Canada and the world

Particularly with my background in international relations and international law, I feel very strongly about what role Canada can and should be playing internationally--and what that means, or can mean, to us at home. I wish I'd written what Joe Clark (former Prime Minister) just did, but credit where it's due, he has just written an excellent piece in the Ottawa Citizen ("Play to Canada's strengths; If we measure our influence by military might or economic influence, it will continue to decline -- Canada should focus on its talent for diplomacy", The Ottawa Citizen Wed Jun 24 2009) I highly recommend it to everyone, and I thank you, Mr. Clark, for expressing what I also believe so eloquently.

Here is the article:

Play to Canada's strengths; If we measure our influence by military might or economic influence, it will continue to decline -- Canada should focus on its talent for diplomacy

The Ottawa Citizen
Wed Jun 24 2009
Page: A15
Section: News
Byline: Joe Clark
Source: Citizen Special

Once, Canadians played an influential and innovative role on the international stage. Now there is a relative absence in global affairs that is aggravated by declining budgets for diplomacy and development.

The decline in Canada's capacity to address significant changes in the world did not happen suddenly. Most of it is due to developments beyond our borders and the emergence of new powers and economies.

When Canada and Italy became members of the G-7, the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) among others were not considered part of the competition. Now, emphatically, they are.

As the world's religious, cultural and economic divides grow deeper, our diversity and our diplomatic abilities have become more relevant.

The critical international skills needed to shorten these divides include prominently the ability to draw differences together, to manage diversity, to generate trust -- the traditional and genuine signature qualities of Canada.

To the Harper government's credit, Canada is now increasing its defence spending. For too long, we had let other countries carry an increasing share of our defence burden. But our diplomatic and development resources are being run down now as steadily and certainly as our defence resources were run down in earlier decades.

It is worth asking: Why the double standard? Why is Canada more prepared to accept our share of the military burden than we are of the diplomatic and development burdens?

In this world of shifting power, how long would Canada have a place at the table of a G-8 Summit? Would we make the cut of a G-20? In other words, would we keep our seat in the inner circle of countries that define international trade and military, diplomatic and development policy?

Not if we focus narrowly on trade and economic policy, or define our international profile disproportionately by military presence. For all our growth and innovation, Canada can have more influence in politics and diplomacy than we do in trade. Economic power reflects size; diplomacy depends more on imagination, and agility, and reputation. Canada's political strengths have more currency again, if we choose to use them.

From some perspectives, foreign policy is just another necessary function of the state -- self-respecting countries need a police force, a tax policy, a foreign policy, a defence policy. In that view, foreign policy is a function, not an attribute -- and some of the traditional foreign policy functions are less relevant in this highly connected, mobile world.

Twenty years ago, the end of the Cold War changed the fundamental dynamics of foreign policy in western countries. The priority became trade and economic growth. Governments chose to believe that trade would combat poverty, that market models would release energies that were inherently democratic, and that military force would contain local challenges and disorders.

The twin failures of the military intervention in Iraq, and the collapse of the financial system, demonstrate the limitations of that faith.

At the same time, there is a shifting of power -- economic, cultural, political, even military. Fareed Zakaria argues this is not about anyone's decline -- but rather the rise and assertion of new forces. Call it a "post-American world," call it a BRIC world, this is a new situation, in which Canada needs to evaluate its assumptions and capacities.

If British economist and author Barbara Ward was right in describing Canada as the "first international country," if Canadian travellers and businesses who stitch on the maple leaf are right, if we have something distinctive to offer, we should treat Canada's "international vocation" as an asset -- as we treat our energy resources, our literacy and ingenuity, and our diversity as assets.

Let's list just five of our assets as Canadians that can be most relevant in this changing world:

1. Our diversity at home.

We have more capacity than most to build and enlarge relations with the cultures and societies whose global influence is on the rise. For one thing, so many of those cultures are dynamic parts of our own identity -- South Asian, Chinese, African and Caribbean diasporas, and a disproportionately large and innovative refugee population.

But, as importantly, those citizens are treated with respect, and now guaranteed equality before the law, in this open, immigrant nation whose tradition of diversity is so deep that it pre-dates our confederation itself.

2. Our ability to bridge differences.

We have earned respect as a partner in the developing world and generally carry the advantage of not being seen as seeking to impose our views and values on other countries.

We are the only member in the G-8 that carries neither an imperial nor a colonial taint and in that we have been a natural and practised bridge between the richer world and the poorer.

3. The different North America.

The world still reveres the American ideal of equal opportunity, even if it is bruised or disappointed by what U.S. policy has actually been in practice. Canada is closest to that democratic reputation that is so admired about the United States, and we are not yet subject to the negative stereotypes.

We are the other North America, and we need to emphasize that distinction.

4. Our multilateral instinct.

For more than half a century, Canada has promoted a multilateral system precisely because nations our size were not big enough to protect ourselves alone. We have a profound interest in a world that works -- SARS strikes here, refugees come here, pollutants pollute here, and close relatives of Canadians die in virtually every conflict in the world.

Our national interest has always included international co-operation -- not in any airy-fairy way, but as the practical centerpiece of our trade policy, through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organisation; our security policy, through NATO and other alliances, and our support for international standards and agreements in health, human rights, and the environment.

This isn't a posture -- it is a Canadian characteristic, as real as winter.

5. Our ability to work with non-state actors.

International affairs have been transformed by new phenomena -- the emergence of powerful and focused foundations, such as NGOs; the new commitment, for whatever reasons, to corporate responsibility; and the role of remittances.

The World Bank estimates that, in 2008, remittances totalled $375 billion, most of it going to developing countries, involving some 200 million migrants -- or three per cent of the world's population. Those are big figures.

Yet, for all these private or non-government initiatives, this is still an institutional world. Sovereign states still make the critical decisions -- to cut or increase budgets, respect or break treaties, send or withdraw troops, pay or withhold their membership contributions, confront or ignore crises.

The challenge and opportunity now is to marry mandate with imagination -- combine the creativity of these independent forces with the capacity-to-act of institutions. Who could do that better than Canada? Those partnerships are what happened in the fight against apartheid, in the negotiation of the Land Mines Treaty, in the Kimberley Process to stop the trade in blood diamonds, and in a wide range of less-publicized initiatives.

Canada has always been an act of will. We didn't come together naturally. We haven't stayed together easily. Confederation was an act of will. So were medicare, equalization, the Charter of Rights, and free trade. One reality of our country is that we have to keep proving our worth to our parts.

We are a wealthy, lucky country, increasingly self-absorbed. It is easy to take our good fortune for granted, or to see ourselves principally as British Columbians, or Quebecers, or environmentalists, or simply taxpayers, and thus to become smaller than our whole.

So we need to look to issues and aspirations that reach across the lines and attitudes that might otherwise set Canadians apart, and to characteristics that distinguish us, legitimately, from comparable societies.

Foreign policy is that kind of issue.

Our sense of "international vocation" has helped define and reinforce Canadian identity since the end of the First World War. It is an asset with a double value. It could strengthen us at home, and now, in an era when the mediation and management of diversity are such critical components of international affairs, it could have an important impact on the world.

Joe Clark is a former prime minister of Canada.

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