Patten Diaries on Hong Kong

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Policy Magazine: Patten’s ‘Hong Kong Diaries’: An Engaging Stroll Through the Handover Snake Pit

The Hong Kong Diaries

By Chris Patten

Penguin Random House/October 2022

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

September 14, 2022

It would be easy to introduce this review of Chris Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries by observing that the author had a good 20th century. But Patten — son of an Irish Catholic jazz drummer raised in west London who went on to Oxford’s Balliol College from whence he entered politics by working for New York Mayor John Lindsay before becoming the Tory MP for Bath, a cabinet minister, then the chairman of the UK Conservative Party — has also had a pretty good 21st century. He has been chancellor of Oxford since 2003 and Lord Patten of Barnes since 2005. He fits comfortably into the pantheon of Britain’s ‘great and good’.

Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries cover his five years (1992-97) as the 28th and last British governor of Hong Kong, an assignment that was both enthralling and notoriously thankless under the circumstances. Insightful and intelligent, Patten’s Hong Kong diaries are the jottings of high life, low life, and family life, including the antics of their two Norfolk terriers, Whisky and Soda. Mostly, they are the story of his efforts to entrench Hong Kong with basic liberties and a more representative government ahead of the 1997 handover to China agreed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 that ostensibly gave the former British colony 50 years of limited autonomy under the principle ‘One Country, Two Systems’. The subsequent Basic Law of 1990 guaranteed fundamental freedoms and human rights.

By his own admission, Patten’s efforts for the “good and brave people” of Hong Kong did not succeed. He would write (May 16, 1997), just weeks before the handover: “We have let them and others down. We should have delivered more explicitly what was promised in the Joint Declaration and given greater protection for the values which the great majority of Hong Kong Chinese citizens believe in and want to survive.”

For Hong Kong, once described by the writer Han Suyin as a city that “works splendidly – on borrowed time in a borrowed place,” the clock ran out in June 2020, nearly 30 years prematurely, with China’s brutal eradication of democracy through its Hong Kong national security law.

Patten’s failure to avert catastrophe for Hong Kong ahead of his return to England in 1997 was not for want of trying. The deal was already done through the Joint Declaration and Basic Law and Patten could really only tinker, albeit valiantly, at the edges. In that sense, the diaries are a five-year chronicle of intrigue and obfuscation, of frustrations and disappointments, a case study in the challenges of negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Diplomats and leaders in the West can learn lessons from all of it.

The title of Patten’s final chapter, written earlier this year, says it all: “The Destruction of Hong Kong: What Happened After 1997”. As Patten observes, the CCP never really understood the difference between “rule of law and rule by law” nor that the “law must serve the people, not the people the law.”

Patten writes that Nobel laureate-economist Milton Friedman, who spent years lauding the democratic Hong Kong as an example of a successful free-market experiment, thought the idea of a free market economy under the rule of law shifting to “living happily within the control and jurisdiction of a communist totalitarian state was preposterous. It was an oxymoronic contradiction on stilts.” For many in the CCP, who still believe that the success of Hong Kong resulted from “piggybacking on China’s own economic resurgence”, the crackdown was also about getting even with a place Deng Xiaoping once described as the “pimple on the arse of China.”

Like Taiwan, Hong Kong stood as a success story, its citizens and residents enjoying more liberty and more prosperity than people living on the mainland under the CCP. Patten concludes: “As we know from what has happened in Hong Kong, we cannot take the survival of those values for granted. Hong Kong’s fight for freedom, for individual liberty and decency, is our fight as well.”

For many in the CCP, who still believe that the success of Hong Kong resulted from ‘piggybacking on China’s own economic resurgence’, the crackdown was also about getting even with a place Deng Xiaoping once described as the ‘pimple on the arse of China’.

The British had governed the colony since 1841 when, after the first Opium War, the island of Hong Kong was ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by the Qing dynasty. Subsequent treaties (1898) added a ninety-nine-year lease on Kowloon, the New Territories and the adjacent islands, but not Hong Kong.

In 1984, Margaret Thatcher — on advice from Henry Kissinger who, as he writes in his own recent book, Leadership, was acting as private-citizen backchannel between London and Beijing — agreed to include Hong Kong on expiry of that lease based on the former US Secretary of State’s urging that, if she didn’t,  China would take the island by force.

It was Patten’s challenge, working with Hong Kong’s Executive and Legislative Councils and supported by the colony’s civil service, to codify into law the guaranteed ‘separate system’ for Hong Kong. Patten was determined to instill human rights and representative government. Therein lay the rub.

Patten early on identified the conflicting, often countervailing, pressures in what he would later characterize (September 2, 1996) as a “snake pit”.

It was hard slogging. Patten continually felt undermined by the British Foreign Office, especially the “clever, conceited, acerbic” Sir Percy Craddock, a “vain old thing” who “puts my back up.” A sinologist, Craddock was chargé d’affaires in the British embassy in Beijing when it was invaded during the Cultural Revolution in 1967. Craddock later served as UK Ambassador to Beijing and played a key role in negotiating the Joint Declaration. Craddock was not alone, Patten writes, and was backed by, among others, former prime ministers Jim Callaghan and Ted Heath.

Beijing, whose pre-millennial antipathy toward Hong Kong democracy would be amplified and contextualized by its anti-democracy activities, investments and coercions globally over the first two decades of this century, also relied on the Hong Kong taipans, British and Chinese, who saw their future with the mainland. They wanted nothing that would annoy Beijing, while expecting the “continuing certainty of the rule of law” and “the conditions of stability for an effective market economy”. Many in the business elite had foreign passports in their back pockets. After Tiananmen Square (1989), those who didn’t soon got one.

Then there were those in Britain and abroad who, as Patten observed (April 17-21, 1993), “would like to feel a warm glow of satisfaction that we are doing the decent thing by Hong Kongers, but they feel somewhat constrained in their enthusiasm by dislike for the gerontocracy in Beijing, which doesn’t give much of a damn about concepts like human rights.”

As a skilled politician, Patten was very much attuned to what was taking place in Britain and within the Conservative Party. Patten had been minister for, at various points, Northern Ireland, Education, Environment and Overseas Development. He also chaired the 1992 Tory election campaign that won John Major his unexpected post-Thatcher majority. Had he not lost his own seat, he would have been in line for a major cabinet post. As well as Hong Kong, Patten was offered a safe return to the House or an appointment to the Lords. Throughout his time in Hong Kong, these opportunities would continue to beckon.

Canada comes out well in the diaries. In the wake of Tiananmen Square, when the lineups for Canadian emigration stretched several blocks around Exchange Square, Canada prioritized practical help in the entrenchment of representative government. Patten would write of his final conversation (July 1, 1994) with Canada’s senior representative, Commissioner John Higginbotham, before Higginbotham was re-assigned to Washington:

“He believes that we have been successful in getting Hong Kong accustomed to the software of a free, open and plural society, that policy previously was a matter of just keeping our fingers crossed about the Joint Declaration and the Chinese commitment to it. We weren’t telling people the truth or making them face up to the reality that they would have to want Hong Kong to succeed if it were to have any chance of doing so after the handover. He thinks that this was in many ways a dreadful hoax. At least we have given Hong Kong citizens the chance to make some of their own decisions about the future. I wish this man had been working in our own foreign service for the last 20 years.”

Tiananmen Square had a profound effect on the Hong Kong people. Overnight, they realized that the politics they had eschewed – previously less than a third turned out in local elections – mattered. Over a million in the then 6.4 million colony marched through the streets. Institutions we assume – a free press, independent judiciary, an honest and non-political civil service and police force, representative government – suddenly became meaningful.

The response of Hong Kong people convinced me that the fundamental divide is not right vs left but rather open vs closed systems. And never take liberty for granted. In supporting the nascent democracy, we Canadian diplomats faced the same conflicting pressures at home, in Hong Kong, and in Beijing that Patten describes.

Posted as Consul to Hong Kong (1987-92), I was deeply involved in the Canadian efforts to support autonomy for Hong Kong. We brought out the last commissioner of the Northwest Territories to help explain the transition to self-government. Our Chief Electoral Officer explained the mechanics of a free, fair and efficient election. We signed agreements on air services and did an ad hoc exchange of civil servants. We accepted Vietnamese refugees who had been languishing in Hong Kong camps. In the years after Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong became our principal source of new migrants, with annual numbers rising from just over1,000 to a peak of 44,000 in 1994.  Between 1984 and 1997, 335,646 Hong Kongers moved to Canada, making us home to one of the largest Hong Kong diasporas.

Our efforts had the full backing of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Patten describes Mulroney as “extrovertly on our side”. To underline Canada’s commitment, Mulroney dispatched ministers to visit Hong Kong. He and Mila came and dedicated a totem pole in Kowloon Park. Of succeeding Canadian governments, Patten would write (January 10, 1995) that they have “a crush at the moment on China. They see – here we go again – treasures beyond human craving just over the horizon.”

If the Trudeau government would act on its promised “Canadian centre to better support democracy and good governance around the world”, what we did for Hong Kong could be a model for future initiatives.

Hong Kong is still our best entrée into the Indo-Pacific. There are still at least 300,000 Canadians living there. The forthcoming Indo-Pacific strategy will be the poorer if standing up for Hong Kong and the Canadian community there does not figure prominently in a larger China policy that also includes support for Taiwan and defence of human rights.

Perhaps the most poignant diary entry (Friday, September 20, 1996) is Patten recounting a conversation with a patient during a visit to Castle Peak psychiatric hospital, whose improvement the Pattens made a personal project.

Patten writes:

‘Excuse me, Governor. Would you claim that Britain is the oldest democracy in the world?’ he asked.

‘One could certainly claim that,’ I replied.

‘And would you also agree that China is the last great communist totalitarian state in the world?’

 ‘Some people might say that,’ I responded diplomatically.

‘Well could you tell me, Governor,’ he went on, ‘why your democracy is handing Hong Kong, a fine and free city, over to a communist society without ever having consulted the people who live here about what they want?” 

Here was the sanest man in Hong Kong locked up in a hospital for the mentally ill. So, we are rebuilding it!

These diaries complement Patten’s earlier book East and West: The Last Governor of Hong Kong on Power, Freedom and the Future (1998)At 580 pages, the diaries are a brick, but Patten’s breezy style and trenchant commentary make them an easy read. I recommend the audio version – 25 hours – that Patten reads himself, providing a much better sense of people, places and events. I would pop in the earbuds at bedtime and let Patten’s mellifluous voice put me to sleep.

Variously described by CCP-backed media as a “sinner for a thousand years, prostitute, triple violator”, Patten was named by Queen Elizabeth in 1998 to the 65-member Order of the Companions of Honour. The Order also includes Canadians John de Chastelain, Margaret MacMillan and Margaret Atwood. Patten continues to speak out and to write a regular column for Project Syndicate.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, students returning to their classrooms have got new history books. They claim that Hong Kong was never a British colony because Britain was never the sovereign power and that the protests of 2019 were driven by ‘external forces’.

Historical revisionism is not only nothing new in totalitarian regimes, it’s a defining ingredient. When Joseph Stalin rewrote history in the 1930s, the Soviets joked that “The past changes so often you don’t know what’s going to happen yesterday.”

As Patten writes, you can learn a lot about how China would like to deal with the rest of the world by looking at how Beijing has dealt with Hong Kong.

Beijing seems confident that the rest of the world will turn a blind eye to its disregard for the rule of law and freedom of expression. For a Chinese leadership emboldened by the power of 21st-century propaganda — especially anti-democracy propaganda generated by corrupted domestic actors in key democracies — it is only the weak that need abide by democratic norms being systematically eroded from within, as President Joe Biden pointed warned in his recent Philadelphia speech. Beijing is confident that, sooner rather than later, China will be setting the norms. Which makes Chris Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries a warning for the rest of the world.

Canadian Foreign Service

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Canada risks splitting from allies by not encouraging expertise in its foreign service, new report finds

By NEIL MOSS      
With allies and competitors focusing on adding expertise in their foreign ministries, Canada risks being an ‘outlier,’ a new report suggests

A new report by a Canadian diplomat is raising a red flag over Canada’s use of a generalist model for its foreign service, instead to cultivating increased subject matter expertise.

Comparing and contrasting Canada to six other foreign ministries, the report finds that maintaining a generalist approach for its diplomatic corps would risk Global Affairs becoming an “outlier” compared to some of its allies and adversaries.

The study was authored by Canadian diplomat Ulric Shannon while he was on leave from the foreign service. Shannon was Canada’s ambassador to Iraq from 2019 to 2021 and was its consul general in Istanbul from 2016 to 2019. He specializes in conflict issues and stabilization in Arab countries.

“The Canadian foreign ministry remains wedded to the generalist model that has defined the ethos of its foreign service since it was created,” Shannon writes. “There is a risk that Canada will become an outlier among its peers and competitors and miss the opportunity to modernize its diplomatic service.”


“The experience of other foreign ministries suggests that it is possible to operate a diplomatic service with a generalist core, while nonetheless incubating cadres of rotational specialists at all levels of seniority across a range of regions and thematic issues,” the report recommends.

The report cites several historical examples to show that “major geopolitical blunders” have taken place in part due to the absence of expertise, such as the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Arab Spring in Egypt, and the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban.

With a focus on a generalist model, foreign ministries around the world are ceding policy expertise to defence ministries, the report finds.

While there are sections that have built up subject expertise, such as the trade policy bureau, the generalist approach is seen throughout the department.

Another area where the foreign service has started to prioritize expertise is on China.

The “China Capacity Project” was initiated in 2021, which was “reputedly the brainchild” of former Canadian ambassador to China Dominic Barton, as the department was “deficient in the area of political and regional analysis” since expertise was focused on trade, Shannon finds. The project encourages diplomats to learn Mandarin, which has a compliance of 14 per cent, according to the report, and it recommended incentives for successive postings in China.

Not mentioned in the report is a step that past foreign affairs ministers’ offices have used to fill the gap on China expertise by bringing experts in to work as political staff.

Overall language competency is also a concern, with many foreign service officers not compliant with their positions.

Citing Global Affairs’ training department, the Canadian Foreign Service Institute, the report finds that foreign language compliance is at 23 per cent, which dips to 18 per cent for executive-level posts. The level of compliance is well below allies like Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom. All six countries have language compliance of more than 50 per cent.

Explaining the low level of compliance, Shannon points out that Canada is the only G7 country that doesn’t offer financial advantages for its diplomats to learn and retain a foreign language. He found that there is a perception that Global Affairs “did not value” language skills for career promotion.

The fact that 18 per cent of executive-level positions are foreign language compliant shows “further evidence of the perceived irrelevance of language skills to advancement” in the department, Shannon writes.

With “frequent delays and uncertainty” in the appointment of ambassadors and high commissioners, the report finds that the “unique and complex process” leads to heads of missions not being able to have the time to take “sufficient” language training before the posting.

As with language competency, expertise is also not rewarded through career promotion.

“The Canadian foreign service has … developed a tradition of word-of-mouth career guidance, which consistently stresses the virtues of a generalist trajectory as the surest way to get ahead—and conversely, the risks associated with being ‘pigeon-holed’ as a specialist,” the report states. “This advice typically goes on to advocate spending the bulk of one’s career at headquarters in Ottawa where promotion is perceived to be easier.”

The growth of expertise is also restricted due to limits on foreign postings.

Canada puts a cap on foreign service time at seven years before diplomats have to return to Ottawa. American diplomats can serve abroad for 15 straight years.

Only around 18 per cent of Canada’s diplomats are posted abroad.

The report also finds that the department has not “sufficiently emphasized” diplomatic skills in the promotion of senior managers.

Successive deputy ministers of foreign affairs have been put in the post who weren’t career diplomats. The last deputy minister who was a career diplomat was Len Edwards, who served as the top bureaucrat in the department from 2007 to 2010.

Requiring foreign posting experience for a senior-level position has been “overruled” because it was deemed to be “unfair” to candidates from other governmental departments.

Shannon ends his report noting that those he interviewed said the foreign service needs to “improve its public image and its reputation within government.”

“[Former deputy minister of foreign affairs] Morris Rosenberg suggested,” the report highlights “that the Canadian foreign service ‘needs to do some public diplomacy in Canada,’ for example by showcasing its ambassadors domestically so they can better explain how their work overseas serves the domestic agenda.”

Global Affairs Canada did not make Shannon available for an interview.

‘Time is urgent’ to reform foreign service

Canadian International Council president Ben Rowswell, a former diplomat, said it is “essential” that the government use ongoing reviews to address gaps in the foreign service.

Both Global Affairs and the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee are currently undertaking reviews of the foreign service.

“The international situation is so pressing right now with the rise of a much more hostile greater power in China, with the war in Ukraine, and the open defiance of the rules-based international order,” he said. “The time is urgent. … This is the time to drastically reform the delivery of foreign policy in Canada.”

Rowswell said Canada’s current foreign service is constructed for a “benign world,” but that world no longer exists.

He said one specific area of need is in technological expertise in the department, which he said will be addressed by recruiting different types of candidates.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said he endorsed the findings of the report, noting there is a need for the foreign service to have both a generalist core and a core of specialists.

“We’re a relatively smaller foreign service. For us to achieve what is being suggested, the foreign service needs to grow,” he said, remarking that a larger foreign service would allow the development of more diplomats with subject matter expertise.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said the foreign service needs to be staffed “properly.”

She said that would require a big enough service where the government wouldn’t need to scramble to cover the latest crisis.

She said she hopes that the government is willing to make investments of funds and time.

“We’ve been in an era for quite a while where Canada needs to be at the top of its game diplomatically,” Isfeld said.

VIctory at Sea Paul Kennedy on the Sea War WWII

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Victory at Sea’: How Naval Power Helped Win WWII



Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II

By Paul Kennedy

Yale University Press/May 2022


Reviewed by Colin Robertson

August 25, 2022

Historian Paul Kennedy’s Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II is the story of how the navies of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan prepared from the mid-1930s and then fought in the waters of three main theaters: the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific. As Kennedy relates, the European war began with U-boats sinking British warships while the Pacific war would begin with a surprise Japanese assault by air – “The age of modern asymmetric weaponry had arrived.”

Victory at Sea is divided into five parts: Setting the Stage; Narrative of the Great Naval War, 1939–42; The Critical Year of 1943; Narrative of the Great Naval War, 1944–45; Aftermath and Reflections.

The British-born, Oxford-trained Kennedy is currently the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History, and Director of International Security Studies at Yale, where he also taught the Grand Strategy seminar with the late diplomat Charles Hill and Gaddis Smith. A prolific author and columnist, he is perhaps best known for his The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (1987). It was required reading in foreign ministries. It argued that the challenge for the great powers is to balance their economic capacity with their military power and strategic commitments. Success or failure hinged on decisions around investment, defense and consumption.

Like Rise and Fall (677 pages), Victory at Sea is equally magisterial (544 pages) even if the scope is a decade and a half rather than half a millennium. It tells the story of convoys, amphibious landings and naval battles involving the six great powers and their allies. By war’s end four of them were vanquished.

Victory at Sea is an analysis of power shifts in the international system and a study in the causes of historical change. Kennedy argues that “at no other time in history did the naval balance of power change as much” as during the crucial period covered by the book. It was “the greatest naval war the world had ever seen,” a “deadly struggle between revisionist and status quo Great Powers.” Winston Churchill — notably First Lord of the Admiralty both during the First World War and, more fatefully, again before becoming prime minister in 1940 — was proved right when he opined that if Britain could just withstand the early Axis blows then the entry of America, “that giant boiler”, would be decisive.

Kennedy makes a convincing case that the “transformation of the global order” hinged on the crucial role of naval warfare and America’s superior industrial capacity. The dynamic growth of the United States and its rapid attainment of naval mastery left it the number one world power — the ‘superpower’ — by 1945.

Kennedy’s fluent storytelling is accompanied by statistical charts and detailed maps. The elegiac watercolour paintings of the late Ian Marshall are a visual treat. Look at the 53 plates, beginning with HMS Hood and HMS Barham at harbour (1936) in the Royal Navy’s Malta base (both were later sunk in the Battle of Malta) and including the Allied fleet led by USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay (1945).

Kennedy acknowledges his debt to French scholar Fernand Braudel (who spent time in a German prisoner of war camp) and Braudel’s equally magisterial The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949). Braudel describes the shift from a Europe centered on the Mediterranean to a continent looking to the Atlantic and beyond. For Kennedy, World War II marks the decisive shift of the Eurocentric world order to one dominated by the United States. Kennedy argues it could not have happened without the navy.

To illustrate the Battle of the Atlantic, the war’s longest campaign. Kennedy tells the story of ONS-5, an Allied merchant convoy returning from British ports in May, 1943 to New York City to receive the vital stocks of food, fuel and manufactured inputs such as steel that kept Britain fed and industry sustained. German U-boat wolf packs were sinking ships faster than they could be replaced. Churchill would write that it was the “only thing that ever really frightened me during the war.” He told the War Cabinet (March, 1943) that the country’s naval resources were “stretched to the uttermost”, and “inadequate to meet the enemy’s concentration of U-boats”.

In a compelling vindication of Churchill’s championing of radar technology, that confrontation off the coast of Newfoundland ended with seven U-boats sunk and another seven damaged because of technological innovation that combined lengthening the radius of aircraft escorts and improved equipment for the detection of submarines: the centimetric radar dish invented at Bell Laboratories that allowed the convoys to ‘see’ the wolf pack. Kennedy writes that “In the entire naval war, it is hard to find a better example of a novel technology immediately making a difference to the fight.” So, of course, did Bletchley Park’s ability to read German naval codes.

The numbers tell the story: convoys sank 87 U-boats in 1942. With better air support and radar, 244 submarines were sunk in 1943 and 249 in 1944. The tide had turned in the Battle of the Atlantic.

‘War was coming,’ Kennedy writes about the 1930s, ‘because two revisionist and authoritarian regimes were no longer willing to tolerate existing borders.’ History does not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain reminds us, it often rhymes.

For Kennedy, 1943 was the pivot year. The Allies turned the tide in the Atlantic. With the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS Essex, the first of its class, and the new Grumman Hellcat fighter jet and fighter-bomber, there were victories in the Pacific. In the Mediterranean, the Allies made landings in Sicily after retaking North Africa.

The Hellcat, writes Kennedy, tells another story of the war: the extraordinary supply chain that stretched from the mining of bauxite — the ore needed to produce aluminum — in the then-Dutch colony of Suriname, to the production of aluminum in Alcoa refineries in Tennessee, to the manufacturing of parts in East Hartford, Connecticut, to the construction of the planes at the massive Grumman factory at Bethpage, Long Island. They were then flown to naval bases in San Diego and Long Beach, California where they found their new home on newly-built Essex-class carriers. Hellcats eventually shot down 5200 enemy aircraft, far more than any Allied fighter.

The Essex carriers and Hellcats symbolized Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration that the USA had become the ‘arsenal of democracy’ in its global dominance. One chart, measuring warship tonnages from 1939 to 1945, essentially tells the story of World War II. While the lines of all the five other powers go up or down slightly as the war progresses, the line for the United States climbs steeply, starting in 1941, in an almost vertical direction. By war’s end, the American shipbuilding program was “almost choking on its own productivity.” American warship tonnage outstripped all the other belligerents put together. The US Navy ruled the waves with almost 100 carriers and hundreds more battleships, destroyers, corvettes and auxiliary ships.

Kennedy cites fellow historian Correlli Barnett, who argues that a nation’s capacity — national direction, strategic decision-making, productive resources, scientific and technological capacity, the armed services and their weapons systems — is determined by conflict because it tests the strengths and weaknesses of their society. A fundamental figure in that audit is naval expenditures, because warships are usually the biggest ticket item in war-making as compared with jets or tanks.

Kennedy gives Canada scant attention even though we played a critical role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Our warships were part of Britain’s lifeline, helping to escort more than 25,000 merchantmen across the Atlantic. Employing more than 125,000 workers, our shipyards built more than 4,000 vessels, each ship in an average of 307 days.

At the end of the Second World War, Canada had the fourth- largest navy in the world with 95,000 sailors and 434 commissioned vessels.

Today, Canada has around 12,000 sailors with twelve frigates and four submarines originally built in the 1980s, a dozen coastal vessels built in the 1990s, and a reconditioned commercial supply ship. The first of our six new offshore patrol ships, HMCS Harry DeWolf, sailed through the North West Passage last fall.

While the Trudeau government has committed more money to defence, at 1.36 percent of GDP our defence expenditures are far below the NATO target of two percent. As we revisit our current defence strategy, we need to ask ourselves: Is this sufficient to secure our sovereignty and ensure collective security?

Fronting on three oceans — the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific — Canada’s coastline is the world’s longest. We live in an era of increasing threats, higher collective security obligations and, with climate change, the waters we must defend expand daily. We hope to see our 15 new surface combatants in the early 2030s and our two new supply ships in the late 2020s. We also need new submarines.

For Kennedy, the application of sea power, fundamental to projecting geopolitical power, reached its culmination in World War II. It decided the outcome of the transformative struggle between the Grand Alliance and the Axis Powers. Today,  we look to the Indo-Pacific, through which 60 percent of world commerce passes. Sea power is vital to preserving freedom of navigation for our trade.

“War was coming,” Kennedy writes about the 1930s, “because two revisionist and authoritarian regimes were no longer willing to tolerate existing borders.” History does not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain observed, it often rhymes.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career foreign service officer, is a Fellow and Senior Adviser at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa. He also serves as an Honorary Captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.


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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.”