. APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting

Trudeau will then head to Manila, Philippines for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic leaders’ meeting, scheduled for Nov. 18 and 19.

All 21 APEC members will be there, including the dozen who recently signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Canada is part of. Trudeau has said his Liberals are “pro trade,” but are committed to debating the massive trade agreement in Parliament.

3. Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Trudeau will also attend the Commonwealth leaders’ gathering, to be held in Malta on Nov. 27 to 29. This meeting of the heads of government from the 53 Commonwealth nations is held once every two years.

4. United Nations Climate Change Conference

Trudeau will wrap up his busy month at the highly anticipated UN climate change summit in Paris, where world leaders will try to negotiate a global climate change agreement.

Trudeau has promised a new era of accountability and action on climate change. He also invited the premiers and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to join him in Paris, and committed to hold a first ministers’ meeting to work on a Canadian framework to deal with climate change within 90 days of the UN gathering.

Canada’s new environment minister, Catherine McKenna, is attending climate change pre-talks in Paris to start laying the groundwork for the Liberals’ strategy on climate change.

“Canada agrees the science is indisputable, and we recognize the need for urgent/greater action that is grounded in robust science,” McKenna tweeted on Sunday.

The summit is scheduled to take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11. And smack dab in the middle of that meeting, Canada’s Parliament will resume on Dec. 3.

Pushing the foreign agenda at home first

Trudeau got a kick-start on the foreign policy front last week, visiting the newly renamed Global Affairs Canada — formerly known as the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development – in Ottawa, where he rallied hundreds of public servants.

“I’m truly touched by the enthusiasm, by the support, because we’re going to have an awful lot of really hard work to do in the coming months, in the coming years, and we’re going to need every single one of you to give us — as you always do — you’re absolute best,” Trudeau said to the crowd.

His surprise visit to the Global Affairs Canada headquarters came one day after he wrote a letter to Canadian ambassadors and high commissioners, saying he and his Liberal cabinet will rely on their judgment and insight to advance Canada’s foreign policy goals.

Andrew Cooper, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa, says that Trudeau’s change in approach has already been on display.

“It radiates out, and you see the sense of openness and … the public diplomacy – the sense of building connections,” Cooper said.

Related Stories


Comments Off on Trudeau and Foreign Policy

Trudeau’s International summits and Foreign Service

Question Period hosted by Bob Fife with Hon. Lloyd Axworthy and Eddie Glodenberg on Trudeau’s summitry and the Foreign Service



Comments Off on Trudeau’s International summits and Foreign Service

On Empowering the Foreign Service to do Public Diplomacy

Interview with CTV host Amanda Blitz on Prime Miniser Trudeau’s letter to Canadian heads of mission to do public diplomacy

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 9.36.16 PM

Easing control over Canada’s foreign envoys ‘very sensible’: former diplomat

Michael Shulman,
Published Saturday, November 7, 2015 3:16PM EST

A former Canadian diplomat says a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent to senior diplomats earlier this week reaffirms the country’s trust in its officials and shows a marked departure from the Harper government, which missed “a lot of opportunities” on the international stage.

Trudeau sent the letter Wednesday to the ambassadors and high commissioners of Canada’s foreign missions, telling them a “new era” had begun for Canada’s international relations, in which they will play a vital role.

In particular, Trudeau said he and his cabinet will rely on the diplomats’ assessments and first-hand knowledge to advance Canada’s foreign policy agenda.

Speaking to CTV News Channel on Saturday, former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson called Trudeau’s approach “very sensible.”

“If the government is to achieve what is going to be an ambition foreign policy agenda, you need the people who will deliver it on your side,” said Robertston.

“And so sending this letter to our ambassadors and high commissioners — and essentially giving them freedom to do public diplomacy like the rest of the world — is very positive sign.”

Trudeau’s handling of the nation’s senior diplomats stands in opposition to the approach taken during Stephen’s Harper leadership. Harper’s Conservative government applied a policy of strict message control during his nearly 10-year tenure.

Robertson said that foreign policy was “tightly controlled from the centre” and officials would have to fill out forms called “message approval” that would be sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs, and eventually passed onto the Prime Minister’s Office for final authorization.

The government also vetted the speeches, had the final say on meetings, and crafted detailed talking points for events taking place abroad.

Robertson said this policy of tight, centralized message control caused Canada’s reputation to take a hit on the international stage.

“There were a lot of opportunities missed simply missed because of the time delay in which it took to get approval for high commissioners and ambassadors to speak,” he said.

“You can do it in Canada where you’re the one source of news, but when you’re abroad — where Canada is often striving to get some attention — if an opportunity comes and you don’t take it, it doesn’t come again.”

While Trudeau’s letter did not specifically mention putting an end to Harper’s policies, it did acknowledge that the senior envoys will be on the “frontlines of our diplomatic efforts.”

It also stated envoys will have “a government that believes in you and will support you in your work around the world.”

Trudeau further outlined a potentially expanded landscape for Canadian diplomacy.

“I expect that you will be engaged energetically in public diplomacy with other diplomats, host government officials, civil society, and the media — in all manner of ways — through direct contact, the media, and social media,” he wrote.

Robertson said this could mean that officials will be encouraged to incorporate greater “experimentation” in the way that Canada diplomacy is undertaken.

“If you’re going to have an aggressive foreign policy, particularly in a multilateral area, using all the tools that are now available makes a lot of sense,” he said.

“And then trusting the judgement of our senior officers to use these tools appropriately — mistakes will be made and they’ll have to be some tolerance for error. But far better to get out there and experiment to deliver the Canadian message than to sit sequestered at home.”

Comments Off on On Empowering the Foreign Service to do Public Diplomacy

New Trudeau Cabinet

CTV News Channel: Dion minister of foreign affairs

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson says Stephane Dion ‘has a well-developed sense about what the world is about.’
Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 6.07.56 PM

Trudeau’s foreign cabinet picks signal climate and trade priorities

By choosing Stéphane Dion as Foreign Minister, the new Prime Minister sends three messages. First, as a veteran of the Chrétien era and as a Quebecker, Mr. Dion’s appointment signals a return to a more pacific strain in Canadian foreign policy and a reluctance to become involved in foreign military entanglements. Mr. Dion will, with conviction, withdraw Canadian forces from the fight against the Islamic State. Future American presidents should expect a skeptical response when asking whether Canada is ready to join in the next military venture.Globe and Mail Update Nov. 04 2015, 1:23 PM EST

Video: Maryam Monsef: Minister of Democratic Institutions and Canada’s first Afghan-born MP

Unless, of course, that venture has been approved by the United Nations Security Council. Supporting the UN will once again be a priority of Canadian foreign policy, along with other multilateral forums such as the Commonwealth and la Francophonie. As well, expect a gradual rebalancing over time between the equal right of Israel to a secure existence and the Palestinian people to their own state.

Above all, combatting climate change is now a top foreign as well as domestic priority. In Paris next month, Mr. Dion will negotiate Canada’s renewed commitment to combat global warming. He, not Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, will head the cabinet committee on climate change. Fighting global warming has gone from last priority to first, as the federal government transitions from Conservative to Liberal.

Colin Robertson, a former diplomatic and current foreign-affairs analyst, observes that Canadian foreign policy has always balanced national interest with constructive internationalism. Under Mr. Harper, national interest held sway. “Stéphane Dion represents constructive internationalism,” said Mr. Robertson: a broad commitment to multilateral engagement, foreign aid (though little is known about the Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau) and collective security.

But Canada’s stance won’t be entirely Pearsonian—far from it. Mr. Trudeau has signalled in the past his strong support for the new government in Ukraine, a position strongly buttressed by Chrystia Freeland, the new Minister of International Trade, whose background is partly Ukrainian. Canada under the Liberals will remain firmly committed to confronting Russian aggression and defending NATO’s eastern flank, a key priority under Stephen Harper.

(And by the way, Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has four tours of duty under his belt as a member of the Canadian Forces – three in Afghanistan and one in Bosnia – and will hardly be an isolationist voice in cabinet.)

Ms. Freeland can also be expected to aggressively pursue and expand upon the trade priorities of the Harper government. Her first order of business will be to ratify the trade agreements the Conservatives negotiated with the European Union and the 11 nations of the Trans Pacific Partnership. She will seek to improve trade relations with China, while also pursuing other Asian and Pacific opportunities.

“He’s picked a very high-profile trade minister, who is articulate, savvy, with an international reputation,” observes Fen Hampson, director of the Global Security and Politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Many diplomats privately complained that, under the Conservatives, trade issues overwhelmed foreign policy. They hoped that with the Liberals back in charge trade would be returned to the back burner, Mr. Hampson observed. But by combining the veteran Mr. Dion with the aggressive newcomer Mr. Freeland, Mr. Trudeau is choosing not to choose between the Chrétien and Harper legacies.

“I think it’s going to be a bit of both,” said Mr. Hampson. “It’s going to be salt and pepper.”

Along with substance, expect also a change of style, an urbane cosmopolitanism that had gone missing in the Harper years and that will emphatically be back under this new team. Everyone who is anyone will be visiting Ottawa for an earnest discussion with (or lecture from) Mr. Dion, a scintillating debate with Ms. Freeland, and a quiet but elegant dinner with Mr. Trudeau.

If style matters as much as substance in foreign affairs, then that could be the biggest change of all.

Comments Off on New Trudeau Cabinet

Canada USA Relations: Climate and Defence

CTV Question Period on Canada US relations under PM designate Justin Trudeau with Michael Kergin, Laura Dawson and CTV host Bob Fife

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 12.57.13 PM


Comments Off on Canada USA Relations: Climate and Defence