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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 »


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

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

By Nicole Perlroth


reviewed by Colin Robertson

POLICY MAGAZINE  July 13, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada US Relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need to focus on bilateral relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summits G7, NATO, Commonwealth

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

Colin Robertson

June 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Senate Testimony Foreign Service

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OTTAWA, Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met with videoconference this day at 11:30 a.m. [ET] to examine and report on the Canadian foreign service and elements of the foreign policy machinery within Global Affairs Canada.

Senator Peter M. Boehm (Chair) in the chair.


Colin Robertson, Vice-President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My comments are based on 33 years in the Canadian Foreign Service and, since 2008, teaching U.S. relations several times a year to all new Foreign Service officers at the Canadian Foreign Service Institute. During my time in the Foreign Service, I also served on the executive of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, including a term as president.

It will not surprise you that I think Canada’s global interests are best served with a professional Foreign Service. More than most nations, our sense of self-identity is realized by how we act and are seen to act abroad. More than most, our prosperity depends on our ability to trade and invest abroad, and to recruit immigrants and refugees.

The Foreign Service delivers on these goals. They are Canada’s eyes, ears and voice beyond our borders. Thanks to immigration, we are also one of the few countries in the world that can build a Foreign Service that looks like the entire world.

Foreign Service officers require three qualities.

Adaptability — Shuffled around the globe and at headquarters like a deck of cards, officers must easily adapt to different cultures and pick up new skills.

Engagement — In a networked world, the ability to personally engage in single-minded pursuit of the national interest and then communicate, analyze and recommend to our foreign and domestic interlocutors is vital.

Empathy — With language, cultivating relationships is a lot easier, especially in getting to know those who think and act differently than we do in Canada. Understanding where our adversaries are coming from helps prevent them from becoming enemies.

In Policy Magazine, I recently made 10 recommendations to improve our Foreign Service. Let me focus on three.

The first is more Foreign Service — underlining service — sufficient that we have surge capacity for calamities and to allow for training, secondments, exchanges and personal leave. Our international interests have grown, with 175 foreign missions abroad. While Global Affairs Canada has expanded fourfold to nearly 13,000, the Foreign Service has only increased from 1,750 to about 2,400 — a little less than 25% since Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister.

A second recommendation is more Foreign Service — underlining foreign. Increasingly, we are homebound rather than foreign-based.

When I joined the Foreign Service, half of us were abroad and half were at home. Fifteen years ago, when Senator Harder was deputy minister, only 25% were posted abroad. Today, that figure is about 18%.

Foreign Service officers expect to serve in difficult circumstances. Like our military, we are 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. Duty of care, a recent concept, must be secondary to our responsibility to represent.

My third observation is more public diplomacy. Outreach and advocacy, including use of social media, needs to go beyond the conventional circuit of business, bureaucrats and fellow diplomats to include innovators, faith leaders, mayors and civil society.

I heartily endorse this committee’s recommendations in its 2019 report, Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy. Gary Smith’s new book, Ice War Diplomat, describes the diplomatic value achieved through the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series, itself an exercise in public diplomacy and one we’re probably going to have to do in a few more years.

Successive U.S. Secretaries of Defense have observed an ounce of early diplomacy is a lot cheaper than the application of a pound of armed force. It is estimated that it cost the U.S. $1 million a year to keep a marine in Afghanistan. It cost half of that to keep a diplomat there.

We need diplomats who can go beyond the headlines to see what is coming over the horizon and focus on the underlying trends and the bigger picture. Interpreting and understanding the ramifications and knock-on effects of events like the Ukraine crisis, including supply chain disruptions and societal rifts, is essential work for diplomats.

To conclude, our world is increasingly messy and mean. Diplomacy and foreign service matter more than ever. A quiet diplomacy remains the first line of defence. With the rise of social media and the growth of disinformation and misinformation fomenting conflict and destabilizing democracies, we need more public diplomacy.

Thank you, chair.

Senator MacDonald: Thank you to the three fine witnesses. I think I’ll direct my question to Mr. Robertson. I think the last time we spoke was pre-COVID on the plane going to Halifax. I believe you were going to the Halifax International Security Forum. We talked mostly about trade at that time with the U.S.

You authored an article last month. I read the article and really enjoyed it. I have some questions in regard to it. You recommended greater emphasis be placed on partnerships with provincial representatives abroad, which you said would complement Canada’s work, in particular in terms of trade and investment. Specifically, you said that Quebec is the most sophisticated provincial foreign service and is a model for other provinces as they expand their networks abroad.

How might specific partnerships between the Canadian Foreign Service and provincial representatives enhance the effectiveness of Canada’s diplomatic trade and development objectives abroad? As well, are there best practices of partnerships between the representatives of federal and provincial or state-level governments in other countries that Canada could learn from?

Mr. Robertson: Thank you, senator. Yes, I do think that the provincial governments play a vital role, particularly in trade development abroad, because they are closer to the reality of trade. That’s certainly been my experience. I say this as someone who participated in the negotiations of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and then the North America Free Trade Agreement.

My experience at posting was that the provincial governments were often the best equipped and able to get out there to actually put meat on the framework of the trade agreements that we had negotiated working with the provinces because they can often identify what their needs are, and that part works very well. Certainly, my experience both in Asia and in the United States was that with the actual, as I say, doing the deals, provincial governments were better placed to do so. Therefore, the synergy between posts and provinces is vitally important.

As I observed, I think the province that does it best because they’ve had the longest experience at it is Quebec. They have half a dozen plus offices in the United States. Certainly, I work closely with the Quebec delegation or wherever I was placed whenever there were Quebec interests at stake. Provinces are also extremely well placed because they know exactly what they want. They come in with a clear focus. At the national level, we are trying to often set up the framework, which is important, but again we need to have that complicity between our provincial governments and the national government.

As I said in my piece, I think Quebec has the best defined one. Other provinces I think could learn from Quebec. Ontario has vast interests. They have a representative in Washington. Alberta has long had a rep in Washington and they do are a very good job. It is usually someone who comes from political life. James Rajotte is their current rep who served in the House of Commons. In a place like Washington, my observation was that provincial reps who had political experience were extremely effective. They were playing mostly on trade issues, but would go larger than that.

The Chair: Thank you. We’ve run out of time in that segment.

Senator Greene: Winston Churchill once said that sometimes the truth is so fragile and important that it needs to be protected by a bodyguard of lies. Is it ever ethical for a Foreign Service officer in Canada to lie to further his country’s interests?

The Chair: Who is the lucky witness you would like to direct that to, Senator Greene? Anyone want to take a stab at that?

Mr. Robertson: I’ll just say no. That’s a misnomer. You don’t lie for your country because your credibility is everything. Once you have a reputation for deceit, it’s very hard for anyone to take you seriously. No, I don’t think that’s a good approach.

Senator Woo: Thank you Ms. Fortier, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Mank. It’s nice to see you all again. This question is for Mr. Robertson, but Mr. Mank may want to weigh in as well.

I agree with your assessment that adaptability, engagement and empathy are key qualities for Foreign Service of representing one’s country abroad. However, it’s not clear to me why these three qualities are limited to Foreign Service officers and why a specific stream is needed for these qualities to be nurtured and expressed. If your answer is that, well, these are the people who commit to working overseas and cultivating those skills, but only a fraction of them are posted overseas. In fact, some refuse to go overseas for a variety of reasons. Aren’t you undercutting that argument?

What I’m trying to get at here is whether we can take a broader view of Foreign Service for the country that is not the same as the Foreign Service stream that all of you served in and served admirably on, and whether maybe Mr. Mank’s idea of a variation of that stream may be one way to go.

Mr. Robertson: Senator, I think I’ve tried to identify three qualities, but they aren’t particular to those in the Foreign Service. As you heard in the last session with Mr. Shugart and Mr. Rosenberg, they pointed out that — and I do agree with this — bringing people in, as necessary, from other parts of government or governments or the private sector would also serve the Foreign Service, and that having Foreign Service officers serve in different provincial governments and in business makes a lot of sense as well. I don’t look at the Foreign Service as a caste or a class, but something that is permeable and people enter as appropriate. However, I do think you need a professional Foreign Service. There is a lot to be said for long service — that is, the knowledge of cultures and languages that you build on over time. I do think that’s absolutely valuable. In that sense, the Foreign Service is a vocation.


Senator Harder: Thank you to our witnesses. This question is probably for Mr. Robertson and Mr. Mank. I would like to explore the role of our locally engaged staff. Is there anything you would suggest to this committee as to how our inquiry could benefit from a better understanding of the role of the locally engaged and how that has evolved as there has been less Canadian-based presence? Are there risks to that or opportunities that we should be made aware of?

Mr. Robertson: Well, senator, increasingly, the locally engaged staff are the backbone of our diplomatic representation abroad. They represent the continuity. They often have the better networks and, bluntly, we couldn’t function without them. I would encourage the committee to invite a couple of locally engaged staff — there are a lot of long-service individuals in the United States and abroad — to appear using the marvels of Zoom before your committee. They need a champion. We take them more or less for granted, but we increasingly depend upon them to represent Canadian interests abroad. We’re fortunate, with a large Canadian diaspora, that many of those locally engaged staff abroad are Canadians. We are now starting to recruit some of those who have been long serving to bring them into the Foreign Service. In the examples I can think of, it’s all worked out extremely well.

I come back to where I began, Senator Harder. Because there are fewer Foreign Service officers abroad, because of cost constraints and the rest, we depend heavily on locally engaged staff. We are fortunate because we have a large overseas diaspora so we can recruit Canadians, but I think they are often people without a voice.


Senator Omidvar: My question is to any witness, but let’s start with Mr. Robertson.

Canada is increasingly becoming more and more a country of immigrants, and one way or the other, diaspora politics enters into our foreign policy considerations. As we all know, the push and pull of diaspora politics can be extremely tense, whether it’s related to security, trade or even international development.

I’d like to know how the Foreign Service is currently equipped to best respond to these tensions and whether there are some promising practices you can alert us to.

Mr. Robertson: Thank you, senator. Throughout my career, diaspora politics was always a fact of life, something you had to be conscious of and indeed factor into every policy recommendation you made to ministers. Ministers are particularly sensitive to diaspora politics. It’s what our country is about. So good Foreign Service officers have a kind of political nose and figure that part out. We are, after all — as has been said in the previous session — servants to our prime ministers and to the government, so we need to be conscious of that.

Again, it’s one of those skills you just have to adapt and take into account. It’s what we are. You’re not going to change it, and you build it into your recommendations.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you for being here. My question this afternoon is for Mr. Robertson. You recently wrote about a need for surge capacity. This is a subject that has come up in our study before. I wonder what it would look like. Daniel Livermore noted in an earlier meeting that junior surge capacity could be held in Ottawa economically and deployed when needed. I did worry and wonder when he said this, though. I didn’t imagine or picture recent university grads in Ottawa waiting for the call to be posted abroad — perhaps albeit briefly — only to return and wait until their next call. I suspect I might be misunderstanding this on my part and would hope that today you could elaborate on what this surge capacity would look like from a day-to-day point of view.

Mr. Robertson: I think at any time there are always Foreign Service officers on training, on secondment or on leave. I would think we can pull them back as we sometimes do, particularly when we have a consular emergency and there’s a requirement to get people on the ground, or if we have a particular crisis like Ukraine where there are consular immigration requirements to be able to get Foreign Services out there. However, you can only do that if you have sufficient capacity through your recruitment.

I think the point that Dan Livermore was getting at was that we haven’t been recruiting on a regular basis. We’ve been hiring contract staff and term employees. That doesn’t give us the capacity we need. You need to have regular recruitment of a foreign service — my view is annually, even if you only bring in a few individuals — so you have that surge capacity when the time comes. You’re not having to look for contract employees or, as you described at the outset, new students. That doesn’t work.

Senator Gerba: I would like to return to the study that my colleague Senator MacDonald mentioned, which stated that Quebec is in fact a model in several regards in terms of diplomacy. It notes that Quebec has 34 representations in 19 countries, with strong representation in French-speaking countries, especially in Africa.

My question is for all the witnesses who have served as ambassadors in various places in the world. How can the presence of the provinces, such as Quebec’s presence, contribute to achieving our objectives in the various countries in terms of economic and political diplomacy?


Mr. Robertson: I’ll give you an example. When I was in Los Angeles, we set about the goal of helping win a foreign language award for The Barbarian Invasions of Denys Arcand.

I worked very closely with the Delegate General of Quebec and, between us, we brought in the assets of Cirque du Soleil. We waged a full-out campaign, and used our residence as the platform for entertainment and to basically cultivate the votes. We ran it like a political campaign.

I worked, as I say, in complete complicity with my Quebec counterpart, with Denys Arcand and his wife — who was a driver — and we won. I think it’s the only time that Canada has won a foreign language award. Again, this was cultural diplomacy, but it did a lot for us.

At the receptions, we served Quebec beer that we were trying to get into the market. Trader Joe’s was there and said this was good beer. We were able to sell that beer into the California market, which is a bigger market than Canada.

There were all sorts of spin-off benefits, as well as the complicity of working closely together. As I said earlier, my experience in working with the provinces, they were much more attuned to the reality of their own situation. It works very well. I had this experience in other places as well

Senator MacDonald: I do want to return to our approach when it comes to dealing with our representatives abroad and developing trade and investment. Actually, Mr. Robertson, the experience you had in Los Angeles segues into this.

I’ve been on the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group for all my time in the Senate, and we just came back from three days of meetings with 11 senators in the U.S. after two years of not meeting face to face. Of course, we leaned on our embassy in Washington for most of our work across the border. We have many consulates in the U.S. I’m just curious: Do we use our consulates as well as we could?

From my point of view, we don’t have a lot of close interaction with consulates unless we’re in that city. Do we use them the way we could? Is there a better way to apply these consulates so we can develop our trade and investment in the U.S.?

Mr. Robertson: Thank you, senator. I think the consulates are used as well as you would wish to use them. Can you use them better? The one observation I’d make is that I thought, certainly, when I served at the consulates that we could better synchronize with the embassy in Washington, so I used to phone the ambassador every quarter just to find out what is going on.

I understand now that the consuls general report through to the ambassador. This is a bit arcane, but I think it’s important because the ambassador is the one figure in the United States who has the full scope, and when you have the consulates working with the ambassador, you get the dynamic you want. I think this began under Ambassador MacNaughton and continued under the current ambassador. I think that makes a lot of sense, particularly given the changes in the United States and the fact that we have such vital interests. We do need a Team Canada Inc. approach in which the consulates are key players, as are members of Parliament.

Certainly, when I was working in the Advocacy Secretariat, one of the things we strongly encouraged — which now takes place — was that you’re allowed to use your travel points to travel to Washington and, I hope, other places in the United States. My experience in the United States is that it’s peer-to-peer. I’ve said to you and others before, politician to politician, and it doesn’t matter in what party. You can talk to them in a way that a diplomat can’t, so it’s a vital role for parliamentarians, particularly for senators, because I think you have more leeway sometimes than members of the House to get down there. In my experience, certainly in Washington, where there were two senators in particular who came down and I would travel with them, and I met other U.S. senators — people we were trying to meet — thanks to the relationships you and your colleagues had developed. That’s vital to the work of our embassy and our consulates general.

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


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

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.”