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A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Senior Advisor and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and hosts its regular Global Exchange podcast.  He is an Executive Fellow at the… Read more »

Summits G7, NATO, Commonwealth

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

Colin Robertson

June 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diplomacy and Russia National Day

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‘Unfair’ to blame lone GAC official as ‘process failure’ led to Russian embassy visit, say analysts, former diplomats

By NEIL MOSS      
Before participating in a national day event, there are broad discussions between the protocol office and the geographic unit at Global Affairs before a decision is made to attend, former diplomats told The Hill Times.

With Canada’s prime minister and top diplomat denouncing a Global Affairs official’s participation in a national day event at the Russian Embassy, foreign affairs analysts say the singling out of the lone diplomat was “unfair.”

The Globe and Mail reported June 12 that Global Affairs’ deputy chief protocol officer Yasemin Heinbecker attended the Russian Day function. She was the lone Canadian government representative to attend the June 10 reception.

Canadian diplomats regularly attend national day events at embassies in Ottawa and around the world, but there are some celebrations that officials are barred from attending. Typically, they have included those hosted by Iran, Syria, and North Korea—all countries which currently don’t have embassies in Ottawa.

After the event took place, both Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.) and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau. Que.) denounced Canada’s participation.

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Joly said the official attending the event “should never have happened.”

“This will not happen again, and I had a tough conversation with my team and also with my deputy minister,” she said.

Trudeau echoed his foreign minister. “It never should have happened, and we denounce it thoroughly,” he said.

Since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, the Canadian government has moved to diplomatically isolate Moscow and to support Kyiv’s defensive efforts, but has stopped short of ending its ambassadorial or diplomatic relationship with Russia.

While saying the “buck stops” with her as head of the department, Joly said that she was unaware that the official was going to attend the event.

According to a Globe and Mail report, Joly’s office was notified of the official’s participation, as Global Affairs sent an email to her chief of staff Sandra Aubé and four other staff members, but they didn’t read the email as they were in the midst of the Summit of Americas in Los Angeles, Calif., and the message wasn’t marked “urgent.”

Prior to participation in a national day, there are broad discussions between the protocol office and the geographic unit at the department before a decision is made to attend, former diplomats told The Hill Times. Those discussions can take place more than a month before the event and can include the ambassador to the respective nation.

Former Canadian ambassador to Russia Anne Leahy said discussion of attending the event would likely be raised to the deputy minister within the department, with consultations debating the pros and cons of attending the event.

Given that Canada has interests within Russia, Leahy said, there are considerations for maintaining minimal links.

“Attending a national day reception is part of those formal things,” she said. “But there are also elements that mitigate against [attending]—the brutal invasion and you may want to make a statement by not sending anyone or by sending someone very junior.”

Leahy said a single official wouldn’t make the decision to attend the function on their own.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said attending the Russian national day has diplomatic value for Canada.

“Someone should go and they’re there to basically observe. They are not there to shake the ambassador’s hand, but rather to see what the ambassador says because that ambassador is the senior Russian official in Canada. You want to hear what he is saying to the community on the national day. And you also want to see who is there—what other countries showed up,” he said, noting that the person attending should be a junior officer, but also someone is needed who knows the diplomats stationed in Ottawa, which he said could explain sending Heinbecker.

Robertson said he didn’t think Joly or Trudeau helped the situation by denouncing her attendance.

“I look at this as kind of an own goal,” he said, noting that it should have been Foreign Affairs deputy minister Marta Morgan commenting on the matter. “It’s an unforced error.”

“In long-term implications, it could have a bit of a chilling effect on the relationship between the foreign service and the political level, but I think it will sort itself out,” he said.

Pamela Isfeld, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), said the focus on Heinbecker is “unfair.”

“People who work in the industry know that something like that would have been consulted very widely across organizations at different levels and that a decision to go or not go would not have been taken by a mid-level official on her own,” she said. “We think it’s a bit unfair that she’s the one out there on this.”

Julian Ovens, a former chief of staff to then-Liberal foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion, said that there was an organizational shortcoming that led to an official attending the event.

“I don’t think this begins and ends with the deputy head of protocol,” said Ovens, now a vice-president at Crestview Strategy.

“I think that there was clearly a process failure,” he said, noting that there should be an informed recommendation to the minister’s office from the department through the deputy minister’s office and the ministerial liaison’s office.

He said the situation should have been flagged to the minister’s office.

Ovens said the email to the office wasn’t sufficiently highlighted as it was only flagged for information, which he said wasn’t adequate given the amount of information a foreign minister’s office typically deals with.

He said there were insufficient calculations made about the damage in attending, noting that it would be one thing if it was a roundtable with a representative from the Russian Embassy attending versus a party.

Garry Keller, who was chief of staff to Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird, said there is typically a list of countries prepared annually for which national days the department shouldn’t attend.

Keller, now a consultant at StrategyCorp, said when he staffed Baird, there was close co-operation between their office and the protocol office to ensure there wouldn’t be any diplomats attending an unsanctioned event.

Canada doesn’t need a friendly relationship with countries to attend their national day ceremonies, but when it involves a country like Russia in the midst of an offensive against Ukraine, he said, it “boggles the mind” why diplomatic officials thought it would be acceptable to attend.

“There is no rationale for them to attend this event. There is no diplomatic value to attend this event, especially when it is the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, which has been one of the leading conveyors not just of misinformation and disinformation, but active propaganda against Canada and against Canada’s support for Ukraine,” he said, noting that Russian Ambassador Oleg Stepanov and “much” of the embassy staff should have been removed from Canada “weeks ago.”

Keller said ultimately the decision of the department is Joly’s responsibility, adding that after the Russian invasion began, she should have made the department have ministerial office approval before any engagement or discussion with the Russian Embassy.

“The fact that instruction didn’t go down immediately, I think, is a huge error. Ministers are expected to lead. Ministers are responsible and ministers are responsible for the actions … or the inaction of their political staff,” he said. “Ultimately, she is responsible.”

Moises Naim Revenge of Power

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The Revenge of Power: How Democracies Can Beat Autocracy

The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats Are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century

By Moisés Naím

Macmillan Publishing/2022

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

June 8, 2022

For perceptive insights into what fuels contemporary authoritarians and their relationship with populism, read Moisés Naím’s The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century. The book is divided into two parts: the first chapters describe the “global war on checks and balances” and how, through the abuse of our electoral process, a new breed of autocrats is corroding the checks and balances provided by legislatures and the judiciary. At the same time, they are curbing the independent media. The net result is the systematic corruption of democratic institutions, including in the world’s flagship democracy, as seen in the riveting testimony and film footage from the congressional hearings into the violent January 6, 2020 attempt to prevent president Joe Biden from taking office.

As the seven chapters in the second part of the book portray, the net result is a “world made safe for autocracy”. In the concluding chapters, Naím offers some pithy advice on how to fight back to save democracy.

Despite their different ideological and cultural differences, for Naím, the new authoritarians – including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, India’s Narendra Modi, Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador and, of course, Donald Trump – all draw on what he calls the three Ps: populism, polarization and‘post-truth’ politics to achieve and retain their powers.

The “how” of the 3P power – how it arises, how it operates, how it corrupts both formal institutions and informal norms makes up the bulk of the book, backed up by examples and references.

The Pew Foundation has long tracked the decline in trust in US political institutions. A recent ABACUS poll (2022)reveals that 52 precent of Canadians surveyed say “official government accounts of events can’t be trusted.” Equally troubling, 44 precent believe that “much of the information we receive from news organizations is false.” In tracking the pandemic, EKOS has created a disinformation index (2022) that shows Canadians are also susceptible to mis/disinformation. It had a significant impact on vaccination acceptance. It is wrong to smugly assume that Americans and Canadians are immune from populism, polarization and post-truth.

For Naím, the common link among the new breed of autocrats is their embrace of populism, but it is a mistake to think populism is an ideology. Rather, writes Naím, populism is a “technique for seeking power that is compatible with a nearly limitless range of specific ideologies.” In that sense, populism’s adaptability is its strength. It is easily deployable whenever “resentment against the elite can be mobilized … especially in the many countries where economic inequality has spiked.”

Polarization, says Naím, flows naturally from populism. Polarization also sweeps away the middle ground between political rivals. By amplifying and exploiting discord, the chances of compromise are reduced and portrayed as betrayal. Once the divide between the “noble people” and the “corrupt elite” is the focus of political life, the populists utilize all the tools at their disposal – social media and daily press conferences – to advance their version of ‘post-truth’, all the while presenting themselves as the peoples’ tribune.

As the peoples’ representative in the fight against the elite, it is the leader’s prerogative to decide which views define membership in the true citizenry. This is why, writes Naím, so many populist leaders manage to extract from their followers unconditional loyalty despite contradictions with ideas they may have espoused the day before. For populists, feelings trump facts.

Naím compares the populist’s followers to sports fans who put their emotional identification with their team at the center of their sense of being. When one’s identity, writes Naím, is built on identification with a leader, any criticism of that leader feels like a personal attack on oneself.

The autocrat’s job is made easier, says Naím, by another phenomenon of contemporary democracy – the concentration of power in the executive branch, whether for presidents or prime ministers – a function of the growing complexity of government and leaders’ astute use of technology and communications.

Social media gives leaders unfiltered access to the public. The verification checks provided by traditional media have limited application. A lie, as Jonathan Swift observed, is halfway around the world before truth has its boots on.

Polarization, says Naím, flows naturally from populism. Polarization also sweeps away the middle ground between political rivals. By amplifying and exploiting discord, the chances of compromise are reduced and portrayed as betrayal.

Globalization grew GDP in most nations but fairness did not enter into its rewards. While the elites flourished, the poor got poorer and there was a hollowing out of the middle class. The public lost faith and confidence in traditional institutions, including government, the church, business and labour unions.

In contrast with traditional liberalism, which focused on job creation and economic growth, then distributing the benefits and burdens of social cooperation so as to create a fairer society, the new progressive elite emphasized a hurried-up redistribution based on identity, gender and race. They and their policies became easy targets for populists who promised to defend the left-out. The net result, says Naím, is that liberal democracies face a crisis that compares with the rise of fascism across Europe in the 1930s.

Naím writes with a poet’s panache in describing the “implacable new enemy”: “The foe has no army, no navy, it comes from no country we can point to on a map. It is everywhere and nowhere, because it is not there but in here. Rather than threatening societies with destruction from without, like the Nazis and Soviets once did, this foe threatens them from within.”

Naím warns that these new populists are taking power through democratic elections, then jettisoning, preferably through guile and artifice but, when necessary, through force, the legislative, judicial and media restraints on their positions.

Against this discouraging backdrop, Naím warns that, while there is no silver bullet, democrats must fight back. This means winning five concurrent battles against: the “Big Lie”; criminalized governments; autocracies that undermine democracies; political cartels that stifle competition; and illiberal narratives. Each of these battles will require political will, legal creativity, technological and journalistic innovation. Naím argues that ranked-choice voting is preferrable to our current first-past-the-post electoral system when it comes to channeling competition for the broader public good.

Civic education, once the mainstay of public education, must be restored to the curriculum and include a new focus on fact-checking and recognizing dis/misinformation. An informed citizenry, concludes Naím, that actively participates in civic affairs through mechanisms such as citizen assemblies is the best defence against the autocrats.

The Revenge of Power is in many ways the sequel to his previous book, The End of Power (2014) in which Naím argued that power was becoming increasingly diffused to new and agile actors who were adapting to technology. Being big, concluded Naím, did not necessarily translate into being the most powerful, especially when it came to militaries that were having to adapt to asymmetrical warfare.

Both books draw on Naím’s diverse, polymathic experience. Before moving to the United States, where he is now a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Naím served as Venezuela’s trade minister and then director of its Central Bank, then executive director of the World Bank. He then edited Foreign Policy for 14 years (1996-2010), receiving the Ortega y Gasset award (2011) for his contribution to journalism in the Spanish language. Last year, he published a thriller: Two Spies in Caracas, set in Venezuela as Hugo Chavez begins to seek power. Naím continues to host and produce Efecto Naím; a weekly television program on international affairs that airs throughout the Americas.

The Revenge of Power is intelligent and provocative. Naím offers original insights backed with facts, figures and fascinating factoids. He criss-crosses the disciplines of politics, economics, philosophy, trade, religion, and science and technology with ease. It is depressing when contrasting the challenges to democracy against its too-limp defences. Indifference, denial and delay only serve to advance the new autocrats.

The Revenge of Power should help to reinforce and motivate efforts like the Trudeau government’s much-promised, much-delayed “peace, order and good government” (2019) initiative to establish a “Canadian centre to better support democracy and good governance around the world.” (2021). As a start, we should be investing more in existing Canadian institutions like the Parliamentary Centre, which is dedicated to “supporting inclusive and accountable democratic institutions.” As Naím observes, “The times call for bold experimentation in government – not just innovative policies, but also innovative ways of making policy.” It’s how we will beat back the autocrats.

Policy Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career foreign service officer, is a fellow and senior adviser at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Diplomacy Initiative

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‘Diplomacy is all about being there’: former diplomats call for reassessment of foreign service global presence during GAC review

By NEIL MOSS      
‘We need human beings in these other countries, in these war zones, to give a genuinely Canadian perspective that’s not filtered through the internet,’ says former diplomat Ben Rowswell.

As Global Affairs embarks on a review of its foreign service work, former diplomats and experts say they want to see the concentration of envoys in Ottawa addressed in favour of more foreign service officers stationed in Canada’s missions around the world.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.) and Foreign Affairs deputy minister Marta Morgan announced the review on May 30, which will look at the personnel Global Affairs needs to perform its duties, its capacities, technology and digital abilities, as well as its global presence.

In a townhall with Global Affairs officials, Joly spotlighted the changed world that Global Affairs finds itself operating in, especially after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

“Power is more defuse. We are no longer living in a unipolar world. Old alliances are being tested, and new alliances are coming to form. And most importantly, huge international crises that used to be truly the exception are now becoming the norm,” she said, according to a copy of prepared remarks.

Through the review, Joly said there is a need to take an “honest look in the mirror.”

“We will be looking forward, opening the windows and exploring how we can better ready ourselves for the challenges of the 21st century,” she said.

As part of the initiative, an external advisory council has been struck—filled with former diplomats and senior officials, as well as representatives of Canadians business and youth. Global Affairs is still in the process of confirming the members of the council, according to a departmental spokesperson.

A report is expected by the end of the year, according to Morgan’s prepared remarks, which will include “potential action items.”

Former diplomats and foreign policy experts told The Hill Times that the review is welcome and was long overdue.

Canadian Global Affairs Institute vice-president Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, said the review is “hugely ambitious.”

“I think it’s necessary,” he said. “It is useful to look at where diplomacy is going.”

While the department is performing a foreign service review, the government is stopping short of conducting a review of Canada’s foreign policy.

Robertson said that the announced review could be a first step towards a foreign policy review.

He said focus has to be given on addressing the concentration of foreign service officers in Ottawa.

“Diplomacy is all about being there. You have to be there. You can’t do it through Zoom,” he said.

He called the number of diplomats posted abroad—around 18 per cent—“abysmal.”

“I believe that Canada’s in a moment in our international relations where new ambition is required,” said Canadian International Council president Ben Rowswell, a former senior-level diplomat and ambassador to Venezuela.

While noting ambition has been demonstrated in Canada’s response to the Russian invasion, sustained ambition will be required, he said.

“There’s an overarching question on how the public service of Canada supports the new political leadership and the new political ambition and systemize it and sustain it over time,” he said.

Rowswell said one area he wants to see the review focus on is duty of care in conflict zones.

“There are more and more conflict zones. Those conflicts are more and more threatening to Canada. And, therefore, there are more and more requirements for Canada to have diplomats on the ground in those conflicts,” he said. “As the world gets more dangerous, for example, we need to have more diplomats out in harm’s way, not less, because Canada’s interest is at stake and diplomats advance Canada’s national interest.”

Canadian diplomats have been pulled out of a number of conflict zones in recent years, including in Ukraine and in Afghanistan. Canada’s embassy in Ukraine has since been re-opened.

Rowswell said there is an urgent need to reverse the trend of having so many diplomats in Ottawa.

“We need physical eyes and feet on the ground,” he said. “We need human beings in these other countries, in these war zones, to give a genuinely Canadian perspective that’s not filtered through the internet,” he said. “It’s more urgent than ever.”

Former diplomat Ferry de Kerckhove, whose head of mission postings included Pakistan and Egypt, said in areas of greater instability, there is a larger need for diplomats on the ground.

“We need to rejuvenate our foreign policy capability. We need to have [diplomats] abroad,” he said.

Unlike the current approach taken by Canada, de Kerckhove said the most capable diplomats need to be in capitals that are most hostile, instead of in the capitals of Canada’s closest allies.

“One should realize that you need quality in tough postings and you don’t need your best in postings that are so easy,” he said.

Progressive Senator Peter Harder (Ontario), a former foreign affairs deputy minister, said the foreign service’s trend of having more postings in Ottawa has been motivated by cost savings.

“The price of diplomacy is a lot cheaper than the price of armed conflict,” he said.

Harder said that attention needs to be on recruitment.

“If you don’t have the right administrative processes, if you don’t recruit in an appropriate way to advance the skills necessary for a modern foreign service, you are not going to have a foreign ministry that is better than the sum of its parts,” he said. “That’s a huge challenge.”

Harder said there needs to be a level of ongoing expertise in areas that may not be today’s priority, noting that when Afghanistan became central to the West’s interests, there was little experience in the foreign ministry about Afghanistan.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said the review is a positive step and it needs to focus on the people.

“We are happy to see this happening, but we want to make sure that it actually delivers on what it says it will deliver and that it will really get at the issues,” she said.

“There’s a real need to take a fundamental look at what Canada is doing internationally, what the role of the foreign service should be, what tools we need, and how recruitment is being done,” she said.

Isfeld said attention has to be paid to the changing geopolitical nature of the world that has resulted in Canada’s foreign missions around the world becoming increasingly dangerous.

“That needs to affect the type of people we recruit. You have to be honest about the psychological demands, about the physical demands, in some cases. And I’m not sure that the department is yet getting its mind around that kind of thing,” she said.

University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani, a foreign policy expert, said the department needs to look at budgeting.

“The review notes we’ll take a hard look in the mirror and I hope this includes assessing our declining influence and relevance in international diplomacy,” she said in an email. “Our spending on foreign policy initiatives and development aid is paltry and will need to be enhanced and strengthened if we want to be taken seriously and make a difference.”

Nordic countries, which outpace Canada’s foreign policy on a per capita basis and relative to its GDP, should be used as examples for Ottawa, she said.

“Having a seat at the table of influence costs money. Good ideas and intentions are simply not enough. The international environment is more fraught than ever and will only get worse as the global economy will have a difficult time recovering from [high] post-COVID debt,” she said.

Former Canadian diplomat Barbara Martin, now a Queen’s University policy studies adjunct professor, said without an understanding of what Canadian foreign policy wants to achieve, it is difficult to ascertain what is needed in terms of people, structures, and tools.

“This is not a foreign policy review, but rather a review of the capacity of Global Affairs Canada to respond to the international challenges Canada is facing now,” she said in an email.

“It is about ‘how’ to conduct international relations … it is not about ‘what’ Canada should be doing in response to the particular challenges of today, including rising autocracy, critical challenges to the international order, pandemic and outright war. Rather, the review is focussed on policy capacity, digital capacity and international presence, with an undercurrent of more money. But, it is not about policy,” she said.

At the same time the department is undergoing the review, the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade has started a study into “the foreign service and elements of the foreign policy machinery within Global Affairs Canada.”

Committee chair and Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario) said the Senate and departmental studies will probably be “compatible.” Boehm is a past ambassador to Germany, former deputy minister of international development, and G7 sherpa.

He said the committee’s study is looking at whether the foreign service is “fit for purpose.”

“This is to look at how the foreign service functions, how it might be able to function better, how it would reflect a modern approach—in other words a 21st century foreign minister,” he said. “There hasn’t been an external study done since the Royal Commission on Conditions of Foreign Service led by Pamela McDougall in 1981.”

Boehm said he expects the Senate committee to take a year for its work, which will include looking at the operations of comparable foreign services.

Harder, who serves as the vice-chair of the committee, said the study will take the time to develop recommendations that the government should consider.

“We felt that we had to be deliberate in our pace, but broad in our approach. Also take some time to do some comparative work that is necessary to positions our experience with those of likeminded foreign ministries,” he said.

The three Global Affairs deputy ministers—Morgan, David Morrison for international trade, and Christopher MacLennan for international development—will appear before the committee on June 9.

Behind Joly’s plan to modernize Canadian diplomacy

Cabinet minister says Canada’s foreign service needs to keep up to a rapidly changing world.

Melanie Joly said she wants to empower the foreign service “to be at more tables, with louder voices and better equipment to meet the moment.” | Marcus Brandt/Pool via AP

By ANDY BLATCHFORD

05/31/2022 05:00 AM EDT

OTTAWA, Ont. — Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada wants to better prepare its diplomats for an increasingly uncertain world.

“Crises used to be something that happened every once in a decade — but now they’re happening every year,” Joly told POLITICO in an interview Monday evening. “We need to keep up with these challenging times.”

Joly announced a review exercise on Monday during a town hall with staffers from the foreign affairs department, which is called Global Affairs Canada. The department has 12,000 employees and offices in 110 countries.

Joly said she wants to better equip her department with the tools it needs to operate in the rapidly advancing world of digital technologies. She noted how foreign powers are using the digital space to push their own narratives and interests.

The plan will also look for ways to strengthen Canada’s voice in multilateral organizations and ensure the country can attract top talent to its diplomatic corps, she said.

The department will survey its staff for ideas and draw input from an external advisory board, which will be made up of former heads of mission and senior officials, Canadian business leaders and youth representatives.

Canada, Joly said, will join partners like the U.S. State Department and other G-7 countries in launching a diplomatic modernization exercise. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a speech on the U.S. plan in October.

In prepared remarks of her speech to Global Affairs Canada, Joly told the public servants that “indeed, the world changed profoundly” with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“But, you and I know that change started well before then,” she said. “Power is more diffuse. We are no longer living in a unipolar world. Old alliances are being tested, and new alliances are coming to form.”

Joly said she wants to empower the foreign service “to be at more tables, with louder voices and better equipment to meet the moment.”

“We will be taking an honest look in the mirror,” her speech said.

Marta Morgan, Canada’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, told Monday’s town hall that the department is increasingly asked to respond to situations and events that are without precedent.

“The environment in which we are now operating is increasingly complex, volatile and challenging, with new actors, technologies, a rule-based international system at an inflection point, and global issues intrinsically linked to domestic issues,” Morgan said in prepared remarks of her address to staff.

Morgan said the goal is to produce a report by next March with the findings and “potential action items.”

The rethink comes three months after the Senate committee on foreign affairs and international trade launched a study and called for a report on the Canadian foreign service and “elements of the foreign policy machinery” within Global Affairs Canada.

The Canadian government has been under pressure to revitalize its foreign affairs department and, for example, to send more diplomats abroad.

Experts, like former diplomat Colin Robertson, wrote in Policy this month that when he joined the foreign service half of the staff was abroad and half were at home. He said today only about 18 percent are posted abroad.

Robertson also said the last comprehensive study of Canada’s foreign service was the McDougall Report, launched in 1980 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

“In a world that is increasingly confrontational, diplomacy matters more than ever,” Robertson wrote.

Joly, who has served as foreign minister since October, said she approached the prime minister last fall with the idea for a review.

“Canadians understand that what is going on in the world has an impact at home and in their everyday lives. And so it’s important to have a strong presence abroad.”

Taiwan, China and the Indo-Pacific

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Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Taiwan Strait

CIA Factbook

Colin Robertson

May 31, 2022

The current Taiwan Strait deliberations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE) could not be more timely, especially as they relate to Taiwan, China and the South China sea. The government should pay heed to the committee’s deliberations and integrate them into its long-promised, long-overdue, Indo-Pacific strategy. This new strategy must include a new approach to Taiwan.

I made my first visit to Taiwan in the spring of 1988, six months after being posted as consul to the British Crown colony of Hong Kong. Hong Kong was China’s entrepot to the world as well as our best entrée into the rest of Asia. Hong Kong continues to be home to the largest concentration of Canadian citizens in Asia and the second-largest population of expatriate Canadians after the US. In the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, many Hong Kongers emigrated to Canada. After obtaining citizenship, many returned to work in Hong Kong while keeping family and business ties with Canada.

I was also accredited to China. Every four months, I would travel north by rail from Kowloon through the New Territories, crossing the border at Lo Wu and then onto Guangzhou to attend to our consular cases while reporting on the economic developments in a China that, under Deng Xiaoping, was now determined to get rich. As Deng summarized his view on the role of ideology in economic development: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” 

I watched Shenzhen change from bucolic rice paddies and water buffaloes to a booming frontier town of bamboo scaffolding and raucous growth. Today, it is China’s Silicon Valley and home to Huawei.

I had already visited Beijing, with its hutongs and bicycles, and choked in the coal smoke. My visit to Taiwan reminded me very much of Beijing. The island’s population was overwhelmingly Han Chinese but the island has been politically distinct from the mainland since the civil war that engulfed China before, during and after the Second World War (1927-49), producing the People’s Republic of China ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the mainland and the Republic of China (ROC) ruled by the Kuomintang on Taiwan. The Kuomintang (KMT) and the CCP ruled in much the same way, both claiming to be the true representatives of the Chinese people. When I first saw Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek’s successor as president, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, had just stepped down. My posting concluded in 1992, four years before Taiwan’s first free and fair election in 1996.

For the West, the iconic Asian leader of the time was Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, friend of Pierre Trudeau and master of technocratic efficiency. Lee famously argued that “Asian values” were best protected by benevolent but autocratic government, a view China enthusiastically embraced as a capitalist alternative to democracy.

Taiwan has become a vibrant and lively democracy with peaceful transitions between parties, a free press, independent judiciary, and a competent civil service — arguably, the least corrupt in Asia.

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

But there was one fundamental difference.

As we drove into Taipei, we passed the official residence of its president, Madame Tsai Ing-wen (re-elected for a second four-year term in 2020). There was a demonstration. What was it about, I asked? It was in support of freedom of the press. An oligarch with ties to China wanted to buy a local newspaper, something the public opposed. The PRC disinformation and cyber campaign against Taiwan is relentless. Taiwan’s disinformation defences should be studied by the West.

Taiwan has become a vibrant and lively democracy with peaceful transitions between parties, a free press, independent judiciary, and a competent civil service — arguably, the least corrupt in Asia. In its latest annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom House scores Taiwan with 94 out of 100. (Canada scores 98, the US gets 83, China is ranked at 9).

I had dinner with Taiwan’s minister for Information Technology, Audrey Tang. Applied technology, notably the production of semi-conductors – is the means by which Taiwan leapt into the ranks of developed nations. (In its annual evaluation of economic freedom, the Heritage Foundation ranks Taiwan 3rd among 39 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, China ranks 35th).

Minister Tang is transgender. A month earlier, the Taiwanese legislature had been the first in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage.

Yes, she told me, China is relentless in its campaign to destabilize and intimidate the Taiwanese through disinformation, cyberwarfare and intrusions into its airspace. But the Taiwanese people will defend their democracy. They rely on the US and wish the West were less cowed by China.

Against this backdrop, an observation and three recommendations:

Taiwan has become a democratic citadel in Asia. Through industry, innovation and freedom, its quality of life eclipses that of the mainland. This belies the CCP belief that Chinese people, indeed Asian people, want and do best under autocracy. A successful, democratic Taiwan undermines the very legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. If Hong Kong was, as Deng Xioping put it, “the pimple on the arse of China”, Taiwan is the heretic state that Xi Jinping is determined to reunify with the mainland. Vladimir Putin, evidently, views Ukraine the same way.

Now that China has snuffed out democracy in Hong Kong, Taiwan is the best place in the Indo-Pacific from which to monitor the mainland. Taiwan’s think tanks and intelligence about China are without peer. With China a source for pandemics but inclined to cover-up, Taiwan’s proximity gives us early warning.

As to recommendations:

First, there is no quick fix for our challenges with China. We must stay engaged with the PRC for reasons of geopolitics, trade and our people-to-people ties. Working with China to address climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation is essential. But we need to do so with eyes wide open because China is actively challenging our rules-based order.

China sees itself as the rising superpower, but with power comes responsibility. It should initiate a pragmatic end to the disputes on its frontiers and in Asian waters.

Our current China policy of “eyes wide open”, with a fourfold approach of “coexist, compete, co-operate, and challenge”, was enunciated by then Foreign Minister Marc Garneau after the resolution (September, 2021) of the Meng Wanzhou-two Michaels standoff. But it is more talking points than substance. At a minimum, we need a re-examination of our policy on the activities of Chinese state-owned enterprises as well as a full discussion of Chinese disinformation, cyber-intrusions including intellectual property theft, and efforts to subvert democracy worldwide. Intimidation of Canadian citizens of Chinese descent must be resisted and the malefactors sent packing. The Declaration on Arbitrary Detention also needs teeth – sanctions – to prevent more Chinese hostage-taking. 

For Canada and its democratic partners, engagement alone won’t address the tensions arising from China’s ambition to predominant power in the Indo-Pacific. The democracies cannot permit the foremost authoritarian state to dominate the Indo-Pacific, shape its strategic culture and set the rules. The democracies need structures and new frameworks for collective pushback to respond when China behaves badly and acts in violation of international law.

For now, our fundamental differences on values such as human rights and democratic institutions require a robust defence that will require investment in both hard and soft power.

Second, we should do more to support Taiwan.

Taiwan’s geostrategic position in the South China sea, through which our trade must pass, is critical. In what is shaping up to be a long confrontation between autocracy and democracy, Taiwan matters to Canada. Toward this end, we need to:

  • Promote trade and investment and encourage more people-to-people ties, including marketing Canadian schools and universities and Canada as a destination for tourism and immigration.
  • Taiwan is exemplary in its promotion of democracy globally. Canada should find opportunities to partner with them.
  • Resume ministerial visits. The last minister to visit was then Industry Minister John Manley in 1998.
  • Support Taiwan’s legitimate aspiration to join institutions such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Just as functionalism has worked for Canada, so it should for Taiwan.

Third, the Indo-Pacific is a region of vital importance to Canada’s security and prosperity.

We have been working on a strategy for over five years. We can no longer afford to procrastinate. In the meantime, our key partners – the United States, the United Kingdom, European Union, AustraliaNew Zealand – have all implemented strategies flexible enough to adapt to change. Our strategy needs to include the following:

  • Shift from our current episodic, issue-based engagement in the region to a more persistent presence with key states and institutions of interest. We need to vigorously engage with emerging coalitions such as the Australia-India-Japan-United States (Quad) supply chain resiliency initiative.
  • Protect and support freedom of navigation in areas where it is under threat. That will require an increased maritime – especially naval – presence.
  • Increase participation in military exercises with allies. This must include ship visits in the region to boost Canadian trade and to support diplomatic and academic overtures as well as to assert our national policy on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • Re-think and re-engage in security dialogues such as the East Asia Security Dialogue and organizations like ASEAN and the Quad.

Canada’s interests in the Indo-Pacific require sustained diplomatic engagement and military presence.

As a matter of urgency, we need a comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy that includes a new approach to Taiwan. For the good of Canadians and to ensure policy continuity through government transitions, it should enjoy the support of the Official Opposition and the provincial premiers, as well as the government.

The Pacific is one of Canada’s oceans. We don’t pay enough attention to it. Now, we must.

Contributing writer Colin Robertson is a former career foreign service officer and diplomat who has served in America and Asia. He is now Senior Advisor and Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Foreign Service reform

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Time to Revitalize Canada’s Foreign Service

Policy Magazine, May 8, 2022 Colin Robertson

In a world that is increasingly confrontational, diplomacy matters more than ever. So, it is timely that the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is examining the “Canadian foreign service and elements of the foreign policy machinery within Global Affairs Canada.”

If their work prods the government into investing more in our diplomatic service, it will be resources well spent. As Canada’s eyes, ears and voice, reflecting our values and protecting our interests beyond our borders, these times require a strong Canadian foreign service.

The last serious study of the foreign service, the McDougall Report, was commissioned by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1980 and completed 13 months later. A new review is overdue and expected to be completed in an equally timely fashion.

The Senate study is the initiative of its chair, Peter Boehm, and vice chair, Peter Harder, two former foreign service officers with distinguished careers at home and abroad. It will build on and likely complement an earlier Senate study, Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy, the initiative of Senator Pat Bovey, whose professional career included directing the Victoria and Winnipeg art galleries.

As a middle power contiguous to a superpower, more than most nations our sense of identity is realized by how we act and are seen to act abroad. More than most nations, our prosperity depends on our ability to trade and invest abroad. As does our ability to recruit immigrants and refugees. To successfully achieve these objectives, we rely on our foreign service.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Canada’s foreign service was instrumental in helping to build the rules-based order that, for much of the last 77 years, reinforced global peace and security, permitting unprecedented global growth.

Half of our heads of mission are women and women make up 53 percent of our foreign service, up from less than 25 percent in 1981. Visible minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community represent 8 and 10 percent of the foreign service respectively.

If American diplomats were the architects, Canadian diplomats were the engineers of post-war multilateral institution-building. Lester Pearson, Hume Wrong, Norman Robertson and Escott Reid introduced the principle of “functionalism”; if you have interests, competence and capability, then you earn a place at the top table, regardless of size. It has become the guiding light of Canadian foreign policy, leading to achievements such as the creation of peacekeeping, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the Ottawa Treaty on landmines and the International Criminal Court.

Canada is not a great world power, but in certain sectors — food and energy, for instance — we have vital interests and capacity. Coupled with the leadership and personal support of prime ministers such as Louis St-Laurent, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien, we gained a place at the table. What smoothed our way was the effective diplomacy of our foreign service.

Internationalists by conviction, our post-war diplomats were realists by experience, an attitude that continues to characterize Canadian diplomacy. They also personified the qualities we still seek in our foreign service:

  • Adaptability: Dispatched among datelines around the globe and back to headquarters like homing pigeons, officers must adapt fluidly to new cultures and pick up new skills.
  • Engagement and Communications: In a networked world, officers must possess the vital ability to personally engage in the single-minded pursuit of the national interest and then communicate analysis and recommendations to our foreign and domestic interlocutors.
  • Empathy: Officers must possess the curiosity and interest to master the elements, values and languages of other peoples. Cultivating relationships is a lot easier when we respect people enough to know them. Understanding where our adversaries are coming from helps prevent them from becoming enemies. In the contest between open and closed systems that is likely to dominate this century, empathy reflecting our values is a powerful asset.

While the qualities remain the same, the current foreign service looks much different from the mostly male, mostly anglophone generation of Lester Pearson. Half of our heads of mission are women and women make up 53 percent of our foreign service, up from less than 25 percent in 1981. Visible minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community represent 8 and 10 percent of the foreign service respectively.

As our world transforms so must our foreign service. Here are 10 recommendations that I believe will help in its transformation to meet the challenges of the 21st century:

1. More foreign service staff, sufficient that we have surge capacity for calamities and to allow for training, secondments, exchanges, and personal leave. In a Global Affairs department of nearly 13,000 that is part of the 320,000-member public service, the foreign service numbers just over 2,400, or less than a percentage of the total public service.

Our international presence has grown to 175 foreign missions. While our foreign ministry has expanded fourfold since Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, the foreign service has only increased a little less than 25 percent. We need more officers. Our pluralism means that we are one of the few countries in the world that can build a foreign service that looks like the entire world. This is an image few others can present and we need to capitalize on it.

Since Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, the global population has nearly doubled from 4.4 to 7.8 billion while Canada’s population has grown from 25 million to its current 38 million. One in five Canadians is born abroad. In Toronto, our biggest city, half the population was born abroad. Canadian trade, as a percentage of GDP, has expanded from 46 percent to 65 percent.

Both our trade and immigration are enabled by the foreign service. When we strove to meet Pearson’s target of 0.7 percent of GDP to development assistance, led by the Canadian International Development Agency, our diplomats helped to bridge the north-south divide, often utilizing Canadian business prowess, especially in engineering.

The personal interests of Canadians, who before the pandemic were traveling more than ever before, is also the responsibility of our diplomats. Inevitably, Canadians encounter mishaps – injuries, robberies, arrests – that require our consular services to step in and help. In the case of calamities such as the COVID pandemic, strife in Lebanon, or a tsunami in the Indo-Pacific, it is on-the-ground consular officers who bring those Canadians home. While 1-800 lines are useful, nothing beats having diplomats on the ground to help those in need.

We also, quite literally, need more foreign service: Increasingly, we are home-bound rather than foreign-based. When I joined the foreign service, half of us were abroad and half at home. Today, only about 18 percent are posted abroad. It’s not possible to give and get a Canadian perspective when our foreign service is home-bound. It costs more to post them abroad but our interests require a strong presence overseas.

2. More geographic and functional specialists. In recent years we have embraced the “cult of the manager” at the expense of specialized expertise.

I will never forget a briefing during Pierre Trudeau’s East-West peace initiative that involved a newly arrived deputy minister who had not served in the foreign service. Allan MacEachen was foreign minister for a second time, in addition to his role as deputy prime minister. He quizzed the deputy on some facts. The deputy paused and then said he’d have to ask others, saying that his job was to “manage” the department. MacEachen nodded but never invited him back. He told us that he expected his diplomats to “know their stuff”. So did Pierre Trudeau. While he had once dismissed the foreign service, saying he learned more from reading the newspaper, he — like most of his successors as prime minister — came to appreciate and rely on the versatility and expertise of Canada’s foreign service.

The reputation of the foreign service depends on its expertise and experience. We can contract bean-counters but developing foreign service expertise is a life-long vocation of learning languages and understanding foreign cultures through repeated postings as well as reinforcing that knowledge and constantly expanding our networks of contacts.

3. “Duty of Care”, a recently introduced (2017) concept of ‘risk management’ that handicaps Canadian diplomats from working in difficult circumstances, needs review and clarification. Foreign service officers expect to serve in difficult circumstances. Like our military, we are – and should be – compensated accordingly. If we want to bring a Canadian perspective to the top table, we need to be in places like Kyiv, Tehran, and Pyongyang. With protection, we also need to accept difficult circumstances as part of the job.

4. Recognition, including a career track, for locally engaged staff (LES). Whether foreign nationals or expatriate Canadians, they keep our offices abroad running efficiently, providing residual memory and continuity and, in my experience, they have the best networks of the people we need to engage. They are an under-appreciated asset and they need champions.

5. Better utilization of honorary consuls, especially in the United States, where we should have representation in every state. With three-quarters of our exports destined to the US, and with US sources accounting for over two-thirds of our foreign investment, we need representation in every state to both advance our interests and head off the perpetual challenge posed by American protectionism. Honorary consuls, who can offer the value-added of longevity in post, can make a difference.

6. More emphasis on partnerships with provincial representatives, who complement our work abroad, especially when it comes to trade and investment. With 33 offices abroad, eleven of them in the US, Quebec has the most sophisticated provincial foreign service and it is a model for other provinces as they expand their networks abroad.

7. Political appointments, yes, but sparingly. Those with political backgrounds have proven especially effective in heading our US missions where all interests are political. But diplomacy is a vocation that requires experience and expertise. There is always the temptation to use foreign postings as a reward. Many rise to the role, but we should not use ambassadorial appointments as a sinecure.

8. More use of data and technology. Algorithmic protocols are now more important to diplomats than the protocol of table placement. Measurement also matters and through investments in technology, knowledge management and diagnostics, the foreign service can leverage data to our advantage.

9. More public diplomacy. Outreach, applying social media, needs to go beyond the conventional circuit of business, bureaucrats and fellow diplomats to include innovators, thought leaders, mayors, civil society and those who share our values. The government also needs to fully implement the recommendations of the Senate report Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy, especially those relating to the revival of a Canadian studies program and the creation of a comprehensive cultural diplomacy strategy, resourced and then measured.

For an insight into the effectiveness of public diplomacy in advancing Canadian interests, read Gary Smith’s recent memoir Ice War Diplomat in which he describes the tremendous diplomatic value achieved through the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series. We may soon need to resurrect that playbook.

10. As to foreign ministry machinery, form follows function. That form must be sufficiently adaptable to reflect the priorities of the government while avoiding reorganizations that create chaos and deadlock. Middle powers such as Canada must mostly react to events but an annual government priorities statement would provide focus for our limited resources.

Canada’s global interests are best served with a professional and muscular foreign service. For most of the past decade, successive governments, Conservative and Liberal, have starved what was once the world’s premier diplomatic service. If the Conservatives distrusted their diplomats and treated them with contempt, the Liberals took them for granted. Recruitment was halted, budgets were sliced and our residences abroad were sold off, ignoring the fact that. in the host country, lunch or dinner at the Canadian Residence was considered a prized invitation. These political leaders forgot Jean Chrétien’s canny observation that “you don’t do diplomacy out of the basement.” It’s time for redress.

Justin Trudeau is now the senior member of the G7 and, if he is like most prime ministers who have formed a government more than once, he will be looking to leave an international legacy. The current global distemper certainly provides much opportunity for Canadian bridge-building. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is astute and engaged. Crises, especially the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have necessitated that Joly quickly establish a network of her own that includes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Canadians will embrace a revival of the job we have always best served in international affairs, that of helpful fixer. But it will require the proper resourcing and revitalization of our foreign service so that it can do its job.

Canada and US Politics

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America’s political divisiveness a concern for Canada, but American protectionism a challenge no matter who is in office say MPs, experts

By CHELSEA NASH      
Protectionist policies in the U.S. continue to be a ‘political sticking point,’ as Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ approach has left a lasting impression American approaches to trade, MPs and experts say.
Canada-U.S. expert Colin Robertson, not pictured, said he’s been told by people at the American State Department that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, left, is making a good impression with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and that ‘he takes her counsel even though she’s brand new in this game.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade and courtesy of Flickr

Members of Parliament and experts on the Canada-U.S. relationship are not inclined to entertain the thought of second term for Donald Trump as president of the United States—at least not yet.

The U.S. is a “nation divided,” but both the Democrats and the Republicans have protectionist tendencies that pose economic and political challenges to Canada, say MPs and experts, and just because Trump is not in office today, many of the protectionist attitudes and policies that he introduced have been maintained by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.

“What does worry me is that politically, the United States is a nation divided,” says Liberal MP John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood, Ont.), who is the co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group along with Senator Michael L. MacDonald (Nova Scotia).

MP John McKay—who is the co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group—said what worries him about the Canada-U.S. relationship is ‘the United States is a nation divided.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“But [the division is] not one-sided. The Democrats have a protectionist tendency that never seems to work for Canada. The Republicans, on the other hand, have an isolationist tendency that also doesn’t work for Canada,” McKay told The Hill Times in an interview.

McKay said the protectionist policies from the United States continue to be a “political sticking point” in the relationship between the two nations, even a few years after Donald Trump—famous for his “America First” slogan and policies—has vacated the White House.

Asked if he was concerned about Trump’s ongoing attempt to make a political comeback—and the not-so-subtle hints he’s been dropping about a 2024 presidential run—McKay scoffed.

“Who could pay attention to what Donald Trump does? I don’t sit on a Twitter account and watch it each and every day. How do you respond to that?” he said.

Trump has “obviously captured” the Republican Party, McKay said, but wouldn’t say he was concerned about a second term in office for the failed businessman-turned-politician.

“Every once in a while something goes sideways on him, and as other commentators have put it, he hasn’t won. He lost the election. He lost the Congress in 2018. His losses are greater than his wins,” said McKay.

Colin Robertson, vice-president and fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said he thinks the return of Trump or a candidate like him “is something we should prepare for.”

“My own view is that we should be trying now as much as we can to institutionalize things like how you manage the border,” Robertson told The Hill Times. 

Institutionalizing border policy is something that will “provide us with a kind of shield if you get a crazy again,” he said. Once things are entrenched in the bureaucracy, it becomes more difficult to change them, so Canada should be working to make sure it’s on the same page as the U.S. in a few key areas while the relationship is friendly.

NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West, Ont) said there’s a “rush” for passports in his constituency which sits on the border.

“That includes people travelling to the United States and rediscovering relationships that have been separated, amongst family, friends and business counterparts,” he said.

NDP MP Brian Masse, his party’s trade critic, said he’s happy to see a ‘rush’ for passports in his border riding of Windsor, Ont. as it indicates personal and business relations are being restored post-pandemic. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

That restoration of interpersonal relationships is helpful, he said, because it’s the foundation upon which the political relationship rests.

Canada is “lacking champions in the U.S.,” he said, which is why, as an MP, he’s “more interested in renewing our cultural, social, and business context and families along the border. It’s our people that at the end of the day, are the solid backbone of the relationship.”

“With the U.S. focusing on itself and its divisiveness over the last several years—[it was] challenging before COVID, and with COVID—it’s certainly become complicated to get the attention of Washington and to be taken seriously, which is something that government has a real problem with at the moment, even outside of COVID.”

Masse—his party’s trade critic—said he wasn’t concerned about Trump.

On trade, Masse said Canada has issues with both Democrats and Republicans.

“You don’t have to just worry about Trump,” he said. “We’re getting hit on both sides.”

Maryscott “Scotty” Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, told The Hill Times that Canada’s relationship with the United States is “distracted.”

“The state of the relationship, in my opinion, is distracted,” she said, pointing to “endless political cycles,” the state of the economy, and current world events—including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—as factors that are competing for political attention at the moment.

“I think companies, citizens, leaders, politicians are not focused on how to advance the Canada-U.S. relationship to the benefit of everybody. I think they’re focused on their immediate problems,” she said.

Greenwood also suggested that the rhetorical position of the Biden administration as being friendly to Canada has given Canadians what is perhaps a false sense of security about the relationship.

“When Trump was president, Canada did—I think—a phenomenal job of stickhandling the relationship with him. It was a combination of being cool under pressure, not…being goaded into anything,” she said. Canada negotiated the new NAFTA—or the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement or CUSMA, as it’s now known—skillfully, she said.

“Canada was fully mobilized and it wasn’t partisan. It was a really good, sort of broad, sectoral—public, private, labour, everything—effort. And then, when Biden was elected, I think there was a moment where Canada generally—not like, particularly in government, but just sort of everybody—breathed a sigh of relief, and thought, ‘Okay, well, we’ve got a friend,’ right.”

Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, said the Canada-U.S. relationship is currently ‘distracted.’ The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Greenwood said the truth was that the protectionist policies and attitudes that had been accelerated under Trump were continuing along at “at a rate that I think Canadians found alarming.”

The rhetoric was better, she said, but the substance stayed the same. This was evidenced by Joe Biden’s “Buy America” policies, which require initiatives that receive government funding to use products that are made in America. One of the better known examples of this is Biden’s proposed rebate for electric vehicles (EVs). The $12,500 (U.S.) rebate is only available for all-American EVs. But that’s not the only example. As Greenwood pointed out, the U.S. border also closed to potatoes produced in Prince Edward Island since November.

“It might sound a little obscure … but it was definitely a protectionist act on the part of the U.S.,” Greenwood said.

It was actually the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that stopped P.E.I. potatoes from moving across the border, but only after the U.S. threatened legal action due to concerns about potato wart. But, as reported by CBC, Prince Edward Island potato growers said they were confident about the quality and safety of their potatoes.

“Joe Biden, Secretary of Agriculture [Tom] Vilsack, under pressure from Idaho, Maine … found a way to block P.E.I. potatoes—a big competitor out of the market—during their biggest, as I learned, the biggest time for potatoes in the market is Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Greenwood said.

The border reopened to some shipments of P.E.I. potatoes at the beginning of April.

In his April 5 address to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen distinguished between “Buy America” and “Buy American” policies—which are federal procurement standards—and Trump’s “America First” stance.

U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen addressed the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations (CORIM) on April 5, where he described Canada and the U.S. as family. ‘You don’t agree with everyone in your family all the time,’ he told the council. Screenshot courtesy of CORIM

“America First was a protectionist statement of trade and a philosophy that, in all things trade, the playing field was going to be tilted toward America. That is not Buy America or Buy American,” which are federal procurement standards.

“Buy American” refers to the 1933 Buy American Act, which requires U.S. federal agencies to purchase goods that are made in the U.S. “Buy America” refers to requirements set out for projects like infrastructure projects that, in order to qualify for federal funding, must purchase goods made in the U.S., like steel or iron. “Buy America” requirements are passed by Congress on an ongoing basis.

“‘​​Buy America’ is a federal procurement standard. It does not apply to trade between companies, Canada and the United States. It only applies to federal procurement. It has also existed for decades. It’s not new in the Biden administration,” Cohen said.

Cohen highlighted Canada’s prominence as the United States’ top trading partner, citing more than $2.6-billion (CAD) in cross-border trade every day.

“That is an incredible statistic. Yes, we have some disagreements. And I’ve analogized this to a family. I mean your family—you don’t agree with everyone in your family all the time. There are going to be disagreements. And we’ve had some disagreements. But we can’t let those disagreements bury the lead of our incredibly strong overall relationship and the enormous economic benefits to both countries that accrue from that relationship,” Cohen said.

Robertson, who is also a former Canadian diplomat, said the improvement in the tone of the Canada-U.S. relationship shouldn’t be understated, and that working relationships between the two countries on a diplomatic level have much improved these last two years.

Robertson said Cohen is in near-daily contact with his counterpart, the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman. He also said that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.) is making a good impression with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“I’m told by people at the State Department that he takes her counsel even though she’s brand new in this game,” Robertson said. “And so I think that that’s probably working to our advantage.”

McKay said one area of focus for Canada in its relationship with the U.S. is reshoring supply chains in a mutually beneficial way.

“The other thing I would be concerned about is that in a reshoring and nearshoring of supply chains, Americans need to be thinking in terms of North American reshoring and nearshoring, not just America reshoring otherwise, that’ll lead to other problems,” he said.

Greenwood pointed to an effort she is involved in that is working to foster North American co-operation in the face of protectionism, much of which was entrenched by COVID-19 and pandemic-related supply chain issues and shortages of things like personal protective equipment.

It’s called the “North American Rebound” and has been signed by various chambers of commerce at the state and provincial levels.

“It’s really about the U.S. and Canada joining forces to compete against the world,” she said. “And protectionism comes from both the U.S. and Canada … Canadians think of protectionism only as coming from the U.S., and that’s not exactly true. So this is, you know, equal opportunity. Co-operation, if you will, against protectionism.”

Frank Fukuyama on Liberalism and its Discontents

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The New Fukuyama: Spreading the Blame for Liberalism’s Discontents

Liberalism and Its Discontents

By Francis Fukuyama

Macmillan/May 2022

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

April 26, 2022

Liberalism and its Discontents is a defence of liberalism by Francis Fukuyama, who made the transition from niche political scientist to literary rock star — with all the credit, blame and controversy that provokes — with the publication of his bestseller The End of History and the Last Man in 1992.

In The End of History, Fukuyama famously declared that liberal democracy was the form of human government that best served humanity’s aspirations — a conclusion some players both political and geopolitical have spent the three intervening decades pushing back against. Expanding on an essay he had written in 1989 for The National Interest just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it caught the zeitgeist of the end of the Cold War. Subsequent books looked at questions around trust and human nature, development and technology and their relationship to governance.

Posted at the time to our embassy in Washington, I would regularly call on Frank Fukuyama to get his assessment of the state of America, chatting with him in his office at at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on Embassy Row. With George W. Bush in his second term and the war in Iraq having turned sour, Fukuyama thought that Americans could become more isolationist and less idealist and that they wanted ‘less government’ and less ‘adventurism’ abroad. We would continue our conversation after he moved to Stanford. This review also draws from a Zoom call we did for a CGAI Global Exchange podcast.

For much of the past decade, Fukuyama — now Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford — has focused on democracy. He published two magisterial volumes:  The Origins of Political Order: from Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (2011) and Political Order and Political DecayFrom the Industrial Revolution to the the Globalization of Democracy (2014). In 2018, he published Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. Now, we have Fukuyama’s defence of liberalism in a slim volume — at 192 pages — whose title is a play on Sigmund Freud’s classic Civilization and Its Discontents.

For Fukuyama, liberalism is the “limitation of the powers of governments through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction.” Liberalism is based on the principles of equality, the rule of law to ensure accountability, and the unalienable rights of individuals to what the Founding Fathers defined in the US Declaration of Independence as ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. It is underpinned by representative government to guarantee liberty while providing order and stability.

Classical liberalism, writes Fukuyama, is a big tent encompassing a range of political views that nonetheless agree on the foundational importance of equal individual rights, law, and freedom. Liberalism became a “pragmatic tool” for resolving conflicts in diverse societies, lowering the temperature of politics by parsing apparently irreconcilable divides over cultural and political issues into component parts and then providing remedies. This often involves addressing particular local circumstances and coming up with fixes that either takes the steam out of the issue or buys times for more measured consideration. Over time, writes Fukuyama, liberalism became more than just a mechanism for pragmatically avoiding violent conflict, but also a means of protecting fundamental human dignity.

But what once was taken for granted is today under severe threat as would-be authoritarians such as Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Jair Bolsonaro use their electoral mandates to attack democracy, including by undermining the courts and justice system, delegitimizing the press by labeling mainstream media as “enemies of the people”, and corrupting professional bureaucracies and turning them into partisan instruments. It is no accident, writes Fukuyama, that Orbán puts himself forward as a proponent of the oxymoronic model of “illiberal democracy.”

Over time, writes Fukuyama, liberalism became more than just a mechanism for pragmatically avoiding violent conflict, but also a means of protecting fundamental human dignity.

Liberalism and its Discontents takes us from the Greeks, for whom liberalism was ‘nothing in excess’ through the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, democratization in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the neoliberalism of the 1980s and 1990s. Today, says Fukuyama, liberalism faces attacks from enemies abroad and at home as well as from the pernicious effect of social media and a weakened free press.

The autocrats – China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin — offer an alternative authoritarian system based on state enterprise and near-total surveillance aligned to a system of what the Chinese call ‘social credit’ designed to keep the population in check. Both Xi and Putin posit that the West is decadent and in decline, and, as Putin told the Financial Times, liberalism has “become obsolete.”

At home, liberalism faces attacks from both conservatives and progressives. They share a common contempt for liberalism and globalism and an attraction to populism, although from different perspectives. It is to this challenge that Fukuyama devotes his attention.

For the right, liberalism is incompatible with their fixations on nationalism, economic freedom and culture. Fukuyama writes that discontent from the right goes deeper than the ambitions of a handful of populist politicians. They would not be successful were they not riding a wave of discontent with some of the underlying characteristics of our current society especially the feeling of the working class that the system only works for the elite and that their children will be even worse off. Similarely, in trying to rectify past injustices through privileges or entitlements for designated groups, governments create new resentments that are fodder for populists.

For the left, liberalism is an affront to their focus on identity politics and social justice. While the challenge from the left is less direct, Fukuyama warns that it is equally pernicious. He points to the media, the arts and academe as especially susceptible to self or peer-censorship in their writing, speaking and teaching.

To deal with the discontents. Fukuyama offers solutions and hope.

While America’s checks and balances limit the possibility of the kind of reforms desired by young progressives, they also protected the country from attempted abuses of power by Donald Trump.

For pluralistic nations, Fukuyama points to federalism as a proven formula to meet regional, religious and linguistic needs. Voting: the casting, counting, and certification of which is a fundamental right, must be defended. For democratic deliberation and compromise, privacy is a necessary condition if individuals are ever expected to be honest about their views.

Solving inequality depends as much on family and community and access to good health care and education as government intervention. Social policy should be directed at fluid categories such as class rather than fixed ones like race or ethnicity. Inequality in group outcomes, he writes, is a by-product of multiple interacting social and economic factors, many of which are well beyond the ability of policy to correct. Our political leaders, says Fukuyama, have a responsibility to revive public-spiritedness, tolerance, open-mindedness, and active engagement in public affairs.

For those of us troubled by the distemper currently afflicting our politics and public policy, Fukuyama is a necessary read. Restoring trust in government and our public institutions is essential. Somehow, we have got to find our way out of the mean narrowness of the right and the left’s fixation on equality of result over equality of opportunity, as Fukuyama presents it.

Reinvigorating what historian Arthur Schlesinger once called the vital centre will require active civic engagement, new ideas, and perhaps new parties and certainly new leadership. In the meantime, as Fukuyama concludes, we can still learn much from the wisdom of the Greeks and their belief in moderation and nothing in excess. “Moderation is not a bad political principle in general,” he writes, “and especially for a liberal order that was meant to calm political passions from the start.”

Advice both timely and timeless.

Canada and Indo-Pacific

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‘No time to lose’: Indo-Pacific strategy highly anticipated after absence from budget

By NEIL MOSS      
With the focus on confronting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, little opportunity was left to spotlight Indo-Pacific priorities in the budget.
Some are anticipating Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to release Canada’s new Indo-Pacific strategy this year. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Absent from the latest federal budget were commitments to Indo-Pacific priorities as Canadians await the government’s much-anticipated strategy for engagement in the region.

In the budget tabled on April 7, the Liberal government pledged an additional $8-billion in defence funding and to complete a defence review. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s (University-Rosedale, Ont.) comments on the budget’s foreign policy commitments spotlit Ukraine, noting that the rules-based international order is under the “greatest threat since its inception,” and remarking that democracies around the world can only be safe when Russian President Vladimir Putin and his armies are “entirely vanquished.”

Experts on Canada’s engagement with Asia noted that with the attention on Ukraine, they didn’t have an expectation there would be a focus on Indo-Pacific matters.

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The Globe and Mail reported earlier this year that an Indo-Pacific strategy was being circulated at the “top levels of the bureaucracy” and is supported with $3.5-billion over five years.

The development and launch of an Indo-Pacific strategy is highlighted in Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.) mandate letter, noting that the strategy has the objectives of deepening “diplomatic, economic, and defence partnerships and international assistance in the region.”

The government has already announced its intent to begin trade negotiations that would seemingly be fundamental to supporting increased trade away from China, including trade talks with Indonesia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and re-engaging with India towards an interim trade pact.

The Canada-China relationship has been beleaguered since Beijing arrested Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in apparent retaliation to Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the U.S. in 2018. All three cases have since been resolved. Since then, Canada’s foreign policy attention has shifted to Europe and Ukraine.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng has announced that Canada will embark on trade talks with Indonesia, ASEAN, and India. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

While a focus on Indo-Pacific priorities is not in the budget, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada president Jeff Nankivell, most recently Canada’s consul general in Hong Kong, said he expects the strategy to be launched this year with the necessary resources announced when it is revealed.

“It’s important to get this done sooner rather than later,” said Nankivell, also a previous deputy head of mission at Canada’s Embassy in China. “It was signalled already a few years ago and it has taken too long to get to this point, so looking ahead, my hope would be that it’s a matter of a few months at most.”

With the shifting nature of geopolitics, he said it’s important for Canada to “step up” its engagement in Asia, including in southeast Asia where he remarked countries can partner on regional security and global issues.

“There’s really no time to lose,” he said.

Nankivell said the fact that Joly is in Indonesia and Vietnam this week amid the situation in Ukraine shows that she is committed to revealing the strategy this year.

“The fact that she is doing this travel this week, the fact that she [was] engaging with ambassadors and high commissioners from countries in Asia last month at a time when there was so many other things going on, I think those are pretty strong signals that the government has not lost its commitment to move on the Indo-Pacific strategy,” he said.

The former diplomat said Canada needs to “raise” its game in the region.

“Countries in the region have seen Canada over the years engage in a kind of sporadic way, but not in a sustained way,” he said. “It should be the aim of having an Indo-Pacific strategy … that we bring more sustained focus and resources to bear on those relationships.”

One of the measures of the strategy’s success, Nankivell said, is to have representatives of Indo-Pacific countries notice a significant change in Canada’s engagement.

He said the greatest opportunities for growth of new economic markets are in the Indo-Pacific.

“Investing in better relationships in the Indo-Pacific region is an investment in prosperity for Canadians because you simply won’t find opportunities on the same scale anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Former Canadian diplomat Philip Calvert, who served as ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos from 2012 to 2016, said he wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t a focus in the budget on the Indo-Pacific, given the government has been occupied with the crisis in Europe.

“I think they’ve made the decision that the most immediate threat comes to Canada from Russia,” said Calvert, who has served multiple postings at Canada’s Embassy in Beijing.

With the need for an Indo-Pacific strategy to be attached with funding, he said he expects that it has been pushed aside by Russia.

“Sometimes governments have a tendency to be easily distracted,” he said. “This has thrown them off a bit from their Indo-Pacific plans.”

“It’s unfortunate because it’s taken them a while to get the Indo-Pacific strategy up and running,” he said, noting that there have long been calls for greater predictability for Canada’s future engagement in the region.

He said what is important is for the government to keep the Indo-Pacific strategy in its sights and continue to work on it.

When the strategy is released, Calvert said he hopes it will identify what some of the key challenges are for Canada in Asia and how Canada can build credibility in Asia by looking at issues like climate change.

Canada’s Embassy in Beijing has been without an ambassador since Dominic Barton left last year. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said Canada is in a position as a middle power where it must react to events, instead of being proactive.

“You can only do so much at one time—while [the Indo-Pacific is] important, it wasn’t urgent and immediate in the same sense that Ukraine was,” he said.

Not only is Canada’s attention on confronting Russia, but Ottawa will also likely have a role in the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war is over, he said.

Robertson said he expects the focus of the Indo-Pacific strategy to shift from trade to defence and security.

Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who served in Beijing from 2012 to 2016, said he was expecting to see more on Indo-Pacific priorities in the budget, but that is encumbered by the need to confront Ukraine and the ongoing debate in Ottawa about the funding that will be tied to an Indo-Pacific strategy.

He said he doesn’t understand why it has taken the government so long to formulate its plan on future engagement with China, noting the delay in its decision on whether to allow Huawei in Canada’s 5G network is also puzzling.

Saint-Jacques suggested that there may be some “complacency” from the government, as Canada-China trade has been strong.

“We need the government to come up with a completely revised engagement strategy that recognizes China is a threat to security, to democracy, and it conducts interference activities in Canada,” he said. “We have to be a lot more proactive and firm with China and push back, but we don’t see any of that.”

He noted that the U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is also awaiting Canada’s new engagement plan with China and the Indo-Pacific.

Bob Rae at UN

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On Feb. 24, 2022, Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, says he carries a copy of the UN Charter in his pocket. At the General Assembly session, above, on Ukraine, he said: “Russia and its acolytes can spin and can contort all they want, but the violations of international law are theirs: the loss of life, the wounding, the pain and suffering, are all their responsibilities. As it’s been said, this is President Putin’s choice.” 

TORONTO — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seriously rattled Europe and the rest of the world and upset the normally sedate discourse of diplomats at the United Nations as well. The public remarks of Canada’s UN ambassador about the war have stood out for their vehemence against Russia and President Vladimir Putin’s claims for a  military incursion against a neighbor.

“Whatever lies are spoken here today trying to justify the unjustifiable or to explain the inexplicable. . . . It is President Putin’s war of choice . . . ” Bob Rae, Canada’s envoy, said on Feb. 28 in an emergency special session in the General Assembly on Ukraine, four days after Russia began attacking its neighbor.

Rae’s frank talk and hashtag diplomacy are getting noticed in a profession where talk is more often subtle than confrontational. With a Twitter-handle tip of the hat to his year of birth, Canada’s envoy, @BobRae48, currently has about 173,000 followers — friends and foes alike. He describes himself as “ambassador, writer, teacher” and that his tweets express his “personal views.”

On March 21, in response to a tweet by Volodymyr Artiukh, an academic researcher, about “the focus on NATO expansion,” in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Rae wrote: “This blaming of the current crisis on NATO and the West has to be put to sleep. This has been about Putin’s drive to restore empire, tyranny and dominance, and to block freedom and sovereignty. He is Stalin’s horrendous successor.”

For those who have followed his career, Rae’s outspokenness is entirely in character. He is described as a man who understands the power of words, knows what is at stake and is determined for Canada to champion human rights. He uses Twitter to amplify Canada’s voice at the UN, calling out nations and their leaders who defy the UN Charter, of which a worn copy that belonged to his father, a former envoy, is always in his pocket, he says.

Indeed, Rae, 73, learned the art of diplomacy and debate from his father. Saul Rae was a career Canadian diplomat who served as ambassador to the UN in Geneva (1962-1967) and New York City (1972-1976)

He is known in Toronto social and political circles for his lightness and sense of humor and love of music. Rae plays the piano and composes songs for his wife, Arlene Perly Rae, each year on their wedding anniversary. (She is pictured with Rae on his Twitter page.) He dabbles in poetry and has written four books reflecting on the state of politics, democracy and the public good.

A recipient of a Rhodes scholarship and a lawyer, many people describe Rae as the smartest man in the room. A pragmatic politician, Rae moved back and forth from federal to provincial politics, from the center-leaning Liberal Party to the left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP). In 1990, he was sworn in as the first, and so far, only NDP premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. His premiership ended with a crushing electoral defeat five years later, and he returned to Ottawa and the Liberal Party in 2006.

He ran twice for the leadership of the federal Liberals, but lost both times, and finally served as the interim party leader from 2011, until Justin Trudeau’s election in 2013 as prime minister. Rae left politics after that.

Julian Porter, a prominent Canadian lawyer and a close friend who has breakfast (virtually) with Rae most Tuesday mornings, ascribes his astute oratorial skills to the early days as a member of Parliament in Ottawa for the New Democrats. Representing a small party with few seats and little influence, he quickly learned the art of being heard on the floor in Canada’s House of Commons.

In his own work, Rae has described Canada’s tenuous influence on the world stage, particularly at the UN. Years before he was appointed Canada’s ambassador to the world body in 2020, Rae wrote about his country’s value to the UN in his 2015 book, “What’s Happened to Politics?.”

“As a country that is less than a superpower, Canada cannot rely on its muscle to make itself heard,” he wrote. “Our influence comes from a capacity for wisdom, from being a trusted source of information, knowledge and judgment on some of the most difficult issues facing the world.”

In a March 16 Politico interview, he was asked if he was satisfied with the amount of discourse at the UN in response to the crisis in Ukraine. Rae replied, “There is always lots of discourse at the UN. The question is: Is the discourse related to reality? Is it related to the ability to take action?”

Trusted by Prime Minister Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (who has Ukrainian roots), Rae’s outrage at Russia’s actions in Ukraine resonates with Canadians. Those who know him well professionally and personally say that he speaks from the heart. Trudeau appointed him to the UN post.

“There may be people looking askance at the Canadian ambassador’s outspoken comments,” said Guillermo Rishchynski, a former Canadian envoy to the UN.

“Nevertheless, Rae’s leadership shows Canada well,” he added. “We have been defeated twice for a seat on the Security Council. Leading with our chin on this can only help Canada.” (Canada lost a three-way race for two Security Council seats, defeated by Norway and Ireland, in 2020, leaving the country stung by its second failure in a decade to gain a spot in the chamber.)

Canada’s diplomatic corps is acutely aware that Twitter can also be a platform for unforced errors. In 2018, Freeland called out Saudi Arabia on Twitter for unjustly imprisoning human rights advocates. The Saudis swiftly expelled Canada’s ambassador and cut trade.

“It was an expensive tweet for Canada. The lesson is that there is no nuance on Twitter,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a nonpartisan research institute based in Calgary.

Not one for nuance, and responding to the lack of allied support for Canada in the spat with Saudi Arabia, Rae posted on Twitter on Aug. 7, 2018: “The Brits and the Trumpians run for cover and say ‘we’re friends with both the Saudis and the Canadians.’ Thanks for the support for human rights, guys, and we’ll remember this one for sure.”

In a recent CBC interview, Rae said of Russia’s leaders, “We know they are lying because their lips are moving.” He also posted those remarks on Twitter.

In his 2015 book “What’s Happened to Politics?,” he wrote about a study of propaganda in WWI, called “The First Casualty,” referring to the idea that truth is the first thing discarded by all sides as they attempt to influence public opinion.

While Rishchynski sees Rae’s wit and outrage at Russia’s aggression in Ukraine as fit for the moment, not everyone agrees. Several diplomats have said privately in interviews for this article that they fear Rae’s frank-talking undermines Canada’s ability to play a meaningful role in peacekeeping and humanitarian spaces at the UN.

On the evening of Feb. 23 in New York City, as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in Europe in the morning of Feb. 24, Rae reposted a PassBlue tweet with a photo of Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia presiding over a late-night emergency session of the Security Council on Ukraine, with the caption, “Criminals and apologists for criminals.”

As some members of the Security Council had requested an emergency session to push for peace for Ukraine, Russia announced, numerous time zones away, that it was invading the country.

Even longstanding admirers disagree with Rae’s bluntness on Russia’s assault on Ukraine. “If you want a cease-fire or to de-escalate, is it wise to threaten Putin with war crimes or genocide?” said John Packer, associate professor of law and the Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution at the University of Ottawa. “All are applicable, but what is the point of saying it? The art of diplomacy is to obtain the change of behavior you seek when you have no ability to force that change.”

Rae is not backing down, however. Addressing fellow UN General Assembly members regarding a recent South African-led proposed resolution focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine that omitted references to Russia’s aggression, Rae said:

“A humanitarian crisis of this type is not a spontaneous event. It is the direct result of a deliberate decision by one country, the Russian Federation, to invade another, Ukraine. We cannot be expected to discuss Moby Dick without talking about the whale.” (The resolution was never taken to a vote.)

His Twitter following keeps growing: @BobRae48 added 2,000 new followers between March 24 and 27.

Suzanne Courtney

Susanne Courtney is a freelance journalist and writer based in Canada. A former fellow in global journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto, her writing focuses primarily on international affairs, international development and development finance. Recently, she wrote the 2021 State of the Sector Report on Canada’s Impact Investing in Emerging and Frontier Markets.