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About Colin Robertson

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 »

Canadians in IndoChina

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The Quiet Canadians: Stories from Two Decades of Diplomacy in Indochina

Supervising a Peace that Never Was: Recollections of Canadian Personnel in Indochina, 1954-1973

Edited by Helen Lansdowne, Nick Etheridge & Phil Calvert

University of Victoria Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives/2023

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

February 11, 2024

Supervising a Peace that Never Was: Recollections of Canadian Diplomatic Personnel in Indochina, 1954-73 recounts life in what is now a mostly forgotten chapter of the kind of quiet diplomacy and ‘helpful fixing’ that once characterized Canadian foreign policy, in this case over the two decades when a third of Canada’s foreign service and almost 2000 troops served on the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC-Vietnam) and its successor, the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS).

Published open source (download for free) by the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI) at the University of Victoria, Supervising a Peace that Never Was is co-edited by CAPI Associate Director Helen Lansdowne, and former foreign service officers Nick Etheridge and Phil Calvert, who both served in multiple postings in Southeast Asia.

In this mix of diaries, reminiscences and transcriptions from oral interviews, the thirteen contributors are by turns funny, poignant and engaging in their reflection of everyday diplomatic life during the tumult of the long conflict in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

In keeping with the famously fictionalized political complexity and diplomatic intrigue of the place and time, some of these tales read like a cross between Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene.

Nick Etheridge by the unusable Hanoi Villa bomb shelter, December 1972

Nick Etheridge, who later served as our representative to Cambodia and as High Commissioner to Bangladesh, tells us about taking shelter in the storied Hanoi Thong Nhat hotel — the re-named Metropole, a local French colonial landmark that housed multiple UN agencies and embassies, now the Sofitel Legend Metropole — with Joan Baez, who would play her guitar to while away the hours during the Christmas bombing in 1973.

For secretary Anne-Marie Bougie who would serve in more than twenty other foreign assignments, it was endless trips to the airport while cycling through myriad states of mind — “laughter, downcast, insomnia, nonchalance, nervousness, nightmares, …loss of appetite” and “cultural shock…that was fortunately short-lived.”

If Hanoi was repressive, Saigon was anything but. David Anderson, who went out in 1963 and would later serve as Canada’s Environment Minister, joined a riding club, water-skied on the Saigon river and dated the niece of US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.

Family life with three daughters is evocatively captured by Eva and Fred Bild’s account of their posting in Vientiane, dodging bombs dropped during an abortive Laotian coup. Fred, who would later serve as our ambassador to Thailand and then China, had to be paddled to work on his first day because of flooding on the Mekong.

The backstory to the long Canadian Indochina assignment began at the 1954 Geneva Conference. The Conference aimed to settle issues following the Korean war armistice and the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu that ended France’s empire in Indochina. Supervisory commissions were to be established in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to monitor the implementation agreements over the departure of the French, including prisoner exchanges. India would chair the commissions, with Poland representing the Soviet Bloc. Canada was asked to represent the West.

As Global Affairs Canada departmental historian Brendan Kelly writes in his erudite introduction to Supervising a Peace that Never Was, the request was “unexpected, unwelcome but unavoidable”.

“Unexpected” because we had marginal interests in French Indochina. Our delegation to the conference, led by External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson, had already left. Our interests were in Korea, where we suffered more than 1500 casualties.

‘Unwelcome’ because with a foreign service of 267, Canada was already stretched meeting the needs created by the proliferation of post-war multilateral organizations. Our Asian presence was slim: Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, Indonesia, Japan and Pakistan. The request would add, without notice, three embassies that together were the size of Washington, our largest embassy.

‘Unavoidable’ because of the pressure from our allies – the request came from British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden with support from the US and France. Participation also aligned with the St. Laurent-Pearson sense of multilateralism and our role as a ‘helpful fixer’ in another example of quiet diplomacy.

The first assignment of one Canadian diplomat posted to Paris during the Geneva Conference, writes Kelly, was to “find a good map of Indochina and to send it back to headquarters in Ottawa forthwith.” That lack of knowledge would soon change.

One constant theme is the frustration of the infrequent, inconclusive tripartite deliberations with our Indian and Polish partners on the ICSC. As Si Taylor, who went out in 1955 (and would later serve as deputy minister and ambassador to NATO and Japan) drily observes, “This was not rewarding work”. Still, Taylor’s reminiscences of his time in Vietnam capture the colour of diplomatic life amid living history. “Down the street from the Hotel Metropole, where we lived, was the Canadian mess, and that was a very popular social centre,” he recalls. “We had guests all the time. The most famous guest was Ho Chi Minh, himself. He came in his jungle suit and his sandals made of old rubber tires. Ho had great charm; he was a very sophisticated man.”

The official account of this period will soon be available in forthcoming Documents on Canada’s External Relations covering the Pearson and Pierre Trudeau governments’ Indochina experiences, including the peace missions of Blair Seaborn and Chester Ronning and the visit by Foreign Minister Mitchell Sharp that led to our withdrawal.

Manfred von Nostitz talking to South Vietnamese General Nguyen Van Nghi in Can Tho, 1973

We already had experience in closing up the shop. When Prince Sihanouk tossed the ICSC from Cambodia in 1969, Manfred von Nostitz, who would later serve as Canada’s ambassador to Malaysia and Brunei, Pakistan and Afghanistan, then Thailand, took a sledge hammer to the cipher equipment, loaded it into a boat and dropped it in the Mekong River. He ran out of gas and had to paddle back to Phnom Penh to finish his “idiosyncratic ICSC assignments”.

Was our participation worth it? Opinion among those who served remains divided. We had gone in with few illusions, as the 1954 government statement announcing our participation made clear: “With full knowledge and appreciation of the responsibilities that will go with membership” and “no illusions about the magnitude and complexity of the task.” We suffered casualties. A Canadian diplomat and two members of our Armed Forces were killed when their plane went down, likely by a North Vietnamese missile.

The commission’s investigations were consistently stymied by the Poles, who would do nothing to impugn the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese. The Indians, especially after the 1962 war with China, saw a united Vietnam, even under the Communists, as another hedge against Beijing. So why rock the boat? It is, writes Taylor, “almost impossible to kill an international organization.” When it became apparent that the ICSC’s successor, the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS), set up under the January 1973 Paris accords by which the US pulled its forces from Vietnam, would be as frustrating as its predecessor, Canada withdrew. Seventy years later, Canadians still serve on the United Nations Command (UNC) monitoring the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between two Koreas still technically at war.

The experience left those who served with few illusions about communism. As Taylor also observes, “We were not much for the fashionable ‘Jane Fonda’ view of North Vietnam”. It also created a skepticism about political leadership that espouses “rational, hard-nosed theory” that saw foreign policy as the “foreign extensions of domestic interest”. Taylor and his generation of realists, a good number of whom had also served during World War II, would remind us young officers that while planning was important, middle powers like Canada could never ignore former British prime minister Harold Macmillan’s response to the question from a young journalist of what troubled him most: “Events, dear boy, events.”

The Canadian experience developed deep, firsthand Asian expertise within our foreign service. As von Nostitz points out, this helped Canada develop a “respected Asia-Pacific architecture”, enabling the Canadian breakthrough to recognize China in 1970, becoming a founding dialogue partner of ASEAN, a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum security group, implementing innovative CIDA programs in Asia, establishing the Asia Pacific Foundation, and taking in more Indo-Chinese refugees per capita than any other nation.

That we subsequently let this hard-earned capacity shrivel is why the current government is now trying, through its Indo-Pacific Strategy, to re-establish a significant Canadian presence. To better develop their situational awareness of our earlier experience they would do well to read Supervising a Peace that Never Was.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is a fellow and host of the Global Exchange podcast with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Hal Brand’s New Makers of Strategy

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The New Makers of Modern Strategy’, Or the Art of War Redux

The New Makers of Modern Strategy: From the Ancient World to the Digital Age

Edited by Hal Brands

Princeton University Press/2023

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

December 26, 2023

War is back. So is the threat of more war. The study of war and of preparations for war remains central to the study of strategy. How do we deter war in order to stop war, especially as the technology of war changes exponentially? Historian Hal Brands and 44 collaborators contributed essays to The New Makers of Modern Strategy: From the Ancient World to the Digital Age.

New Makers of Modern Strategy was completed as Russia’s full-scale 2022 invasion of Ukraine created the largest interstate land war since World War II. As Brands remarks and as the latest explosion of kinetic conflict in the Middle East has reinforced, it is a reminder that “hard power has hardly gone out of style.”

New Makers of Modern Strategy is the third iteration of a collection originally published in 1943. Designed to help those conducting the Allied effort during the Second World and then extensively revised in 1968 to reflect the “nuclear revolution”, it was required reading when I took the introductory course to strategic studies in my second year at the University of Manitoba.

Nuclear arms were a game changer, introducing a decline in great power bellicosity because of the quantum jump in killing capacity. Nuclear doctrine went through various permutations but it ultimately boiled down to making threats to use such weapons as convincing as possible in order to avoid their use. Brands observes: “If strategic studies was a child of hot war, it matured during the Cold War” redefining the relationship between force and diplomacy to emphasize Cold War co-existence.

But war never goes away, and authors cover the intervening years’ rise of small wars, irregular warfare, counterinsurgency and now hybrid warfare.  New Makers of Modern Strategy also includes essays on the classical strategists including Thucydides, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Napoleon, Mahan and Mackinder.Later essays examine Mao Zedong, Qasem Soleimani, Valery Gerasimov and the return of great power competition.

The essays are diverse and, at over a thousand pages, readers should approach New Makers of Modern Strategy as you would a box of Christmas chocolates. Take a bite and, if not to your taste, sample another. Styles differ but each author draws from a deep immersion in history.

Roughly half of the collection deals with events in the twentieth century and later. There is discussion of the gray zones of conflict, the changing technology of AI and cyberwarfare, the impact of social media in spreading disinformation and misinformation, and the application of technology into weapons such as drones.

Brands sets the tone in his introductory essay, arguing that there is no substitute for strategy. Strategy “allows us to act with purpose in a disordered world; it is vital to out-thinking and out-playing our foes.”

Canada’s most recent national security strategy, Securing an Open Society,  was written in 2004. The last foreign policy reviewA Role of Pride and Influence in the World, was published in 2005.  The Trudeau government published its defence policy,  Strong, Secure, Engaged, in 2017 and a promised update is overdue. Both the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the University of Ottawa have prepared their own national security reports arguing that their efforts should spur on the government to prepare a new Canadian strategy.

There is a recognition that all strategy is suffused with politics; an ‘incessantly interactive endeavour’ that cannot be reduced to mathematical formulae and that will always remain an imprecise art.

For Brands, the essence of strategy is straightforward: “It is the craft of summoning and using power to achieve our central purposes, amid the friction of global affairs and the resistance of rivals and enemies.” Without strategy, writes Brands, “action is random and devoid of direction; power and advantage are squandered rather than deployed to good effect.”

Professor emeritus of War Studies at King’s College, London, and “dean of British strategic studies” Sir Lawrence Freedman argues that strategy today is “a way of thinking, a habit of mind, an ability to assess vulnerabilities in situations, an appreciation of causes and effects, a capacity to link disparate activities in pursuit of a shared purpose.”

While the 19th-century American naval strategist Alfred Mahan is still read in China, the US Naval War College’s John Maurer notes that Mahan has been dropped from the Naval Operations professional reading list. Too bad. As Maurer writes, Mahan is not for the ‘faint of heart’: his stark realism of global affairs warns that struggles for mastery of the global commons cannot be won on the cheap against determined great-power challengers. It’s something Canadian political leadership should remember as they look to purchase new submarines and the infrastructure necessary to guard the Canadian Arctic and help secure the vital sea lanes in the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

National strategies, writes Margaret MacMillan, also reflect location: if the British, Japanese and Americans thought of sea power as crucial for defense and the “projection of power and influence”, the Germans, French, Russians and Austrians, with their vulnerable land borders, had to rely on their armies for security. MacMillan also underlines the dangers of silos within the armed services. She points out that at a 1911 meeting (the last before 1914) of the Committee of Imperial Defence to review Britain’s strategy, the politicians were dismayed to learn that in the event of an attack on France, the army planned to send an expeditionary force to the Continent. The navy, on the other hand, intended to blockade German ports and carry out occasional amphibious raids. Their role did not include carrying the army’s planned expeditionary force to the Continent.

There is a recognition that all strategy is suffused with politics; an “incessantly interactive endeavour” that cannot be reduced to mathematical formulae and that will always remain an imprecise art.

There is also an appreciation that democracies may well do strategy better than autocracies. The concentration of authority in autocracies can produce dexterity and brilliance in the short term, but the requirement for accountability and diffusion of authority in democracies makes for stronger societies and wiser decisions. Still, it is no sure thing.

The most impressive strategies are those that shift the balance of forces by creating advantages and applying pressure in areas where the enemy is vulnerable or sensitive, as Russian and Iranian strategies of irregular warfare have proven. Mao triumphed in the Chinese civil war because he manipulated regional and global conflicts to win a local one.

There is no guarantee that the democracies will prevail, geopolitically or ideologically, in the twenty-first century as they eventually did in the twentieth. If the democracies are to prevail, it requires a minimum deterrence and the re-establishment of a strategic culture that is prepared to answer two questions: Is defence simply a cost or does it have a value? And, if it has a value, how much are we prepared to invest in the value of peace?

While we did not choose it, we in the West are now engaged in a competition with China, a war with Russia and confrontations with North Korea, Iran and Venezuela — all variations on the systemic theme of democracy vs. autocracy. There will be others. The ‘global south’, by no means a homogeneous group, prefers to sit on the fence. They will continue to rely on China for trade and financing until that trap sends them westward for protection. But do not expect gratitude. They don’t like sermonizing from the West on human rights and democracy.

It’s a complex, increasingly multi-centric world complicated by transnational challenges, including pandemics, climate change, dis/misinformation and now artificial intelligence. The West needs a grand strategy with national strategies backed by diplomacy supported by intelligence and military forces skilled in new technology and the tools of our digital age. There is, as Brands observes “a basic logic of strategy that transcends time and space.”

On Henry Kissinger

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By Colin Robertson

POLICY MAGAZINE December 3, 2023

“Canada…Canada… I have dealt with Canada since Vietnam. The word that comes to mind when I think of Canada is ‘self-righteous’. Yes, self-righteous. In Canada you get to do what is desirable. In America we must do what is necessary.”

I was nonplussed. This was not the response I had expected when I introduced myself — as having recently arrived at our Washington Embassy — to Henry Kissinger on that September evening in 2004.

We were at Madison Square Garden, scene of that election year’s Republican National Convention. The formidable former secretary of state had just given a rousing speech on national security to a group of Young Republicans. The friend who had gotten me into the session told me I looked “a bit stunned, but my grin — or was it a grimace? — was diplomatic”.

A decade later, I got a chance to respond.

This time, the setting was the comfortable confines of the 400-acre Greentree estate on Long Island, where the American Ditchley Foundation was hosting a conference on the US role in the world.

The conference was co-chaired by former Kennedy School dean and foreign policy sage Joe Nye and then-Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott. Kissinger was the most prominent of a group of foreign policy experts that also included Jake Sullivan, now President Biden’s National Security Advisor.

I was rapporteur for the group looking at ‘soft power’, that variation on influence that we Canadians like to think we own, although today we do not invest sufficiently in either ‘soft’ or ‘hard power’. At the break, I re-introduced myself to Kissinger, recalling his words from our earlier exchange. That drew a smile from the man who left a massive footprint in 20th-century international affairs, including via introducing the term “shuttle diplomacy” into the popular vernacular. “That wasn’t very diplomatic of me,” Kissinger said. “You know, I have a lot of Canadian friends.”

He went on to reminisce about his meetings with Pierre Trudeau, saying the Canadian prime minister had made a ‘useful contribution’ to both North/South and East/West relations, and that Trudeau, who recognized China more than a year before Kissinger’s then-boss, Richard Nixon did, had also been helpful on that historic file. Kissinger then ventured that Canada can play a useful role as a bridge, “Or, how do you put it? — a helpful fixer — when you work at it.”

As his biographers have written, when Kissinger, who died on November 29th, wanted to charm, he could charm. I had admired Kissinger ever since reading A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-1822 (1957), his account of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, when I was an undergraduate.

Kissinger’s famous espousal of realism — the school of international-relations thinking based on the belief that states act in their self-interest and war is inevitable — drew on his ongoing study of history and his experience in dealing with the challenges of the Cold War. For the international system to function best, the realist argument holds, it requires the stability produced when anarchy is offset by the balance of power.

Having fled Germany as a teenager in 1938, Kissinger understood the perils of systemic disruption and the human cost of disorder. He read hisfellow German-Jewish intellectuals Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Hans Morgenthau, assimilating into his own thinking an appreciation of incrementalism, stability rather than justice, and the less bad rather than the unqualified good.

Even with the best of intentions and efforts, Kissinger was also aware of the ‘inevitability of tragedy’, the phrase Barry Gewen adopted for his The Inevitability of Tragedy: Henry Kissinger and His World (2020). Gewen argues that Kissinger recognized the “realities of power” and that his own “assessment of power” was clearheaded and un-swayed by “high moral principles like self-determination or national sovereignty.”

His diplomatic style was personal and secretive. It depended on relationships that could be developed only through personal contact. This meant being there again, and again and again. Diplomacy, like politics, is ultimately a retail sport.

As Kissinger frequently observed, peace is not the natural condition of humankind and democracy alone will not guarantee global peace and stability. Diplomacy is about the art of the possible. In the wake of the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kissinger would write “the test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.”These are the underlying premises of what came to be described as Kissingerian realpolitik.

Statecraft for Kissinger involved a close study of history and culture; a clear-eyed analysis of objectives aligned to a realistic appreciation of the possible; and personal relationships cultivated through continuous face-to-face contact, preferably on his opposite’s home turf. For Kissinger, the essentials of diplomacy were: “Knowledge of the history and psychology and psychology of the people I am dealing with. And some human rapport… To have some human relations with the people I am negotiating with…”

His diplomatic style was personal and secretive. It depended on relationships that could be developed only through personal contact. This meant being there again, and again and again. Diplomacy, like politics, is ultimately a retail sport.

The study of history and culture is critical and Kissinger’s erudite grasp of both permeates his own writing through 21 books and a half-century flow of commentaries and speeches.

Perhaps the best accounts of Kissinger’s diplomacy in practice are Margaret MacMillan’s Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the World (2007) and Martin Indyk’s Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy (2021). For MacMillan, Kissinger “showed an absolute aptitude for diplomacy and power…an incredible negotiator, a man of incredible stamina, and someone who was fully capable of matching up to Zhou Enlai in what were very difficult and very complicated negotiations.”

For Indyk, it was the “skillful manipulation of the antagonisms of competing forces.” In his appreciation of Kissinger following his death, Indyk wrote that the Kissinger approach – “to avoid bringing too much passion to the pursuit of peace” – continues to have relevance and application, notably to today’s Israel-Hamas war.

Opinion on Henry Kissinger’s legacy is deeply divided. One biographer, historian Niall Ferguson, labeled him an ‘Idealist’ (at least for the first and so-far only volume of his biography, which ends in 1968) while for Ben Rhodes, who served as Barack Obama’s deputy national security advisor, he was a ‘hypocrite’. The Washington Post calls him “One of the most consequential statesmen in US history”. To Rolling Stone, he was a war criminal for his culpability in the overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende and role in prosecuting the Vietnam War, yet Kissinger’s peacemaking efforts in Vietnam won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

Whichever side you come down on, Kissinger was a force for realism in internationalism with scant patience for those he regarded as poseurs or moralists. And it is important to understand Kissingerian realpolitik — a major theme of American foreign policy in the last half century and perhaps again in the future — as the United States debates and rethinks its role in the world.

Melanie Joly’s ‘Pragmatic Diplomacy’

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly pitched a need to increasingly engage with countries that don’t share Canada’s values.


As Canada’s top diplomat sets out a new path for Ottawa’s international engagement, some experts are applauding a shift to a dogma underpinned by an acceptance of the real world in which Canada finds itself, not one that always mirrors Canadian values.

In two recent addresses on the state of Canada’s place in the world, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic–Cartierville, Que.) put forward a view of international engagement that she said will be centred on “pragmatic diplomacy” and “vigorously” defending Canadian sovereignty.

Only a handful of speeches have been presented on the tenets of Canadian foreign policy since the Liberals came to power in 2015. Then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland (University–Rosedale, Ont.) presented her view of Canada’s place in the world in 2017 amid the disruptions brought by the unpredictable Trump administration in the United States. After becoming deputy prime minister and finance minister, Freeland offered a new doctrine inspired by geopolitical shocks in which she embraced the U.S.-backed concept of “friendshoring” to link democracies together. In 2016, then-foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion presented his own view of “responsible conviction” to greater engage with those countries sidelined during then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s pursuit of principled diplomacy.

Joly gave a mostly English-language address in Toronto on Oct. 30, and a mostly-French-language mirroring address in Montreal on Nov. 1.

During her speeches, she said the international system is “cracking.”

“Our world is marked by geopolitical turbulence, unpredictability, and uncertainty. The tectonic plates of the world order are shifting beneath our feet. And the structures that are built upon them are fracturing,” she added.

Joly called for the use of “pragmatic diplomacy” to engage countries that may not share Canada’s worldview or values.

“We must resist the temptation to divide the world into rigid ideological camps. For the world cannot be reduced to democracies versus autocracies. East versus West. North versus South,” she said, adding that “pragmatic diplomacy” is about “keeping allies close, while also being open to different perspectives as we encourage others to take a chance on peace.

“We will always defend our national interests. We will always defend our values,” Joly said. “But we cannot afford to close ourselves off from those with whom we do not agree. For engagement does not mean that we support or condone the policies and actions of others.”

She said that, aside from “rare exceptions,” Canada will engage with the world. “I am a door opener, not a door closer,” she proclaimed.

Joly trumpeted an expanded diplomatic presence as underpinning that increased engagement, noting the additional embassies being opened in eastern Europe, Armenia, and Fiji, as well as the establishment of a permanent observer to the African Union.

The two addresses come as Canada’s relations with India and China are at a nadir, and three years after it failed to win a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council

Jocelyn Coulon, a former policy adviser to Dion during his time leading Canada’s foreign service, applauded the course Joly set out.

“It is an important speech because it’s the first time that a Canadian foreign minister had said so bluntly that we have to take the world as it is, and we have to deal with some nasty countries, with some exceptions, which I suspect is Russia,” said Coulon, now editor-in-chief of l’Université de Montréal’s Centre for International Studies’ blog.

“I think for a long time Canadian foreign policy has been defined by the export of our values. That served us well during part of the Cold War and the following years after the Soviet empire. At the same time, the world has changed,” he said. “What we have noticed is the new emerging countries—the members of BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa], but also from the Global South—no longer want to be lectured on values and principles.”

Coulon, who helped author Dion’s “responsible conviction” speech, said through her address, Joly has forwarded a new way to deal with the rest of the world.

“We don’t come with our narrative on values for the first item on the agenda,” he said. “I think this type of behaviour was frustrating for a lot of countries, [and then] they ignored us. If you are in a more pragmatic way, I think they will be much more open to discuss several aspects of international relations.”

Coulon said Joly’s vision for Canada’s foreign policy diverges from Freeland’s past pitch for a more values-based view of Canadian foreign policy, remarking that Freeland’s approach was to build blocs of countries, which forces them to choose one side or the other. On the other hand, Coulon said Joly made the explicit point that democracies shouldn’t be pitted against autocracies because there is a greater need for collaboration across the board.

“It seems to me that [Joly] almost rebuked Ms. Freeland,” he said. “Canada should speak with one voice on foreign policy now.”

Coulon said there are three views of Canadian foreign policy being put forward—one from Joly, one from Freeland, and one from Chief of Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre, who has indicated that Russia and China believe themselves to be at war with Canada, according to a Ottawa Citizen report.

“If you have three people talking differently about some very important aspects of foreign policy, which is our relations with China, we will send a very mixed signal to this country,” Coulon. “It’s time we speak with one voice on foreign policy.”

He said it is up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) to clarify which worldview he endorses.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said Joly is laying the groundwork for rebuilding Canada’s relationship with India and China.

“You don’t have to agree on the fundamentals, but you are still going to trade,” he said, remarking that employing a “pragmatic diplomacy” will require a change in tack from the Liberal government after a series of diplomatic spats since it came to power.

“There’s a sense now that we don’t have to agree with you on everything,” he said. “The subliminal theme is that we’re not going to preach anymore because it’s not working.”

Royal Military College professor Adam Chapnick, a leading expert on Canada’s foreign policy, said absent from Joly’s speech is a reliance on values-based foreign policy—a previously frequent focus for the Liberal government.

“It’s absolutely a good thing,” he said. “It suggests that the government is taking the world a little bit more seriously.”

Chapnick said Joly’s foreign policy view and the one set out by Freeland last year aren’t incompatible, as Freeland was speaking about economic co-operation with other democracies, and Joly is spotlighting the need for diplomatic engagement with everyone.

“We may not do business with them, but that doesn’t mean we shut them out completely,” he said. “We still have to talk with them and we still have to deal with them on other issues.”

Chapnick said the real-world execution of Canadian diplomacy won’t be significantly altered, but Joly’s address signals to the Canadian public the realities of foreign service work.

“The biggest change is changing the expectations of Canadians,” he said. “It seems to me that the foreign minister is trying to recalibrate Canadians’ understanding of how Canada behaves in the world.”

“It’s more that we’re telling Canadians what happens in diplomacy,” he said. “Things are not black and white. You have to deal with people that you don’t agree with; some of those people that you have to work with do things that make you feel extremely uncomfortable. That is the nature of the world where not every state shares your interest.”


Gaza hospital bombing: Feelings trump facts

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Israel welcomes Canada’s conclusion that Israel didn’t strike hospital in GazaMia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Published  Monday, October 23, 2023 6:14PM EDT

Israel is “pleased” that Canada has joined the United States and France in believing that an explosion at a Gaza City hospital last week was fired by an errant rocket from within the Gaza Strip, the Israeli ambassador in Ottawa said Sunday.

But intelligence and foreign affairs experts say the latest assertions will do little to calm tensions in the region or among supporters of Israel and Palestinians abroad.

On Saturday Canada became the third western ally to back Israel’s assertion that it was not responsible for the rocket blast at the al-Ahli Arab hospital on Oct. 17.\

“Analysis conducted independently by the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command indicates with a high degree of confidence that Israel did not strike the hospital on October 17, 2023,” Defence Minister Bill Blair said in a statement published late Saturday.

“The more likely scenario is that the strike was caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza. We will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.”

That followed similar conclusions reached by the United States on Oct. 18 and France on Oct. 20.

Israel’s Canadian ambassador, Iddo Moed, said Sunday he welcomed Canada’s conclusion.

“The loss of life at the al-Ahli Arab hospital was a tragedy that should horrify any human being and it is a reminder of the double war crimes against Palestinians and Israelis that are committed by Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” Moed said.

But the National Council of Canadian Muslims said Sunday they had reached out to Blair to get more information about what led Canada to draw the conclusion it did.

A statement issued by the council Sunday evening said there are many outstanding questions and also called on Canada to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to do an independent ground assessment.

The council also said this is just one hospital that has been hit since the “siege on Gaza” began, along with churches and schools.

“Thus, we are focused around the need for immediate ceasefire,” the council said.

The blast became a new flashpoint in the latest conflict that began more than two weeks ago when hundreds of Hamas militants launched a multi-pronged attack on Israel. Hamas, a group which Canada has labelled a terrorist organization since 2002, launched rocket fire and a ground assault on several sites including at a music festival and at several agricultural collective communities known as kibbutzim.

At least 1,400 Israelis were killed, several thousand injured and more than 200 people — including children — were taken hostage by Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip for 16 years. Six Canadians died in the attack, and it’s believed two remain missing.

Israel responded to the attack with force, cutting off power and supplies to the Gaza Strip and launching its own rocket attacks into the area. It is preparing for a ground assault as well.

As of Sunday, estimates suggest about 4,600 Palestinians have lost their lives in the latest conflict, and the humanitarian impact of Israel’s response is having harsh consequences on the nearly two million people who call Gaza home.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been unequivocal that Canada supports Israel’s right to defend itself but that all sides must follow the law and civilians must be protected.

Canada has called for Hamas to release all hostages and for Israel and Egypt to facilitate aid deliveries to Gaza.

Trudeau repeated those positions Sunday in a phone call with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Small amounts of food, fuel and medical supplies were delivered over the weekend, though the suffering in the Gaza Strip remains immense. Residents have reported surviving off dirty water and witnessing fights break out over scarce supplies, while packed hospitals have warned of critical fuel shortages.

The hospital blast upended an already tense situation and furthered the distance between western and Arab countries.

Trudeau faced pressure shortly after the hospital blast to assign blame for it. When asked by a reporter in French about the “Israeli strike” on the hospital, before Israel denied responsibility, Trudeau called the attack “horrific” and “unacceptable.”

A few hours later, after Israel said the rocket wasn’t theirs, Trudeau called for international law to be upheld, but did not point fingers.

“Together, we must determine what happened,” he said. “There must be accountability.”

That same day he tasked Blair with having the military undertake a review and analysis of available evidence so Canada could draw its own conclusions.

On Thursday, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden laid the blame on a rocket from inside Gaza, Trudeau said Canada had seen some preliminary evidence but needed more time to reach “a firm and final conclusion.”

The initial Canadian analysis was completed on Oct. 21, and after Blair was brought up to speed he briefed Trudeau and then released the general finding publicly just before 10 p.m. Canada has not specified what evidence led to its conclusion.

Peter Jones, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said it’s “fairly normal” for Canada to independently analyze incidents of interest overseas, but that it is less common to put out a statement on its findings.

“Given the enormous media attention and public interest, I guess the government of Canada just felt it couldn’t remain silent,” Jones said in an interview.

“The government was under a certain amount of pressure to declare one way or the other … other allied governments are doing the same thing.”

Jones spent seven years working in intelligence analysis and has himself analyzed incidents of interest to Canada to determine if it agreed with its allies on a particular issue.

“In most events of significance around the world where the Canadian government wants to have its own perspective on what happened and not rely on the analysis of others, Canada’s intelligence community will produce its own analysis,” Jones said.

But Jones said the findings are unlikely to change the minds of those who already believed Israel was at fault.

“In many countries in the Middle East, in many Arab countries, people have already formed their opinion and it’s based upon what Hamas has said and their own anger at what’s been going on and all the rest of it,” said Jones.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and senior fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the facts may support Canada’s conclusion but in the current world, facts don’t always matter.

“Alas, we live in a world where feelings trump facts so it won’t change much,” he said.

He also noted we live in a world where people do not always know whose facts to believe.

Evidence from Israel includes satellite images and intercepted conversations between militants. French authorities said an Israeli explosive is much bigger and would have caused a bigger crater. They said this explosive was about five kilograms, which is closer to the type used by Palestinian militants.

It’s also not yet clear how many people were killed when the rocket hit. The Palestinian Health Authority said nearly 500 people died, while U.S. intelligence sources have been cited saying the number is somewhere between 100 and 300.

Israel has pointed the finger at the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for being the source of the rocket. The PIJ is the second-largest armed group in Gaza, whose sole objective is a military victory over Israel to establish an Islamic State across all of Israel, along with the West Bank and Gaza.

American officials told the New York Times their preliminary evidence also pointed to the PIJ. But Canada has not yet specified who it thinks fired the rocket.

“As Canada provides further updates, Israel is assured that other findings uncovered by the Israeli Defense Forces, including the culpability of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, will be identified by Canada as the source of this war crime,” Moed said.

— With files from Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax.

To win Ukraine needs arms

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Ukraine, Canada and the ‘Call of History’

POLICY MAGAZINE Colin Robertson  October 12, 2023

“It is genocide – what Russian occupiers are doing to Ukraine.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the Canadian Parliament, September 22, 2023

To win the war against Russia and reclaim its territorial sovereignty, Ukraine needs a continuous flow of arms and money from the West. In the longer term, that support must transition to investment in reconstruction, preferably with Ukraine as a member of both the European Union and NATO.

The immediate challenge is arms. It is complicated by two things: Western arsenals are exhausted and armaments are not being produced or delivered quickly enough to support the Ukrainian counteroffensive. NATO leaders are committed to improving force capacity and capability but it requires action now with attention to improving production and supply chain efficiency.

As we have seen in other situations, it is the US, still the ‘arsenal of democracy’, that ends up carrying the burden of leadership, including supplying arms. According to the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker, the United States gives the bulk of military aid (over €42 billion). The EU is paying the bills (over €77 billion) to keep Ukraine operating, although the priority now needs to be on furnishing arms.

The flow of US arms is threatened by dysfunction in the US Congress. Funding for Ukraine is collateral damage in the internecine Republican party struggle that deposed Speaker Kevin McCarthy and could shut down the US government in mid-November if they can’t agree on financing its operations.

The Allies look at the US and echo the concern expressed by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Foreign Affairs that “dysfunction has made American power erratic and unreliable, practically inviting risk-prone autocrats to place dangerous bets —with potentially catastrophic effects.”

With US funding for Ukraine uncertain, the rest of NATO — Europe and Canada — need to immediately look to how they can boost their own production to meet the shortfall. The Europeans have long spoken about their desire for ‘strategic autonomy’. It starts with taking ‘strategic responsibility’ of meeting the shortfall arms if American supplies are interrupted.

‘Strategic responsibility’ also means the momentum for Ukrainian membership in the European Union and NATO cannot waver.

If wars teach us anything, it is that all plans tend to end after the first contact or, in the words of combat strategist Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

For Europe, events on the periphery throughout history have always had an impact. If the war in Ukraine has given new meaning to NATO, bringing in Ukraine continues Europe’s move eastwards, even as it grapples with containing the flow of migrants on its southern frontiers as well as how to decouple from dependence on Russian energy, and how to de-risk from China.

Invoking the “call of history” in her annual address to Parliament in September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that Ukraine’s future is “in the Union”. The EU’s 27 foreign ministers met recently in Kyiv to demonstrate, as French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna put it, “our resolute and lasting support for Ukraine, until it can win. It is also a message to Russia”, continued Colonna, “that it should not count on our weariness. We will be there for a long time to come.”

Accession talks could begin as soon as December. Ukraine is required to meet seven conditions laid out by the European Commission, including judicial reforms and anti-corruption measures. In 2022, Transparemcy International scored Ukraine near the bottom in its corruption index, only a couple of points ahead of Russia. Ukraine currently meets only two of the EU conditions. Both financial and technical support from Canada and the allies is essential, especially when it comes to transparency and good governance.

The war in Ukraine is challenging the EU and rekindling debate on core values such as an independent judiciary and a free press while underlining the importance of collective security. It is also pointing to the backsliders — Viktor Orban in Hungary and the Law and Justice government in Poland — that defy these values with little sanction.

I know from conversations with Biden when he was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he is an internationalist, committed to American leadership of the alliances. It is baked into his sense of where the US needs to be now and in the future.

Then, there is the cost. Ukraine would be the first new EU member since Croatia joined in 2013. Accession would entitle Ukraine to about €186 billion over seven years, according to internal estimates of the Union’s common budget.

There will be strong pressure from the other states awaiting membership: Turkey (since 1999), North Macedonia (2005), Montenegro (2010), Serbia (2012), Albania (2014), Moldova (2022), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (2022). Georgia also wants in.

Adding all nine would cost €256.8 billion.  “All member states”, the EU studyconcluded, “will have to pay more to and receive less from the EU budget; many member states who are currently net receivers will become net contributors.” As Canadians know, redistribution — or what we call equalization — is controversial, both politically and economically.

Once derided by French president Emmanuel Macron as ‘brain-dead’, NATO is resurrected.

As the addition of Finland and Sweden demonstrates, the debate about how best to manage European defence and security is through NATO. At its Vilnius summit in July, the Alliance’s 31 members committed to investing at least 2% of their GDP annually on defence. More members are following Germany’s U-turn or “zeitenwende” on defence spending but they need to act now so that next year’s NATO summit in Washington is truly a celebration of 75 years of the world’s most enduring collective security pact.

Europeans and Canadians need to keep asking themselves not just how to keep the US fully engaged in NATO, but what they need to do to defend themselves as US strategic focus becomes increasingly Sino-centric.

For Europe, this means taking on far more strategic responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa and closer political-military ties with Asian democracies. For Canadians, this means real attention to meeting our NATO obligations and the resources necessary for NORAD modernization.

The war is also influencing developments in the Indo-Pacific with the US boosting its existing alliances with Japan and Korea, rejuvenating the QUAD, and creating AUKUS. Again, if Canada wants to participate in these forums it needs to increase capacity of our Forces, especially that of our navy.

After the debacle of the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal that likely encouraged Putin’s adventurism, President Joe Biden is reasserting American leadership within the alliances.

But, as we witness in the congressional debates on funding the war, many in both parties want the priority to be fixing America’s domestic problems such as the cost of living, health care and migration. There is also a debate that the national security focus should be on the threat posed first by China, and then Russia, North Korea and Iran. A messy world – Russia vs. Ukraine and now Hamas vs. Israel — only encourages the insular, if not isolationist, instinct in America.

Biden’s 2024 election strategy is deeply entwined with his success in organizing the West’s response to Putin’s invasion. I know from conversations with Biden when he was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he is an internationalist, committed to American leadership of the alliances. It is baked into his sense of where the US needs to be now and in the future. Biden’s vision of the global status quo is as a battle between democracy and autocracy. Ukraine is important but the challenge of China is the defining foreign policy issue of his presidency.

In Russia, a reckless Vladimir Putin is a dangerous Vladimir Putin. He has developed a messianic streak that is driving Russian expansionism. The abortive Prigozhin coup was the most significant challenge since he took power in 1999. The requirement to focus resources on the war has meant a loss of influence elsewhere. For Putin, a loss in Ukraine would be personally catastrophic. Calculating how he can tilt elections in the democracies to suit his interests and do what he can to ensure a Trump victory in 2024 will require constant vigilance and a united push-back on the part of the West.

For a China suffering from a post-COVID economic hangover, the war has brought cheap Russian energy and provided Chinese military planners with intelligence on tactics, sanctions and military capacity. Stoking nationalism at home, Xi continues to ramp up his military, aggressively pushing Beijing’s weight in its neighborhood especially against Taiwan. Ironically, the longer the war goes on, the weaker Russia becomes in Siberia and the Far East, allowing China to increase its influence there.

Canada has done right by Ukraine. Now, we need to think about what we can do to produce more armaments and then what we can bring to the massive reconstruction effort, including expertise in building resilient electrical grids, governance reform, combatting corruption and bolstering democratic institutions.

The goal of Canada and the allies must be to anchor a strong and prosperous Ukraine within a Europe that also provides a barrier against the expansionary impulses that drive Russian foreign policy. This task will take financial and military commitments requiring long-term sacrifice and perseverance. The ultimate goal is a return to a rules-based order not just in Europe but elsewhere. But that requires a Ukrainian victory and, for now, that means getting more arms to Ukraine.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is a fellow and host of the Global Exchange podcast with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Getting Ready for NAFTA review in 2026

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‘Relitigating’ NAFTA renegotiation could jeopardize ‘opportunity’ of six-year review, says senior trade official.

ent’s North American trade pact in 2026. 

Three years out from a review of Canada’s most important trade deal, the federal government has yet to “put pen to paper” on proposals, as some fear a return to the chaotic days of the NAFTA renegotiation.

Before the mandated review takes place in 2026, all three countries party to the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) will go through elections that will lead to at least one new government in place, as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is term limited and can’t run for re-election. Both Mexico and the U.S. will go to the polls in 2024. Canada will have an election in or before 2025.

A potential return of U.S. president Donald Trump to office has some recalling the turbulence of the rocky NAFTA renegotiations in 2017 and 2018, which the federal government called at the time an “existential threat” to Canada. Concern over what may happen during the first six-year review has some calling on the Canadian government to be proactive.

Senior Global Affairs Canada (GAC) trade official Aaron Fowler indicated it’s too early to lay out proposals for the CUSMA review, but said when the time comes, Canada will have to bring forward those ideas.

“We’ll need specific proposals in certain areas that we’re ready to kind of bring forward. I don’t think, in 2023, we’re really at the stage yet in putting pen to paper on proposals … we will get to that,” said Fowler, associate assistant deputy minister for trade policy and negotiations, at a Sept. 26 panel hosted by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) and Brookings Institution think tanks

“What we are trying to make sure is that we have the structure in place and the people in place and the conditions in place that we can be successful when we get to that point,” he said, remarking that Canada is at a similar position preparing for the reviews as its North American counterparts.

Fowler said the agreement is “generally viewed as positive” in both the U.S. and in Mexico.

He suggested Canada will use the review as an “opportunity” to deal with issues that have arisen under CUSMA, and issues that weren’t being thought of during the NAFTA renegotiations that have since emerged, but won’t relitigate aspects that Canada failed to have included during the past talks.

“If we focus on relitigating issues that we already went through, then this opportunity would become a moment of jeopardy for the agreement and the three countries and the industries that rely on this instrument,” he said.

Fowler added that some issues with the agreement may be worked out through committees and discussion groups before the 2026 review.

CUSMA mandates a review occur six years after the agreement comes into force, and during that review all three countries can agree to add a new 16-year term to the agreement. If that decision isn’t reached, it will expire after 16 years in force or in 2036. If a decision is made in 2026 by a party of the pact not to continue with the agreement, the countries will meet every year for the next decade to conduct a joint review until it expires. During those annual reviews, the three countries can, once again, decide to extend the agreement for a 16-year term

Fowler said that at the moment the review is “not really defined.”

“There has been … a very preliminary discussion between ministers this year at the third Free Trade Commission, as to what [the review] will look like in practice,” he said. “There are some pieces that will need to fall into place before we will be in a position to really elaborate specific proposals. That will also be a function of what the political environment is in the three countries. What are their preoccupations and their trade policies at the point of time? And more broadly, what is the geopolitical environment in which we are all operating?”

“The way we see our relationships with each other in many respects is going to be function of how we see our place in the world. That is very different in 2023 than it was in 2018,” he said. “And I would expect it would be very different in 2026 than it is in 2023.”

Right now, Fowler indicated that Canada needs to put the right communications and advocacy teams in place in the U.S. and Mexico.

The proposal mirrors the so-called “charm offensive” that Canada put in place during the NAFTA renegotiations to trumpet the importance of the integrated North American trading relationship.

Carleton University professor Meredith Lilly, a former trade adviser to then-prime minister Stephen Harper, said it is “great to hope” that the review will be an “opportunity,” but suggested Canada take a more “realistic” approach and prepare for a “complete and total disaster.”

“This is what happened with NAFTA renegotiations. Canada had this idea—it’s all going to be about modernization, we’re going to keep it slim and quick, and we’re all going to hug and its going to be great—and of course the Americans had a very different idea,” said Lilly during the CGAI panel.

“We should go forward with an opportunity, but make sure we’ve got our bulletproof vest,” she said.

Steve Verheul, who served as chief negotiator during the NAFTA renegotiations, said during the panel discussion that preparation is “the key.”

“You have to game out every single scenario, by sector, by chapter, by virtually every issue that could come up or might come up [to] have your position, your fall back, all your offensive interests, all your defensive interests. All of that, all in a roadmap, so that you are ready to go whichever way the wind starts to blow when we get closer to this,” said Verheul, who has since retired from GAC.

“The preparation is the foundation of all of this. So, you have more knowledge, you’ve thought more extensively about these issues than the other side has been thinking about them. That’s always the key,” he said.

Verheul said efforts should be made to see how the three countries can get ahead of the review, indicating a role for the business communities in the three respective nations, remarking that trade negotiators can only go so far with counterparts to map out a potential review. He added that business communities can start to set the agenda.

“That would have a powerful influence,” he said, noting that governments could then pick up on that advice

CGAI vice-president Colin Robertson, a former trade negotiator and moderator of the Sept. 26 panel, said while Canada doesn’t know what will happen in 2026, it should be preparing now, by setting up a working group. He said advocacy and communication work in the United States should be unfolding now to ensure Canada knows what works down the line.

“When you go to Americans with creative solutions, I always find them very receptive,” said Robertson.

Former diplomat Louise Blais, who served as Canada’s consul general in Atlanta, told The Hill Times that CUSMA’s renewal is the priority, not advancing specific proposals.

“We’re hoping for a very smooth rollover of the agreement as opposed to arriving with a list of things to change or improve,” said Blais, now a senior special adviser with the Business Council of Canada.

She said renewing the agreement will create certainty, adding that, in the meantime, there needs to be continued engagement with the Americans, in particular, to outline the benefits of the agreement with both Democrats and Republicans.

She said she is “cautiously optimistic” that all three sides will decide to move forward with an extension to the agreement.

International trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said Canada’s focus should be on ensuring that, in 2026, there is a contained review that doesn’t see the whole agreement come under the microscope.

“The important thing is to ensure that this review is properly managed or it could go off the rails,” he said. “If there isn’t an agreement among the three parties, the three governments, as to the issues to be addressed in the review, it could lead to a process that is undisciplined and uncontrolled and would lead to an opening up of the entire [trade deal], which is to be avoided.”

Herman said the three governments need to come to an understanding on the issues and provisions that need to be adjusted.

Herman said that before their respective elections take place, the three countries should be working on a pathway towards the review to help depoliticize it.

Bloc Québécois MP Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay (Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, Que.), his party’s international trade critic, said he doesn’t see any of three sides making a decision whereby the North American market wouldn’t have free trade coverage.

He said he wants to see both the oft-troubled softwood lumber dispute be addressed in the 2026 review, as well as the countervailing and dumping of aluminum from outside North America.

Savard-Tremblay added that he would like to see the Canadian government present more information regarding the review to Parliament.

“We should have the [House] International Trade Committee push for more transparency because there’s always a horrible lack of transparency when Ottawa is negotiating deals,” he said. “We’re going to push to have more information.”

Robert Kaplan The Loom of Time

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‘The Loom of Time’: A Geopolitical Tour of a Turbulent Neighbourhood

The Loom of Time: Between Empire and Anarchy, From the Mediterranean to China 

Penguin Random House/August 2023

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

September 24, 2023

Journalist Robert Kaplan’s accounts of the people and places in countries he regularly visits at the ‘back of beyond’ are must-reads for those who enjoy journalism infused with history, culture and a critical perspective. The Loom of Time: Between Empire and Anarchy, From the Mediterranean to China is his 22nd book and it meets the high standard we expect of him. The Loom of Time is a sweeping portrait of geopolitical developments painted from a half-century of travel and reportage in what he calls the ‘Greater Middle East’.

Bounded by the waters of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Seas, the Aegean, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, Kaplan’s canvas is the people in the lands stretching from Xinjiang in western China, south to the Indian subcontinent, and west through Central Asia, the Middle and Near East, North Africa and into the Balkans.

These lands correspond, roughly, says Kaplan, to the early 20th century geographer Halford Mackinder’s broader ‘heartland’. In Mackinder’s observation, “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.”

For centuries, these lands were ruled by successive empires: Assyrian, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Ottoman, British, Soviet, and American. The legacy of that imperial rule is a collection of often unstable states.

This should not surprise us as many are artificial creations of Wilsonian idealism at the 1919 Paris peace conference. Those who drew their lines on a map mostly ignored history, geography and cultural realities. That these states endure is only, says Kaplan, through rule, by a “severe form of authoritarianism”. This is hardly fertile ground for democracy.

Ongoing regional turbulence means that the real measure of peace is that between order and chaos. Using the western construct of democracy vs autocracy, argues Kaplan, does not apply in the Greater Middle East.

Western leaders, says Kaplan, have had an “obsession with formalizing political behavior in distant societies that they barely understand and do not appreciate.” What people want most, says Kaplan, is order. Pointing to Saudi Arabia, he says that, for its citizens, rights are about women being able to drive and getting a passport on-line.

Kaplan’s thesis is provocative and it should force western policymakers to rethink our efforts to promote democracy. This has particular application to the Trudeau government that has promised over the years a Canadian initiative on “peace, order and good government” and democracy.

Western governments have put great store in elections as legitimizers of democracy. But, as the Arab Spring proved in Egypt and elsewhere, elections can produce illiberal governments. Stepping back and looking at the result of democracy promotion, did we spread ourselves too widely and lose the ability to focus on where we could make the most differences?

We need to prioritize and invest in what works. After 18 years of democratic decline around the world, can democracies still deliver the basic necessities of life? Should our policymakers not be more tough-minded in making choices and commitments? At a minimum, support to places like Haiti, Sudan and Ukraine will need to be for generations rather than an electoral cycle.

This probably starts with the hard and long work of building institutions to include political parties, think tanks and civil society as well as the public service. It means enabling the rule of law and core institutions like the judiciary, police, and the military.

We need to find a new way of making the case for human rights, development and democracy around the argument it gives people better lives and security. “Rather than pine exclusively for democracy in the Greater Middle East”, says Kaplan, “we should desire instead consultative regimes in place of arbitrary ones: that is, regimes that canvass public opinion even if they do not hold elections.”

Kaplan says that a “consciously realist” China, “embracing stability over anarchy”,is playing a long game. As Kaplan described in his 2010 book Monsoon, which included a prescient section on China’s purchase of strategic ports in the South China Sea, Beijing’s goal is to obtain energy and resource security. Using the Belt and Road Initiative and other investments, China is increasing both its presence and its influence. China is now everywhere between the Mediterranean and its own borderlands in Xinjiang. Besides its hub at Djibouti, it envisions military bases at Port Sudan on the Red Sea and at Jiwani on the Pakistan-Iran border.

This is forcing the Biden administration to re-focus on the Greater Middle East but Kaplan warns that making human rights the main message only serves to push the Saudis and others to do their business with China. Leaders in the Greater Middle East, who are not sanctioned by voters for either their foreign or trade policy, want money and technology, not moralizing. China is only too happy to oblige.

Kaplan says President Joe Biden needs to study Franklin Roosevelt, who did not like the autocrats but knew American interests would only be advanced through pragmatism. Biden appears to be adapting accordingly: reinforcing NATO, reviving the QUAD, creating AUKUS, and, in his speech to the United Nations this week, dropping the ‘autocracy versus democracy’ language in favour of arguing that free choice is the better way to improve collective health and welfare.

A self-described realist-internationalist, Kaplan admits he was wrong to back the American intervention in Iraq. Saddam Hussein ruled the ‘most despotic regime in the region but the disorder that followed after invasion was even worse,’ he surmises.

In other observations, Kaplan says that the Arabs use Palestine as a distraction from their own shortcomings and he doesn’t think the trend to normalization of relations with Israel will generate major blowback. On Turkey, Kaplan says Erdogan is shifting away from the West with the increasing belief that, in a multipolar world, he can be a power player both regionally and internationally on his own terms.

On Afghanistan, Kaplan says it will continue to be of geostrategic importance. The Taliban did not emerge out of a vacuum but had its roots in the mujahidin movement and the more conservative and tribal elements. With its Western and Soviet weaponry and the backing from its inception of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the Taliban represent the Greater Middle East’s interaction with Westernization, and “in this case a conscious rejection of it”.

Of America’s 20-year Afghan odyssey, Kaplan concludes that, “We were always said to be making progress, even if we weren’t. We were always on the cusp of building democracy, even as the Afghan regimes we supported were brought to power in flawed and at times chaotic elections.” Looking forward, Kaplan observes that only contiguous powers, especially China, can help stabilize Afghanistan but it will require energy and commercial deals to bring order and development.

A self-described realist-internationalist, Kaplan admits he was wrong to back the American intervention in Iraq. Saddam Hussein ruled the “most despotic regime in the region but the disorder that followed after invasion was even worse,” he surmises. The American-led military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, says Kaplan, “were all about the idea that we could remake societies, and that our historical experience was somehow more important to these countries than their own historical experiences and ideals.”

Kaplan admires the diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Jim Baker and encourages their heirs to study their statecraft. Pragmatists, they also recognized that reason and analysis are not enough, as Kaplan learned in Ethiopia and other places. “True clairvoyance is really about a powerful imagination”, he writes. “Because you cannot imagine an occurrence or situation doesn’t mean it cannot happen.”

Kaplan says we can learn much from history and his prose draws on Edward Gibbon, Samuel Huntington, Fernand Braudel and Arnold Toynbee. The book’s title is from Toynbee:

The work of the spirit of the Earth, as he weaves and draws his threads on the ‘Loom of Time’ constitutes the ‘elemental rhythm of the history of man, as it manifests itself in the geneses and growths and breakdowns and disintegrations of human societies.”   

The Loom of Time is a superb blend of journalism, travelogue, and geopolitics. Permeating all of his accounts of people and places is the ‘inevitability of tragedy’ unless we learn the lessons of history, geography and culture, and then apply our imagination.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is a fellow and host of the Global Exchange podcast with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Trudeau in India

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‘There are some fundamental issues that have been weighing on this relationship for a long time that make it hard to take it to the next level,’ says trade consultant Eric Miller.

Following a G20 summit in New Delhi that featured seemingly frosty exchanges between the Canadian and Indian prime ministers, former diplomats and foreign policy observers say the bilateral relationship is at its lowest point, compounded by Ottawa’s decision to put a hold on trade talks.

The hostile nature of the bilateral relationship complicates Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy, since India was highlighted as a “critical partner” in the $2.3-billion plan.

The visit featured an awkward handshake during which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) pulled away from Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Trudeau also chose not to attend Modi’s leaders’ dinner at the summit, according to a Canadian Press report

The two met on the margins of the summit, but didn’t hold a formal bilateral meeting like Modi did with many other leaders. The readouts from the talk feature stark differences. The Indian readout highlighted concerns over the presence of the Khalistan movement in Canada, and allegations that secessionists are promoting violence against Indian diplomats and the Indian community in Canada. The Canadian readout focused on Trudeau raising “the importance of respecting the rule of law, democratic principles, and national sovereignty.” Ottawa has previously raised concerns regarding Indian foreign interference.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the personal relationship between Trudeau and Modi is “terrible,” remarking that neither of Trudeau’s visits to India—including his infamous 2018 trip—have been greeted with success

Following the visit, Robertson said it will be up to Canada’s High Commission in India to put the pieces back together.

“It’s foot diplomacy, going from office to office to try to restore relations,” he said.

He said implementing an Indo-Pacific strategy without having cordial relations with India is a tall order.

“You can’t do it,” he said, remarking that ties with India should be “natural” for Canada given the deep freeze of its relationship with China, and India’s link to Canada through its diaspora community.

Part of the strategy was to reach an early progress trade agreement, but movement has been slow dealing with India’s notoriously difficult trade negotiators, as previously reported by The Hill TimesThe Canadian Press reported that Ottawa has paused trade discussions. Neither Trudeau nor International Trade Minister Mary Ng (Markham–Thornhill, Ont.) has directly explained why that decision was made.

Saskatchewan Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison criticized the federal government in a Sept. 8 letter to Ng for not using the G20 summit to forward trade negotiations.

Robertson said reaching a trade deal with India won’t happen as long as Modi is prime minister, unless the bilateral relationship can be improved.

Trade consultant Eric Miller, president of Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, said the discord in trade talks reveals issues at the negotiation table as well as bilateral irritants between the two countries.

“Why is there a pause? It’s because these things are hard. Why are they hard? It’s the fundamental issues of agriculture versus temporary entry. They’re also hard because there are some serious unresolved issues between Canada and India.”

Miller said the two countries need to find ways to deal with these differences, including India’s concerns about the Khalistan movement.

“You have these deeply fundamental issues and it’s not just about economics,” he said. “There are some fundamental issues that have been weighing on this relationship for a long time that make it hard to take it to the next level.”

Carleton University professor Vivek Dehejia, who researches India’s economy and international trade, said Canada-India bilateral relations are at their “lowest ebb” in years.

“It’s become clear that there’s not much personal rapport or chemistry between Modi and Trudeau,” he said.

Dehejia said the news that trade talks were paused, as well as the spotlight on foreign interference, meant that even before the summit began on Sept. 9, there were muted prospects for a successful visi

He said the timing for the pause in trade talks is “peculiar,” and has “not been really well explained.”

“I find the recent pause problematic given that both sides say they want an agreement,” he said. “And why pause it now after just restarting it?”

He said under the relationship’s current configuration, the signs point to a continued deep freeze as long as Trudeau and Modi both remain in power.

Dehejia said the rhetoric of India being a “critical partner” in the Indo-Pacific strategy is “captive to diaspora politics.”

“If Trudeau’s main message to Modi is that ‘we’re worried about election interference that you guys are doing in Canada,’ and not that ‘we want to build a partnership with you,’ that tells you what Trudeau’s priorities are,” he said. “There’s been a very, very poor judgement—at least by him and people around him—not to take the long geopolitical view. Whether you like Modi or not, or India or not, you can’t ignore them and you’ve got to engage with them.”

Toronto Metropolitan University professor Sanjay Ruparelia, an expert on Indian politics and democracy, said Canada and India’s substantive differences have led to a situation of a hardened bilateral relationship.

He said the difficult diplomatic relationship between the two countries may force Canada towards increased co-operation with Japan and South Korea as part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, but noted that a reduced role for India would give the strategy a “lack of coherence.”

“[India] is a necessary, vital relationship for Canada to maintain and improve, but there are a lot of issues that are going to challenge that,” he said.

With the strategy, Ruparelia said there was an expectation that ties between Canada and India would get stronger, but he remarked the last year has shown that is not the case.

He called Trudeau’s summit visit “incredibly difficult,” but noted that there will always be differences between the two countries given their policy divergences.

Former senior diplomat Ben Rowswell, head of the Network for Democratic Solidarity, said the G20 summit showed a denigration of global governance given its weak results.

“I’m not sure this really bodes well for the broader environment that Canada needs,” he said, pointing to the failure to build consensus at the summit in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sustainable development.

“That’s extremely worrisome to Canada,” he said, “way more worrisome than any one bilateral relationship.” He added that Canada has to balance its engagement with India and engage where it can, while not being subject to a country that is showing “complete disrespect” for Canadian sovereignty.

He said that India’s actions aren’t in the “same league” as China’s illiberal behaviour, but are in the “same character” and “same tone” when it comes to its aggressive attitude towards Canadian sovereignty.

“It’s really an attempt to try to rewrite the rules and norms of the international system in favour of raw power politics,” he said.

G20 Takeways

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What Got Done in Delhi: Takeaways from the 2023 G20 Leaders’ Summit

The G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi/@G20org

Colin Robertson

POLICY MAGAZINE September 12, 2023

What Got Done in Delhi: Takeaways from the 2023 G20 Leaders’ Summit

The G20 leaders are a ‘disparate’ bunch – dictators, and democrats – but it is the premier forum for international economic cooperation. They met this past weekend in New Delhi around the theme of “One Earth, One Family, One Future”.

Despite their differences and with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in the chair, they achieved a consensus declaration that addresses Ukraine, climate mitigation, food and energy security, as well as debt relief. In recognition of the growing weight of the Global South, the African Union, representing the 55 nations of the second most populous continent, joins the group.

On Ukraine, while it failed to explicitly condemn the Russian invasion as G20 leaders did in last November’s Bali communiqué, the intent is clear with the call for states to abide by the UN Charter, refrain from using force for territorial acquisition, cease attacks on civilians and infrastructure, declaring “inadmissible” the threat or use of nuclear weapons and calling for restoration of the Black Sea Initiative around shipping of food and fertilizer “to meet the demand in developing and least developed countries, particularly those in Africa.”

Looking to the climate change conference (COP28) in Dubai this December, G20 leaders agreed to “triple renewable energy capacity globally” and pledged preferential financing to help developing countries transition to lower emissions.The G20 accounts for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. A Global Biofuels Alliance will include India, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mauritius, and the UAE.

In other institution-building, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Germany, Italy, and the European Union pledged to work together in developing the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor – a new ‘spice route’ designed to increase their connectivity. The US, India and Gulf countries also announced a ‘historic’ new railways and port corridor to link the regions. These new initiatives will both compete with and complement the Chinese-driven Silk Road and Maritime Belt Initiative. These initiatives remind us again that economic weight and growth continues to shift to the Indo-Pacific.

Leaders agreed to collectively mobilize more concessional finance to boost the World Bank’s capacity to support low- and middle-income countries. Rising interest rates have escalated debt financing. The World Bank calculates that the world’s poorest nations face annual debt servicing of over $60 billion to bilateral creditors, escalating the risk of defaults. Two-thirds of this debt is owed to China.

Recognizing the critical role of digital infrastructure, India will build and maintain a Global Digital Public Infrastructure Repository. In a joint statement on the eve of the G20, the World Bank and IMF noted that nearly 3 billion people remained offline, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries.

For Justin Trudeau, the G20 was part of travel to Jakarta for the ASEAN summit, to Singapore to promote economic ties, and then to New Delhi, all intended to underline Canada’s increased engagement with the Indo-Pacific region.

At the G20, Trudeau tweeted that he’d pressed for “greater ambition”on climate change, gender equality, global health and inclusive growth while advocating for “continued support for Ukraine”. He committed over $100 million for programs supporting climate mitigation and food aid.

But, as with his last trip to India (2018), it was not without controversy. Trudeau’s contentious meeting with host Narendra Modi is another reminder of the twin perils of preachiness and diaspora politics. Meanwhile, the efforts to secure a closer Canada-India economic partnership, a key objective of the new Indo-Pacific strategy, are paused. Our high commissioner and his team will have to pick up the pieces.

A more successful Indo-Pacific policy initiative were the exercises, coincidental with the prime minister’s travels, involving  HMCS Ottawa, HMCS Vancouver and MV Asterix with the Japanese navy and then the transit of HMCS Ottawa with American and Japanese allies through the East China Sea. Ottawa’s encounters with Chinese warships remind us that for Canada to make headway on our economic objectives, those living in the Indo-Pacific need to see that we are equally invested in their regional security.

This is what multilateralism is all about, and while giving everyone a seat can be tiresome, for a middle power like Canada it means that with ideas and diplomatic skill, we can make a difference.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were G20 no-shows. Putin faces potential extradition because of the International Criminal Court war crimes warrant so he was represented by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Why Xi did not attend is unclear: was he sick, subsumed by domestic problems, or was it to snub Modi over border and other disputes? Or does he think the G20 is too ‘Western’?  Xi has made few international trips: to Samarkand for the Chinese-inspired Shanghai Cooperation Organization last September, to Moscow to see Putin in March, and to Johannesburg for the BRICS in August. There, he drove the effort to expand BRICS membership of emerging economies to include Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Some see the expanding BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization as rivals to the western inspired G7 and G20.

The G20 is the brainchild of then-Canadian finance minister and later prime minister, Paul Martin, and then-US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. They recognized, in the wake of financial crisis in emerging economies (Mexico in 1994, Asia in 1997, Russia in 1998) that with globalization and the growth of the emerging economies, the G7 was inadequate to the task of global financial crisis response.

The G20 began in 1999 as a meeting of finance ministers from the G7 – Canada, USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy Japan – as well as Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, India, and the European Union. They are joined by the heads of the United Nations, IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization.

The G20 was raised to the leaders’ level in 2008 to deal with the Great Recession. The next year it declared itself the primary venue for international economic and financial cooperation representing 80 per cent of world GDP, 75 per cent of global trade, and 60 per cent of the world’s population.. It has morphed into year-long series of meetings that now involve business and civil society, culminating in the annual summits.

Given the numbers and many languages involved, the formal plenaries tend to be a series of tedious set-speeches. The real work takes place at the prior sessions involving ministers, sherpas and officials and then, after the conference begins, in the behind-the-scene meetings and corridor pull-asides.

Going into this year’s summit there was no agreement on the leaders’ communiqué given the divisions on Ukraine. The Indian officials shepherding the process say the final negotiations involved over 200 hours of meetings and 15 different drafts before agreement on the nearly 15,000-word Joint Declaration was achieved.

For Canada, multilateralism is an article of faith and a cornerstone of our foreign policy. We see it as the means by which nations can preserve peace, create prosperity and solve global problems. At a time of rising economic and geopolitical tensions, the world faces major transformational challenges and increasingly frequent shocks. Figuring this out depends on collective action by all nations.

This is what multilateralism is all about, and while giving everyone a seat can be tiresome, for a middle power like Canada it means that with ideas and diplomatic skill, we can make a difference. But making a difference requires investments in diplomacy, defence and development something our current and recent governments seem to have forgotten. That  Trudeau’s Canadian Forces plane, originally commissioned in the 1990s,  suffered from mechanical problems delaying his departure from Delhi can be seen as a reflection of years of underinvestment by his and previous governments in the readiness of our Forces.

Multilateralism comprises different shapes, forms and operating systems. If the G7 is like a cabinet, the G20 is more of a caucus, and the UN General Assembly a cacophony. There is a tendency to portray the various groupings as exclusionary or adversarial. They can be. In that sense, they reflect global realities, especially in this era of great power competition. But mostly, they are about identifying solutions and taking collective action to our shared problems, recognizing the realities of ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future.’