Canada Foreign Policy
Will It Work This Time? 19 April 2005
I’ve written about proposed changes to Canadian foreign affairs approaches, mostly here and there, and not really conveniently in one place. Now, what I mean is, the official, or party line, when it comes to foreign policy. There always has been, and I therefore strongly suspect, will be a very wide gulf between what Canadians say about the international community and how we actually interact.
But Canada’s birthday is only hours away, and for some reason I think now may be a better time than most to try to outline how Ottawa sees our role in the world. What I report, quote, cite, refer to, or discuss here is all available by visiting http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/cip-pic/ips/highlights-en.asp
, unless stated otherwise.
Now maybe the first thing one ought to notice is that some would have us believe that 19 April 2005 is, or at least ought to be, among the most important dates in the evolution of Canadian foreign policy. It was then the Liberal government tabled Canada's International Policy Statement: A Role of Pride and Influence in the World
. This document, known by its shorthand IPS
, promised two things: to serve as the blueprint for how this country will work in an international dynamic made much more intricate by problems “more complex and increasingly inter-related, blurring the distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’” and to outline where and how resources are to be redirected to serve Canadian interests. For instance, foreign aid used to go to many countries, but after 19 April, the list was whittled down to about 25, a club that also had to pledge supporting strategic Canadian values before aid may be accessed. In the past, critics harangued that Ottawa tried to do too much, and that when it came to foreign affairs, aid money simply found itself diverted into many projects that yielded either no or counterproductive outcomes. Money and effort, in short, found itself wasted, sucked into black holes.
Was this merely a case of trying to do too much with far too little? If so, would not the logical objective be to target, with far greater precision, our interests abroad? In any event, back to the blueprint. It identifies four areas where focus is to be placed. These are, and I quote: diplomacy, defence, development, and international commerce. Just take commerce. On the one hand, the document suggests Canada will link ever firmer with traditional partners, especially the US, while also taking on the challenges of dealing with emerging superpowers, notably China, India and Brazil. It is the case that Ottawa expects to “Enhance our economic relationships with established partners like North America, Europe and Japan, and forge partnerships with new economic powerhouses, such as China, India and Brazil.” Is this objective really aimed at consolidating resources for a better plan of action, or is it just possible to interpret the statement to mean that on the one hand official Ottawa will work on a Fortress North America while at the same time trying to rip apart trade barriers? If Canadian resources were badly deployed prior to 19 April, just exactly what’s changed? Is IPS
just a pledge to keep Canada working on mutually exclusive, potentially irreconcilable objectives? And if 19 April is really a revolutionary day, should the news of IPS
not have made a bigger media splash back on 20 April?
When projects actually need to be handled, there will be a test of how viable IPS
is. Will the reckoning come sooner or later? At this point, there isn’t enough evidence to arrive at a conclusion. But data may start rolling in at any time. One of our commitments is to partake in the war on terror, to “combat terrorism and effectively deal with failed and failing states.” In the past weeks, Ottawa has named a new ambassador to Iraq, who will take up this portfolio, remain outside Baghdad, and continue holding other appointments. And just today, reports began circulating that Canadian forces have arrived in southern Afghanistan. In short, “Nearly 200 Canadian soldiers began heading to Afghanistan's violent Kandahar region Wednesday to establish a base for a reconstruction team that will depart in a few weeks” [National Post
, 30 June 2005. Cited in story posted at http://www.canada.com/national/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=9045249a-86f7-46f5-ad8f-30d333980489
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As Expected, But There’s Something Missing
It seems so much happened over the past, say, month. But how much of all this is just appearance?
On the Iraq front, US officials are reportedly in talks with insurgents, a story that has been alluded to for some time now. But is this kind of thing really news? Even US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, openly, such meetings are really rather routine and “go on all the time” [cited in AP, 26 June 2005. Posted at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20050626/ap_on_re_mi_ea/us_iraq
]. The British are busy leaking documents suggesting much of the reasoning for going to war was, some may argue, fabrication, and this story is being pawned off with great fanfare, as some kind of leading edge news. Democracy is coming to the Middle East, and tremendous strides are being made, say some. On the other hand, car bombings across Iraqi cities and a much more organized insurgency continue pummeling coalition and government forces, say others. What may be noteworthy is that US servicewomen appear to be prized insurgency targets, and the whole issue of women in combat, seen by some as interesting, may be much more worthy of analysis than perhaps many suspect. Iran, just having had elections, is back firmly in the hands of hardliners. Nothing new there, and of even less interest is the so far entirely predictable response from the West.
In Canada, little continues to be done on the foreign affairs stage. The bureaucracy is left handling business with Washington, and the most active and effective public face on Ottawa’s efforts is new Ambassador to the US Frank McKenna. McKenna may just be the only Canadian with even a glimmer of a clue. When the elected elite addresses foreign policy, the contribution amounts to worrying about trade issues and begging permission to be allowed a role in some areas, such as Darfur. A typical delegation of Canadians abroad seems to believe, somehow oblivious to the changing nature of globalization, that visiting another country must include inking some sort of deal, if only in principle, on some aspect of free trade. This is done while other bureaucrats work to close off ties to the rest of the world, dedicating themselves to the ideal of Fortress North America. In all, it has been a year of political scandal, which has rendered the Liberals incapable of governing, and even less able at managing. Their greatest ally has been the Tory party, which has shown itself, over the past months, most adept at imploding, effortlessly, and on a daily basis. Could this current clutch of Liberals even dream of staying in office were it not for today’s crop of Conservatives? Whenever the Liberals seemed not merely vulnerable, but down and out, Tory leader Stephen Harper could be relied on to rise to the occasion with an assist. All this has made the Tories promise to renew their image, and Harper himself has taken the lead by attempting a complete makeover. How goes that, so far? Not too long ago Harper joined tots in a photo op, where he admonished the youngsters during a finger-painting exercise, pointing out the last thing his new shirt needed was extra dye. Even more recently, he was seen mainstreeting during an Ontario heat wave, decked out in a warm suit, his sweat glands rising to the occasion, and ensuring the leader would be doing his finest impression of an EastVan sprinkler system/fire hydrant on warm June evening. A man of the people? Good luck Stephen.
Meantime, there’s one story that seems to be unfolding barely mentioned, woefully underreported, or entirely misunderstood. Certainly, there’s been coverage of China’s rising superpower status. What hasn’t really been dealt with is the accelerating rate at which China’s rise is impacting the existing global order. Indeed, China’s rendition of capitalism appears ready, unlike our own centuries’ old understanding, to link success and opportunity with overproduction. I suspect that goes for the output of currency and credits as with any other commodity. Awash in paper money, China seems poised to redefine trade relations. Our understanding of China’s willingness to invest in our Western debt system seems to be tied to only part of what’s going on. Having accumulated so much Western currency through trade, is China gearing up to export even more deflation not through its handling of credit/bond purchases, but by a willingness to use its stockpile of cash to buy North American companies? And if it’s prevented from doing so, where will the incentive be to revalue the renminbi? And even if there is a revaluation, why, if I’m right about the rate at which China’s printing presses run, is there such a strong belief that China’s money must appreciate? And if we believe, perhaps wrongly, there are imbalances in commodity prices, how will China’s emerging global role impair or define the relationship between pricing and strategic commodities? Could we yet live to see fossil fuels and uranium the targets of outright confiscation? In any event, these issues are for down the road, assuming the questions I’ve asked ever become analysis-worthy.
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Originally from the Greater Vancouver area, and now a major cultural icon, Matthew Good has begun expressing his opinions on world affairs. His blog is fascinating, insightful and well worth repeated visits. In addition to his blogging, he remains an amazing rock musician and author. It’s with his permission I invite you to go to:www.matthewgood.net
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Thanks John, and I’ll Say This Very Publicly…
Yeah, I know this’ll be slightly off topic, but…
On 4 June 2005 a very good man celebrated his 65th birthday. Mr. John Gellard, now among my best of friends, is retired.
Exceptional educators are a rarity, and may now be an endangered species bordering on extinction. In my long, long career as a student I’ve run into only a handful. John, who taught me drama (and some English) for four years at Van Tech in the late ‘70s-early ‘80s, was also, and I know still is, among the finest Shakespearean actors. Unlike most instructors, John dedicated himself to his students, above his work, and as a result demonstrated just how invaluable learning could be. He’s one of the reasons I, along with many others, arrived at the conclusion that schooling was worthwhile. I can certainly thank him for my high school diploma, and maybe even parcel out some blame for his keeping alive and promoting a drive that culminated in doctoral studies. As of the 4th of this month, the school system in the City of Vancouver is not just a little poorer; it’s much, much worse off.
Thanks for everything, John. You are exceptional.
This is just the latest in a saga that won't seem to go away. GurmGate, or, maybe The Buck Ninety-nine Watergate, promises to make news for at least a few more days. Anybody following every twist and turn of this story may argue there's a connection with foreign relations.http://www.canada.com/search/story.html?id=ef6f109b-40f9-48f1-8240-7d6d610b44b8
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