Iran, the Bomb and Canada

Why Canada should reopen its embassy in Tehran

Colin Robertson  The Globe and Mail  Wednesday, Apr. 15 2015

In diplomacy, as in life, perfection can be the enemy of the good. The Lausanne framework negotiated between Iran and six world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France and Germany – to contain Iran’s nuclear arms is not perfect. But if the framework becomes a formal agreement by June 30, it would be good.

This continuing process deserves Canadian support and Canada could do more to verify Iranian compliance as well as actively promote non-proliferation.

Hurdles remain, including bridging the interpretive divergences between the various parties over the framework.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that leaving Iranian nuclear capacity intact “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon pose pertinent questions:

Any deal that lifts sanctions will require approval from the U.S. Congress. Capitol Hill will want answers to the kinds of questions posed by the experts from the Iran Project, a group of former diplomats and scholars with the goal of improving relations between the U.S. and Iran. These issues include:

  • Sequencing for lifting sanctions
  • Means for limiting Iran’s enriched uranium

Israeli opposition aside, the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs worry that an Iran-U.S. breakthrough will radically change regional geopolitics.

Suspicions run deep over Iran’s nuclear and political ambitions. A combination of declining oil revenues and sanctions persuaded Iran to come to the bargaining table and there are already divisions in Iran’s leadership over the framework.

Since 1979, Iran has provoked the international community at many levels: its domestic abuse of human rights; its expansionism of the Shia revolution regionally; its support of terrorist groups within the Islamic world and beyond; and its nuclear program.

In 2003, Western negotiators reached agreement with then-Iranian negotiator and now President Hassan Rouhani. That deal unravelled in hostility and mistrust and the UN reimposed sanctions over Iranian cheating.

But re-engagement and diplomacy make more sense than military threats. Retired U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a leader of the Iran Project, observes that “deployment of military force can bring the immediate illusion of ‘success’ but always results in unforeseen consequences and collateral damage.”

With its regional alliances, Iran portrays itself as a counterpole to U.S. influence. Inevitably, roads to Middle East peace will pass through Tehran. In dealing with adversaries, Ambassador Pickering argues, greater knowledge and close contact is the surer way to conflict resolution.

It has been 70 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the nuclear club has expanded, the lid on using nuclear arms has endured. But conditions change as the nuclear powers reinvest in the quality of their arsenals and second-strike capacities.

Arms-control negotiations still matter. The U.S. and Russia hold the most nuclear arms and their arms-reduction efforts have been sustained, comprehensive and mostly successful although recent events have chilled progress. There are various multinational tables, with U.S. President Barack Obama revitalizing the process at the leaders’ level. China and the U.S. would like to revive moribund negotiations with North Korea.

Canada has both history and a stake in non-proliferation. Canadian scientists, working at Chalk River, Ont., contributed to the development of the atomic bomb. Meeting in July, 1957, in Pugwash, N.S., Canadian scientists led the movement to eschew nuclear arms. Canada’s decision to only use nuclear power for peaceful purposes set the example that most nations have followed. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we contributed to the removal and destruction of their spent nuclear fuel.

Mines in northern Saskatchewan, on lands shared with First Nations, provide about a third of the world’s uranium. Canada could radically change the nuclear game by declaring permanent ownership of our uranium and limit sales for use in multinational enrichment facilities that take back or safely dispose of spent fuel but do not separate plutonium. We would collaborate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and encourage Australia, the world’s other major uranium producer, to join us as permanent stewards.

Our game-changing initiative would literally put the nuclear genie – the spent fuel – back into the mines from which it came. The business opportunity for innovation, in which First Nations would be major stakeholders, is obvious.

If, as Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson said in reacting to the framework negotiated in Lausanne, we will “continue to judge Iran by its actions not its words,” we should reopen our embassy in Tehran. In September, 2012, then-Foreign Minister John Baird suspended diplomatic relations and closed the Canadian embassy, citing Iranian abuse of human rights and its support for terrorism. Restoring diplomatic relations does not mean regime endorsement.

Diplomacy is about being there. Having eyes and ears on the ground will inform our perspective, help our allies, advance our interests and keep the bomb at bay.

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Assessment of John Baird: Universtiy of Ottawa panel and Canadian Press

CPAC John Baird’s Legacy Participants assess John Baird’s tenure as foreign affairs minister and discuss whether or not his achievements have positioned Canada to better pursue its foreign policy objectives. The panellists are Peter Jones and David Petrasek (University of Ottawa) and former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson. John Baird served as foreign affairs minister since in 2011. In February 2015, Baird announced he was stepping down from his position as foreign minister and would not run in the next general election. (February 10, 2015)

Diplomatica: Panel gives John Baird’s foreign affairs performance mixed reviews

Published on: February 17, 2015

It used to be, back when David Petrasek was working in human rights and conflict resolution for the United Nations in Geneva, that Canadians would explain Americans to Europeans.

“Now, I think Americans have been explaining Canadians. The Americans understand that the roles have changed.”

Petrasek, who is now an associate professor in the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, recently joined colleague Peter Jones and retired diplomat Colin Robertson on a University of Ottawa panel discussing former foreign minister John Baird’s legacy.

Baird’s “values-driven” agenda was a focus of the discussion.

“The idea that Mr. Baird can say he ran a values-driven foreign policy is problematic in that he did so selectively,” Jones said. “If one is going to make values the basis of one’s approach, one has to implement them across the board or at least be seen as trying to.”

He said Baird’s “unequivocal support for Israel’s right wing” played well with the Conservative voter base back here in Canada, “but I’m not sure (it) was playing well in terms of Canada’s broader interests, nor in Canada’s role in the region.”

He even went so far as to say that “to the extent that these terrorists really do want to attack Canada, I think his rhetoric probably moved us up a notch or two on (the terrorists’) list.” He also noted that Canada’s “uncritical support of Israel”  was not appreciated in Washington.

And, he said, Baird “openly castigated, if not dismissed,” Canada’s traditional role of trying to foster dialogue between the parties in the region.

Petrasek centred his comments on Baird’s human rights record.

“After four years, he left Canada in a weaker position on human rights,” Petrasek said. Proponents argue it was principled policy in defence of human rights, that he effectively advanced new initiatives.

But Petrasek said that as a principled human rights defender, you speak out, regardless of the victim and perpetrator. He noted that Baird never spoke publicly about the records of certain Middle Eastern countries.

“He might have done so in private, but his public statements emphasized security and stability, which played to the anti-democratic nature of those regimes,” he said.

Petrasek said he couldn’t find any public declaration that Israeli settlements are illegal, which is official Canadian policy. “Those settlements are the source of so many human rights abuses. He never spoke clearly on that.”

Baird also established the office of religious freedom, took a stand against child marriages and forced marriages and spoke out on LGBT rights.

“These were new initiatives and good initiatives, but they were pursued in a partisan manner,” Petrasek said.

Finally, he said, Baird was hostile towards the UN. “If you want to advance issues like child marriage, you  have to work with these multilateral institutions that are far from perfect. But the point is that you sit down and try to make them better, to reform them. He completely ignored them.”

Robertson was more complimentary, giving Baird credit for his dignity agenda and lauding his commitment to Israel as “genuine and heartfelt.” He had two virtues of any good foreign minister, Robertson said: “He had a strong constitution and he loved to travel.” Baird is said to have visited more than 90 countries.

“On the UN, he came with all the prejudices shared by Stephen Harper, but over time, I think he began to see (its) value.”

Baird says Canada’s international stature is growing—is that accurate?

Baird says Canada more respected internationallyJohn Baird speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Baird surprised many with his sudden resignation last week from federal politics, which also called an abrupt halt to nearly four years as Canada’s top diplomat. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, February 13, 2015 8:28AM EST

OTTAWA — “I have seen the stature of our country grow, in the eyes of the world … Today, Canada stands tall in the world.” — Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in his resignation speech in the House of Commons, Feb. 3.

John Baird surprised many with his sudden resignation last week from federal politics, which also called an abrupt halt to nearly four years as Canada’s top diplomat.

As he was saying his goodbyes in the House of Commons, Baird called the country more respected internationally, citing Canada’s fight against terrorism, standing “side by side” with Israel, having “strong partners” in the Arab world and opposing the “militaristic expansionism” of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Ukraine — all while promoting trade, especially in Asia.

But the sight of Baird’s motorcade being pelted with eggs and shoes last month in the West Bank capital of Ramallah reminded many of the government’s controversial pro-Israeli policy, which has sparked heated criticism.

And what about Canada’s historic loss of a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2010 — a first in six decades — to tiny, economically battered Portugal?

Does Canada actually have more stature than it did before 2011, when Baird arrived at Foreign Affairs? Or since 2006, when the Conservatives came to power?

Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).

Baird’s claim that Canada’s international stature has grown contains “some baloney.” Here’s why:

The facts

Canada has long scored well in an annual poll of global attitudes by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 2014, the BBC World Service and GlobeScan/Pipa poll asked 24,500 international respondents whether they viewed 17 specific countries positively or negatively. Canada came second, behind Germany. Iran was last.

The United Nations Human Development Index is another indicator that many rely on to measure one country’s standing with another. The HDI combines data on health, education and gross national income to come up with a ranking among more than 190 countries that the UN says “can stimulate debate about government policy priorities.”

In the 1990s, Canada was No. 1 for several years. Then Norway came along. Canada’s been slipping ever since, dropping to 11th in 2013, compared to sixth in 2006.

International spending also provides a barometer of global standing. Canada’s defence spending is down to about one per cent of gross domestic product from 1.3 per cent in 2009, while foreign aid has gone from 0.34 of GDP in 2010-11 to 0.27 per cent in 2013-14, says the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which measures growth and progress among 34 leading countries.

What the experts say

By any measure, Canada’s standing in the world has fallen, said retired UN ambassador Paul Heinbecker, a former adviser to then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Heinbecker cited a “truculent” attitude towards the UN, on which the Harper government has repeatedly turned its back. Canada is the only NATO country not to sign the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty and the only country in world to withdraw from its Convention to Combat Desertification.

“Mr. Baird’s assessment reads like George Orwell meets Lewis Carroll; ‘1984’ as seen by Humpty Dumpty,” said Heinbecker, now a senior fellow at the Centre for Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ont.

On the other hand, Fen Hampson, head of CIGI’s global security program, cited the BBC’s annual country survey as a good indicator of global attitudes towards any country, including Canada.

“You can pick any elite diplomat you want to make a case for or against the government,” said Hampson.

“If you want real metrics, that’s one of the few real metrics out there. When it comes to popularity, how we’re seen in the world, as a country in the world, in terms of our reputation, it’s still high.”

Retired diplomat Colin Robertson, the vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, said Canada may not “have the same weight in the United Nations … because we haven’t put the same weight in the United Nations under this government.”

But the BBC poll is a strong indicator that Canada’s “brand” has not suffered under the Conservatives, Robertson said, contradicting anecdotal feelings of slippage that might be harboured by some.

Canada has fallen on a number of fronts, said David Biette, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Biette cited the fact that it has not emerged as the “energy superpower” Stephen Harper predicted in 2006, its “blind support” of Israel and its “botched” attempt to secure a coveted seat on the UN Security Council in 2010.

That said, Canada’s international reputation might be intact simply because a lot people don’t pay attention to the country from abroad, he added.

“Has Canada changed? I can say (yes),” Biette said. “But (ask) an informed public, ‘Has Canada changed?’ I don’t know.”

The verdict

Taking all of that into account, Baird’s claim that Canada’s international stature has grown and that the country stands tall in the world contains “some baloney.”


The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:

No baloney – the statement is completely accurate

A little baloney – the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required

Some baloney – the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing

A lot of baloney – the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth

Full of baloney – the statement is completely inaccurate

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Assessing John Baaird as Foreign Minsiter

Baird Improved Over Time, But Ultimately Fell Short

Posted on February 8, 2015 by admin

By Colin Robertson

John Baird arrived at the Pearson Building in May 2011 as an experienced minister and accomplished, if partisan, parliamentarian.

Naturally curious and personally affable, as Canada’s Foreign Minister, Baird reserved his ‘pit bull’ persona for bureaucrats, the media and legislative debate. He charmed his way through the diplomatic circuit and fully engaged both Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry (with whom he waged and lost a case of Canadian after the USA beat Canada in the Women’s World Championship).

With his energy and force of personality, John Baird could have been the Conservatives’ equivalent of Lloyd Axworthy.

In his essential profile of John Baird, the Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark observed of Baird, “his penchant for bold steps and embracing strong leaders, his confidence in his own political compass, and the willingness he has displayed ever since high school to shrug off ridicule rather than abandon the task at hand make him the dynamic foreign minister Mr. Harper has long lacked.”

Words became Baird’s diplomatic sword. As Baird told the Foreign Affairs Committee: “Our government wants Canada’s voice to be heard, for it to be clear and for it to be unambiguously free of moral relativism.”

Baird’s support for Israel was unequivocal: “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.” On Iran, he warned, “Kind words, a smile and a charm offensive are not a substitute for real action.”

Shortly after he became minister, he framed his ‘dignity agenda’ with its message that people deserve the “dignity to live in freedom, in peace and to provide for one’s family”.

The dignity agenda embraced women, children and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people. It condemned child, early and forced marriages. These themes, especially his leadership on ‘girls not brides’ were his constant refrain.

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Baird’s personal leadership was instrumental in the passage of UN resolutions on child, early and forced marriages, Iran and terrorism. He pioneered in the use of digital diplomacy to “give a voice to the voiceless”.

Baird’s was not the conventional Canadian approach to the United Nations. In his first speech to the UN General Assembly Baird announced “Canada does not just “go along” in order to “get along”. He quoted Margaret Thatcher’s famous phrase that “collective action does not mean uniformity”. For Baird, the “greatest enemies of the United Nations are those who quietly undermine its principles and, even worse, by those who sit idly, watching its slow decline.”

Baird’s tenure coincided with a strike of foreign service officers, unprecedented in length and scope, picketing at headquarters and abroad.

The Harper government’s relationship with the foreign service can be characterized as one of mutual contempt. Notwithstanding the growing concentration of policy-making within central agencies (Privy Council Office and National Security Offices elsewhere in the anglosphere), an effective G7 government needs to trust and enable its foreign service.

For some in the foreign service, Baird was minister as tourist. Selling off our historic residences is a mistake. When used–if the incumbents won’t, then replace them – they are platforms for marketing Canada. As Jean Chretien observed, “you don’t do diplomacy from your basement”.

While most remain for sale, Baird listened to a former consul general and his spouse make the case for the value of Los Angeles as a platform for marketing Canadian entertainment. The residence was taken off the market (leading one to wonder how hard the bureaucrats defended the value of our residences).

To his critics he was a diplomatic dilettante, who provoked but who failed to deliver. Baird was proud of comparisons to his hero, John Diefenbaker, an earlier renegade in power who railed against the ‘pearsonalities’ in External Affairs. Baird renamed the building next door to the Pearson Building after Diefenbaker.

See also:

A more generous perspective came from NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar in his parliamentary remarks on Baird’s resignation. Dewar observed that despite disagreements, Baird listened and “asked for our advice and actually followed up on some of the issues we were advocating for” notably “women, peace, and security and the whole issue of sexual violence.”

With his energy and force of personality, John Baird could have been the Conservatives’ equivalent of Lloyd Axworthy. Baird’s dignity agenda should have matched the accomplishments of Axworthy’s human security agenda.

But Baird too often lacked discipline and focus. He delighted in being the bull in the diplomatic china shop breaking, usually with intent, established norms and conventions. Sometimes this served the national interest but too often it left unfinished business. A trusted foreign service could have helped him, especially with the dignity agenda.

John Baird got better as he matured. He advanced the cause of human rights in a fashion consistent with Canadian values and traditions.

So what to make of John Baird as foreign minister: ‘high potential but achievements are incomplete’.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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John Baird legacy

CBC Power and Politics | Feb 3, 2015 | 6:04 Evan Solomon

John Baird steps down

What does MP’s departure mean for Canadian foreign affairs? Coin Robertson and Fen Hampson

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Keystone and Clean Energy

Why Canada wants to feel more love from the U.S.

Globe and Mail Tuesday, Jun. 24 2014 and in RealClearWorld June 25

Living beside the United States, remarked Pierre Trudeau, is like sleeping with an elephant: “No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” The twitching is getting to the Harper government and it has responded with a series of pokes.

A trio of senior ministers – John Baird, Joe Oliver, Greg Rickford – travelled to New York this month to voice what Stephen Harper calls our “profound disappointment” over the delayed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. Said Mr. Oliver: “This isn’t right, this isn’t fair.”

In Winnipeg, Agriculture Minister Gary Ritz accused the United States of behaving like a “schoolyard bully” over country-of-origin labelling.

Last week in Washington, Ambassador Gary Doer and MP Rob Merrifield delivered an invitation from House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to Republican House Speaker John Boehner to visit Canada for discussions on KXL and other issues.

If the Obama administration wants further evidence that Canada deserves some attention it should watch the recent exchange between former ambassador Frank McKenna and U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman. “It’s like a marriage. It might be really good for you but I’ve got some problems,” said Mr. McKenna of Canadian frustration over KXL and financing the Windsor-Detroit customs plaza.

Canada-U.S. relations operate on three levels: international, intermestic and people-to-people.

Ours is a complex relationship that goes beyond the traditional diplomatic conventions. Supported by the hidden wiring of connections between provinces and states, business and civil society, it is usually a model for neighbourly relations.

In international summitry, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Harper are aligned on the big-ticket issues of peace and security, banking and finance, even if they differ on approaches to climate change.

The people-to-people relationship is solid. Americans like us more than we like them. We share much in common, at work and at play, although beating Team USA at hockey is now our main Olympic goal.

It’s on the transactional level of trade and commerce that we have problems, with KXL top of the list. For Canada, KXL is the problem with the partner. For the United States, KXL is a problem with a partner.

Hillary Clinton is right when in Toronto last week she told Mr. McKenna that KXL shouldn’t be a “proxy” for the relationship.

But KXL raises the question: Does the Obama administration have a strategic sense of Canada? We now supply more oil to the U.S. than OPEC. Increasingly, it travels by rail although, as the State Department acknowledged again this month, pipe is safer.

Ms. Clinton calls Canada an “indispensable partner,” but we aren’t feeling the love. Any serious White House study should result in renewed appreciation of Canada’s strategic importance. Pushing forward the border and regulatory initiatives would be welcomed.

Franklin Roosevelt set the framework through a series of trade and security agreements. This approach – Canada as a reliable ally; the U.S. as a trusted trade partner – has been followed by most subsequent administrations.

Its logic holds. The emerging international order is looking more like that of Roosevelt’s era – a multipolar system of sovereign states pursuing national interests. It will put a premium on reliable allies and trade partners.

Last month in Montreal, Ambassador Doer outlined a North American clean energy strategy, one that includes water. Water, says Mr. Doer, will make the debate about going from 85 to 86 pipelines “look silly.”

First: energy efficiency – sharing best practices on oil and gas, wind, solar and other alternatives. We’ve already adopted harmonized standards on tailpipe emissions for cars and trucks. Oil patch collaboration is improving environmental performance, especially on water.

We’ve three carbon-pricing experiments under way: British Columbia’s carbon tax; Alberta’s emissions reduction fund; Quebec’s cap-and-trade. Saskatchewan is experimenting with carbon capture and storage.

Second: energy reliability and renewability. Complete the hardening of our pipelines and electrical transmission grid systems and recognize hydropower within renewable energy standards.

Third: oil and gas development. Together, Canada and the U.S. produce more oil than any nation. Add natural gas and we’re positioning for a North American manufacturing renaissance.

Having led the world in shale development, North American energy ministers should develop continental fracking standards for next year’s leaders’ summit in Canada and then present them at the Paris climate talks.

Mr. Doer’s constructive approach underlines another lesson in managing Uncle Sam: We do best when, through initiatives advancing our shared interests, we make their agenda “our” agenda.

On becoming prime minister, Mr. Harper promised a “new tone” in the U.S. relationship, banishing the drama of the later years under Paul Martin.

Twitches and grunts notwithstanding, Mr. Harper’s initial instinct for a constructive approach to the United States is still sensible.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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Safety regulators have placed two extra conditions on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. One of the conditions requires TransCanada to hire a third-party contractor to monitor the construction. Jameson Berkow has more.

Video: U.S. imposes new conditions on Keystone construction
Video: Joe Oliver on why Ottawa is so dedicated to Keystone
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Preview YouTube video Vidéo CORIM – S.E. Gary Doer

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A new Cold War?

We don’t need a new Cold War

The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Feb. 18 2014 and RealClear Politics February 19 2014

We Don’t Need a New Cold War. In RealClearWorld, Colin Robertson writes that the West must develop a partnership with Russia despite differing goals, as the alternative is unacceptable.

Colin Robertson

After the anthems still and the athletes go home, will the enduring picture of the Sochi Olympics be that of Putin and the snow leopard as the precursor to a new Cold War?

That was the warning of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk who last week called on the West to adopt a “proactive policy” in the face of Russian aggression. Humanity, he declared, “may well be on the verge of a new Cold War.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by accusing the West of trying to build “spheres of influence” in Eastern Europe. “Attempts to isolate our country,” argued Lavrov, “inevitably set in motion processes that led to the catastrophes of the world wars.”

The U.S. Intelligence Community in its recent Worldwide Threat Assessment concludes that Russia “presents a range of challenges.” Top U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper says that Russia’s military took an “increasingly prominent role” in out-of-area operations last year, notably in the eastern Mediterranean, Latin America, and the Arctic.

Canada’s Conference of Defence Associations Institute Strategic Outlook 2014 reaches a similar conclusion.

Putin’s 104-point foreign policy doctrine, write authors Ferry de Kerckhove and George Petrolekas, is a “declaration of difference” bent on establishing Russia as one of the “influential and competitive poles of the modern world.” This explains Russian behaviour towards its neighbours: armed intervention in Georgia, cyber-attack on Romania and now interference in the Ukraine.

The West’s relations with Russia have been on a roller-coaster since the end of the Soviet Union. Putin has described the Soviet Union’s collapse as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. In Putin’s view, it is the West that is the disruptive force, imposing on others its system and ways.

The West needs to develop a partnership with Russia,  recognizing it has limits. argues Angela Stent in her excellent new book. Stent says that Putin is determined to make Russia the leader of a new conservative international system with Russia upholding traditional family and Christian values and respecting states; sovereignty. It would begin with a Eurasian Union (as counterweight to the European Union), consisting of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan: the heart of the old USSR.

After Putin granted asylum last year to Edward Snowden, President Obama cancelled their proposed summit. An aggravated Obama broke his customary cool, saying that Putin’s “got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” But he continued, “when we have conversations, they’re candid, they’re blunt, oftentimes they’re constructive.”

Constructive must be our watchword.

The West, including Canada, has to invest time and effort in Russia. Russia matters because of its strategic location, its nuclear arsenal and its ability to support – or thwart – the West in the United Nations and other forum.

We co-operate on counter-terrorism. The Russians are party to the discussions on Syria, Iran and North Korea. They have been helpful in Afghanistan, where assistance is even more necessary as we withdraw.

One of the best Canadian observers of the Russian mind was Robert Ford, our ‘constant diplomat’ in Moscow for 20 years.

Ford noted “the almost psychopathic feeling of inferiority of Russians” and their readiness to hear insults even when none was intended. The Russians, Ford observed, “secretly admire those who stand up to them.” Ford would later worry that Canada’s diplomatic service put too much weight on management skills rather than expertise in foreign affairs and original thinking.

After Ambassador Ford’s retirement, then U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz brought him to Washington for advice.

Prime Minister Harper would profit from reading Ford on both Russia and diplomacy.

Long critical of the President Putin’s “self-serving monopolistic political strategies”, Harper described last year’s G8 meetings as “G7 plus one”, accusing Putin of ”supporting the thugs of the Assad regime.” Foreign Minister John Baird has denounced Russia’s anti-gay laws as “hateful and mean-spirited” and last week sent medical aid to the Ukrainian activists.

Blunt talk and action can be useful tactics as long as they fit into a strategy of constructive engagement with Russia. In addition to the multilateral agenda, we share the same challenges in our North and in stewardship of the Arctic.

Our bilateral entrée starts with Russian Ambassador to Canada, Georgiy Mamedov.

Now the Dean of Ottawa’s diplomatic corps after a decade in Canada, Mamedov is highly experienced: a former deputy foreign minister who negotiated arms control with the United States and helped negotiate the removal of nuclear weapons from the Ukraine. We should be using his knowledge and network.

The West’s relationship with Russia has always been complicated but stretching the uneasy partnership to its limits is essential for peace and security. We don’t need a new Cold War.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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The International Order: Syria, UN and Canada

The road to a better world order begins in our own backyard

Special to The Globe and Mail Thursday, Sep. 12 2013

Arguments about intervention aside, the Syrian episode raises a bigger question: How do we restore trust in our elected governments, our domestic democratic institutions, and the liberal international order?

Angst in democracies is not new.

In the 1930s, the democracies were threatened by collectivist totalitarian movements and the international order withered away. This is not the problem today. Neither is it the kind of ungovernability – the ‘crisis of the state’ – that the Trilateral Commission worried about in the 1970s.

Survey after survey demonstrate a lack of public trust in government. This is mirrored by a similar disappointment in the United Nations.

It is not that we lack democratic energies.

On both sides of the Atlantic there is active citizen engagement on issues like climate change, gender equality and gay rights. But the formal institutions of government are in atrophy. There is no active movement for institutional reform or constitutional adjustment. UN reform is an oxymoron.

The Democratic Disconnect: Citizenship and Accountability in the Transatlantic Community’, recently released by the Transatlantic Academy, with contributors from Europe, the U.S. and Canada, assesses the economic, political and demographic challenges confronting the democracies.

Gridlock and polarization, say the authors, characterizes the United States. In Europe, institutional stalemate goes beyond the financial crisis. Canadians, they write “worry about the tendency of their political system to place largely unaccountable power in the hands of the prime minister.”

In terms of the international order, the report identifies three trends:

First, the increasing public disillusionment with military interventions and their conviction that problems at home should be the priority;

Second, the steady rise of, and co-ordination between, a group of new states, some democratic and others authoritarian. Often led by the BRICs, they enjoy the benefits of the liberal international order but they aren’t as ready to support its institutions;

Third, there is exhaustion with multilateralism in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

All three phenomena were evident in the June meeting of the G8 and in last week’s St. Petersburg G20.

The upshot is disequilibrium within the international system. Fatigue grows. Isolationism beckons.

So what to do?

The first step, the authors argue, begins at home. Public Institutions have to reconnect with their citizens. The authors argue that political parties are the critical building block and that leaders need to spend more time in actively engaging their citizens.

Reinvigorating our democratic institutions, argues the report, will revitalize the liberal international order.

Liberal democracies have always promoted institutions of international co-operation and governance in tandem with domestic innovation because they are “profoundly interdependent”. Break this link and the authors describe a pivot away from universal and multilateral institutions toward forms of minilateralism and exclusivity.

It’s an interesting argument.

We know what happened when the liberal world order broke down in the first half of the last century. There are war graves across Europe and Asia that attest to our commitment and sacrifice to restore international order.

It took decades of careful statecraft to create the architecture designed to ensure peace and security. In creating the United Nations and its various agencies, Canadians were active and present because it reflected our values and served our interests.

The United Nations has never met the high expectations of its creators and efforts at reform have fallen short.

Yet we now look to UNICEF and the UNHCR to take leadership in dealing with the Syrian refugees. We turn to the Security Council for a peaceful solution. UN weapons inspectors are preparing the report that will guide their action. A little known UN agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, will take the lead in disposing of Syria’s chemical weapons. In time, the perpetrators of the crimes will face either divine justice or the International Criminal Court.

There will be bumps on the road to Damascus. Armed intervention is still on the table. In the meantime, the machinery of international order is at work.

As they draft Canada’s remarks to this year’s General Assembly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird should keep in mind the enduring utility of the UN and its institutions.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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Canada and ASEAN

These Asian countries have formed a tight-knit web. Why is Canada still outside?

Special to The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Aug. 21 2013

It doesn’t get a lot of attention but ASEAN – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – is like the little engine that could. Its growing appeal as a launching pad into the rest of Asia is fuelled by its aggregate population of more than 600 million and estimated GDP of US$2.2 trillion.

This week International Trade Minister Ed Fast will meet in Brunei with ASEAN Economic ministers to promote Canadian trade and investment.

The ten nations – Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – just celebrated their 46th anniversary. Created initially as a bulwark against communism, it has become an Asian model for regional economic cooperation. Four of its members – Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam – are also in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

ASEAN’s goal is to develop an Economic Community with free flow of goods, services and investments by the end of 2015. ASEAN nations are working on improving competition policy, increasing foreign equity in services industries, mutual recognition of professional qualifications – the kinds of things we should do more of within the Canadian federation.

Canada has had a formal relationship with ASEAN since 1977. In recent years we have upped our regional commitment with the 2009 appointment of an ASEAN ambassador, 2010 accession to their regional peace treaty, and the 2011 joint declaration on trade and investment.

In addition to our contributions through the Asian Development Bank, CIDA invests more than $130 million focusing on human rights and disaster risk.

After nearly a decade of few high level visits, Governor General Johnston and Prime Minister Harper have recently made official visits, with recurring missions by Ministers Baird and Fast.

‘Face’ and sustained relationship-building matters in Asia and our record has been weak on both counts. We need to sustain high-level engagement, especially if we are to gain admission to the security-focused East Asia Summit.

ASEAN nations represent Canada’s 7th largest trading partner. Our investment in the region is greater than in China and India combined. ASEAN investment in Canada grew over four-fold during the last five years, including the acquisition of Progress Energy by Malaysia’s Petronas.

While our focus is on trade, sustaining the relationship requires a commitment to regional security as well as the socio-cultural. The people-to-people ties are growing. Nearly ten thousand students from ASEAN countries study each year in Canada. Last year we admitted more than 37,000 permanent residents and there are nearly 18,000 temporary foreign workers from the region.

Created in 2012, the membership of the Singapore-based Canada-ASEAN Business Council numbers twenty-one companies, representing our financial, mining, manufacturing and engineering industries.

In proclaiming Canada to be an Asia-Pacific nation at last week’s ASEAN reception at Ottawa City Hall, Foreign Minister John Baird underlined the importance of ties with ASEAN promising that “we will continue to increase our engagement to its fullest potential.”

We have work to do.

ASEAN has free trade area agreements with Korea, India and China and a comprehensive economic partnership with Japan. The ASEAN-Australia New Zealand Free Trade Area eliminated tariffs on incoming ASEAN products last year and restrictions in both directions will end by 2020.

The US-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement Initiative is ambitious and results-oriented. It includes simplified customs procedures and joint development of investment principles along the level of ambition set by the Trans Pacific Partnership. The US-ASEAN Business Council is highly developed and has offices throughout the region.

The European Union is the largest foreign investor in the region. ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner after the USA and China. The EU is in FTA negotiations with Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. Their long-term goal is a EU-ASEAN FTA.

The Europeans finished negotiating a free trade agreement with Singapore last year. The US-Singapore FTA was concluded in 2004. Our own FTA negotiations with Singapore (like those with Korea) stalled.

We risk developing a reputation as a country that can’t close a deal.

A recent report, prepared for Canadian business looked at six sectors aerospace, agrifood, automobile, clean tech, ICT, oil and gas arguing that Canadians wanting to get into the market need to identify their niche and then determine the best entry point. It warned that Singapore aside, the biggest impediments to doing business in ASEAN are corruption, infrastructure and inept bureaucracy.

Connectivity is the mantra of ASEAN. Their ‘master plan’ envisages huge investments in infrastructure and technology including upgrades to roads and rail, and megaprojects like a high-speed rail line from Singapore to China. We have the capacity to get a piece of the action.

If we are serious about ASEAN we need to sustain our embrace. Ministers have to make regular visits across the Pacific. Deliverables – regional and country-by-country – need to be realistically defined and priorized. For obvious strategic reasons, Indonesia, whose Foreign Minister is in Canada this week, requires special attention.

We are playing catch-up with the competition in ASEAN but the rewards will be worth the effort.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior strategic advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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Time to send an Envoy to Tehran

Canada needs to be ‘on the ground’ in Iran: Time to reopen the embassy

COLIN ROBERTSON The Globe and Mail Friday, Aug. 09 2013

If we are serious about engaging Iran then we need to re-establish diplomatic relations.

September will mark a year since we closed our Embassy in Tehran and declared Iran’s diplomats personae non gratae because we feared for the safety of our diplomats and in protest for Iranian behavior.

Responding to last Sunday’s inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, Foreign Minister John Baird proclaimed that ‘proof of strategic shift’ required Iran to change its nuclear policies, respect human rights and cease meddling in Syria.
These priorities are right and in the correct order. A nuclear Iran with ballistic missiles threatens stability in the Middle East and beyond, including cities on the eastern seaboard of North America.

Mr. Baird is to be encouraged in getting to know the regional players through his frequent travel. His use of social media, as demonstrated recently at the Munk School’s Global Dialogue with Iranian civil society, is innovative diplomacy.

Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom continues to churn out lively releases on human rights abuses, although their targets would likely pay more attention if they toned down the adjectives. A useful initiative for the Office would be to resurrect the ‘two-track’ research aimed at opening channels for dialogue with Iran conducted by the University of Ottawa’s Peter Jones.

Effective diplomacy is about ‘being there.’ This means having a presence on the ground so that you can look, listen and speak out when necessary.

A diplomatic presence does not imply regime endorsement but rather it is the conduit for official dialogue and discussion. Withdrawal of diplomatic personnel is an extreme step that should only be done if there is a personal threat to our diplomats or when a declaration of war is imminent. In between, there are gradations of presence, based on Winston Churchill’s conviction that ‘jaw-jaw’ is better than ‘war-war’.

The Middle East is complicated, confusing and frustrating but Canada has interests – commercial, political, and social. Through refugee re-settlement, immigration and study, there is a growing regional diaspora living in Canada. As we learned in the 2006 evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon, there is also a growing Canadian expatriate population whose interests oblige our protection.

Through the past half century of global primacy, the U.S. has developed a cadre of smart, experienced practitioners who devote their lives to finding solutions to difficult international problems. Their number includes Ambassador Tom Pickering who, with colleagues William Luers and Jim Walsh, has written ‘For a New Approach to Iran’. It builds on the ongoing, excellent work of the non-partisan Iran Project, which is designed to improve the relationship between the U.S. and Iranian governments and to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Pickering et al note that while Iran has the basic ability to make a bomb, its nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach. The election of Mr. Rowhani, whose platform included engaging the international community, offers opportunities to influence Tehran.

They argue that ‘coercive diplomacy’ – more sanctions and angry rhetoric – is counterproductive because it hardens resistance to change and reinforces the hardliners.

On military intervention, they recall McGeorge Bundy, President Lyndon Johnson’s national security advisor during the Vietnam War. In a retrospective interview, Mr. Bundy observed that what surprised him most was “the endurance of the enemy.” Too much emphasis had been placed, concluded Bundy, in “the power of coercion.”

Canadian practitioners should draw inspiration from Mr. Pickering and the work of the Iran Project.

Our knowledge of Iran now depends on the reportage of foreign correspondents, the intelligence shared by our friends and allies and what we glean through the Iranian community living in Canada.

This is not adequate if we are to seriously engage Iran and encourage their ‘strategic shift.’ We need our own eyes and ears on the ground. Our policy will oblige patience, persistence and a step-by-step process of proof and verification to build trust.

As a first step towards building confidence, Mr. Rowhani should guarantee the safety of our diplomats. Then it will be time to send a Canadian envoy back to Tehran.

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Canada’s Foreign Service needs fixing

No wonder diplomats are on strike: The foreign service needs fixing

Colin Robertson Special to The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Jun. 12 2013

For a nation whose prosperity and growth depends on a strong, active internationalism, it makes no sense for our government to be at war with our foreign service.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, the bargaining agent for Canada’s diplomats, is now into a second month of active protest. This has included a series of rotating walk-outs that have affected visits abroad by the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and ministers.

The PAFSO complaint is a growing pay gap between foreign service officers and more highly paid economists, commerce officers and lawyers who are doing the same job, often working side-by-side.

As the smallest of the public-service bargaining agents, PAFSO has gotten short shrift from the Treasury Board Secretariat. Treasury Board has probably made the calculation that there is not a lot of public sympathy for bureaucrats, especially those perceived to lead a ‘glamorous’ existence on the international cocktail circuit, courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer.

That this perception is a myth is beside the point. The foreign service does not have a natural constituency. Yet its work is crucial to the government and the public it serves.

Get into trouble through injury or with the local authorities and need help? Want a lead on selling or buying a product? Want to sponsor your fiancée or parents for immigration to Canada? Call our embassy and who responds: a foreign-service officer.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have developed an ambitious international agenda. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is actively recruiting new Canadians; this requires careful screening and issuance of immigration visas. International Trade Minister Ed Fast is negotiating a series of trade deals. Foreign Minister John Baird is determined to advance the ‘dignity’ agenda.

The foreign service often designs and always delivers these initiatives. Without its active effort and involvement, government objectives would be difficult to achieve.

Within the civil service, the foreign service has traditionally been the closest to the Prime Minister. The foreign service was effectively an adjunct of the Prime Minister’s Office from its inception in 1909 until 1945, during which time successive prime ministers from Robert Borden to William Lyon Mackenzie King also held the portfolio of Secretary of State for External Affairs.

The foreign service was housed with the prime minister in the East Block until they moved into the Pearson Building in 1973. Even then, foreign service officers traditionally served on the staff of the prime minister and a senior foreign service officer accompanied the PM on travels abroad.

Pierre Trudeau once complained that he could read all he needed to know in the New York Times, but he came to rely heavily on the foreign service, especially in the promotion of his valedictory ‘Peace Initiative.’ Brian Mulroney promised ‘pink slips and running shoes’ in his first months of governing, but before long his chief of staff, lead speechwriter and communications director were all from the foreign service.

Today, there is a perception that, after seven years, the Prime Minister and the international portfolio ministers have no confidence in their foreign service even if they trust individual officers. If so, then now is the time to reform the foreign service rather than continuing to rubbish it.

The last serious look at the foreign service was a Royal Commission conducted by Pamela McDougall between 1979-80.

Prime Minister Harper has had success with task forces, such as that on Afghanistan, with clear objectives, a short time-frame, and designed to produce practical recommendations.

Mr. Harper should mandate a task force to determine what kind of foreign service we need for the future. Terms and conditions of service – including a more flexible approach to postings, improved language training, and better recognition of spousal contributions – should be a part of the inquiry. It would complement ongoing work on the government’s Global Commerce Strategy.

Both efforts need to bring us into the 21st century by also allowing our foreign service to use social media. If the foreign services of our U.S. and European allies can use the tools of public diplomacy – to blog, tweet and speak out in support of their national interests – why can’t we? Today’s foreign service long ago embraced the tenets of guerrilla diplomacy, exchanging pinstripes for a backpack.

For its part, PAFSO should lift its guild-like grip on lateral entry into the foreign service. In the future we are going to need the best talent we can find and this will require a creative approach to appointments.

In the meantime, the Treasury Board should look carefully at the PAFSO case and provide compensation commensurate with what it pays those doing the same kind of work. We need our foreign service back on the job.

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Excerpted from

Lee-anne Goodman, The Canadian Press
Sun, 30 Jun 2013

“There certainly seems to be no sign of any inclination from the government to find a resolution,” Colin Robertson, a former diplomat who was once the head of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers union, said in an interview.

“You’re also getting into a situation now in which good people are leaving, they’re just fed up and saying it’s not worth it because this government doesn’t value us. And so the government, by holding out, may win this battle but it’s likely to be a Pyrrhic victory, because they’re leaving a very unhappy group.”

It’s time for the Conservative government to make some decisions about the foreign service, Robertson added, given the strike is creating a lengthy visa backlog that’s having an impact on Canada’s tourism and education industries.

Tourism stakeholders have said it may cost the industry $280 million this summer, while some students have been forced to withdraw from Canadian university courses because they didn’t get their visas on time.

“The government needs to take a look at what they want from the foreign service; it needs to use the strike as an opportunity to figure out where they want the foreign service to be in 10 years.”

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